You know when Avurudu is around the corner when the cashier at the supermarket bills your groceries while squirming in discomfort in her ‘reddai-hetta’, when the koha’s musical cry heralds the season, when the displays at bakeries are dominated by Avurudu treats and when seasonal sales fill every nook and cranny of the city.
Of course there’s more to Avurudu than that. Avurudu or the Sinhala and Tamil New Year, is a time when people discard the trappings of urban living and indulge in age-old traditions and customs. From boiling milk, playing traditional New Year games and sharing sweetmeats with neighbours and friends – the New Year is a cultural festival of fellowship, good will and high spirits.
The Mirror Magazine spoke to young people to find out if the essence of Avurudu is still alive among the youth of the country.
“Oh definitely,” says Hasulie Dias Abeyesinghe (20) emphatically, “I know in today’s busy schedule we are always juggling something. However, I feel that we should honour our rich Sri Lankan culture and use the occasion to unplug ourselves from the world. At the other extreme, you don’t need to completely go overboard with celebrations. But essentials like lighting the hearth at the correct time, offering betel leaves to elders, ganu denu, the old traditions – must not be forgotten.”
“As a kid I never really took it very seriously, as in I didn’t really see its importance,” says Hasulie, “But I realize now that it helps us reconnect with our culture. And it also gives me the opportunity to pay my respect to my parents and elders, a notion we often forget and overlook.” Elaborating about New Year celebrations at home - “We start with the auspicious times and the rituals, followed by food. We have kiribath and kavili laid out in the morning, and the family drops by to exchange presents.”
Aravintham Kirupananvamoorthy explains that his New Year activities include bathing in maruthu neer, praying at the temple, applying vipoothi, making sweetmeats and spending time with family and friends. Aravintham believes that customs were conceived with certain rationales behind them and have stood the test of time. “Everything has a reason,” he explains.
Prepared by the priests, the maruthu neer, for instance is believed to have medicinal qualities and is a concoction of herbs, leaves, flowers and saffron obtained from the temple while the vipoothi is symbolic of the fact that after death, we are merely a handful of ash.
Vinitha Rajenthiran (20) too follows similar customs upon the dawn of the New Year. She explains that after making milk rice and sweetmeats, a portion is offered to the Gods and prayers are observed before eating. “My parents and their parents have been following these traditions over the years and I really believe in it,” she says simply.
While the country is bustling with preparations for the festivities, how do the Lankans abroad celebrate the festival?
Celebrating Avurudhu in the land down under is Rishan Danthasinghe (23), though he says “I go to my uncle’s place to celebrate Avurudhu, but that’s probably in the weekend instead of Avurudu day, and so I won’t be able to take part in the rituals at the scheduled times,” adding “yes, we do have Avurudu games here as well.” Even though some of the traditions are followed by Lankans in Australia, what Rishan misses the most of is the variety of treats that are prepared for the festival back here.
“In my family, Avurudhu was a big deal,” explains Malika Yapa (20) currently studying in the USA and is away from the preparations preceding the New Year, “and what I loved the most was the fact that my entire family, all my cousins and uncles and aunts from all over, and everyone living in Colombo, would go to Badulla, (my grandparents house) and celebrate it together, and we would usually follow all the traditional customs and the games and everything. But the atmosphere was what I liked the most as in the way everyone got together.”
While plans for celebrating Avurudu are still in the pipeline, Malika remains wistful with having to miss the bustle that New Year brings with it, saying that what she misses most about the season is the sight of her grandmother going around, making preparations for the day.