New Year in the village


by Andrew Scott

The old year has melted into the shadows of the past. A new year vibrant with a message of hope comfort and expectation has dawned. With the close of the old year and the birth of the new one the air is filled with the din of crackers and fireworks ending with one sustained shattering outburst of multitudinous noises and specially the village folk of Sri Lankan are caught up in the fun and frolic of this all important festive occasion. Whatever the problems the entire country is permeated with the same spirit of goodwill and it is cheer and expectation of the previous years.

New year in the village. What an exciting day with swings to swing on, houses to visit, gardens to raid, trees to climb, fruit to eat and universal spirit of goodwill and mutual understanding pervading the entire place. New year is celebrated with much rejoicing and festivity in the few remaining out of the way Villages spread in the nooks and corners of Sri Lanka. The people in these rural villages live up to the very words of Robert Knox who wrote: "At their new year they will sport and be merry one with another. At this time none will work, until their astrologers tell them it is a good hour to handle their tools."

Though the rural Sri Lankan villager is not as much a sportsman as his urban counterpart, from recent times organized games and sports-meets have become a regular feature in almost all now your celebrations in the villages. History has it that from the ancient times the Sinhala people have known to enjoy themselves, especially on festive days. Old chronicles give exuberant details of various new year festivities at that time. The Chulavamsa refers to "all kinds of sportive games, such as were customary in the country."

In connection with the past we read of archery contests, jugglery, puppet plays, water festivals and dancing contests which heralded new year celebrations in the villages. It was about these that Robert Knox said: "Their chief play is to bowl coconuts one against the other, to try which is the hardest." This very same traditional pattern of activities is prevalent in the villages, especially during the Sinhala new year.

The common venue of the new year celebrations in the village the village school grounds, the esplanade or the public playgrounds, where enthusiastic gatherings of men, women and children gather quite early in the afternoon and enjoy themselves till late sunset. The celebrations are usually organized by the village school master, his wife, some elders of the village and other interested individuals. The new year celebrations in the village show the unique hospitality and. sense of sportsman-ship of our rural folk.

During the now year celebrations in the villages age old favourite items like thread and needle races, obstacles races, hopscotch and jump, long distance ranging and cycle races take pride of place. Rural women are greatly interested in the paddy pounding contest. In this contest a number of mortars are placed in a row and each of the contestants is provided with a pestle and a few measures of paddy. The winner is the one who pounds the paddy and shifts the rice from the chaff quickest.

A contest that draws the keen attention of village lasses is the coconut scraping contest. The contestants scrape along at express speed on their old ‘hiramaneys’ while spectators wait eagerly to know the village woman who car. scrape a coconut fastest breaking the pot blindfolded is a very entertaining contest. A pot is suspended from a rope and the blindfolded contestants, with poles in their hands, gather in the vicinity and the one who breaks the pot first is the winner. Onlookers burst out in laughter at this very amusing contest. Another thrilling contest organizes to find out who can swing the highest draws the attention of both the young and the old. The contestants of this are young women. It is really exciting to see these lassos dressed in seemingly insecure clothes go so high up into the clear blue April sky.

The ‘grease tree’ - young boys and men are excited to climb the ‘grease tree’, a tall, slippery pole covered completely with grease. The first to climb the top of thin perpendicular post get the money which is suspended there. Many have .a try at this rather risky contest. During the new year celebrations the youngsters play gudu and elles. These matches arouse a great deal of interest and excitement between the participating sides and their supporters.

Magicians and jugglers too try their very best to delight the spectators during the new year celebrations in the village. The fun and frolic these magicians in the Kandyan villages during the ancient times has been described best by Knox who wrote: "When they would be merry they have people that would show pretty tricks and feats of activity before them. A man sets up a pole of seven or eight feet long upon his breast. A boy gets to the top of this pole and leans with his belly upon the end of it and the man dances with the pole on his breast and the boy on it, and but little holding the polo."

Where a streams, river or lake is available boat races are organized. In villages near the city hackery and elephant races are very enjoyable events. Games of skill too are great favourites among the younger village folk who like to try their hand at events ouch as putting a ball into a particularly tricky hole. The concluding event in the new year celebrations in the village is tug-of-war, where many individuals comprise each of the sides. What bets are held on the winning side!

New year in the village is incomplete without the rabana whose reverberating sound announces both the dawn and the close of the new year. While dexterous hands play the rabana men, women and children engage themselves in innocent enjoyment. Now it has become customary to choose an ‘Avurudu Kumari’ and even an ‘Avurudu Kumaraya’ in new year celebrations in the village. Charming village lasses and lads dressed in their very best and sporting innocent smiles participate in this very popular contest. The cynosure of all eyes is also on the much planned fancy dress contests of the little ones.

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