Sinhala and Tamil New Year with Easter

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By 2017-04-08

It is unusual that the season of Easter coincides with the Sinhala and Tamil New Year as they do this year. The Aluth Avurudda falls on Friday 14 April which is Good Friday. The people who celebrate the two occasions are in two more or less exclusive groups: Sinhalese Buddhists and Tamil Hindus as Aluth Avurddu celebrants while most Christians are Sinhalese, Tamils and Burghers.So within the races there will be those who celebrate and those who are in sorrow; those who have the sun going from one house to another and astrologers dictating terms with their auspicious times to do this and that and the other group mourning the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

One group in villages mostly will beat the rabana, play games, hold Avuruddu Uthsava and eat, drink and make merry. The other group mostly urban, after 40 days of Lenten sacrifice, will on this Friday go to church and suffer the pain of the crucified Jesus while singing hymns to organ music. But don't worry. The Sinhala New Year goes on for about ten days, until oil is anointed on the head, the first bath for the New Year taken and at the auspicious time, people setting off for work. The mourning Christians who gave up one fractional item of living during Lent will go to town celebrating the arisen Christ with rich food and that which cheers on Easter Sunday.

Significance of Easter

Kumari knew full well the significance of Easter. Schooling in a Methodist school, and studying Christianity and going to services in the tiny school chapel or the large Methodist Church in town, she knew all about Jesus' betrayal by Judas Iscariot, his sad night at Gethsemini, his carrying the cross and being nailed to it and then on the third day rising from the dead and going to heaven. Kumari hated Iscariot and Pontius Pilate and agonized and then was joyful at the resurrection, so much so that she wished she were born a Christian! But she was soon diverted by a new dress, money gifts, worshipping elders and betters and even as a kid appreciating the customs that were followed adding to the culture of race and country

The April season then

Thoughts go back to new years of long ago. It was celebration from the first cry of the koha and that's early in March. Village women would come to Kumari's home in Kandy and pound paddy and then rice for obtaining flour to make traditional sweets -kondakavun, small flat kavuns known as athiraha, kokis, unduvel,aluwa and a crunch-munch we called bibara – little knots of flour deep fried and spread with melted sugar.

Their neighbour, Mrs Jansz, sacrificed eating beef during the forty days of Lent. It was a sacrifice since Burghers had plenty of this meat for lunch and dinner - the latter as one old cookappu said, 'istubistake' combining stew and steak all in one word.

Kumari does not think her friend in the Jansz family gave up anything for Lent as she was a kid, but church going was indulged in extra much during this season. They went to St. Paul's Church in Kandy, while Kumari went with her family to the Dalada Maligawa, a stone's throw away. Just like Christians had their Good Friday services, a midnight vigil for the grown-ups, Kumari went to the Maligawa on the parana Avurudda and the aluthavurudda too, at the nonagatha kale and to obtain blessings once the New Year dawned.

To match the Sinhala kavuns were the Christian chocolate Easter bunnies and all sorts of confectionaries. So the lace covered trays that went from one house to another in the neighbourhood and back again had the traditional New Year Sinhala sweets; the vades and Tamil sweets and Easter egg chocolates and cake. It was proof of amiable neighbourly living of the three races following Buddhism, Hinduism and several Christian religions. This was in Katukelle Kandy with houses close to each other along Peradeniya Road.

Village celebrations

In Kumari's grandmother's village in Peradeniya the family was rather isolated since the matriarch did not encourage friendliness with like homes that were quite distant then. She was dutiful to the workers; gave each man a sarong and money, and to each woman who pounded paddy or flour and did other sundry chores, a cheethé each and money again. Meals of course were cooked in vast pots since everyone who dropped in between ten in the morning and two in the afternoon had a rice and curry meal.

That's every day, not merely seasonal. Plates however, were miscellaneous, designated by her caste-wise, ranging from China to the spathes of the arecanut inflorescence and cleaned out half coconut shells. The poor men and women took it, the hierarchy so established in the village, that there was no grumbling, not even black looks. Family members did not consider it improper because they too were brought up to accept this discrimination. Neither could they object since the old lady was completely opinioned. Later, when younger ones were against the caste system, the grandmother and the system were no more.

Kids however had a ball! It was a case of swinging on a swing strung on a strong branch of a mango tree close to the house;

pleading with men to pluck luscious red jambus from two trees in the front compound. New dresses were stitched with the pedal machine whirring away late into the night. Kumari remembers an organdy dress she got for a new year- sweet, pinkand fluffy but cruel if edges touched tender skin. Organdy was a popular material then.

It was exciting to see the ferris wheel called a kathuru onchillawa being constructed in the kamatha now free of piled straw since the Maha harvest had been reaped and rice stored weeks ago. The straw was now being used by the villagers to thatch their roofs anew. If their roofs were of cadjan, women were busy weaving them since spring cleaning extended to roofs and floors then. If the floor was of cow dung or mud, these too had to be replenished. Kumari remembers her cousin squatting on the floor splashing cow dung mixed with water in the kitchen of her house and smoothening it with her fingers.

The April season Now

Most of that fun is gone from Kumari's extended family. Villages, however, do come alive during this post-harvest season and even the villager enjoys respite from daily toil. Family members gather in their ancestral homes with the towns temporarily deserted. They have fun, but I suspect its avurudu cycle races and beauty pageants with traditional outdoor games and not tame swinging on rope swings or delighting in eating jambu. TV invades the home and dictates auspicious hours. Colombo-ites swelter and do nothing much in preparation for the Sinhala Aluth Avurudda except grumblingly buy gifts for domestics and drivers and gardeners and the garbage man. The sophisticates of course flee to cooler climes and Colombo's loss is Nuwara Eliya's gain. It's good to hear the koha– that's proof there's greening of the city.

And so it's another Aluth Avurudu season here again - and gone too soon. Hope things improve for Sri Lankans battling the COL.

But from people's prognoses it looks as if we are in for worse. Never mind, we will have Vesak to look forward to, then August and peraheras and fruit, and then will come Christmas and another New Year.

Kumari wishes each one of her readers a Subhama Subha Aluth Avuruddak!
– Kumari




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