Aluth Avuruddha – essentially a thanksgiving celebration



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All over the world thanksgiving for harvests gathered are held, maybe at different times of the year but the purpose of marking the event is the same. Celebrations too are basically similar: feasting, families gathering together, music of one sort or another, games and competitions and of course the inevitable imbibing – permissible since the hard work of agriculture needs a respite.


I have not heard the koha this year. Wonder why. Was a NCM passed on the poor chappie or is the male refusing to mate?! I have heard him before in this centre of Colombo and there is the attraction of a jambu tree laden with large bunches of pale pink fruit extending its branches from an adjoining vacant lot to almost touch my balcony. So why is the rogue bird late in heralding the New Year? Maybe I did not give ear to him.


Memories


Memory speeds back decades to the Mahagedera, full at this time of mid-April with uncles, aunts and cousins. Clearly visualized are the kurini petti full of unduvel, aluwa, kevun, kokis and athiraha. Cleaning, white washing of walls and re-spreading of cow dung mixed with water of the kitchen and back pantry floors have been completed. Sewing machines have whirred day and night either with aunts or the school mistress sitting at the sewing of new clothes. Men are busy in the kamatha setting up a kathuru onchillawa – rather perilous looking but it will be turned and the intrepid will move up and around. Forbidden to us kids who have to make do with the swing strung on a sturdy branch of a mango tree. While the men sudu kelinawa, village boys play cricket with a polpiththa for a bat. Brothers and cousins have real bats and wickets to play their game in the front midula. Women play a board game with pancha bello.


Tall, stately, bearded Grandfather positively expands in size with pride and pleasure at the gathering of his progeny while diminutive Grandmother is busy feeding everyone. The sweets can be eaten earlier unlike at a dane when stealing has to be resorted to.


Customs are followed meticulously. Dané from the rice of the recent harvest has already been offered at the Maligawa but we go to temple during the punya kalaya. Ganudenu time is interesting when sheaves of betel change hands and we kids get our share of money gifts after we go down on our knees to all the elders; admittedly a bit tiring and resisted by us when certain unpopular uncles have to be respected.


When we became an atomic family unit after Grandfather died, Mother visited the village and her mother prior to the New Year. We observed all the customs at our home but of course on a much less generous scale. Remembered are the lace cloth covered bandesi to at least eight neighbours down Katukelle Road; some returned likewise from Sinhalese neighbours but those to Burgher neighbours returned empty for they will send us cake and goodies at Christmas. The Tamils return trays laden with their specialties. Vividly remembered is how strict Mother was about observing the nonagatha period after dowsing the hearth and before relighting it. We lunched on kevun etc, the temporary fireplace built of three bricks in the garden used only for boiling milk for the kids and water for tea for the elders.


We maintained the customs with our children.


Harvest festival


Yes, much store is laid on the trans-journey of the sun from Meena to Mesha: from the house of Pisces to that of Arias. Hence auspicious and inauspicious times. But to me the Sinhala and Tamil New Year are both essentially harvest festivals. Hindus celebrate Thaipongal in January which is their harvest thanksgiving festival – January 14 -16, when the Sun God who assures the success of grain gathering is thanked – Suriya Maangalyam. But as mid April is after the harvesting of the Maha crop, our New Year is one of celebration that the harvest was good and deserves a time of respite to the farmer before he sets out to plant the Yala crop.


The origin of the Sinhala Aluth Avurudha goes far back in history and it is said by anthropologists that it changed in character, mostly after Buddhism spread in the country in the 3rd century BC.


I well remember a special service we attended in the Methodist Church in Kandy. It was in September named the Harvest Festival when people brought baskets of fruit, pumpkin and other vegetables in abundance and placed them all along the short fence that divided the alter area from the rest of the church. It was a throwback on the Thanksgiving service started by the Protestant Church during the reign of Henry VIII. The Reformists wanted to ban the original festivals of Christmas and Easter as followed by the Catholic Church and substitute Days of Fasting and days of Thanksgiving. November 5 too was a Church approved festival called Guy Fawkes’ Day commemorating the failed attempt to blow up Parliament – the Gunpowder Plot - in 1605.


American festivity


The young American nation to commemorate the landing of emigrants from European countries following the Reformation, in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and Virginia started festivities in 1621 and 1619 respectively. They had a hard time the first year of settlement on the eastern seaboard but their harvests were good during the second, so they had a service of thanksgiving for bountiful harvests and successful animal husbandry. Thus the origin of Thanksgiving celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November. Abraham Lincoln declared it a national holiday in 1863 and now it is a festival that supersedes Christmas in many states of the US. Traditions are maintained like the typical lunch of stuffed turkey, sweet potato, gravy, cornbread, cranberry sauce and pumpkin. Families and friends get together, sit at table for hours and celebrate the day and long weekend of the few holidays they enjoy, always attached to a weekend.


We in Sri Lanka seem to value our ancient customs more and observe cultural norms in the family, in villages particularly and also sponsored celebrations by organizations, village councils and the government itself. Traditional contests which were slowly dying away have been brought back centre stage like the pillow fight, kana mutti smashing, raban playing and chuck gudu. It’s fun, it’s cultural and it brings people together. Generosity takes pride of place with gifts to all family members and those who serve. Some like our garbage couple force us to commemorate both Christmas and Sinhala Aluth Avuruddha! Families have decreased in numbers; many overseas on jobs and children having left the nest to seek education and better prospects. But the trader, the sweets maker and vendor, even hotels now keep us reminded of our national festival.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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