Happy Puthu Varusham!

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14 April is celebrated as their traditional New Year by the Sinhala people. The Tamil people also celebrate this as their New Year. Hence it is known as the Sinhala and Tamil New Year. This is because both these communities are ancient agrarian communities which had worshipped the sun god as the mightiest natural power and life-giver.

Today, although we do not follow the ancient traditions and customs as we used to do, still the essence of this harvest festival that worships the sun and nature, echoes among us.

Just as the Sinhalese do, Tamils in Sri Lanka too celebrate 14 April with festivity.

14 April is not only celebrated as the traditional New Year by the Sinhalese and the Tamils, but also by people in Assam, Bengal, Bihar, Cambodia, Himachal, Hariyana, Kerala, Laos, Myanmar, Nepal, Odisha, Panjab, Thailand and Tripura. This is clear evidence of the shared socio-cultural connections between ancient communities in South and Southeast Asia since early historic times.

The main reason behind the New Year is the transition of the sun from the Meena Rashi to the Mesha Rashi, which is why this is also called the Sankranti or transition of the sun.

The traditional Tamil New Year is also called Puthandu or Puthu Varusham. Vishu is another name used for the Tamil New Year in some parts of South India. Trays that are filled with auspicious items such as three auspicious fruits (banana, jackfruit, and mango), coins, lamp, mirror and so forth are prepared, and houses are decorated with colorful kolam designs to welcome the New Year.

Tamil New Year in Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, Tamils celebrate the traditional New Year with the Sinhalese. To know about how they celebrate the New Year, a good Tamil friend of ours, Srimati joined us to share her knowledge with us. She was originally from Mavattapuram village in Jaffna and now lives in Colombo.

“We only celebrate New Year on 14 April and we do not do anything on 13 April as the Sinhalese do,” she said. The difference is that the Sinhalese consider 13 April as the last day of the previous year and the day is mainly observed by being engaged in religious activities.

“On the 14th morning, at an auspicious time, we go to the kovil. From the kovil we get blessed holy water. This water is used for bathing. But we do not have an auspicious time for bathing.”

After bathing with holy water, they all wear new clothes. Cleansed and wearing new clothes, next they prepare milk rice which is to be offered to the sun god.

Srimati said that those in Batticaloa prepare milk rice with cow’s milk as they have it in abundance, while those in Jaffna and Colombo prepare milk rice with coconut milk.

When the pot is boils and the milk overflows, rice is added to it. While it is been cooked, treacle, plums, and cashews are added, as preferred.

“We then have an auspicious time to do ganu denu,” she said. “Children worship parents and elders and then they are gifted with money that is given with some grains of rice wrapped in betel leaves,” she explained.

After that families go to the kovil.

New Year Food

She explained that they prepare a sweet similar to the mung kavum we make, but the difference is that they do not cut it into pieces, but make them into balls and then cover them in flour and fry them in oil.

Also, another delicious sweet is made by mixing flour with water, cutting it, and then deep frying it in oil. Then, liquid sugar is poured over it.

Vadai is also made as a New Year food, said Srimati.

“We keep all this food on a clean washed banana leaf, with milk rice and offer it to the sun god. Lamps are also lit and offered to the sun god.”

She also said that they have small shrines inside houses to worship the sun god and carry out all these offerings. They also decorate the house door with mango leaves.

When asked she said that decorating entrances with mango leaves is an age-old tradition of the Tamils and that there is a different way of pinning the leaves, depending on the occasion.

Attire

Tamil attire is usually vibrant and glittery. For New Year, they wear new clothes which are bright and vibrant. Young girls wear the traditional long skirt with a blouse while older women wear sarees. Men, wear the Vettiya. Both adorn themselves with gold jewelry. 

After the New Year is celebrated on 14 April, they visit their relatives. If this does not happen on the 14, they visit their relatives on another auspicious day. Usually, when doing so, they avoid days such as Tuesday or Thursday and go on Mondays or Wednesdays.

“We do not have a ritual of nava sanda baleema as the Sinhalese do. That is a North Indian tradition.”

As she further explained, there is no special day or time to apply oil and bathe, as they apply oil and massage before bathing as a regular practice.

“Upcountry Tamil communities have an Indian influence in their New Year celebrations,” she explained. “There are slight but notable differences between the ways the New Year is celebrated by the Tamils in Sri Lanka from village to village,” she concluded.

We wish all our readers a very happy and prosperous Sinhala and Tamil New Year.

By Ama H. Vanniarachchy