The celebration of Sinhalese Hindu New Year
The month of April is the best month of the year to discuss the traditional Sri Lankan cuisines, owing to the Sinhala/Tamil New Year celebration. On the auspicious day of the New Year, family members sit around a table, where most of the traditional dishes are to be found.
Talking about traditional Sri Lankan cuisines, most of the foreigners think that Sri Lankan cuisines are much similar to Indian food. Even some Indians think that it is some variations of Indian food! But one who knows the difference between Indian and Sri Lankan food ascertain the big difference of the identical taste of local food. Normally the Sri Lankan kitchen is spicy like most of the South-East Asian countries such as India, Thailand etc.
Traditional Sinhalese and Tamil New Year fall on the 14th of April every year. The event is celebrated according to the astrological calculation of which sun moves to asterism Mesha from asterism Meena, signifying a new round of visits for the sun. This traditional festival is celebrated with observances of Buddhist and Hindu religious activities. Many rituals observed in the event is confirmed to a time frame on the day of the New Year, designated by astrologers.
Over e80% of Sri Lankan is actively participating in the event by adhering to the customs and practices related to the New Year celebration. Most other non-Hindus and non-Buddhist people are also taking part in the event in some form. The month of April better known as ‘Bak’ in the traditional term, is the month of fortune. The New Year falls just after the bountiful harvest of ‘Maha season’, and every household is bestowed with its blessings. April is one of the most prosperous months in the country, in which most seasonal fruits produce their seeds and flowering plants starts to bloom.
As the New Year begins it is customary to visit relatives, close friends and associates, and renew the relationships. Teachers and elderly people are respected; usually handing over a plate with beetle to them signifies the obtaining pardon for lapses and misunderstandings in the past. The presents are also given to elderly people and one receives their blessings and gifts in return.
New Year celebration during the Kandyan kingdom
Sinhala Hindu New Year is an age-old celebration which is inherited to harvest festival. People are celebrating the event with great pomp and actively participate in social, cultural and religious activities. Sinhala Hindu New Year is a traditional festival which hands over to generation to generation over the past centuries.
Many publications such as The Account of the Interior of Ceylon and Its Inhabitants of John Davy give very interesting descriptions of the event. John Davy dramatically explains how the New Year celebration was done during the Kandyan kingdom by the kings of Sri Lanka.
According to John Davy, there had been four principal celebrations in the island namely Avurudu Mangallaya or the feast of the New Year, the Perahera or procession, the Kaitiaya Mangallaya or the festival of lamps and the Alut Sahal Mangallaya or the feast of the new rice.
Nonagatha is the brief period before the dawn of New Year, which expands for several hours. It is also known as ‘Punyakalaya’ and regarded as inauspicious for any type of work. This brief period is dedicated to religious activities such as visits to Hindu and Buddhist temples and engages in merit-making activities.
Lighting of heath
The lighting of the heath is one of the most significant rituals observed in the New Year. The preparation of New Year meal and lighting of heath usually occurs after the Nonagatha. Duly prepared meal and other traditional foods are served at the New Year dining table at an auspicious time. Milk Rice or Kiri Batha is an indispensable food item prepared for the celebration. In some rural areas, a curry called Hatmaluwa, made of seven varieties of vegetable is also served with milk rice. Most traditional sweetmeats come to fore at the celebration of New Year and food items such as oil cakes, kokis, munguli, atirasa, assmi, and dodol are prepared in most households.
According to the customs, the chief householder partakes the New Year meal with all other inmates presented at the occasion. The meal is served by the chief householder and every inmate receives a coin as a gift from the chief householder. The invitees may also present at the New Year meal table to enjoy the meal with the members of the family. Then the family members including chief householder receive gifts from the visitors. After the New Year meal during the auspicious time, elderly people commence some meaningful work related to their occupation while children usually devote some time for learning activities.
New Year bath
The most significant ritual after the advent of New Year is the New Year bath. This event is normally organized in religious places such as the temple. A special ayurvedic ointment known as ‘’Nanu” is prepared with various types of herbs and applied on the head by a Buddhist monk or elderly person prior to the bath. This practice believes to promote good health.
Traditional sports and games come to life during the New Year celebration. The New Year sports festivals are organized in all villages and participated by people of all ages. This annual sports festival helps the villagers to celebrate the event in harmony.
Viewing of the full moon
Viewing of the full moon is a ritual with the highest importance in the traditional New Year celebration. The date for viewing of the full moon is fixed by the astrologers adhering to the transit of the moon.