Sinhala & Tamil New Year (Hela Avurudda) - Grand Annual Festival!
This is one of the well-known and commonly celebrated festivals in Sri Lanka, falls on the 13th and 14th of April every year. Sri Lankan Buddhists and Hindus celebrate this New Year while the other communities also take part during the course of the celebrations irrespective of ethnic or religious differences.
The traditions associated with the Sinhala & Tamil New Year are manifold, colorful and meaningful too. Auspicious times take pride of place in celebrations. All rituals are carried out to precision at times prescribed by Astrologers ahead of the beginning of the year. The inauspicious time is called the “Nonagatha” which means no Nekath (auspicious times), and hence is prescribed to engage in religious observances at temples. This New Year falls during the harvest season when the farming community has a good time of wealth and happiness.
The objective of the whole feast, is the getting together of the family members. The father of the family and menfolk who are out of the village most of the time during the year, return home to stay with the family members during the festival. Cheerfulness is everywhere and the children are the happiest. The women folk are busy long before the down of the great day. They are engaged in making sweet meals to welcome the Avurudu (New Year).
Rituals associated with the New Year begin with bathing and end with the first journey to work after the New Year has dawned. The first item in the agenda is the lighting of the hearth abandoned since Nonagatha. New clothes with prescribed colours are also important to be worn. Gifts are exchanged and old ill feeling and quarrels, if any, are forgiven and forgotten. The women beat the Rabana (Drum) to announce joyfully the advent of the Avurudu. Prime among the rituals is the first meal of the year consisting of many sweet meals, where the family gathers and all enjoy the company of each other. The children revere the father, mother and other elders in their family.
Several traditional games such as “climbing the greasy poll, pillow-fighting, tug-o-war, placing eye on elephant, coconut scraping, egg throwing, lime & spoon race, beauty queen contest, cycle race and marathon” where adults, men, women and children join, are also part and parcel of the celebrations. The anointing with an herbal mixture is performed in the temple or by an elder in the home.
The Sri Lankans celebrated the Avurudu even during the colonial occupation. Robert Knox in his transcripts had mentioned that the “Sinhala New Year is the greatest feast of the Sinhala race”. The mood of the occasion is such that none can stay aloof, isolated, or disassociate themselves with the hubbub that is annually made. Today the Sinhala & Tamil New Year has become a national festival engaging all in celebration of family and togetherness and harmony between all communities. As such Hela Avurudda is a symbol of togetherness and harmony.