Monday, April 8, 2013

Sinhala and Tamil New Year

What is the significance of the koha (koel bird) during this festive season? It’s a well known fact that this mystical bird coos only once a year, during the Sinhala and Tamil New Year (the end of the harvest season).

Like many other festivals in Sri Lanka, Avurudu is governed by customary rituals that have been in practice over thousands of years. The New Year dawns at a specific time determined by astrologists. Unlike western calendars, there is a period between the conclusion of the previous year and the beginning of the next. This period is called Nonagatha (neutral period) when the sun moves from the Meena Rashiya (House of Pisces) to the Mesha Rashiya (House of Aries) in the celestial sphere. Individuals are expected to disengage from any form of work and dedicate their time to prayer and religious observance. When this period is over the New Year finally dawns with much celebration.

Following this, the festivities start with the lighting of the hearth. A pot of milk is placed over the fire as the family gathers around to watch this ritual. If the milk boils over it is a sign of prosperity for the coming year. As with all other customs during this season, every ritual has an auspicious timing and significance – even the colour of the clothing you wear. This year the auspicious colour is bronze.

Another tradition that will take place is the ‘Hisa tel Gaama’ where the elders of the family bless the younger members by saying ‘Ekasiya vissata desiya vissak Ayuboho vewa!’  Which loosely translates to may you live a long and prosperous life. Interestingly, this is the origin of the word Ayubovan, which is a popular way of greeting one another in Sri Lanka.

Milk rice (kiri bath) is the quintessential festive meal prepared to celebrate the New Year. It is an unsweetened rice pudding that is made with coconut milk and eaten with a variety of spicy condiments. It also happens to be my favourite dish of this festive season!

The New Year does not only involve the exchange of gifts, stuffing yourself to the gills with Sri Lankan delicacies, religious observance / customary rituals and visiting long lost relatives. It is also a time of reflection. Reflecting on the previous year’s achievements and obstacles as well as gearing up the year ahead.

Happy New Year!

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