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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

New Year (Aluth Awurudu)

In April (the month of Bak) the islanders (Sri Lankans) celebrate their National New Year Aluth Avurudhu in Sinhala and Puththandu in Tamil. The sun moving from the Meena Rashiya (House of Pisces) to the Mesha Rashiya (House of Aries) signals the dawning of the Sinhala/Tamil New Year. However, unlike the usual practice where the new year begins at midnight, the National New Year begins at the time determined by the astrologers. Not only the beginning of the new year but the conclusion of the old year is also specified by the astrologers. And unlike the customary ending and beginning of new year, there is a period of a few hours in between the conclusion of the Old Year and the commencement of the New Year , which is called the nona gathe (neutral period). During this time one is expected to keep off from all types of work and engage solely in religious activities.

April is the month of reveal and revelry, the most intoxicating of the 12 months of the year, when Lanka and her people of the prepare to celebrate new beginning in harmony with mother nature. It is the season of the Avuruddha, the annual new year celebration by the Sinhala and Tamil people of the island, a great national festival which has persisted in all its traditional glory for no less than 2,000 years. Recognized officially and observed countrywide as the National New Year, the celebrations take seven days, varying only slightly from the age old venerable traditions which are still observed to the letter by Sri Lankan's of all ages and social background.

Perhaps one of the remaining authentic folk celebrations in the world, the avuruddha stands as a monument to a people whose lives, to a large extent, still revolve around the grace of mother nature and her most domineering subject, the sun. The traditions new year celebrations in mid-April originated as a harvest thanks giving, the high-point of the annual production cycle. Interwoven closely with the first astrological phase of the sun, it is timed to coincide with the first partakings of the season's blessings, namely rice.Astronomically, it is celebrated on the day on which the sun passes from Meena Rashiya (Pisces) to Mesha Rashiya (Aries), when Sihalese and Tamils bid farewell to the year passed an usher in a brand new one with prayers, meritorious deeds, traditional observations and seemingly unending celebrations.

The new year falls on the 13th or 14th day of April, preceded by at least two weeks of preparations, devoted largely to shopping and the making of a hundred-and-one varieties of sweetmeats. Schools have their holidays during the month of April, so children are often the willing helpers in and around home, getting the household ready for the eventful day.

Over the years, Sri Lanka too has become commercial minded, this factor being symbolized each year around this time with shops and sidewalks densely packed with every imaginable item deemed necessary for having a jolly good time. Cloths play an important part in the holiday buying-spree, tradition carried through once again, for in the past, it was after the harvest that a family received new clothes. It is still customary for each member of the family to receive at least one suit of clothes to mark the occasion.

The Avuruddha is heralded by the constant lighting of fire crackers and the unmistakable call of the koel bird, populary known as the koha which coos only once a year-at this time. Pay some attention to the multitude of sweet aromas flowing from country kitchens, which get crowded with clattering damsels preparing an assortment of coconut oil-based sweetmeats, which are high on the traditional holiday menu.

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