A New Year and
a new life
We consulted Sinhala scholar Edwin Ariyadasa for some insights into the traditional New Year.
He explained that the ‘New Year’ celebration is “the oldest celebration known to mankind, celebrated all over the world in different countries and by different cultures.”
“In climates where winter sets in, and the trees wither and life itself seems to wither, people celebrated the return of the sun and the return to life. That is the ancient origin of the ‘New Year’ celebration. It was a celebration of nature and life. Religious aspects were added later,” said Ariyadasa.
“In Sri Lanka, we do not have such clearly marked seasons in the year but we derived the practice from our origins in north India. Later, through the centuries, we localised the traditions and the rituals,” explained Ariyadasa.
The traditional Sri Lankan New Year, in the month of April (the month of Bak), is based not just on the new harvest but on the path of the stars. The New Year or Aluth Avurudhu (in Sinhala) and Puththandu (in Tamil), dawns in Sri Lanka when the sun moves from the Meena Rashiya ( the house of Pisces) to the Mesha Rashiya ( the house of Aries) in April.
This transition of the sun marks the end of the harvest season and also coincides with one of two instances when the sun shines down directly above Sri Lanka.
Cost on tradition
Today, all over world, people have forgotten the original meaning of the ‘New Year’ with its links to ‘new life’ and nature. In Sri Lanka too, the old traditions are disappearing fast.
“We are totally neglecting our New Year traditions. It has become another commercial event. The main reason is the change in lifestyle,” says Ariyadasa.The cost of living is another reason for abandoning traditions.“The cost of celebrating the New Year, with all the traditional sweetmeats and traditional activities, is so high, most people can’t afford it,” says Ariyadasa.Take the traditional New Year sweetmeat, the kavum (a type of rice cake). Kavum or kavuma, is derived from the Sinhala term ‘what is eaten.’ This year, kavum is going at the rate of Rs 20.00 each.“So can people afford ‘what is eaten’ any more?” quips Ariyadasa.