Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 10 April 2016





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Government Gazette

Aluth Avurudda and Puthu Varusham :

Celebrating affinity and kinship

The Sinhala ‘Aluth Avurudda’ and the Tamil ‘Puthu Varusham’, the New Year of Sri Lanka’s two major communities, will soon be upon us, assuredly presenting together, reminding both communities of our affinity and kinship, and demonstrating in countless ways our shared and common heritage.

‘Aluth Avurudda’ and ‘Puthu Varusham’ occur at the same time as the New Years of many other South and Southeast Asian countries, such as Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos, and of course the State of Tamil Nadu in India, where it is indeed the same ‘Puthu Varusham’ or ‘Puthandu’, with not a lot to distinguish than between celebrations in Jaffna and Batticaloa for instance. India celebrates various other New Year’s days too in its other States.

Some New Years occur on varying days, as for example the Chinese New Year, which falls on dates ranging almost a month, between January 21 and February 20, or the Islamic New Year, which that falls on dates that ranger over months. Our New Year is constantly mid April, the 14th or sometimes the 13th.

The Sinhala and the Tamil New Years are also referred to as the Buddhist and Hindu New Years. Religious observances figure predominantly in the celebrations, arising from our cultures where religion is an integral part of our daily lives.

Sri Lankan communities, wherever in the world, celebrate their New Year with as much enthusiasm and festive cheer as their compatriots at home in Sri Lanka, except that any public display of the celebrations is somewhat muted.

Celebrants and Participants

While the celebrants of the New Year are largely Sinhalese Buddhists and Tamil Hindus, the participants are the entire nation: Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Burghers, just like with Christmas and the Roman New Year, where people of all faiths and no faith participate. This religio-cultural event, has, so much so, come to be regarded as the National New Year.

The New Year is largely celebrated as a family-and-friends affair, but public celebratory events also take place, usually a few days later, giving communities an opportunity for joint participation.

New Year is basically a harvest festival in origin, when in ancient times our communities, which were largely agricultural, gathered in a mood of achievement and jollity to share with families and friends the successes of the crop growing season, and as a thanksgiving to the Almighty for the blessings received over the passing year.

Like most New Year traditions, our traditions too are ancient, and date back to the era long before the birth of Christ.

Spiritual Predominance

The traditional New Year practices common amongst both Sinhala and Tamil communities usually begin with the ritual cleaning of the house and its surrounds, settling of debts and other financial obligations, readying of new clothes for everyone in the family, gathering and preparation of special foods and visit to places of worship. All these activities contribute to the creation of an atmosphere conducive to the experiencing and practicing of life’s greater values such as spirituality, neighbourliness, tolerance, respect for elders, concern for the young, and love and concern for fellow beings.

While they stand out as an occasion for largely uninhibited, open-house, socialising and for the display of conviviality and generous hospitality towards one and all of whatever station in life, the Sinhala, Tamil New Year is accepted more as a Buddhist, Hindu New Year, with the religious, spiritual element predominating the day.

Strengthening family relationships by way of sitting down to a communal meal on New Year’s Day, settling of debts between not just friends and family, but also with outsiders and starting the New Year on a clean slate, are all regarded as an auspicious beginning to the New Year.

As with the Western (Roman) New Year, which however has greater visibility and familiarity, because perhaps of its greater universality, and is celebrated by everyone regardless of culture or creed, Sri Lanka’s cultural New Year , though less conspicuous in its arrival and creep on us almost imperceptibly, without much fanfare from the media, is still a serious occasion when the great virtues of reflection, resolution, recrimination and reconciliation dominate us, as do a spirit of hope, goodwill, and diffusive love that lead to good cheer and revelry.


Let me briefly reflect on some of the successes and achievements in areas that do not catch the average person’s eye too readily, so as to create a feeling of positivity for the occasion:

-We are able to justifiably claim that in the past year the country has received greater acceptance from other more influential nations of the world, as a respected fellow member of the community of nations.

-The country has made its 19th Amendment to its Constitution, taking a further step in the right direction as a democratic State.

-We are seen as having faired satisfactorily at the national level in meeting the Millennium Development Goals such as eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health and some of the other goals set for Sri Lanka, before the target date of December 2015, although we still have a fair way to go in many of these areas at the regional level.


One important area where more progress is required is reported to be gender equality.

Since the end of the devastating war, Sri Lanka is said to have graduated from lower to middle income status, though this again is not palpable at every social and economic level in the country.

Writing at New Year some ten years ago, I was referring to people’s strong hope for a just and lasting peace to become rooted in the country. That hope still remains largely a hope, ten years on!

“Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never is, but always to be blest:”

- Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man

Can we not just hope but could we believe that we are now well on the way to a lasting peace? But much more than mere peace remains to be achieved.

The departing year started with really high hopes for a new and harmonious chapter in our relationships between communities. These hopes are yet to be fulfilled, and remain high amongst the hopes for the New Year. But this time they seem like a little more than hope; there seems to be a belief that these hopes will see fulfilment soon.

Even Britain’s Channel 4 News, long a severe critic of Sri Lanka, recently had a broadcast with a whisper of belief.

Walk tall, Head high

If we realise that it is in the interest of every individual, be he the Head of State or a mere cog in the machine, to ensure peace in the country, that the prosperity of our neighbour does not impinge on our prosperity, on the contrary that it only enhances our own prosperity, if we would work to instil this realisation and understanding in everyone around us who fail to see this reality, and at New Year if we resolve in our minds to toil to achieve, and if we do succeed in achieving this result, if we can come to love our neighbour as we love ourselves, we can walk tall, keep our heads high, and the world will regard us as men and women of honour.

We need to make greater progress in winning the hearts and minds of people towards peace and reconciliation, to not let the concept become hackneyed or banal.

Love, the over-arching element

Finally, a brief look at ‘New Year: A Dialogue’, a poem from that inspirational American author and poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox, the creator of this memorable line in another of her poems –

SOLITUDE: “Laugh and the world laughs with you, weep, and you weep alone,” words well worth remembering throughout the New Year, indeed throughout life.

DIALOGUE - New Year arrives and knocks on our door, declaring itself to be everything that we usually seek at New Year: Hope, Success, Good Health, and Good Cheer, and something greater, something unusual that we often do not realise: LOVE.

MORTAL - “The night is cold, the hour is late, the world is bleak and drear,

Who is it knocking at my door?”
THE NEW YEAR - “I am Good Cheer.”

MORTAL - “Your voice is strange. I know you not; in shadows dark I grope.
What seek you here?”

THE NEW YEAR - Friend let me in; my name is Hope.”.....
....... Success............Good Health.............

MORTAL - “Now, wide I fling my door. Come in, and your fair statements prove.”
THE NEW YEAR - “But you must open too, your heart, for I am Love”.

Love is consummate: from “ a very strong emotional and sexual feeling for someone”, “ to love for family and friends”, to “love that forgives everything and asks for nothing” - in other words, unconditional love, to “ love of God”, to “love for fellow beings: compassion, care, concern, kindliness, fellow-feeling, humanity” - the love that Lord Krishna, Buddha and Jesus Christ taught us, the love that the poet has uppermost in her mind in the wake of the New Year, the love that will bring fair and just peace between communities that we long for, peace that will bring Prosperity to our nation.

Peace, Prosperity, Happiness, Good Luck and Good Cheer to all in the New Year.


Seylan Sure
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