Fresh new shoots and leaves sprout while greenery and color is in abundance. Flowers bloom, vegetables and fruits are in plentiful and birds sing in the air. Harvesting is over, and people have the time to celebrate with family and loved ones returning to the village they call ‘home’. Goodwill, happiness and joy flows in the hearts and minds of people in Sinhalese and Tamil homes during the New Year while he familiar sound of the Koha (Asian Koel or Cuckoo) heralds the new season called ‘Wasanthaya’. While mesmeric sounds of traditional drums are heard, people follow traditions, customs and rituals associated with the New Year which begin with application of oils before bathing and end with the first journey to work after the New Year has dawned.
The Aluth Avurudda (Sinhalese and Tamil New Year - originally celebrated in the Kandyan Kingdom as a national festival with astrologers deciding on what the ‘Nekath’ (Auspicious times) were, for people to carry out rituals that they believe would bring them prosperity and happiness.
The New Year dawns when the sun transits from ‘Meena Rashiya’ to ‘Mesha Rashiya’ (Pisces to Aries in the Zodiac), which completes a twelve-month cycle. This period of transition is known as "Sanskranthi" which takes place on the 13th or 14th of April. It is during this period of transition that rituals are performed to mark the dawning of the New Year.
This period immediately follows the ‘Maha’ season (North East Monsoon), after harvested paddy is collected and stored and is time for a well-earned rest for the farming community as they celebrate this time in thanksgiving. Shops and Malls especially in the city are filled with people in a shopping and festive mood, buying gifts for loved ones.
Aluth Avurudda (New Year) rituals begin with bathing on the last day of the old year and viewing the moon on the same night. In local village temples, tolling of the temple bell accompanied with beating of drums tell people of the time to perform the various rituals.
The traditions associated with the Sinhala and Tamil New Year are colorful and significant. Observance of auspicious times is important and ritualistic in the celebrations, being precisely observed according to times prescribed by astrologers. The ‘inauspicious time’ of “Nonagathe” (considered best to abstain from any type of work, because as it is believed that any activity, other than religious activity conducted during this period will be fruitless. This period of "Punniya Kale" is when people stop all their activities, and visit the temple dressed in white, is to accrue merit and get blessings from monks. It is considered a time when people could fortify themselves, spiritually and make a success of their deeds in the approaching New Year.
Before the period of ‘Nonagathe’, fireplaces are cleaned, old ash and remnants are removed, while everything is made clean and ready for a new beginning and the New Year.
Offering betel to parents and elders exhibit the act of paying gratitude, while children receive blessings from parents, establishing a feeling of goodwill among relations and friends at this time.
Most rituals are linked with the village temple with people visiting during the time of "Sanskranthi" the sun’s transitional period. Women folk take this time to start work in the home. Beginning by boiling milk in a new earthen pot until the milk spills over from all sides of the pot (this symbolizes prosperity). They would then face the prescribed direction while lighting the hearth to prepare the traditional Kiribath (Milk Rice) meal.
Another traditional meal along with a curry "Hath Maluwa" (curry made with seven vegetables.) usually including vegetables, cereal, yam and cashew, considered a delicacy, is cooked at this time. Other traditional sweetmeats specially prepared for the season are made in advance to serve those visiting for the New Year.