17 April 2021
1The Calendar Year universally begins on 1st January and ends on 31st December. However, many nationalities throughout the globe follow different calendars from this standard frame of 1st January to 31st December. What is currently followed globally is the Christian calendar beginning from the Birth of Christ. This era is separated as BCE(before Christian era) and AD (after Christian era)
The Sun was God to the primitive races that occupied earth. the Sun has been the base on which time and seasons were counted upon. This Sun festival was practiced in Sri Lanka during the rule of pre historic Emperor Rawana in Dolapabbatha an area close to Pulasthipura now known as Polonaruwa. The ancient Egyptians adored it while the Romans called the Sun God "Ra". Why was it called "Ra"? It may be because Rawana ruled seven continents then extending to South America. It should be noted that the Asuras were also sun worshippers. In fact, in Rome there was festivity when the sun raised to its heights a festival titled "Saturnalia" in honor of the God Sun. Indeed, it was this festival that later came to be celebrated as Christmas by the 3rd century Christian community in Rome.
Although the current 12 months are solar months, what prevailed earlier in most countries were lunar months and all dating was based on the lunar calendar system. but from the beginning, time has been measured astronomically according to the revolutions of the sun and moon and to the recurring celestial phenomena. As distinct from the Christian era, we also have now the Buddhist era, Hindu era etc. The Chinese for example; celebrate their New Year according their calculations. In the current solar month calendar, an average month has four weeks but there are 52 weeks for a year. Its 13 months. Further if this calendar is exact, how can there be a leap year?
Just as Christians count their era from the birth of Jesus, the Buddhists do from the passing away of the Lord Buddha in 543 BC. Even this date has been fixed by Sir William Jones but its being challenged now as Buddha's or Siddhartha Gautama's contemporaries lived around 1887 BCE for which historical evidence exists. The Hindus being from the Saka era which is the date of the coronation of King Kanishka in India in AD 78. Meanwhile, the Muslims count from the flight(Hijra) of the prophet from Mecca to Medina in AD 622, which is called the Mohammedan era. The ancient world counted the years from the date of creation in 5508 BC and calls it the Constantinople era. The Romans counted it from the founding of Rome in 753 BC. The first era made use of by the Greeks was that of the Olympiads. All these boiled down to the new Christian era in 394 AD.
Coming to our own country, Sri Lankan Sinhalese and Hindus celebrate the New Year on the 13th and 14th of April. In fact, the Jews of the old testament counted their New Year from the month of Nisan, which is April. We have it in the Bible at Exodus chapter 12, where God Himself tells the Chosen race, through Moses and Aaron, that "This month(Nisan which is 'Bak' to us) shall be the first month of the year to you. "(vs.,1-7), they were to sacrifice a lamb in celebration of the New Year. This is called the Passover feast. After Christ this date ceased to have any meaning and the Christian community throughout the world celebrate the New Year on 1st January as said earlier.
April 13th marks the journey of the Sun from Meena to Mesha (from Pisces to Aries) in the Zodiac. This is commonly called 'Sankranthiya' (transition). For Sri Lankans it is a national event and all Lankans join it irrespective of ethnic or religious differences. India and Burma are two countries that celebrates this New Year.
The traditions associated with the Sinhala and Tamil New Year are manifold colorful and meaningful too. Auspicious times take pride of place in the celebrations. All rituals are carried out to precision at the times prescribed by astrologers ahead of the beginning of the year. The inauspicious time is called the "Nonagatha" which means no Nekath (auspicious times), and hence is prescribed to engage in religious observances in temple. Since we are an agricultural people, the journey of the sun has much significance to our social life. Fortunately the period comes in the wake of the "Maha" harvest, when paddy is collected and stored and it is time for a well-earned rest for the farming community. The objective of the whole feast, is the getting together of the family members. The father of the family and menfolk who are out of the village most of the time during the year, return home to stay with the family members during the festival. Cheerfulness is everywhere, the children are the happiest. The womenfolk are busy long before the dawn of the great day. They are engaged in making sweet meals.
In Sri Lanka it is the cuckoo that heralds the dawn of the New Year. The cuckoo is the harbinger of the new season called Wasanthaya. It is said that if two swallows do not make a summer, a single Koha (cuckoo) will announce the Aluth Avrudda. Rituals associated with the new year begin with bathing and end with the first journey to work after the New Year has dawned.
Viewing the waxing new moon is another ritual. The village temple is the heart of the New Year celebrations, and bells are rung to announce the dawn of another Aluth Avrudda. The first item in the agenda is the lighting of the hearth abandoned since Nonagatha. New clothes with the prescribed colors are also important to be worn. Gifts are exchanged and old ill feelings and quarrels, if any, are forgiven and forgotten. The women beat the Rabana (drum) to announce joyfully the advent of the Avurudu Kumaraya. Prime among the rituals is the first meal of the year consisting many sweet meals, where the family gathers and all enjoy the company of each other. The children revere the father, mother and other elders.
None can equal their customs of the Hela Avurudda of the Sinhala and Tamil communities. New clothes are another marked aspect of the New Year celebrations. Games where adults and old men and women too join, are also part and parcel of the celebrations. The anointing with an herbal mixture is performed in the temple or by an elder in the home. The celebrations end with visits to relations with gifts and sweetmeals. Even during the colonial occupation, the Sri Lankans celebrated the Avurudda. Robert Knox has said that the "Sinhala New Year is the greatest feast of the Sinhala race". The mood of the occasion is such that none can stay aloof, isolated or dissociate themselves with the hubbub that is annually made. Today the Sinhala Avurudda has become a national fiesta engaging all in celebration of family and togetherness and harmony between all communities. As such Hela Avurdda is a symbol of togetherness and harmony.