A short history on the Sinhala and Tamil New Year

A short history on the Sinhala and Tamil New Year

A short history on the Sinhala and Tamil New Year

May 17, 2024

“Avurudu” in Sinhala or “Puthandu” in Tamil, also known as Sinhala and Tamil New Year, is one of the most important cultural festivals celebrated in Sri Lanka. It marks the beginning of the traditional New Year for both the Sinhalese and Tamil communities on the island. Avurudu holds deep cultural and religious significance for the people of Sri Lanka. It’s a time of great joy, symbolizing the renewal of life and the opportunity for new beginnings. The festival is associated with various customs and rituals that reflect the country’s rich cultural heritage and agricultural traditions.

As we reflect on the historical and cultural significance, it’s equally compelling to explore its astrological underpinnings and the symbolic transition heralded by the movements of the celestial bodies, and this is described by the Avurudu songs and kavi that are enjoyed by the community en masse and from among them is a line that stands out and often heard- “Mina Rashiyen hemehita Meesha Rashiyata paminena”. Let us dive into what it means in more depth.

 

  1. Astrological Significance

The astrological event of avurudu is the transition of the sun across an imaginary line that separates the last and first stars of the zodiac calendar. The first sign of the zodiac calendar is Aries (Mesha Rashi) which symbolizes a bold and ambitious personality, that is ready to plunge into obstacles headfirst. Pisces (Meena Rashi) – the last star of the zodiac calendar is the most intuitive, sensitive, and empathetic sign of the twelve. Pisces is a sign that has engulfed all the previous lessons from the stars before it. Thereby, the transition of the sun from Pisces to Aries symbolizes moving forward to a new era with all the lessons learnt.

Every year, the sun begins its transition at a different time, which goes on for 12 hours and 48 minutes. This transition period is known as the PunyaKalaya. This period is divided into two halves of 6 hours and 24 minutes each. The first half is known as the Nonagatha, where no work is to be done. The end of Nonagatha, depicts the dawn of the New Year which is celebrated with the lighting of firecrackers all across the island.  Astrologically, during the dawn of the new year, the sun’s disc would be centered on the imaginary line.

  1. Avurudu Customs 

Avurudu, rooted in traditions, is a culturally significant celebration which has different customs and rituals cherished by both the young and old alike. As this festive day dawns, the elders carry out age-old customs, that have traversed generations after generations, at the auspicious time, while the younger members of the community observe and eagerly follow suit, embodying the spirit of continuity and reverence for the traditions. Mention below are few of the tradutions

Nonagathe (Punya Kalaya) 

  • It is the neutral period between the old and new year.
  • People refrain from work and engage in religious activities.

Lighting the Hearth:

  • Kindling an oil lantern; signifying the beginning of something new and bringing good fortune to homes.

Betel offering:

  • Offering betel leaves to parents and elders expresses gratitude, and in return, children receive blessings.

Ganu Denu:

  • Ganu Denu or “exchanging money”, is a symbolic act of financial transactions during the New Year where the elders give money to the younger generations, which promotes unity and generosity through simple acts of giving, fostering kindness and gratitude.

Hisa Thel Gaama:

  • The Hisa Thel Gama ceremony, also known as the National Oil Anointing ceremony, holds special significance during the Sinhala and Tamil New Year festivities in Sri Lanka.
  1. Cultural and Religious Significance

Sinhala Tamil new year is a festival which emphasizes the bonding of the people who belong to different cultural and religious backgrounds. People think that celebration of new year is the change of thoughts towards the other cultures. It develops the interpersonal relationships between people from various communities. They listen to the views and opinions of other people so that we can grow and understand new cultures.

Tamils and Sinhalese have various sweets, New Year games and religious practices. Usually, people adhere to this vivid culture. Sinhalese prepare authentic sweets like kavum, kokis, cakes etc., while Tamils prepare dishes like laddu. Both communities share the food, the ideas and their customs and rituals can be clearly noticed in the Sinhala and Tamil New Year Ceremony.

Although Avurudu is celebrated by Sinhala Buddhists and Tamil Hindu people it is a celebration to see the active participation of all the people without any religious boundaries. It is a festival of unity and peace. Avurudu inspires us to cherish our old age morals and customs related to religious practices.

  1. Continued Relevance 

The festival of Avurudu has evolved over time while retaining its deep-rooted cultural significance in Sri Lanka. In modern times, Avurudu celebrations have adapted to urban lifestyles while preserving traditional customs and values. One notable evolution is how urban Sri Lankans celebrate Avurudu. In bustling cities like Colombo, Kandy, and Galle, the festival has taken on a vibrant and community-oriented character. Despite the busy urban life, people still eagerly anticipate the arrival of Avurudu and participate in various activities.

One modern adaptation is the decoration of homes and public spaces with traditional Avurudu motifs like rangoli patterns. These decorations not only beautify the surroundings but also evoke a sense of cultural pride. In urban areas, Avurudu festivities often include cultural performances such as traditional dances (e.g., Kandyan and Bharatanatyam), music recitals, and drama performances. These events provide a platform for showcasing Sri Lanka’s rich artistic heritage and offer entertainment for both locals and tourists. Moreover, Avurudu games have adapted to urban spaces.

In recent years, modern technology has also influenced Avurudu celebrations. Social media platforms are used to share festive greetings, organize events, and showcase Avurudu-related activities. Additionally, digital platforms and apps offer convenience for shopping, coordinating gatherings, and accessing information about upcoming festivities.

Despite these adaptations, the essence of Avurudu—the spirit of unity, renewal, and gratitude—remains intact. Urban Sri Lankans continue to embrace this festival as a time to connect with loved ones, celebrate their cultural heritage, and welcome the New Year with optimism and joy. The evolution of Avurudu reflects the resilience of Sri Lanka’s traditions in a changing world, bridging the gap between the past and the present while fostering a sense of belonging and shared identity among its people

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