From Christina: When Devika commented on a post I wrote about “spring cleaning”, she mentioned the traditions surrounding the Sinhalese New Year, known as aluth avurudda in Sinhalese. I was intrigued, and I quickly invited Devika to share a few thoughts.
Sinhalese New Year
by Devika Fernando
In Sri Lanka, we don’t experience the four seasons of spring, summer, autumn and winter. There is the never-ending cycle of dry seasons and rainy seasons which influences flora, fauna and agriculture. So, instead of the spring cleaning the West goes through every year, we have an annual cleaning session when the Buddhist and Hindu New Year dawns. The old year ends on April 13th and the new year begins on April 14th. These dates are chosen because of their astrological meaning. Apparently, the sun moves from the house of Pisces to the house of Aries. To Sri Lankans, astrology is all but holy. That is one of the reasons why each year, there are different auspicious times. One year, the New Year might dawn in the evening, the next year in the morning or around noon. There are also auspicious times for special rituals.
- There’s a time on the last day of the old year where any preparation and work must be finished. For a span of roughly 10 hours, you’re supposed to do no work (including housework) and to spend time with your family, with religious practices or just relaxing.
- There’s a time after the new year has begun where you turn on your oven for the first time. As some Sri Lankans still use a wood-and-fire stove and almost all others use gas for cooking, it is customary to create a small fire and place a pot of milk on it. The milk should boil over at roughly the given time, which brings a bountiful year.
- There’s a time when you can have your first meal after the 10-hour period.
- Usually 2 to 4 days after the New Year, there’s a day and time to start work again.
In combination with these times, there are auspicious colours to wear on each of the occasions, and there is a direction (for example south, or north-east) to look at when you perform a task like cooking the first meal or going to office for the first time.
Subha aluth avuruddak wewa
Wishing you a happy New Year
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During the days prior to the Sinhalese New Year, we perform our version of ‘spring cleaning’. The whole house is swept and dusted and washed and rearranged. Whoever can afford it, gets the building colour washed and the furniture repaired and polished. From the curtains to every item in the cupboards, everything is taken out and cleaned, and old and broken things are discarded.
Not only the houses have to be at their shiniest and newest, but the people, too. It is customary to gift family members and friends clothes, as well as buy yourself new ones. If the grown-up children live in the parent’s house—which happens more often than not—they buy new household items or some decoration.
Another reason for the date the New Year falls on is the end of the harvesting season for paddy (rice) and other major agricultural crops. So, in the villages, there are many rites and rituals around donating the first rice and how to cook it.
Of course, the New Year wouldn’t be a celebration if special food weren’t involved. There are several traditional sweets—many made from rice flour, palm syrup (treacle) and mung bean flour—that the whole family comes together to make. On the dawning of the new day, you eat these along with milk rice and a spicy onion-and-chili paste.
Games—climbing a wooden pole smeared with grease, having a pillow fight while balancing on a beam, trying to hit a hanging clay pot with your eyes closed, play drums—are an essential part of the New Year celebrations. Religion also plays an important role. On the first day of the new year, you go to the temple and offer flowers as well as prayers. The head of the family blesses everyone else.
Basically, it’s all about strengthening family bonds, taking a breather from the hectic everyday troubles, readying yourself and your house for the next 12 months to come – and having a good time.
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Almost as soon as Devika Fernando could write, she imagined stories and poems. After finishing her education in Germany and returning to her roots in Sri Lanka, she got a chance to turn her passion into her profession. Having lived in Germany and in Sri Lanka with her husband has made her experience the best (and the worst) of two totally different worlds – something that influences her writing. Besides being a romance novel author, she works as a German web content writer and as a translator. When she’s not writing, she’s reading or thinking about writing. Her debut romance novel, When I See Your Face, is now available at Amazon.