WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka
Customs and rituals associated with cultivation in Rajarata
BY D. B. KAPPAGODA
THE prosperity of a village depends on the availability of water for cultivation. This is especially so in Rajarata where paddy cultivation is the livelihood of the people. It is for this reason, our Sinhala rulers in the past developed an intricate system of irrigation with tanks and canals in order to be certain of a regular supply of water throughout the year.
The storing of water during the rainy season became the main task of the kings. They went to the extent of enacting stringent laws to punish those who flouted the laws governing the distribution of water. Such was the importance attached to the conservation of water in ancient times.
Water was considered the lifeblood of the economy. Therefore Rajarata where the ancient cities stood, namely, Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa came to be known as the tank civilization. The early British administrators too observed how the village economy was sustained by the tank or weva. Therefore the construction, maintenance and distribution of water became the obligation of the people.
With the dependence on the village tank, there emerged customs and rituals connected with it. The people began to invoke the blessings of the deity who looks after the supply of water.
The practice of appeasing the deities in the form of a ritual can be observed in Wanni, where they worship 'Aiyanayaka deiyo' who presides over their well-being. Since the tank and paddy fields were closely linked, it is important to make a study of the paddy cultivation in order to understand the customs and rituals associated with it. The fields in the village fed by the water of the weva are classified according to their proximity to the weva. This is done by taking into account the quantity of water that it can supply.
The tract of paddy field - "Yaya" close to the weva is called "Upaya pota" or "Mul pota". The second tract further out is known as "Harena pota" or "Perala pota". The third is named "Asvaddum pota". Each tract is further sub-divided into portions known as "Ihalabage" (upper division), "Medabage" (middle division), and "Pahalabage" (lower division).The crown land sold to farmers is called "Akkaraval". The extent of the land is measured by the extent of grain that is sowed such as "Amuna" , "Pela", "Kuruni" etc. It was customary to leave two strips of paddy fields at either end of each tract called "Kurulu paluwa" (birds loss) - an allowance of extra land as compensation for damage caused by birds.
The two strips of land at each end next to the "Kurulu paluwa" are called "Ela pat" and they belong to the "gamarala" (village elder). The portions in the centre "pota" are equally divided among the shareholders or the "Pangu karayas". The "gamarala" is the co-ordinator of the cultivation system in the village. He chooses the dates for the issue of water, clearing the jungle, repairing fences, ploughing, sowing, caretaking, harvesting and also invoking the blessings of the guardian deities.
In all these activities, the villagers act with mutual understanding and co-operation according to customary practices known as "Attam". Money is not paid for services. Instead each villager is obliged to work and in return gets the services of the others. The system of mutual help prevails even in the temples. When monks depend on monks living in other temples for religious ceremonies like pirith and pansukula, it then becomes obligatory on their part to participate.
Apart from the rituals associated with Buddhism many people also believe in a variety of Gods such as Minneriya deiyo, Aiyanayaka deiyo, Kalu devata (Black God) and Bahirawa whose blessings are invoked for a variety of reasons. Blessings are invoked in the form of "yatika" to ensure their health, the protection of the weva bund and an adequate supply of water for cultivation. The most noteworthy ceremony associated with the weva is "Mutti mangallaya" in which Aiyanayaka deiyo's blessings are sought.
This ceremony is performed by the gamarala after the rains when the weva is full. The Mutti mungallaya is performed after the harvest. Once a day has been selected for the Mutti mangallaya each household will contribute their share of rice, kawum, plantains, betel and arecanuts for the ceremony.
After the feasting is over, villagers go in a procession with two new clay pots filled with saffron and incense to the abode of the deity who is believed to reside in a tree on the weva bund. A special dais is erected with coconut fronds known as "yahana" under the tree over which a white canopy is hung to give a sanctified look. On this specially erected pedestal, betel offering is made and the two clay pots are also placed as a form of offering.
The evening begins with a "yatika" by the anumatirala (mouth-piece) of the deity). This is a form of an address to the deity. He then begins to dance to the accompaniment of drums. This goes on throughout the night. At dawn, the pots are taken from the "yahana" and carried to the tree and hung on two branches. In the course of the ritual it is made known to the people by the anumatirala who acts as the medium to the God that he has accepted their offerings.
After returning to the village the anumatirala once again begins to dance to the accompaniment of chanting and drumming. After the mid day meal the people then disperse to their respective homes with the belief of having been blessed and confident of a period of prosperity.
Aiyanar in Tamil means Kaiyanar who sprang from the hand of Vishnu with his 50 names and with as many different types of power. In the North Central Province the Mutti mangallaya is performed by the kapurala who has taken the role of "anumatirala" and he is paid in cash for his services. After the successful conclusion of the yala harvest, the kapurala invites the villagers to a house in which he performs the 'yatika' throughout the night. A ceremony at the shrine dedicated to Aiyanayake at the weva bund takes place the next day followed by the weva Rajakiriya in which the "Kiri Ithirilla" -boiling milk - forms the main ceremony.
The blessings of deities such as Aiyanayaka, Kambili Pudurussa, Ilandari, Kadugath Bandara is invoked by the kapurala (native priest) while "Kiri Ithirilla" is in progress. An all night pirith ceremony followed by an alms giving the following day concludes the ceremonies.
The ceremonies connected with these rituals are known as "Game Rajakariya" which means the rites of the village. There is also "Vele Raja Kariya" performed on a lesser note. These deities are of local origin but the rituals are influenced by Hinduism. This happy blending of Buddhism and Hinduism evolved from ancient times and appeals to the minds of the unsophisticated agricultural communities living in the Wanni. (@Mid Week Mirror)
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