Preserving Avurudu traditions for the future | Sunday Observer

Preserving Avurudu traditions for the future

Avurudu highlights
Avurudu highlights

The Aluth Avurudda has been one of the most significant annual festivals for both Sinhala and Tamil communities, since time immemorial. Its exact beginning is lost in history but Robert Knox, English trader and sailor, recalls that Aluth Avurudda was a major annual festival of the Sinhalese, celebrated grandly with royal patronage, in late March, every year. This was during the period 1659 to 1678 when Knox was a prisoner in Kandy.

The historians believe that the Nayakkar Kings of South India who ruled during the latter part of the Kandyan Kingdom would have shifted the festival to April to synchronise with their own New Year which fell in mid- April. Probably, their strategy would have been to prevent the Sinhalese and the Tamils celebrating two separate festivals in successive months. Historical records indicate that the British rulers declared Sinhala and Tamil New Year as a holiday in 1885.

Customs and rituals

When the sun moves from the Meena Rashiya (House of Pisces) to the Mesha Rashiya (House of Aries) in the celestial sphere, Sri Lankan Sinhalese and Tamils together begin celebrating their Aluth Avurudda and Puththandu.

The timing of the Aluth Avurudda coincides with the New Year celebrations of many traditional calendars of South and Southeast Asia.

The festival has close semblance with the Tamil Aluth Avurudda, Thai New year, Bengali New Year, Cambodian New Year, Lao New Year, Thingyan in Myanmar and Odia New Year festival in India.

In the villages, preparations begin weeks before the festival; homes are cleaned and tidied and all unwanted items thrown away, to mark a new beginning. Sweetmeats are prepared and new clothes purchased. The traditional oil lamp is lit at the auspicious time.

The sound of firecrackers and the rhythm of ‘rabana’ signal the dawn of the Aluth Avurudda. The hearth is then lit by the lady of the house and the pot of milk boiled. Thereafter, the traditional Aluth Avurudu dish, ‘kiribath’ follows.

Kiribath, banana, and many other delicacies form the centrepiece of the table, where families sit around and partake of the meal, the head of the family offering it to all members. The oil lamp is then lit and the feast begins.

Every ritual is performed at an auspicious time.

After the meal, children show respect to their elders by offering sheaves of betel and elders bless them. Plates of sweets and other delicacies are exchanged among the neighbours.

After the main rituals including the oil-anointing, the celebrations move out into open spaces where various traditional games and other activities begin.

Tamil Hindu celebration

The Hindus also celebrate the same Aluth Avurudda, commonly known as ‘Puththandu’, observing the customs and rituals practised by their ancestors. However, they are slightly different. The birth of their Puththandu is known as Varusha Pirappu.

They follow specific customs and rituals. At the auspicious time, Maruthu Neer - clean water boiled with various herbs, selected flowers and leaves, milk, saffron and other ingredients are made by the priests in the kovils.

They take a bath with this “maruthuneer” placing some water on the head.

Thereafter, new clothes are worn and when the Puththandu is born families assemble for prayer at their home.

It begins with the lighting of the traditional lamp (KuthuVilakku). Then the whole family head to the temple for puja and prayers. The elders bless the children, who worship them and seek their blessings and good wishes.

During the New Year festival, the respect for ancestral traditions, backed by rituals and customs have helped to understand that it is important to adhere to the basic principles of morality.

Customs and rituals followed during the Aluth Avurudda represent a critical piece of our culture. They help us to form the structure and foundation of our families and society.

They remind us that we are part of a history that defines our past, shapes the person we are today and who we are likely to become.

Let us review how Avurudu traditions offer numerous benefits to our families.

l A source of identity. Avurudu traditions and rituals often tell a story about a family. On the macro level, Avurudu traditions teach children where their family came from or give them an insight into their cultural or religious history (e.g. worshipping parents and elders on Avurudda Day). On a more micro level, Avurudu traditions serve as reminders of events that have shaped your family (e.g. every year the whole family circle meets at the parental residence). There’s something about understanding your past and knowing that you belong to a great culture.

l Strengthen family bond. Researchers have found that families that engage in frequent Avurudu traditions report stronger connection and unity than families that haven’t established rituals together. Avurudu traditions provide an all-too-rare chance for face-to-face interaction, help family members get to know and trust each other, and create a bond that comes from feeling that one is part of something special.

l Comfort and security. Avurudu traditions and rituals are the antidote to the harried feeling that comes from our fast-paced and ever-changing world. It’s comforting to have a few constants in life. Maybe you have moved your family to a new town and everything is new and strange for your children, but at least they know that every Avurudu Day, they would meet their cousins and friends.

l Moral values. One of the main purposes of rituals, whether religious or local, is to impart and reinforce values. The same goes with Avurudu traditions. Through visits to the temple during punya kalaya, respecting elders and participating in the traditional avurudu games, the preservation of social value is instilled.

l Connect generations. In his book “The Secrets of Happy Families,” Bruce Feiler argues that children who have a high level of grandparental involvement have fewer emotional and behavioural problems. It is also correlated to lower maternal stress and higher involvement of parents. Avurudu traditions are a great way to cultivate that valuable grandparental involvement.

Preservation

We desperately need to preserve our Avurudu traditions. Since ceremonies outlive us, they make us feel part of that larger sense of things as we pass them down to our children. That is how we realize our immortality — not in a living sense, but in being part of living traditions.

The Aluth Avurudda demonstrates our national ethos with its characteristic emphasis on the renewal and reaffirmation of goodwill within families and among all other citizens of the country.

Suba Aluth AvuruddakWewa: PuththanduValththukkal: Wish you a prosperous New Year!

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