Saturday Magazine
Memories of Sinhala Avurudu of a bygone era

by Godwin Witane

During Sinhala Avurudu time the whole village transformed itself into a grand festival. Both young and old were kindled with the enthusiasm of an enjoyable and happy atmosphere. The menfolk prepared swings

on the branches of overhanging trees for the enjoyment of young boys and girls. They sang swing songs while the swings swayed to and fro reaching great heights.

Sura love wimane Suran padinne

Nara love guvaney naran padinne

Sura Saema Athhtho vaaran denne

Budunne saranin apida padinne.

Purawara meda bendi onchilla

Durayana satiyata puduma novella

Waeragena pirimin thawa pedapalla

Surapura Deviyan rakinu siyalla

Sinhalese womenfolk have excelled and figured in the alluring pastime known as onchilli pedima. The songs sung by these females have been handed down to us from our forefathers as also, carters’ songs, boatmens’ songs and other Siv Pada of a bygone era. The ancient ordinary villager was capable of expressing his innermost feelings and faith in the sweetest of poetry to be found in the Sinhalese language. Our Sinhalese merry makers revelled in singing these melodious songs which made the New Year celebrations seemingly lively. They were a living testimony to the peace and tranquility that existed among the village folk. But the present day damsels, boys and girls both from the villages and towns have more alluring pastimes than enjoying in a swing singing Siv Pada. Their rendervous are the numberless sangeetha sandharahanas or musical events where they gather in unpredictable numbers wherever they are held on day to day arrangements unrelated to any’ significant occasion appearing on the calendar.

The kathru onchilla or great wheel was introduced by the foreigners when they held sway within this country. This wheel like structure was put into motion going round and round by a person who actually walked in step inside the wheel to turn it round anti clockwise.

Usually, eight seats were hung from eight cardinal points on the wheel and when persons, usually young boys and girls sat on the hanging seats they maintained an upright position throughout the operation of the giant wheel.

This was a rare attraction in the village and the construction of which required the expertise and skill of several people. The playing of raban during the festive season is a common feature both during day time and especially in the night accompanied by the singing of resounding Siv Pada and folk songs. Games such as panchi or kawadi were played for stakes by both males and females. The scoring by means of runners was done on a drawn up chart on a plank or on card board.

Playing of cards was a pastime exclusively of the menfolk. They either played a game of buruwa or asking and hitting and ajutha akin to Bridge. They choose to play these games either in the open air seated on mats or inside the house. This gambling was supposed to be exempted from the attention of the police as a concession during the festive days. Playing of cards was an important eventduring the New Year celebrations. While having a game of cards, I remember seeing my grand father entering his room for a hurried peg. He usually resumed his seat viping his mouth with his palm. During the New Year period every household prepared sweetmeats or rasa kevili for the occasion.

They included kavun, kokis. athi rasa, aasmi, kalu dodol, Aluwa, mungedi and weli-talapa. Few days before the dawn of the New Year, my father selected two or three matured bunches of plantains from our garden. Having dug a pit in the garden he usually wrapped the bunches of plantains in biling leaves and fronds of keppitiya plant and after placing the bunches of plantains flat in the pi,t covered it with planks over which he piles up the dug up earth.

Into this pit smoke was blown in twice a day both in the morning and evening. For this he devised a global gadjet made out of two coconut shells that have holes and in the shape of a husked coconut. Into this ball he stuffed coir fibre and shredded dry plantain leaves and placed it carefully at a top corner of the pit. When a piece of burning ember was introduced to the ball through the hole on top and blown into it with the mouth the packed coir and leaves caught fire forming a cloud of smoke that filled the pit completely.

When smoke was seen leaking through the loose earth it was prevented by stamping more earth on these places. When this process is carried out twice a day, morning and evening for two days the plantain bunches get ripened and when taken out of the pit they are completely yellow. These ripe plantains along with the various sweets adorn every table in all Sinhalese houses

. Every visitor to a house on New Year day is treated lavishly with sweets and tea. On their departure every individual young and old is given a gift of coins wrapped in betel leaf. It usually consists of a silver coin and a copper coin. In rich families it was customary to include am Indian silver rupee coin along with a copper cent. However it was a combination of a silver coin and a copper coin. This was done to ensure property on the receiver during the coming year.