Sinhala and Tamil New Year in Sri Lanka: Celebrating Unity and Tradition

Collage of photos relating to Sinhala and Tamil New year. There are photos of New Year feast, New Year sweets, smiling people in this collage

Sri Lankans are well-known for their kind, innocent, and welcoming smiles. But there is one particular period of the year when the whole of Sri Lanka will smile like one family. This is the time when Sri Lankans celebrate the Sinhala and Tamil New Year celebrations in April.

The whole island, including nature, animals, birds, and people, gets a brand new start during this season. It’s like pressing a refresh button once a year.

The arrival of the Sinhala and Tamil New Year in Sri lanka

Asian Koel starts to sing songs calling its female counterpart while announcing the arrival of the new year at the same time.

The sound of Raban (one of the Sri Lankan traditional drums that are played especially in the New Year season) and firecrackers can be heard filling the air and uplifting the Avurudu spirit.

The flowers are blooming, bee hives are filled with honey, and ripened cashew fruits are hanging onto the trees like decorations.

People are busy with cleaning and painting houses, buying new furniture and clothes, and most of all, making sweets, which are New Year’s specials.

3 smiling women that are happy because Sinhala and Tamil New year is nearby.
People are smiling ear-to-ear during the Sinhala and Tamil New Year season - Photo by Roxanne Desgagnés on Unsplash

Lifestyle, Planets, and Harvesting Season = Perfect time for Celebration

This celebration is bound with the lifestyle of the Sri Lankans because agriculture lies in the beating heart of Sri Lanka. Let me explain how it is.

The new year falls in the middle of April every year, usually on the 13th and 14th. This marks the entry of the sun from the house of Pisces (Meena Raashiya) to the house of Aries (Mesha Raashiya), completing one full cycle and thus the dawn of a brand new year according to astrology.

This is the perfect time to celebrate and start the new year with a new and refreshed attitude since this transition occurs on the days following the harvesting of the high season (Maha Kannaya), which provides a higher yield. So people are happy and are ready to celebrate after months of hard work in the fields to earn this harvest.

Picture shows a collage of 2 photos with paddy Harvest in April before the Sinhala and Tamil New Year.
It's the harvesting season!

Sinhalese and Tamils come together to celebrate the New Year

Both Sinhalese and Tamils join to celebrate the New Year on this day.

Tamils celebrate the new year (Puththandu) slightly differently than Sinhalese. The religious aspect of the new year is more prominent in the way Tamil people celebrate the new year, whereas Sinhala people go to the temple in the beginning, and then the party begins. Even though there are a few differences in the way we celebrate, the New Year is an event that brings both the Sinhala and Tamil communities together.

This is a time of unity, harmony, and reconciliation.

Everyone does everything at the same time during Sinhala and Tamil New Year

The specialty of this festival is that almost the entire country engages in activities at the same time.

A group of expert astrologists prepares a special schedule known as “Litha” every year that states the auspicious times, directions to look while performing the rituals, and even the color of the cloth to be worn during these ceremonies.

So, everyone will follow this schedule, and the whole country will act as one. Which is pretty amazing. Of course, some will not have the chance to celebrate the new year according to this exact schedule because of essential duties. But almost everyone does.

Computer generated picture showing the highlights of The Sinhala and Tamil New Year.
It's time to refresh and replenish!

And the rituals begin!

The New Year rituals start with seeing the moon for the new year. The new moon symbolizes new beginnings.

Before I tell you about our next New Year ritual, I have to explain what is meant by “Old Year”. The old year means the day before the new year, usually the 13th of April. It is a day symbolizing the last day of the previous year, even though it is called the “old year.”.

The next ritual, which is called “Bathing for the Old Year,” is usually scheduled on the day before the Old Year to wash off all the physical and mental dirt, all regrets, and all sins, and to cleanse the body.

Bathing again in the new year is done after anointing oil on the head which is a special New Year tradition.

According to my father, we’re not allowed to apply hair products like shampoo or gel to our hair until the New Year ritual called “anointing oil on the head” is over.  Which means we can’t take a proper shower until the said ritual is done. It is believed that good health is guaranteed in the new year if we wait until the anointing oil ritual is over to wash our hair with shampoo and take a proper bath.

The good thing is that the auspicious time for the anointing of oil comes only one or two days after the day of bathing for the old year. Can you imagine if the auspicious time comes after, like, one week, and you have to wait until that to take a shower? That would be a disaster. Haha…

Anyway, we can shower without applying any shampoo, soap, or any other product to the head before the anointing oil ceremony, which is a relief.

The time that belongs to no year

The official beginning of the new year comes with the neutral period (Nonagathe or Punya Kalaya).

This is the transition period of the sun from the house of Pisces to the house of Aries.

This period doesn’t belong to either the old year or the new year, and no auspicious times fall into this period.

People refrain from cooking, eating, studying, and doing professional work and only engage in religious activities to get blessings for the new year during the neutral period.

This period extends for almost 12 hours. But the non-working, non-auspicious period is the first half of these 12 hours. In the second half, auspicious times for cooking, eating, starting work, and starting transactions are scheduled.

Picture shows a girl going to the temple with a bouquet of lotus flowers in her hand. During Nonagathaya or neutral period, people refrain from cooking, eating and engage in Religious activities on the dawn of Sinhala and Tamil New Year.
Neutral period is dedicated to religious activities - Photo by sidath vimukthi on Unsplash

It’s time to get a fresh start!

The next few rituals are happening on the day of the New Year.

The lighting of the hearth (Lipa gini melaweema) and boiling milk is the first ritual that comes after the “Nonagathaya” (Neutral period), where fresh milk or coconut milk is boiled in a brand-new clay pot.

Overflowing milk symbolizes good luck and prosperity. It is believed that if the spilling of milk happens equally from all sides of the pot, abundance will come to the house from all directions in the coming New Year.

Once milk is boiled, a special rice dish (Kiribath) is prepared. Milk rice is also a sacred sign of prosperity.

Milk rice is available at any time of the year. So even if you don’t visit Sri Lanka during New Year’s, you can taste Kiribath, which I highly recommend you do.

If you are a foodie like me, you can read about more Sri Lankan food that you must try when you visit Sri Lanka in this article.

The Highlight of the New Year’s Day - The New Year Feast! (At least it’s the highlight for me. Haha..)

Once the milk rice is prepared, the New Year feast (Avurudu kema mesaya) will be arranged. Which is without a doubt my highlight of the new year. So many foods that are “New Year Specials” will be arranged on a table with an oil lamp in the center.

A few of the sweets and other delicacies that will be in the New Year feast include:

  • Kiribath 
  • Thalaguli
  • Peni walalu
  • Uda belun
  • Bananas
  • Konda kavum 
  • Aluva
  • Asmi
  • Mung kavum
  • Kokis
  • Athirasa kavum
  • Hendi kevum
  • Aggala 
  • Dodol
  • Cake and so many more delicious, mouth-watering foods

I will write a separate article about New Year delicacies. I don’t want to make this article too long. But I must say, a piece of kiribath, a konda kavum, a piece of cake, a peni walalu, and a banana will be included in my first serving. And I will not count calories during the New Year period. It wouldn’t be fair to the Grand New Year feast if I didn’t enjoy it fully and appreciate it. I think all foodies will agree with me on this.

You can read more about “Avurudu Kema mesaya” or New Year Feast from the above link.

A collage made from photos of New Year feasts (Aluth avurudu kema mesaya) that are prepared for Sinhala and Tamil New Year. There is photos of milk rice with lunu miris, and 3 feasts with different kinds of sweets that are specially prepared for the Sinhala and Tamil New Year season. Sweets in the photos are, peni walalu, asmi, athirasa kevum, konda kevum, kokis. And there is banana which is an obligatory item in the New year feast. There's a traditional lamp in the side of the feast.
The New Year feast is filled with delicacies specially prepared for the New Year!

3 tasks at the same time? Resuming Work in The Sinhala And Tamil New Year...

The next auspicious time is dedicated to starting work (Weda elleema), exchanging money (Ganu denu kireema), and taking the first bite of food (Ahara anubhawaya) in the New Year.

I know what you are thinking right now. How can you do all three at the same time? I had the same question when I first started doing the New Year rituals by myself as a child.

Well, to be honest, I still don’t know why three completely different tasks got together at one auspicious time, and I haven’t mastered the skill to do all three at the same time. Haha…

However, I have realized that this auspicious time symbolizes the start of normal day-to-day activities for the new year.

And it is supposed to first start work, then start transactions, and then start eating.

This is how I start my New Year

Even though I can’t do all three things at the same time, I have found a way to start my new year within 60 seconds.

Here’s how I do that.

Since I’m a student, I’ll prepare a book to read or some small task to do before the neutral time starts near the place where the New Year feast will be prepared since that’s where we will eat. And when the auspicious time comes, I’ll read the book or do the task as fast as I can and start eating. I usually skip the part about the starting transaction. Eating has always been a bigger priority of mine. Anyway, after not eating throughout the neutral time while smelling the delicious New Year foods, who can resist eating, the first chance they get? Right? 

Sometimes we do transactions with a well

Starting transactions is usually done by exchanging money with a respected person, but sometimes with the well that provides water. One will put a coin in the well and take a bottle of water from it. It symbolizes starting a coexisting, equal give-and-take with nature in the new year by showing the appreciation of that person for nature with a coin, i.e., the water in the well.

Now you might be thinking, Where’s the logic in that practice? The well doesn’t have any use for a coin, which will probably contaminate the drinking water.

Well, this practice has more to do with beliefs than logic. Maybe the act itself isn’t 100% logical. But the basis for this practice is just golden. I think showing appreciation for nature, or just the thought of it, is one of the most noble things a human can do. Don’t you agree?

The other main rituals take place in the days following New Year’s Day.

Anointing oil - Wishing Good Health in the New Year

Anointing oil (Hisa thel gema) is done by the hands of a respected and healthy person in the family or community. Usually by father, a monk in the village temple, or a respected adult in the village. Oil is applied to the head together with a mixture of herbs that are believed to bring good health during the new year. After this ritual, we can take a proper bath using shampoo and apply any products to the head.

Last ritual - Time to go to work again!

The last ritual is to go to work for the first time after the dawn of the new year.

With this, the scheduled auspicious times for rituals come to an end, but the New Year vibe is far from over.

Let the Games Begin! Special games are played during Sinhala and Tamil new year...

Throughout April, people organize events called “Avurudu uthsawa”, where special New Year games are played. These games are focused more on building unity within the community and having fun than actually winning. Of course, prizes are included to increase the enjoyment. But the real fun comes from playing and having a good time.

The New Year games include:

  • Placing the eye on the elephant
  • Game of eating buns fastest
  • Pillow fights
  • Tug-o-war 
  • Breaking the pot
  • Climbing the greasy pole and many more

I will write a separate article detailing the New Year’s games. This article is already long. Let’s save some fun for the future. I’ll add a link once I post that article.

Some hotels organize New Year events for foreigners like you to enjoy during the New Year season. Even if you see one in the place you’re visiting at the time, just go and have a look. Sri Lankans would invite you to play Avurudu games with them. It will be so much fun.

Collage made from 4 photos of Avurudu games that are played during the Sinhala and Tamil New Year Season. There is a photo of 2 youngsters participating in Kotta Pora. One photo of ladies participating in the game Pol gema. 2 photos of children playing balancing a lime on a spoon and wheel barrow run.
Special New Year's games bring the community together...

Sharing is caring!

Starting from New Year’s Day, during the days following the new year (or sometimes even during the time before the new year), Sri Lankans share the sweets that they make with friends, neighbors, and relatives. They use this time to catch up with them.

While this practice enhances unity in the community, happiness and joy spread from one home to the next, from village to village, and finally, the whole country is filled with the bliss and cheer that is blessed upon by the dawn of the brand new year.

Public transport can be a challenge during the Sinhala and Tamil New Year season

Apart from the obvious festivity and celebrations going on, as a foreigner, you will notice that public transport is busier during the holidays. This is because people are traveling to their villages from the cities for the New Year and vice versa after the New Year. Also, this is the time when locals travel to meet their relatives who are living in faraway places from home. So, public transportation will be quite busy. So, going on the train or bus will be a bit chaotic. If you’re planning trips like the Ella train ride, it’s better to skip the holidays unless you manage to book a seat early on.

You can read about the Ella train ride and the Special Ella Odyssey Tourist Train by clicking on the links.

Also, this is the biggest holiday of the year. So, on the days of the old year and the new year, most shops will be closed. So, it’s better not to go shopping on New Year’s Day. Some supermarkets will be open, though. But most shops will be closed.

Closing thoughts...

Sinhala and Tamil New Year are my personal favorites of all the festivals in Sri Lanka. I think you already noted my passion for this celebration when you were reading the article. I hope you learned something interesting about Sri Lankan culture by reading this post.

Please let me know in the comments what you liked the most about Sinhala and Tamil New Year. I would love to know your thoughts. If you have any requests for new articles that you would like to read, please don’t hesitate to drop them down in the comments too.

I will be back with another interesting article next week.

Until then…

නැවත හමුවෙමු😉 (Newatha hamuwemu = Let’s meet again)

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