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Month: April 2022

Sinhala and Tamil New Year – A time of celebration & traditions

Sinhala and Tamil New Year – A time of celebration & traditions

The Sinhala and Tamil New Year or as we all call it Avurudu in Sinhala, has become an important national holiday for both Sinhala Buddhists and the Tamil Hindus of Sri Lanka. It is unique because it is not celebrated in any other country as a national festival.

There is greenery everywhere; fresh leaves on trees, flowers in bloom, vegetables and fruits in plenty and the songs of birds in the air. The aroma of sweetmeat, the sound of raban and the koha’s cry, symbolizes that the entire country is ready to celebrate this national festival.

According to the Sinhala calendar, Sri Lankans begin celebrating ‘Aluth Avurudu’ in Sinhala and ‘Puththandu’ in Tamil, in the month of Bak when the sun moves from the Meena Rashiya to the Mesha Rashiya. The name ‘Bak’ is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘bhagya’ meaning ‘fortunate’. The month of Bak corresponds to April in the Gregorian calendar, which is commonly used in Sri Lanka as in other parts of the world.

The Aluth Avurudda signifies the reaping of the harvest and social customs, especially of the farming community. After the Maha harvest, the farmers celebrate the occasion by giving thanks. And these customs and rituals portray the beliefs and thoughts of these people whose life is centred around agriculture.

Rituals associated with the Aluth Avurudda begin with bathing on the last day of the old year and viewing the moon on the same night. The pealing of the bell accompanied with the beating of drums (hewisi) in the village temple announces the times to perform the different rituals.

The custom of offering betel to parents and elders symbolises the act of paying gratitude. The children in turn receive blessings from their parents. The sense of goodwill and friendship among relations and friends is also seen during the festival time.

Something unique about Avurudu is the celebration of the beginning of the New Year as well as the conclusion of the old year as specified by astrologers. And unlike in the customary ending and beginning of the new year, when it comes to the Sinhala and Tamil New Year, there is a period in between, which is called the nonagathe (neutral period). During this time, people keep off from all types of work and engage in religious activities. It is for this reason that it is also called the “Punya Kalaya”.

Before Avurudu it is customary for every housewife to give a new look to her old house. In villages, the floor, if not cemented, is given a fresh application of cow dung mixed with earth. Preparation of sweetmeats, such as kevum, kokis, atirasa, aggala, aluva and asmi takes place at least three days before the new year.

The customary bathing for the passing year is equally important. A herbal bath gives physical purification. When one takes a herbal bath, anointed with gingelly oil or mustard oil, it provides a soothing effect on the body. Traditionally, the anointing is done by an old person who is healthy.

In most villages, the temple is the venue for applying the ‘nanu’ before bathing and is usually done by an elderly priest, with blessings for health and longevity. Anointing is considered an exclusive right of the male.

A certain mysterious force is attributed to the leaves used for anointing the head. They are selected in relation to the day of the week on which the rituals have to be performed, e.g. ‘Imbul’ on Sundays, ‘Divul’ on Mondays, ‘Kolong’ on Tuesdays, ‘Kohomba’ on Wednesdays, ‘Bo’ on Thursdays, ‘Karanda’ on Fridays and ‘Nuga’ on Saturdays.

Another prominent feature of the Avurudu is the respect paid to elders and the strengthening of relationships with neighbours. Usually, visiting relations and friends, exchanging presents and greeting them with a sheaf of betel is the order of the day.

Avurudu involves some interesting games as well. During this period many engage in playing outdoor games. Famous national games are olinda keliya, eluvan keliya, mevara sellama, raban upatha, buhu keliya, muthi gesilla, muthu keliya, onchili varam and mee sellama.

The arrival of the Avurudu Kumaraya attired in princely clothes symbolises the dawn of the New Year. The prince comes in a horse-drawn carriage and his clothes vary in colour from year to year, in keeping with the colour meant for that particular year.

There is also an auspicious time for the womenfolk to commence work at their respective homes. Facing the specified direction, they light the hearth to prepare the traditional kiribath. Prior to this, milk is boiled in a new earthen pot and allowed to boil over, symbolising prosperity. The hath maluwa with seven different flavours which is considered a delicacy is a speciality dish prepared during Avurdu. Other festive sweetmeats are generally made in advance to serve visitors and send to neighbours as a sign of goodwill.

Meals too are taken at an auspicious time. Did you know that taking meals at an auspicious time with all family members sitting together is a noble, and healthy custom.

Avurudu, which is rich in culture and tradition could be celebrated by all as a national festival and its unique features are made use of to promote friendship among people.

Hindu customs

The Hindus also celebrate the New Year, commonly known as ‘Puththandu’, by observing the traditions and rituals practised by ancestors over the years. However, they are slightly different to those of the Sinhalese.

Homes are cleaned and made ready prior to the event. On the day of the Avurudu, during the auspicious time, Maruthu Neer – clean water boiled with various herbs, selected flowers and leaves, milk, saffron and other ingredients are made by the priests in temples. The Maruthu Neer is then applied on the heads of all family members prior to bathing. New clothes are recommended according to the colours mentioned in the almanac. Sweet rice is made if possible with new raw red rice, jaggery, cashew nuts, ghee and plums.

The area in front of the house is cleaned and sprinkled with saffron water, and cowdung. A decorative design ‘Kolam’ is done with raw white rice flour. The hearth is made a little distance away facing the East, and a new pot is used to cook the ‘Pongal’. Lamps are lit by the housewife, and the head of the household arranges the Mangala Kumbam.

A pot with five mango leaves and a coconut, lit joss sticks, a tray of flowers, betel leaves, arecanuts, comb of bananas and the sweet rice are offered to the Sun God and Lord Ganesh to complete the pooja. A coconut is broken by the head of the household and incense is burnt.The elders in the family bless the children, who worship them and seek their blessings and good wishes.

A visit to the temple is a must. Customarily alms should be offered to the poor. During the auspicious time, the sweet rice is partaken by the family. Later the head of the family gives money, betel leaves, paddy and flowers – “Kai Vishesham” to the family members and wishes them good luck.

The head of the family performs, “Er Mangalam” – during this time. Being an agrarian community, ploughing becomes the traditional act on New Year’s Day. Likewise, a teacher would start a lesson, a trader starts a new account, a craftsman starts his craft and so on.

Visiting relatives and entertaining relatives and friends are also important features of the New Year celebrations.

Dodol a much loved sweet from the South

Dodol a much loved sweet from the South

One of the favorite sweets hailing from the deep south of the island is Kalu Dodol or simply known as Dodol.

This confectionary sweet contains coconut milk, sugar, jaggery and rice flour. The ingredients, except for the jaggery are put in a giant wok and stirred continuously outside in the garden over an open wood fire for around four hours, fanned by peacock feathers, until the contents are reduced by at least half.

The liquid is hand turned over and over until the concoction is truly sticky, thick, sweet and no longer sticks to your fingers when touching it. This can, if done in a big batch, take between four to nine hours to make, depending on the size of the batch. So only a few villagers have specialised in producing this ancient sweet, given as gifts on festival days, or as special offerings, at Kataragama and in the past bought by Sri Lankan Royal family and to this day given as a special gift at a wedding.

Dodol undoubtedly came with the traders, who were looking for spices, and its unique formula has been developed over time, changing from village to village, each adding things to the basic ingredients, from cashews to broken peanuts even dried raisons. Today, it is commonly served during the Avurudu festival – Sinhalese and Hindu New Year, also during weddings, and festivals, such as Eid ul-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, as sweet treats that all the children enjoy.

The history of using palm sugar, a traditional natural sweetener made from the sap of the Arena pinnata plant, goes back hundreds of years and, as a result, is one of the oldest indigenous sweets developed across the maritime base of South East Asia.

The authentic art of making dodol is a highlight of the area. Some attribute it to the Portuguese, who occupied parts of the country during the 16th and 17th centuries and others to traders from India and Malaysia. Over the centuries, several dodol recipes developed in Sri Lanka, such as kalu dodol and cashew nut dodol. In reality talking to the dodol makers it is a bit of everything including trying new things they have seen on line. A truly fusion sweet that keeps on evolving.

Sri Lanka Bytes- Mouthwatering dishes which are enjoyed with friends

Sri Lanka Bytes- Mouthwatering dishes which are enjoyed with friends

In Sri Lanka, snacks and finger food go hand in hand with a drink. Over time, many unique types of food have been linked or traditionally eaten while having a good drink with friends, or even among those who choose not to partake simply due to the amazing flavors and taste of these delicious dishes.

Here are some of these unique type of snacks which in Sri Lanka are referred simply as “Bytes” or “Bites”

Cocktail Mixture

The simplest and easiest byte one can get hands on is called cocktail mixture, which is a made out of chick pea flour, which are deep fried to bring a crunchy, crumbly texture. This is doused with salt, chilli powder, and addition of deep fried curry leaves, as well as fried nuts gives a tasty, salty, spicy and best of all gluten free snack which can be preserved and taken anywhere and enjoyed anytime.

Devilled Dishes

A very popular form of byte in Sri Lanka is a devilled dish. This can be made with any protein, from any type of meat from Beef, Chicken or Pork or even seafood such as fish and prawns. Its prepared by deep frying the protein, and then pan tossing with a generous amount of tomato ketchup, chilli flakes, onions, spring onions, capsicum chillies, tomatoes and any other addition one may like. A spicy and yet delicious treat.

Hot Butter Cuttle Fish

A “Sri Lankanized” rendition of a Chinese dish, this is one of the most popular and most delicious bytes out there. Prepared with the main ingredient which is calamari or cuttlefish, which are cut to a flower shape, mixed with corn flour and deep fried, and thereafter pan tossed in butter, spring onion, salt and chilli flakes and powder. Specialized by many “Sri Lankan” Chinese restaurants it became popular over time as a favorite byte while enjoying a drink with friends and family.

These are some of the many unique bytes and flavors which one can taste and experience when travelling in Sri Lanka.

Classic Destinations- Sri Lanka, has many unique experiences which include a seasoned host who takes you to many of the local bars and pubs whose kitchens produce these mouthwatering dishes for you to try.

Magul Maha Viharaya- An ancient temple with a historic marriage

Magul Maha Viharaya- An ancient temple with a historic marriage

The history of Magul Maha Vihara possibly dates back to the period of King Kavantissa (205-161 BC) who ruled the Kingdom of Ruhuna in ancient Sri Lanka. There are evidence that suggests that the king has built this temple in the 2nd Century BC on the exact location where he married the princesses Viharamahadevi, the daughter of king Kelani Tissa. Other sources claim that King Dhatusena (463-479 AD) built this temple while many other monarchs renovated it through the centuries later. There is a stone inscription at the site of this temple that dates back to the 14th century which supports the latter view.

According to legend Viharamaha Devi, the daughter of King Kelanitissa volunteered to sacrifice herself to the sea to appease the gods who were enraged at the King for punishing an innocent monk. The princess was safely carried over the ocean waves, reaching ashore at a place near the Muhudu Maha Viharaya in Pottuvil, where the encounter between king Kavantissa and the princess took place which later led to their marriage. The legend also tells that the marriage ceremony was conducted at the premises of Magul Maha Viharaya in Lahugala, where the King had later built the temple to celebrate the auspicious event. The foundations of the Magul Maduwa where the wedding ceremony took place can still be seen at the temple premises. Magul is a word in native Sinhala language which gives the meaning wedding or auspicious.

Magul Maha Vihara had been renovated by several monarchs after its establishment. A 14th century stone inscription, located within the temple premises, reveals about a queen who also had the name Viharamaha Devi, wife of King Buvenekabahu IV of Gampola and Parakramabahu V of Gampola, who renovated and donated many acres of land to this temple. Magul Maha Viharaya is inscribed in this stone inscription as Ruhunu Maha Viharaya. Some other sources reveals that king Dappula I (661-664 AD), constructed this temple after listening to the preachings of Buddhist monks. It is speculated that around 12,000 monks inhabited the complex at some stage in history, which is evident to the largeness of the ancient temple.

Presently a significant amount of ruins of the ancient temple can be seen at the location. The image shrine, the Bodhi Tree (sacred fig) and the stupa are all in a good state of preservation. The main gate, a solidly built wall that surrounds all the buildings and the remains of a small shrine with an unusual moonstone at its entrance are some of the structures that can be seen at the site today. The elephants on this moonstone all have riders on their backs, something unseen in all other Sri Lankan moonstones. The stupa of Lahugala Magul Maha Vihara is built on a high terrace with three staircases leading up to it. There are images of grand lion guardians at the top of these stairs.

The causeway which is used to approach Magul Maha Vihara is situated across a lotus filled reservoir which surrounds the entire temple complex. The entire temple complex had covered an extent of around 10,000 acres where ruins of a palace, moonstone, monastery, bo-maluwa, stupas, ponds etc. are found scattered all over. These and all the other ruins at Lahugala are all surrounded by the forests of the Lahugala National Park, which is an important habitat for animals such as elephants, sambars, deers, leopards and many endemic birds of Sri Lanka.