April 2018


Dawn of the Sinhala and Tamil New Year Lights the Lamp of Unity
April 2018




Raban Gasima, as the New Year dawns, sounds of the drumming fill the air
© BT Images

It's the koha's (koel bird) call, which first breaks the news that the Sinhala and Tamil New year is round the corner. The entire nation is wide awake in anticipation for the auspicious hour to dawn when communities unite as one to kindle prosperity's hearth and light the lamp of hope to herald the advent of another new year.


Words: Manu Gunasena
Photography: Rasika Surasena


In the morning on Saturday April 14th, at the auspicious time, Avurudu or Puththandu dawns. Millions will almost in unison rise from their respective family tables to light the flame of the traditional oil lamp with their cherished expectations and cloistered prayers. It is a unique moment in time when a nation strikes a match to flare the hope soaked wick of happiness, goodwill and blessings to all.


Auspicious times reign supreme for both Sinhalese and Tamils who share a common background as well as a religious and a cultural relationship thousands of years old. And at the epicentre of it all is the solar sun.


The whole saga of the Sinhala and Tamil New Year starts when the Sun begins its annual journey to the constellation of Mars dominated sign of Aries and to sojourn there for a month. But to cross the boundary will take over seven hours and to be enthroned in the seat of Mars it will take another six and a half hours. This period is known as Nonagathe. It is the inauspicious hours where one is advised to avoid embarking upon any new activity and urged instead to visit the temple and concentrate on religious matters until the sun enters Aries to shine in all its glory and power again.


During the auspicious times on Saturday April 14, millions of Sinhalese and Tamils will light the hearth and boil the pot of milk, and anxiously wait for the milk to brim to the top and spill over, a symbol of a year flowing with the milk and honey of prosperity. Then they make the traditional kiri bath (milk rice), and a whole host of sweetmeats to adorn the New Year table.


For the Sinhalese, after the meal is concluded, it will be the time for ganu denu, the first transaction for the New Year to be made. In keeping with age old traditions, the young ones will offer a sheaf of betel to their elders and pay homage and respect to them in worship. Thereafter it will be time to join in the New Year revelry. On April 16, will be hisa thel gaama, a ceremony where everyone is anointed with blessed oil by either the head of the household or the monk at the temple.

Auspicious times reign supreme for both Sinhalese and Tamils who share a common background as well as a religious and a cultural relationship thousands of years old.


Meanwhile, the Hindu community celebrates the dawn of Puththandu by first cleansing the house with sprinkled water mixed with turmeric, the antiseptic herb of Asia. While incense is burned, a coconut is broken open by the head of the family; it is a symbolic act to remove evil and invite blessings.


Immediately after the New Year meal is made and the lamp lit, Hindus will make their pilgrimage to the nearest kovil to make offerings. It is a pooja of specially selected food offered to the Sun God or Surya Bhagavan and God Ganesh, the lord of wisdom and remover of obstacles. Subsequently, they return home to consume the new year meal, which will consist of paal soru (milk rice) or pongal, vadai, and other sweetmeats. It is followed by kai-vishesham, the auspicious time for transactions. Before the first bath of the New Year, marutha neer, or herbal water blessed at the kovil, is applied on the forehead.


Out in the open air, the customary entertainment of the season begins. In Sinhalese homes, both the young and old, gather around a banku rabana, a circular one sided drum, about four feet in diameter and, using both hands, beat out a steady staccato rhythm to accompany the raban pada they sing.


The New Year is also time for the people to renew old family ties and friendships and streams of visitors flow into households to offer their best wishes and exchange plates of sweetmeats. Young girls and boys clad in tradition attire will be on the swings.


The young men take part in hotly contested cycle races and marathons (gama haraha divima) to win the cup and perhaps the heart of the Avurudu Kumari. During the Avurudu season, young girls present themselves in the village pageant to be named the princess of the village.

The Hindu community celebrates the dawn of Puththandu by first cleansing the house with sprinkled water mixed with turmeric, the antiseptic herb of Asia.


Many also attempt to prove their prowess during kotta pora, a friendly fight upon a suspended horizontally placed pole. It's a single combat fight with pillows where the aim is to dislodge the rival with one big smack of the feather filled bag. It may look easy, but not when one has to balance on the pole with one hand tied behind his back. Another entertaining game to watch is lissana gahey nageema where one attempts to climb a greasy pole and grab the prized flag on top. Kana mutti bindima is a game where blindfolded contestants try to smash a pot. Banis kaema is a race to finish eating a bun suspended off a string while one's hands are tied behind.


Guessing the identity of the the ‘hidden stranger' (sangawunu amuththa) in the villagers' midst is an intriguing task while the race to see who can grate a coconut first is one that requires great skill. Board games such as olinda keliya and pancha damima are also played. Aliyata eha thabeema is especially popular with the children, who while blindfolded must mark the eye on an illustration of an elephant. These games are great fun and are quite entertaining to watch.


The Sinhala and Tamil New Year is a festival that brings communities together to live in peace and harmony. It is a time for tradition, sharing and hope.

  • image01
    image01

    A symbol of prosperity – the pot of milk overflows

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    Ganu Denu or Kai-vishesham – money is exchanged at an auspicious time

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    Hisa Thel Gama, being annointed with blessed oil

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    Milk rice and lunu miris, the auspicious dish

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    Hindus place a Kumbam in homes for prosperity

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    Devotees visit the kovil to receive blessings as Puththandu dawns

    Prev Next