When the Sun transits from Meena Rashi to Mesha Rashi in the celestial sphere, we celebrate the dawn of the Sinhala and Hindu New year. The month of ‘Bak’, as we call it in Sinhala, is considered as the month of celebration.
We spoke to the former Dean of the Faculty of Arts, University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Professor Tissa Kariyawasam about special rituals and customs practised in different areas of the country. He also shared his views about the way; the New Year is practised today.
Rituals of the Sinhala and Hindu New year begin with the sighting of the Moon. There are two days dedicated for this ritual; one is for the old year and the other is for the New Year. The next ritual is bathing for the old year. People refrain from having a bath after this day until the auspicious time for the anointment of oil and bathing for the New Year arrives.
The time between the old year and the New Year is known as the Nonagathe or the Punya Kalaya. People attend religious activities during this time. However, during this period they refrain from doing other activities such as cooking, eating and studying.
When the New Year dawns, the sound of crackers and the cuckoo bird announces the good news. Then the woman of the house lights the hearth at the auspicious time and prepares the first meal of the New Year. This meal is eaten at the auspicious time given to partake the meal. At that time the rituals of commencement of work and the first transaction are also performed.
However, these rituals slightly differ in various parts of the country. Though, Buddhists attend temples during the Punya Kalaya is the normal practice, in some parts of the country people worship their regional gods. "In ancient agricultural societies, people worshipped many regional gods who were believed to be the in-charge of the area," said Prof. Kariyawasam. "Hurulu Deviyo is worshipped in Anuradhapura. Kalu Bandara deyiyo and Mangara Deviyo are also some of the regional gods," he said. People worshipped these gods during Punya Kalaya.
The goddess of Chastity, Paththini Deviyo is the main figure among the people of Horana. Some rituals such as peli yama, ang keliya, are duties practised especially for her. These usually start at the end of January and end during Avurudu time.
In areas such as Kalutara and Ratnapura most of the rituals were also connected with the Paththini deity. There was a person named Paththini hami in these villages. He was one of the farmers in that area, who owned the Devala and jewellery from the goddess known as Paththini Salamba.
There were several Kapu Raalas who worked for him. Just before the Sinhala and Hindu New Year, Paththini hami paid a visit to every household to collect the first portion from their harvest. This portion was known as Pin Vee. Then he offered this share to the goddess.
"A similar tradition was carried out in Kandy
as well. Here, the Diyawadana Nilame of the Dalada Maligawa collected the amount of paddy, which belongs to the Maligawa," said Prof. Kariyawasam.
Farmers of Anuradhapura did their duties to God Kalu Bandara and God Minneri during the Punya Kala. Kalu Banadara Deviyo is believed to be one of the gods who volunteered to protect Sri Maha Bodhi. People from Padukka were famous for their Gammadu tradition.
They started singing hymns to Goddess Paththini during the first week of April. In addition to these, another custom practised by the villagers in the North Western Province is that once the cleaning is done, the ash from the hearth is placed in a winnowing fan (kulla) and kept outside the house until the dawn of the New Year.
These villagers believe in a mythical character called alu bokka who is 'supposed to' take all the bad and evil spirits away from the household, before the New Year dawns.
"In the modern world, people do not practise these customs," said Prof. Tissa Kariyawasam. "It is an ancient custom to visit parents and relatives during the New Year. Unlike other Asian countries, Sri Lankans now celebrate the Avurudu as if it is a fashion," he said. It is important to keep to traditions of the New Year. This is an event that has been celebrated for many years. Even Robert Knox mentions about celebrating the New Year in his book 'A Historical Relation to Ceylon'. Let us preserve these customs and help them prevail for many more years.