What is the Sinhalese New Year?

By Remitbee - Mar 24, 2022

Sinhalese New Year, known as Aluth Avurudda, is a Sri Lankan holiday that commemorates the Sinhalese people's traditional New Year. It is a significant anniversary observed by the majority of Sri Lankans, not just the Sinhalese.

The Sinhala New Year falls on the same day as the new year commemorates several traditional calendars in South and Southeast Asia - and is similar to the Tamil New Year. Sri Lanka tags this celebration as a public holiday!

It is traditionally observed on the 13th or 14th of April and begins with the sighting of the new moon. As per Sinhalese astrology, the New Year starts when the sun moves from Meena Rashiya to Mesha Rashiya. It also signals the end of the harvest season and the beginning of spring.

When is the Sinhalese New Year?

This year, the traditional New Year's Day for the Sinhala people of Sri Lanka falls on the 14th of April. It is associated with the Saka Era, which began in 78 A.D., where astrologers widely used the Saka calendar for calculation. Today, Sinhalese still used the Saka calendar for astrological purposes.

In astrology, the sun follows the ecliptic. The ecliptic is divided into twelve sections called rashis, travelling eastward from Mesha. The rashi names are similar to those in the West, indicating a common Sumerian origin.

The first day of the month is when the sun enters each rashi before nightfall. If the sun enters a rashi after sunset but before sunrise, the following day is the first of the month (there are minor differences). The days are then labelled 1, 2, 3... until the next month's first.

So we get 12 months of 29-32 days. This fluctuation in length happens due to the earth's elliptical orbit around the sun and the transit point falling before or after sunrise. Months are named from the rashi that the sun travels in that month.

The solar New Year begins on the first of Mesha. On the Gregorian calendar, it falls around April 13 or 14.

Sinhalese Practices For The Sinhalese New Year

In Sinhalese culture, the New Year is always a joyous occasion. Sinhalese people conduct religious rituals, and magnificent setups are designed for people to pray, dine, and dance. Here are some of the customs that Sinhalese people observe before and during the New Year:

Preparing the household

In most cultures worldwide, the New Year's celebration is a moment of reflection on the previous year while celebrating the upcoming year. While it is common in the West to have well-kept and personal resolutions, it is normal in Sri Lanka to spend some time mending their external conditions.

Houses are repainted, flooring is polished, and kitchens are scrubbed in preparation for sweetmeat. Old clothes and undesirable objects are discarded, symbolizing a fresh start from a material perspective.

Final Bath

People take their final bath of the year as the sun sets. These baths are frequently blended with herbs and oils such as gingelly and mustard, both of which are believed to cleanse the body while seeing the moon.

Hearth Lighting

Each household's female member will light the hearth facing the specified position (which varies every year). They will boil milk in a new earthen pot over its flames, letting it spill over as a sign of prosperity. Following that, the traditional new year's delicacy, Kiribath—a sort of rice pudding—is prepared.

Bestowing Blessing to the Elders

Following the dinner, children will express their respect for their elders by presenting them with luxuriant sheaves of betel. In some communities, the elders repay this blessing with money, initiating the New Year's first financial engagement. These traditions bring generations of Sri Lankans altogether for a festive season of peace and brotherhood.

Love and Peace Among Neighbors

Acts of affection are not limited to the family. Amongst neighbours, platters of homemade sweetmeats are handed, with the custom that the platters should not be brought back empty. The implicit meaning here is about letting go of the previous year's feelings of resentment and welcoming in a new beginning.

Getting the Anointing Oil

Attending the local temple to acquire the blessing is an important part of the Sri Lankan New Year celebrations. Anointing oneself from head to toe is thought to cleanse both mind and body like a New Year's Eve bath does. The temple chief performs this ritual by standing on leaves, roots, and flowers and anointing the oil while chanting shloka or gatha.

Traditional Games

After the completion of the rituals, the celebrations spill into the streets. Traditional games, including havari hengima (hiding the wig), kotta pora (pillow fighting), lissana gaha nageema (climbing the greasy pole), and kamba adeema (tug-of-war), are the highlight of the day for many Sinhalese children.

Final Thoughts

As with any New Year celebration, spending time with family and friends is an important part of the festivities. But if you're not able to be there in person, you can still show your family how much you love by sending them money.

There are a few different ways to do this. But the best so far is through a money transfer service like RemitBee. Whichever way you send money, make sure you do it in advance so your loved ones can enjoy the holiday to the fullest—wishing you and yours a happy Sinhalese New Year!

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