Sinhala Vs. Tamil New Year
By Dilshani Palugaswewa
Ceylon Today Features
The Sinhala and Tamil New Year is just around the corner and most festivities – although significantly curtailed this year due to the pandemic – are in full swing. From crowds in shopping centres to sold-out sweetmeats, special food preparations, small get-togethers, and a whole lot of tiding up for the New Year – we are ready to celebrate our customs in this new normal.
While households of both the Sinhalese and Tamils celebrate the New Year on the same day, there are a few differences as there are similarities.
A typical month of April will go by with preparations starting a few weeks prior to the New Year. As part of a family activity, members of the family partake in painting walls and cleaning up extensively, to usher in the New Year. The fresh beginning is marked by new clothes and gifts given by relatives and others who visit as part of the New Year tradition.
Avurudu is a two-day celebration for Sinhalese. The first day which is the Old Year is referred to as the parana avurudda while the second day which kicks off the New Year is known as the aluth avurudda. Each year an auspicious colour or two is determined by astrologers, which most Sinhalese wear on the New Year.
The New Year for the Sinhalese doesn’t clock in right after the Old Year has clocked out. Hours pass by after the Old Year before the dawn of the aluth avurudda – leaving some time in-between. This is known as nonagathe which means inauspicious time. This time, when the sun is out of time and is in transition from Pisces to Aries (the time in-between the transition of the Old Year to the New Year) is believed to be inauspicious, so it is not advised to engage in any sort of activity such as cooking and reading. Thus, important elements like fire and water are not allowed to be used in the houses of those who believe in the alignment of stars and planets, until the end of the nonagathe and the beginning of the New Year.
What can you do during this time? Play games. In fact, New Year games originate from the lack of things to do during this inauspicious period.
When the auspicious time –nakatha– arrives, you will be notified by the distant yet loud fireworks going off. This time is when you are expected to place a pot of milk over firewood setup at the entrance of the house, anticipating it to overflow as it boils. This signifies prosperity for the coming year. Following this, Sinhalese households prepare to cook the first meal –traditionally milk rice– of the New Year at a given auspicious time. This has to be prepared between the auspicious time given to light the hearth and the auspicious time given to have the first meal, which would then open up the table for eating. Meanwhile, before eating, young people worship their elders to get their blessing. Subsequently, the most awaited moment arrives – people indulge in the food spread ranging from traditional sweets to other traditional dishes.
In the Tamil households
Things happen slightly differently in Tamil households during New Year. For starters, their New Year is not a two-day event. Rituals are carried out only on the New Year by doing a few activities. The Tamil New Year has a different name given to it every year and much like the Sinhalese, they too follow a specific colour given by astrologists.
In celebration, on New Year’s Eve, they decorate the floor near the doorsteps with an elaborate design called Kolam made from rice flour.
The day of the New Year, Tamils wake up and bathe at the given auspicious time set for that year with marathu neer – a herbal water that is given by priests at kovils. After this, they wear new clothes with a bit of saffron edged on their clothing.
Subsequently, the families prepare to perform an act of worship know as the Puthu Varuda Pirappu Pooja that only happens on the first day of the Hindu calendar to welcome the New Year.
A tray is prepared with a few elements placed on it: a mirror, an oil lamp, and kumbam, which is a silver or gold pot with a coconut placed vertically on it and surrounded by beetle leaves. In addition to this, there are flowers, fruits (banana, jackfruit, and mango) and food items such as pittu, pongal and vadagam placed together. After the pooja, the tray is placed before the statues of gods and people ask for the blessings of the gods and goddesses for another prosperous year.
After the pooja is done young people worship their elders to get their blessings for the coming year. It could be their mother, father or teachers. The rest of the day’s rituals are completed by eating meals together and going to the kovil afterwards.
Kai Vishesham is another important custom which is performed at the given auspicious time (set for that year) in which the elders of a household present money to the youngsters in the household to signify the first financial transaction of the year. The Kai Vishesham is thought to bring good luck to youngsters.
To sum it up, the Sinhala and Hindu New Year is sure to bring not only those celebrating but also the rest of the country closer to enjoy the exciting food.
Here’s wishing you all a blessed New Year!