Subha Aluth Avuruddhak!!


It’s a very rare occurrence to have the Sinhala and Tamil New Year falling on a Sunday. We’ve had our national festival coinciding with Easter, but it was the seasons that overlapped; not Avurudhu Day coming together with Good Friday or Easter Sunday. Viewing this coincidence through a half glass of milk, let’s consider it propitious and a good sign for Sri Lanka which country is badly in need of good signs! Also the year ahead is important, very much so with elections scheduled, whether presidential or general we will get to know closer to the events. But first; it’s hot April and the sun is right above our burning heads as it decides to transit from one zodiac house to another at the auspicious hour on the 14th.

A glorious mix

This national festival has many aspects to it, the main being that it is a thanksgiving for harvests gathered and an essential time of rest and recuperation for farmers in a basically agricultural country, after the Maha crop of paddy had been harvested; aluth sahal alms given and grain stored and sheaves of straw stacked. Perhaps the idea when the weather was predictable and monsoons came on time was that this season was compulsorily a time of doing nothing much except roofing one’s house with new straw and generally tending to homesteads until the rains came to get paddy fields ready for the next season of growing; thus the cleaning of houses. In village homes then, walls were daubed anew with mud and whitewashed, and floors freshly cowdunged

Money would be available after the harvest so new clothes could be bought, as also pots and pans and kitchen utensils. Better meals could be partaken of hence a period of making sweets and having kiributh and more sumptuous rice and curry.

With more time to spare for the farmer, his thoughts would probably go to his original home and now aged parents, so with his wife he would go visit his and her relatives. I remember the andé cultivator bringing a kurini pettiya of rice and curry wrapped in banana leaf or sweets like kavun, aluwa, unduwel packed in the pettiya to our Kandy home. This was before New Year to announce harvesting would soon be on. It was then a visit to my grandmother’s home in the village or later to my elder sister’s in an almost-village.

This was where Avurudhu was really celebrated with swings swung on sturdy branches; the jambu trees red with fruit, the village resounding to raban beats or children shouting as matches were played on the stubble filled paddy fields or a ferris wheel of sorts was kept turning in the kamatha. Women would have time to play indoor games while men gathered in the village boutique to play their games with packs of cards and tumblers of toddy or arrack.

Most significant custom

To me the most meaningful custom of all Avurudhu customs is visiting parents and relatives and offering them obeisance and gifts – the latter really not so important. This custom mercifully is retained and followed diligently, hence the almost empty streets of Colombo during these few days.

It is a custom of expressing gratitude. Parents are remembered for what they did for the children and the next generation learns from the elder – to be grateful, to go down on knees and thank them, to give them monetary and material gifts and receive gifts in return. But first, before giving, is transacting ‘business’. The Bank of Ceylon particularly accommodates this ritual. I remember with a broad smile my mother trekking to Suppiah Pillais in Trincomalee Street Kandy to do her new year ganu denu. I, the youngest, usually accompanied her, with my brother as escort. She handed over some money in a betel leaf to the chief Chettiya dressed in verti with ash stripes all over his bare chest and forehead. We had the grace to be tremulous, hoping he was generous with the betel leaf he gave my mother. On the way back she would peek into the closed leaf and smile broadly. Instinct I suppose prompted him to be generous on this one day.

Aluth Avurudhu in the village saw our knees quite raw since families were large then and we had to go down very low to every uncle and aunt and their spouses. This good habit is still with us. I have a sweetheart of a great grand niece bowing to her Muththa very adorably. No gift is expected, it’s doing as advised by her Amma. Family ties are renewed at this season. Children abroad use the ‘carriers’ who operate now delivering boxes of avurudhu rasa kevili or a stupendous cake. Avurudhu time is checked and whatever the clock shows over there, the greetings come over the telephone or skyped right on the auspicious minute.

Yes, and most important of all nowadays are friends. Families of most are scattered, but like the proverbial bird, we of like feathers get together. Invitations have been had to get away for the season. Time was when I obliged my husband and went away on holiday until I realized it was important to at least follow some of the customs like lighting the hearth and eating the first meal at the auspicious time in your own home. It was wonderful gathering together at a festive meal with a pahana lit with cloth wicks, but no amount of coaxing would induce the elder son to do what he disdainfully labeled as bowing and scraping – no going down on his knees even to his father.

As I said, friends are so important at this time with of course the few relatives available. Friends are so giving, compatible, understanding and good to be with.

I have not heard the koha – as yet; no likelihood of seeing red eramusu blossoms, but a tree in a deserted neighbouring plot of land has sent some branches our way with jambus in plenty. Squirrels and bats at night are having a fine go at the fruit. And on Sunday, the telephone will ring continuously with greetings, often augmented by the wish that yours truly would be floating in milk and honey!!

Wish you all the same float and a really subha aluth avuruddhak!

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