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The Sunday TimesPlus

13th April 1997



Where memories live on

Kshalini Nonis and ChaminthaThilakaratna visit a ‘theme village’ where one can experience all the customs and traditions associated with Avurudu

The hectic pace of life today, often makes us forget the importance and significance of the Sinhala New Year, the heralding of which begins even before the actual celebrations. The ‘Aluth Avuruddha’ has been one of the significant events in the agricultural calendar since the days of the kings, when Sri Lanka was known as ‘Peradiga Dhanyagaraya’. However, with time and development, the customs and traditions have, for many urban dwellers, become a mere formality.

For the villagers, the New Year begins with the harvesting season. After a successful crop, the villagers prepare for the New Year, with everything from the clay pots they cook in to the roofs that shelter them being replaced, in preparation for the coming year. For the villagers, the New Year would not be considered to have begun on an auspicious note, if the customs of the old year which usually ends with the ‘Nonagatheya’ are not followed. With betel and sweetmeats, they visit their relatives to ask for forgiveness for any ill feeling that took place in the old year. Thus they face a new beginning .........with the New Year.

With fire-crackers and the lighting of the hearth at the auspicious time, the arrival of the new year is heralded. Milk Rice with the ‘aluth haal’ and ‘kavum’, ‘kokis’ and other sweet meats decorate the table whilst kids enthusiastically await the moment they have been dreaming of..... the auspicious time to read and write. Having offered the food to their deities and worshipped their elders with betel leaves, the housewives involve themselves in the custom known as ‘ganu denu’. Then follows customary visit to the relatives.

At a time when these customs are virtually dying out, every aspect of a Sri Lankan village is relived at Pasgama, a theme village, located in a typically rural setting two hours away from Colombo. At Pasgama, one can experience the saga of a 5000 year old culture every step of the way, and meet village inmates at every social level.

Visitors to Pasgama are greeted by everyone from the Village Arachchi to the ‘Veddha’ in the jungles. According to Christo Lappen, Manager of Pasgama,the village was set up primarily as a tourist attraction and a reminder of the traditional life style of the village which prevailed several decades ago. As much as the identity of the village is preserved, the culture as well as the politics of that time are cleverly portrayed at Pasgama.

Although it is prohibited to smoke in the village, there is an official ‘suruttu maker’ who is one of the village headman’s stooges, and thus permitted to sell them, although any one found smoking could incur a stiff punishment. While there, we were able to witness the severe punishment given to a villager who was caught red-handed while making what is better known as ‘Hora arrack’. The punishment given was what is known as ‘Dhadu Kanda gaheema’- once meted out during the days of the Sinhala Kings.

The variety of food on offer varies from ‘beli-mul’ and ‘ranavara’ served in typical Sri Lankan clay cups with jaggery to delicious meals of rice and curry with a drink of nectar from coconut buds to complete the meal. The well-equipped restaurant, called ‘Vedi Maluwa’ has aboriginal architecture, while the ‘Kitchen Band’ who sport instruments made out of pots and spoons and a ‘pittu-bambuwa’ connected to a rope as a microphone keep the guests entertained. Meanwhile, anyone who is on the lookout for a partner is likely to be approached by the village ‘Kapu Mahattaya’with a proposal to a ‘govi raja’.

Those spending a day at the village would have to get a pot from the potter and vegetables from the village vegetable plots and be a part of the interdependent lifestyle. Every service in the village is exchanged for another.

Even the guest bungalows are built with the rustic touch, where one works with the help of an oil lamp and takes a bath from a shower made either out of the coconut shell or the use of a slanted rock.

Travel within the village is by bullock-cart or by foot to the village market, jewellery shop, the barber or anywhere else. If one is in the mood for a different kind of entertainment one has a choice of a ‘Vedhi Barbecue Dance’ or an ordinary village dance in the evenings depending on the package one requests for. Those looking for a typical Sri Lankan wedding, can enjoy the customs and traditions of the past, in idyllic surroundings complete with ‘Jaymangala Gatha’and ‘Seth Kavi’.

According to Lappen, the concept of a theme village came from Royston de Zilwa who having been a tour guide was inspired by the fact that foreigners tend to cherish the memories of a visit to a ‘bath kade’ or a ‘village house’ rather than a monument of historical significance. Their keenness to experience the authentic village lifestyle of a by-gone era, prompted him to set up Pasgama.

For the Sinhala New Year, Pasgama has a unique selection of activities planned from cycle races, cross country races, climbing the greased pole to fancy dress parades, pillow fights and cart races, not to mention the ‘Avurudhu Kumari’ and ‘The Best Stomach Competition’. A visit here, during the Avurudu holidays would certainly bring back memories for many.

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