WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka
Aluth Avurudda : Anointing the king's head with 'nanu'
(@ Sunday Observer; by Aryadasa Ratnasinghe)
Anointing the head with 'nanu' (herbal oil) is one of the injunctions ('nekath') laid down under the Uttara Bharata Shastra (North Indian School of Epistemology), to be observed during the New Year festival, and it is considered indispensable for health and longevity. Besides other injunctions to be observed to mark the New Year, our kings were particular to get their heads anointed with 'nanu' at the appropriate time laid down in the almanac.
Before the approach of the New Year the king's physicians and the Royal astrologer had certain functions to perform which were inevitable. The physicians had to superintend the preparation of a thousand pots of the herbal oil, making use of wild medicinal plants supposed to contain certain mysterious powers to maintain good health. They were kalanduru-ala, sevendra-mul, iriveriya, vishnukranti, asasanda, godamanel-ala, nelum-dandu, nasnaran-mul, eetana, venivelgeta, kohomba-kola, kumkumappu, and gorochana.
As the time approached the king sat on his throne and the event was announced to the public by ringing the temple bells and by the discharge of jingalls (large Indian swivel muskets) from the cannon of the city. At the auspicious time, young women of noble families, with lighted tapers in their hands, and a silver tray containing paddy and turmeric water, stood close to the king. As he turned his face towards the given direction, the women went close to the king and applied the 'nanu' on his head, exclaiming thrice "Increase the age of our king to five thousand years, increase it as long as the sun and moon lasts and as long as the heaven and earth exist." The ritual was then followed by the chiefs by kneeling down before the king in complete obedience. The event was marked by the saying:
"Kalu kaputa sudu venathuru,
Kikili bijuva pelavena thuru,
Gei molgaha dalu lana thuru,
120 ta 220 ayu boho veva."
(i.e. Until the crow turns white, until the hen's egg grows to a plant, until the mortar bears slender leaves, be thy age be increased from 120 to 220 years.
At the time of partaking of meals, the king first having tasted a dish on his table, mixed with various kinds of food, called 'divya bhojana' gave a little to each chief participated in the ceremony. Later, they were all invited by the king to the palace to have a sumptuous meal in the night. Finally, the king received his chiefs according to their respective rank and file and the Maha Adikaram took the lead. Now they took their turn to greet the king.
Each chief prostrating before the king, exclaimed thrice: "May Your Majesty live as long as the sun and the moon and the heavens and earth exist." The presents received by the king were valued and deducted from the taxes due from each chief annually to the king's treasury. During the festive season, both the chiefs and the people were exempted from 'rajakariya' (state service).
Being of Hindu origin, the 'Aluth Avurudda' of the Sinhalese is a national festival reckoned with the Saka Era, or the coronation of the Kushan potentate Kanishka of India, when the king of Sri Lanka was Valagambahu alias Vattagamani Abhaya. The Malabari kings from South India, belonging to the Nayakkar dynasty, were Hindus, who contributed much to hold the festival in a grand scale.
The king wanted every chief to be present at the anointing ceremony, and he was inquisitive about the absentees, and every absentee had to give a valid reason for his absence. If not, they were dealt with at the discretion of the king whose wrath was boundless, and even went to the extent of confiscating their properties as a means of punishment.
WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka