In many countries around the world, New Year’s Day is celebrated on January 1st with fireworks and festivities with family / friends the evening before.
But this is not the only type of New Year’s celebration and not everyone celebrates on January 1st.
In some articles, we’ll look at New Year’s traditions from around the world to understand the way different cultures celebrate the year to come.
Sinhalese New Year is celebrated by the Sri Lankan Sinhalese, while the Tamil New Year on the same day is celebrated by Sri Lankan Tamils. Also known as the sun festival, the Sinhala and Tamil new year is a ritual performed to honour the God of Sun for hundreds and hundreds of years now.
The Sinhalese New Year (Sinhala: අලුත් අවුරුද්ද , literally “aluth avurudda”) is held on April 13th or 14thm, and traditionally begins at the sighting of the new moon.
There is an astrologically generated time gap between the passing year and the New Year.
The month of Bak, which represents prosperity in the Sinhalese calendar (or in the month of April according to the Gregorian calendar), is when the sun moves (in an astrological sense) from the Meena Rashiya (House of Pisces) to the Mesha Rashiya (House of Aries) in the celestial sphere, and it also marks the end of the harvest season and of spring.
It also coincides with one of two instances when the sun is directly above Sri Lanka.
However, unlike the celebration of the new Gregorian calendar year at midnight on 31 December, where an old year ends at midnight and new year begins immediately afterwards, the Sinhalese traditional New Year begins at a time determined by astrological calculations.
The beginning of the new year occur several hours apart from one another, and this span of time is usually 12 hours and 48 minutes, which starts when the sun, as a disk, starts to cross the astrological boundary between the two “houses” and ends when the crossing is complete.
The halfway point is considered as the dawn of the new year.
This period is, referred to as the Nonagathe, literally the ‘neutral period’ or ‘Auspicious Time’.
The astrological time difference between the New Year and the passing year is celebrated with several Buddhist rituals and customs, as well as social gatherings and festive parties. The exchange of gifts, the lighting of the oil lamp, and making rice milk are other significant aspects of the Sinhalese New Year.
During this time Sri Lankans are, according to tradition, encouraged to refrain from material pursuits, and engage solely in either religious activities or traditional games.
Cultural anthropological history of the Traditional New Year which is celebrated in the month of April, goes back to an ancient period in Sri Lankan history, and people think that the celebration of the new year is also the change of thoughts.
Various beliefs, associated with the fertility of the harvest, gave birth to many rituals, customs, and ceremonies connected with the New Year.
Cultural rituals begin shortly after the beginning of the Sinhalese New Year, with the cleaning of the house and lighting of an oil lamp.
In some communities, women congregate to play upon the Raban, a traditional type of a drum, to announce the change in the year, while families carry out a variety of rituals, the exact timings of which are determined by astrological calculations, from lighting the fire to making the Kiribath (milk rice, that symbolises prosperity) to entering into the first business transaction and eating the first morsels.
The rituals vary slightly based on the zone.
However, the core of the celebrations remains the same, and the approach of each auspicious time for various rituals is heralded by the unmistakable sign of very loud firecrackers, as an integral part of the celebrations throughout Sri Lanka.
Once the important rituals are done, the partying begins as families mingle in the streets, homes are thrown open.
Food plays a major role in new year celebrations in Sri Lanka.
A huge table with Kiribath, bananas, sweets like thalaguli, aggala, aasmi, aluwa and many other traditional sweets become the centrepiece of any house.
The ubiquitous plantain is dished out alongside celebratory feasts of Kavum (small oil cake) and Kokis (crisp and light sweetmeat, originally from the Netherlands).
Once the family finishes the new year meal people do some work to symbolise starting to work in the new year, in a ritual called weda ellima.
In Assam, Bengal, Kerala, Nepal, Orissa, Punjab and Tamil Nadu, Hindu households also celebrate the New Year on April 14th or 15th.
Images from web – Google Research