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 Post subject: Suriya Sankaanthi Mangalya: How it became Sinhala Avurudda
 Post Posted: Wed Apr 12, 2006 11:01 am 
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Suriya Sankaanthi Mangalya: How it became Sinhala Avurudda

By D.B. Kappagoda
@ DM /12APR2006


The Suriyawandanawa (worship of the Sun) was the harbinger of the present day New Year celebrations. It was a festival dedicated to the Sun god which forms the source for all living beings and the energy that makes life possible. This divine spirit made man from time immemorial pay reverence to the life giving source.

The movement of the Sun according to Hindu beliefs was divided into 12 planetary positions (Rasi). After traversing the zodiac cycle the Sun enters the first Rasiya, namely Mesha, and this completion of the cycle became accepted as the beginning of the Saka Era.


The Saka Era began in 78 AD and the difference between the Buddhist era and the Saka era is 620 years. King Saka, who was known for his skills and knowledge in astrology, ascended the throne in India. To commemorate his benevolent rule, the people accepted the year of his coronation as the beginning of the Saka Era.

Ancient man observed the movements of heavenly bodies in calculating time and the changing phase of the moon was accepted by the Indians from Vedic times in deciding days for them to devote for religious practices such as Uposatha Karma.

These Vedic religious practices continued even when Buddhism became the religion of the majority of the people. The movement of the Sun and the completion of one cycle was accepted as the beginning of a calendar year. The people engaged in agriculture were able to calculate the time for harvesting their crops by these means.

According to the beliefs of that time, the deities looked after their lives and gave them bounteous harvests, and for these deities a thanksgiving ceremony evolved. It was the beginning of the new year festivities with religious significance practised by the ancient Indians. When early settlers arrived in Sri Lanka, these Hindu rituals continued to form national festivals.

The four national festivals held in Sri Lanka, namely Aluth Sahal Mangalya, Sinhala Aluth Avurudu Mangalya, Esalakeliya and Karthikeiya Mangalya had the features of an indigenous character based on the beliefs of the people whose lives were centred around agriculture.

Historical evidence reveals that kings of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Dambadeniya held similar national festivals after reaping the major harvests of the year. They were in the form of offerings for the prosperity bestowed upon the people by the deities. It was for this reason that the custom of offering the first cooked meal from the newly harvested crop was offered as dana in the name of the Buddha. Afterwards, dana was offered to the Mahasangha who resided at Mahaviharaya and Abhayagiriya to receive their blessings.

Of the four national festivals, the most important event takes place in April; also know as Bak which signifies the month of prosperity. The ritual of the Sinhala Aluth Avurudda of anointing oil and bathing during the old year and new year goes back to the days of Anuradhapura when special herbal oils with medicinal properties were used. Bhikshus prepared these oils and the practice of anointing became a ritual when they performed it before the rulers.

The practice of looking at the moon is done to this day during the old year observances.

Housewives abstain from household work during the Nonagathe – the transition period when there are no auspicious times or nekath, which would bring good results. People devote this time for religious observances.

Lighting the hearth, partaking of the first meal for the new year, money transactions, exchange of gifts are some of the other customs practiced.

The popular national games such as Olindakeliya, Ankeliya, Porapol, Chuckgudu and Onchilla (swing) have a bearing to the worship of Pattini Devi, the guardian deity of nursing mothers and children. The poems in Pattinihella relate the details of the origin of the worship of Pattini Devi.

Sinhala Aluth Avurudda is the festival where the rituals and customs of the Sinhalese are practised by the young and the old. Relationships are strengthened when misunderstandings are forgiven and family links are renewed. The Buddhist attitude towards life enables the people to achieve this goal during the festive season.

The rituals connected with the Sinhala Aluth Avurudda are highlighted in verse in Avurudu Sirith Maldama. Nandadeva Wijesekera, writing on Avurudu Senakeliya, has said the Hindus celebrated their Suriyawamsa with song and dance in which young and old participated in a spirit of friendship.

Suriyamangolothsavaya as the celebrations came to be called was an event when the Sun transits from Meena Rasiya to Mesha Rasiya and the Sun was considered as the most powerful deity by the Tamils and the Sinhalese.

April 13 is the day when the old year ends and the New Year begins, where the Avurudu Kumaraya, dressed in princely costume, in a horse driven carrriage is mentioned in Avurudumalaya, the 19th century book written in verse.

The features underlying the Sinhala Aluth Avurudda have bearings on the family as a unit. The religion and national games are different aspects that constitute these celebrations of the Sinhalese.

Sinhala Aluth Avurudda, as a national event, unites children, parents, relatives and friends in rejoicing. New clothes, sweetmeats, special meals and entertaining visitors during the festive season can be seen in homes. Children devote their time freely in games with friends, especially in a game like Onchilla when the swing goes up and down to verses sung by the onlookers.

The offering of betel leaves when visiting elders are gestures of goodwill and respect. Visits to the temples during Punyakalaya denotes the religious fervour among the people and their link with the Sangha.


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 Post Posted: Mon Feb 18, 2008 7:03 am 
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Joined: Tue Feb 12, 2008 7:56 am
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wow! that is really interesting.
i had no idea that Suriyawandanawa was the precursor to modern day New Years.
this is an amazing article about King Saka
i did not know that we had so many roots in India!


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