The Sinhala New Year, also known as Puduvaruddam by the Tamil community is probably the most widely celebrated festival in Sri Lanka. For most Sri Lankans, especially those who live in the city, Avurudhu is nothing more than a social event where they buy each other gifts, wear new clothes and visit friends and relatives that they usually won’t see for the rest of the year. Most people are unaware of why this festival takes place and the colourful folklore that surrounds its origins.
The New Year according to the Gregorian calendar, which is the internationally accepted calendar to measure the year begins on the first of January. Many pre-Christian calendars however, based their measurements of time on the movement of the sun and the moon. A booklet titled ‘The April year festival’ written by prominent Sri Lankan Scholar Professor J.B Dissanayake explains that in Sri Lanka too, ancient communities had such calendars.
Two of these calendars, namely the Buddhist calendar and the Sinhala Calender both follow the waxing and waning of the moon whereas a third calendar, which has it’s origins in ancient India, follow the movement of the sun through the 12 houses of the Zodiac. This is known as the ‘Shaka Calendar’.
This Calendar, interestingly enough is what the Sinhala and Hindu New Year is based on. Professor Dissanayake asks in the booklet what could possibly have prompted the Sri Lankan people to celebrate the beginning of the Shaka Calendar.
His answer is that this may have been because in an agricultural society such as Sri Lanka, the sun would have played a more prominent role than the moon. In traditional astrological terms, the New Year begins when the sun moves from the Zodiac sign Pieces (meena) to the sign of Aries (Mesha)
The Sinhala-Hindu New Year also coincides with the harvest season in agricultural communities, where farmers gather their ripened paddy, which leads us to believe that the origins of this festival would possibly have been because of this factor.
In ancient times, people were awed by the power and magnificence of nature and they set about trying to explain these phenomena. They came to the realisation of the importance of the sun and how life depended on it. Different civilizations gave it many names. The ancient Indians called the sun Soorya and the Sinhalese called the sun Iru Deviyo,thus the sun ceased to be an object and became a being, therefore, ancient communities felt that it was important to appease the sun god and so they began to celebrate the completion of the suns journey and its return to the beginning of the cycle bringing with it the gift of life, causing flowers to bloom and trees to bear fruit etc.
A different, and possibly later myth originating in India talks of the Prince of Peace, known as Indradeva or Sakradeva on which the concept of the Avurudu Kumaraya is possibly based on, comes down to the earth to ensure peace and happiness. Indradeva is believed to be the god that commands thunder, lightning, wind and rain and the principal god of the Thavathimsa celestial abode which is believed to be one of the many realms of the heavens as believed in Buddhist Cosmology.
His arrival on earth is believed to provide peace and harmony and destroy fears faced by man. It is possibly because of this myth that people who celebrate the new year say that this is the time to bury old hatchets and so on. So the Sinhala-Hindu New Year is actually a celebration of fertility and also a celebration of peace and understanding and an appreciation of nature and its bounty.
However, while certain ancient customs are still carried out by some people, most things, such as the emphasis it has on nature have for the most part been forgotten and slowly continue to fade away.