Sinhala/Tamil New Year

Having recently celebrated the dawning of yet another traditional New Year known as 'Avurudu' locally, we thought it would be a good idea to delve deep into the origins of the age-old festivity. With an abundance of games, holidays and food this is easily one of the pinnacle celebrations in the island as far as holidays go. Here's an intricate look at the details.

As opposed to the New Year followed according to the Roman calendar, the Sinhala/ Tamil New Year does not interestingly fall at the beginning of the month, rather towards the middle. Originating from Kandyan times, the traditional New Year follows an astrological guiding largely observed islandwide. Falling on the 13th and 14th of April annually, the 13th represents the passing of the old year with the following day ushering in the new year at a time determined by astrologers. This time is of utmost importance as all activities will be conducted bearing this in mind. Some such activities involve the feverish preparation of a plethora of sweetmeats, sprucing of houses, gift buying to be exchanged with friends and family on the day as well as stocking of equipment (usually clay pots, firewood and brick) for the auspicious boiling of milk.

One of the most loved aspects of this festival is the array of traditional cuisine that surfaces, annually reviving long-standing recipes crafted by generations gone. Some of the main dishes commonly loved include 'kavum', 'kokis', 'mung-kavum', 'arsmi', 'pani walalu' and of course 'Kiribath' (milk rice), without which no Avurudu table is complete. They all share one common trait, in that their preparation takes up a lot of time and patience not to mention culinary techniques to be mastered. Oh and oil. Lots of oil.

The shiny, plump kavum is a concoction of rice and wheat flour, treacle, cardamom and salt. Kokis made from rice flour and coconut milk is made out of molds that come in different shapes to suit your fancy… even in the shape of Sri Lanka! Mung-kavum involves green-gram (mung) flour, rice flour, treacle and salt. Arsmi could remind you of a folded-up dried noodle-cake in looks, made out of rice flour, kurundhu leaves, coconut and treacle. Pani (honey) walalu will send your sugar levels spiking as its name suggests, incorporating 'Undu', rice flour, coconut milk and treacle. Kiribath is unrivalled in its dominance on tables in Sri Lanka being a key signifier of celebratory occasions made simply with rice and coconut milk left to cool. Whilst the recipes for a lot of these dishes seem fairly simple, achieving the right consistency is key as you will not be able to get the desired outcome otherwise.

Avurudu sees a drop in activity especially in urban areas such as Colombo, as people travel back to their villages or organize get-aways to make the most of the holiday season. With games (known as 'Avurudu Kreeda') adding to the jovial atmosphere, festivities can go on for up to one week during which time most shops are closed. These games can be both indoor and outdoor; some indoor games include 'bello' (seas-shells), and 'kaju' (cashew nuts). Outdoor games such as 'havari hengima' (hiding the wig), 'chaggudu' and 'kotta pora' (pillow-fighting), 'kathuru oncilla' , 'raban upatha', 'buhu keliya', 'muthi gesilla', 'rena dela del', 'muthu keliya', 'onchili varam' and 'mee sellama' are widely popular making numerous appearances at various 'Avurudu' celebrations islandwide.

Boiling of milk at a pre-determined auspicious time symbolizing prosperity, 'Ganu-denu' with family, cooking the first meal of Avurudu as well as holy anointing by Buddhist monks are some of the other main characteristics of celebration.

This is a wonderful time to visit Sri Lanka as the country's very essence surfaces enabling a rich, cultural experience not to mention a delight for the palette as an assortment of cuisine is up for grabs shared only too gladly by the locals.