The Sinhala and Hindu New Year
The Sinhala and Hindu New Year (avurudu), is celebrated on April 13th
- 14th . This is a special time in Sri Lanka. The larders are full since
the harvest has just been collected, the trees are full of flowers,
homes are freshly painted and it is time for festivities. Children next
week by now it will be Avurudu time . A time for enjoyment and a time to
show love and affection to elders. This is a special time when families
The precise times when the old year ends, and the new year begins,
(most times the two do not coincide) are calculated by astronomers, and
is generally announced by the peal of temple bells. Everything during
this time must be performed at precise times (nakatha), and in the
The first lighting of the hearth, start of work, first transaction,
first meal and first application of oil to hair, to name a few are all
done according to nekath times. In between these rituals, the time is
spent playing games, visiting friends and relatives, enjoying the many
sweetmeats that are made for the occasion, and generally having a great
Music and poetry has always been a part of village life in Sri Lanka,
and what better time to enjoy some singing and merry making than the
avurudu festival?. Poetry contests, or contests between teams of
drummers between adjoining villages are common during these
celebrations, Village beauties play the rabana, a one sided drum,
somewhat like an enormous tambourine. Sometimes the older folk also
engage in playing the rabana.
In April (the month of Bak), when the sun moves from the Meena
Rashiya (House of Pisces) to the Mesha Rashiya (House of Aries) in the
celestial sphere; Sri Lankans celebrate Aluth Avurudu(in Sinhala) and
Puththandu (in Tamil). It marks the end of the harvest season and also
coincides with one of two instances when the sun is directly above Sri
Lanka. On the day of celebrations, the sun is directly above Koggala
(where a Sun devale can be found). A new year of the Saka era begins
with each festival. The nonagathe or punyakale, the neutral period,
unlike western traditions the ending of the old year and the beginning
of the new year occur several hours apart from one another(this span is
determined by astrology as well). The Sri Lankan New Year dawns with
times drawn out by astrological signs.
During the nonagathe according to custom people refrain from doing
any activity and engage in religious activities and traditional games.
There are traditional games people engage in during the festive
season and more often than not they start before the dawn of the new
year and continue till much after. The sound of crackers,nila, ahasgundu
as well as the sounds of the raban and joyous laughter, especially of
children mingles with the melodious call of the koel during this time.
Like all the age-old rituals connected with the New Year these games
are enjoyed by one and all. Then there are Avurudu Ulelas, where many
people participate in the traditional games.
These games are different to the games played at other times. Pancha
keliya, onchili pedeema, kalagedi sellama, olinda keliya and porapol
geheema, mallawa pora, ali pora, gon pora, lanupora addima, rilapeti
pedima, daadu gasima are some of the games played during this time. They
bring fun and joy and at the same time teach us the value of team
This is a popular game. Pancha is played with five small seashells, a
coconut shell, and a chart. Players are divided into two groups. Onchili
pedeema is famous among women, where a swing is tied on a strong branch
of a tree in the garden. Sometimes there are two people seated on the
swing while another person keeps swaying the swing back and fro while
singing special verses known as onchili waram, also known as known as
varang kavi .Kanamutti bindeema, is a festive game and mainly seen in
Avurudu Ulelas. Here a row of pots are hung while the participants are
blindfolded and select the pot which contains a specific item. The
winner is the person who hits the correct pot.
‘Putting the eye to the elephant’, is an enjoyable experience where
participants are blindfolded and have to spot the elephant’s eye. Then
there is Olinda Keliya and this is the verse sung during this time,
“Olinda thibenne koi koi dese,
Olinda thibenne bangali dese.......
Genth handanne koi koi dese,
Genath handanne Sinhala dese...
Two players participate in this game where nine holes are placed on
either side of a horizontal board. The player who collects the most
number of seeds is the winner.Beating the rabana to the tune of “Dontha
babakkata denna deyakna,Pettagamak uda thutu dekak atha”Children play
the rabana to different raban pada.Then there is the bun eating
competition where a row of buns is strung on a line and has to be eaten
without the use of the hands.
There are many more festive games and many people from grown ups to
children take part in these games.
Throughout the festive season various activities connected with
auspicious times are carried out. On most occasions the whole family
Lissana gaha nageema
(climbing the grease pole)
A very long timber pole made from a puwak tree, about 10 metres high,
is fixed into the ground. At the top of the pole money is placed or
sometimes just a flag.Toddy tappers climb coconut trees on a daily basis
with ease. However the pole has been rubbed with thick slimy grease
along its whole length. The first person to climb to the top claims the
money.However, repeated attempts are made with some of the grease being
removed on each attempt until finally, when all the grease has been
removed, the last person can climb to the top and claim the money.