The human belief that the sun, the moon, the planets and the zodiacs influence earthly events is best displayed when Sri Lankans celebrate the New Year in April.
Words: Jennifer Paldano Goonewardene
Through the clementine mists of yonder, arrives a shiny carriage. A prince in a white crown is the harbinger of glad tidings. He is Indradeva, or the prince of the New Year, descending auspiciously upon the earth. It is the 14th of April, the day of a grand festival in Sri Lanka.
The mythological prince arrives at the dawn of the New Year, which is solely determined by looking at the movement and positions of the celestial bodies through the signs of the zodiac.
The New Year begins when the sun, according to astrology, having travelled in a zodiacal circle of 12 segments, completes the transition from the zodiacal position of Mina (Pisces) to Mesha (Aries), which signifies the end of an old year and the start of a new.
Astrology and its predictions are at the heart of Avurudu celebrations. Every rite is dictated for the good of humans, astrologers say. Although influenced by early Vedic practices, the ancient Sri Lankans would have been well informed about zodiacal studies, had a keen knowledge of the constellations, the movement of the planets and the transition of the sun, an inheritance that tells of a people that worshipped the sun. The sun or 'Soorya' after all, was a god to those who relied on it for a bountiful harvest. Hence, the New Year is also known as the festival of the sun-god.
While in the West, a person's zodiac sign is determined by their month of birth, in Eastern cultures such as Sri Lanka, it is the planetary positions relative to the earth at the time of birth that decides the zodiac sign. Astrologers will disregard the practice of using the mythological symbol that usually denotes each zodiac sign - such as the 'lion' for Leo, 'fish' for Pisces, the 'human-animal' hybrid for Sagittarius - to describe an individual's personality. They describe this as an attempt at providing an ‘artistic interpretation
of zodiac symbols'.
The complete cycle of the sun along the zodiac was accepted as the beginning of a calendar year by agricultural societies like Sri Lanka, as it allowed the calculation of the time of harvesting.
On the other hand, astrology also uses the four elements of air, fire, water and earth to define the unique personality types associated with a zodiac sign. The scrutiny of the planetary movements along the zodiac and their influence on human life dominates the ethos of this epic festival.
It is obviously a busy pre-Avurudu season for astrologers, charting the times for the end of the old year and the beginning of the New Year all the while studying the prospects for the zodiacs, including their influence on wealth, employment, domestic life and health. Thus, an auspicious time is plotted even for the final bath in the old year. There is a special time for every New Year ritual.
Strictly following the designated ‘times' is inviolable for the believer of the power of the zodiac to ensure that the year ahead or the 'Aluth Avurudda' remains free of strife.
It is customary to consult the village astrologer to find out the likely effects of the auspicious times of the New Year on one’s horoscope and future prospects.
Another significant phenomenon with astrological importance is the interim period of the crossing, when the sun has neither completely left Pisces nor fully entered Aries, known as the nonagathaya. The nonagathaya is the only period in the year when the sun is ‘out of time'. This is an inauspicious period, which can have malefic influences on individuals. The movement of the planets along the zodiac cycle at the time of the transition of the sun, it is believed, impacts the earthly events of the person bearing a certain zodiac sign. Fire, water and milk, symbols of fertility are not touched during this period of danger. The malevolence is subverted by engaging in spiritual observances and divine practises.
However, the latter six hours of this ominous period is considered extremely propitious as the sun has by this time entered the house of Aries, which negates all malefic influences associated with the time of transition. This latter period is considered ideal by the astrologers to plot auspicious days and times according to one's zodiac sign. A desire for happiness and success has led humans to rely greatly on astrology, and its many predictions upon the zodiacs. And at Avurudu, astrological deductions associated with the festival are held sacrosanct to ensure a very positive start to a new year.