When the Sun travels from Pisces to Aries

When the “Koha” (Asian Koel) adds its distinct call to the other birdsong we constantly hear, it’s a joyous reminder that Avurudu or Puthandu is just around the corner.

Known as Puthandu in Tamil and Aluth Avurudda in Sinhala, this festival common to both communities is usually celebrated on April 14, each year and marks the Sun’s movement from the House of Pisces to the House of Aries. On rare occasions it falls on April 13.

The festival is governed by religious rituals and astrology; auspicious times are observed to herald in the New Year, to light the hearth, partake of the first meal, have one’s head anointed with oil and to set off to work when the celebrations end. There is also always an “auspicious colour” that is worn to usher in the New Year.

It is a time spent with family, visiting relatives and engaging in traditional games.

Homes and hearths are cleaned out, with some even giving their houses a fresh coat of paint, in the days before the New Year dawns. Tamils sprinkle saffron water in their homes for cleansing and decorate the entrance with intricate drawings known as “Kolam’.   Gifts are bought for family members and a variety of traditional sweet meats are prepared. Most people living and working in urban areas return to their villages to celebrate with their extended families.

The New Year has special significance for the farming community as it is a time to celebrate the end of the main harvest season.  

Traditional games make up a big part of the festival. Playing the Rabana (drum), usually by women elders in the village, placing the eye on the elephant, Pancha Keliya which is played with a coconut shell, seashells and a chart, pillow fights, breaking clay pots and climbing the grease pole etc. are some of the favourites.  Sports that involve animals have become controversial with animal welfare activists protesting the manner in which they are trained for the games.  Cycle races are a common sight around the country, even many days after the actual celebrations end.

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