The Aluth Avurudda or the Sinhala and Tamil New Year as it is officially termed, is a traditional religio-cultural festival dating back from centuries past and held in April, the month of ‘Bak’ which word deriving from Sanskrit means ‘Bhagya’ or fortunate. Grandly celebrated throughout the country at specified auspicious times for each event, the Aluth Avurudda commence on the eve of the planetary change in the Zodiac circle with the sun moving away from Aries and entering Pisces.
The mythological concept of the Aluth Avurudda is that the Avurudu Kumaraya referred to as Indra Deva wearing a tall floral crown descends upon the earth in a silver carriage drawn by six horses. People in certain areas in the South of Sri Lanka light oil lamps to welcome the Avurudu Kumaraya and seek his blessing.
In the old world the agricultural farming society worshiped regional gods whom they believed to be in charge of the areas, during the planetary transition period of the New Year the Punya Kalaya also known as the Nonagathaya. Kalu Banda Deviyo, Minneriya Deviyo, Hurulu Deviyo, Ranwala Deviyo, Irugal Deviyo, Wanni Deviyo and Ayyanayaka Deviyo were some of the gods widely worshipped. Meanwhile, the goddess of chastity Pathini, figured among villagers in the Kalutara and Galle Districts where some rituals such as Peliyama and Ang keliya were practiced especially in her honor.
Although presently the Roman calendar is followed the world over, ancient Aryans formed the Saka Era affiliated to the Sinhala and Tamil New Year according to which we are in the Saka Era of 1941. This Saka Era depicted in almanacs was handed down to Sinhala Kings who adopted same in their official correspondence. Thalpath (ola manuscripts), thudapath, sannas and other royal documents as much as birth horoscopes carry the Saka Era.
From time immemorial up to the dawn of the new civilization, human beings had lived with nature, with chiefly those in agrarian societies of yore worshipping the Sun and other celestial elements. On the day of the New Year Hindus even today gather on the banks of the Yamuna River, and people of Benares on the banks of the Yamuna and Ganga to worship the rising Sun.
One of the captives of the English vessel which touched on the eastern coast in AD 1660 and was taken prisoner by the Kandyans Robert Knox, later wrote a celebrated book on the Kandyan Kingdom titled a ‘Historical Relation of Ceylon’ in which is mentioned that at that time, the new year was a major festival of the Sinhalese celebrated in March following the harvesting of paddy in February, six months after it was sown in September with the fall of the rains.
According to the chronicles, during the period of the Sinhala kings of the Kandyan kingdom there were four principal national festivals observed: the Avurudu Mangalya, Nuwara Perehera, Kaitiaya Mangalya – the festival of the lamps and the Aluth Sahal Mangalya – festival of the rice. These had been instituted both for religious and political objectives.
In ancient Lanka, before the approach of the New Year, the king’s physicians and astrologers were allocated specified duties. The former, to superintend preparation of a thousand pots of juices of medicinal plants at the Natha Devale in the premises of the Dalada Maligawa from whence carefully covered and sealed, they were sent to the royal palace and distributed with much ceremony to the temples where at the auspicious time the heads of the people were anointed on the ‘Thel Gana Avurudda’. The king’s head too was anointed with great solemnity. Meanwhile the duty of the astrologers was to form the Nekath Wattoruwa based on which commenced every activity: the Nonagathaya, dawn of the New Year, lighting the hearth, partaking of the first meal, ganu denu or transactions, and settling forth to work.
Sinhala kings gave royal patronage to the celebrations. During the rule of the Nayakkara Kings, festivities shifted to fall in line with the Tamil New Year, Pudu Warsham. The palace was adorned with thoranas or pandals that made a very fine show. On top of implanted poles were flags fluttering and all about hung painted cloth with images and figures of men, beasts, birds, and flowers. In addition, fruits were hung up in order and exactness. On each side of the arches stood plantain trees with bunches of plantains on them. At the appointed time of commencement of the New Year, the king sat on his throne in state surrounded by his chiefs, and the ceremony began.
The rituals of ganu-denu or transactions prevail in society but with a different from the past. In the Kandyan Kings regime the ceremonies were held as a joint ritual with all office bearers participating to prepare the royal cuisine. They were the Bathwadana Nilame, Vahala Ilangama, Muhandiram, Kuttaha Lekam, Sattambi Ralas, Madappuli Ralas, Mulutenge Mahattayas, Pihana Ralas, Mulutenge Naide. Those in attendance were Maha Aramudali Wannaku Nilame, Maha Gabada Nilame, Veebedda Rala and Undiya Rala.
It is recorded that during the ganu-denu period people brought in as taxes, money, corn, honey, cloth, alcohol, oil, wax, iron, elephant tusks and tobacco among other items. Following the ganu-denu the citizens went among their professions. The king himself as the head of the nation went to the field and turned the first sod with the royal golden plough. This was a feature of patronage of the kings and especially the anointing of the head was looked as a special interest taken to look after the health of the people. The traditional outdoor games seem to have disappeared from the villages.
‘’The lessons all the rituals impart is the togetherness, generous collective harmonious living with mutual help and service to others to co-exist’’
By : T V Perera