The Sri Lankan Sinhalese and Tamil New Year (Aluth Avurudhu” in Sinhala and “Puththandu in Tamil ) is a national festival which has been celebrated for centuries. The most pronounced areas of the new year festivities are food, games and the rituals of goodwill.
The new year games can be categorized as indoor and outdoor games. Some of the indoor games are bello (sea shells) and kaju (cashew nuts). The outdoor games are havari hengima (hiding the wig), chaggudu and kotta pora (pillow-fighting), kathuru oncilla , ankeliya , olinda keliya, eluvan keliya, mevara sellama, raban upatha, buhu keliya, muthi gesilla, rena dela del, muthu keliya, onchili varam and mee sellama.
The significance of the games is that everyone regardless of the age, gets themselves involved in the competitions. Also, all the indoor games are played on the floor. If the games were to be played by sitting on chairs, it would create certain problems of sitting, which in the traditional Sri Lankan culture involves certain restrictions.
Added to that, when the outdoor games are played on a village-scale, the entire neighbourhood gets together which enhances the unity and eliminate the misunderstandings of the past .
Major New year games (Aurudu Kreeda)
Pancha Keliya (Pancha Dameema, Kavadi Dameema and Bello Dameema)
This game is done by using shells. This is a traditional game that has been there for a long time. Pancha is played with five small seashells, a coconut shell, and a chart. Players are divided into two groups.
The playing of the Rabana (drum beating)
Rabana is of course used on other occasions too. For example, when a newly married couple comes home, everybody is happy and they play the Rabana. So it is meant for happy occasions. This is mainly done by females and elderly females but we as small children could also join with the elders.
Onchilla – the swings
Women and children ride the onchilla – the swings – strung on trees. Sometimes there are two people seated on the swing while another person keeps swaying the swing back and fro while singing special verses known as onchili waram, also known as known as varang kavi.
Singing Raban pada and onchili waram (verang kavi)
Singing is also a part of riding swings and these songs are called varang kavi. Our folk literature is full of such raban pada and varang kavi.
Olinda Keliya (Mancala game)
Olinda Keliya uses a wooden board (olinda kolombuwa/ poruwa) which has several holes. Normally played by 2 players where 9 holes are placed 4 beads each. Olinda seed’s sting behind bright red and black. Players shift the beads from a hole to the other and collect seeds found in the hole quickly after an empty one. The player who collects the most number of seeds is the winner.
This is the verse sung during this Game
“Olinda thibenne koi koi dese,
Olinda thibenne bangali dese…….
Genth handanne koi koi dese,
Genath handanne Sinhala dese…”
AnKeliya (Hook Tugging)
Ankeliya (Horn Game, a game played using horns), Likeliya (Stick Game) and Polkeliya (Coconut game) are games played on behalf of god Pattini. These games share the feature of a competition between wo teams, with most commonly one team representing Pattini and the other team representing either her spouse or another male deity.
In Ankeliya, hook tugging, udu pila and yati pila teams meet at the Angpitiya or tugging field which has a strong tree, the angha groving in it. The two hooks or Ang (horns) either made from the heartwood of some storng timber such as iron wood. or tamarind or from the base with brow tine of a sambhur antler are then brought by their respective teams.
Games played at New Year Festivals
There are New Year celebrations organised by various village associations and TV channels. In these festivals several other games and items are organized. These may not be traditional but now they are also part of New Year Games and Items in Sri Lanka.
These events are more commercialised today. TV channels also organise New Year festivals. It has a commercial aspect but it also serves a purpose, as the younger generation particularly in urban areas who are not familiar with New Year rituals and games can learn a lot about our culture.
Among the sports and games played at these functions are:
A very long timber pole made from a puwak tree, about 10 metres high, is fixed into the ground. At the top of the pole money is placed or sometimes just a flag. The pole has been rubbed with thick slimy grease along its whole length. The first person to climb to the top claims the money. However, repeated attempts are made with some of the grease being removed on each attempt until finally, when all the grease has been removed, the last person can climb to the top and claim the money.
Tug-o-war (Kamba Adeema)
Here a row of pots are hung while the participants are blindfolded and select the pot which contains a specific item. The winner is the person who hits the correct pot.
Placing the eye on the elephant (Aliyata asa thabeema)
This is an enjoyable experience where participants are blindfolded and have to spot the elephant’s eye.
Coconut scraping (Pol gaama)
Lime and spoon
Beauty Queen contest (Avurudu Kumari and Pancha Kalyani)
Cycle Races and Road Running (marathon)
New Year Festival Video
“The New Year Festival of Sri Lanka” – Viduranga Yashavi Waisundara – 09 October 2001 – nus.edu.sg
“Customs and traditions” – The Sunday Times – 08 April 2001
“The April New Year Festival” – Professor J.B. Disanayake
“The koha still shouts” – Ishara JAYAWARDANE – Daily News – 16 April 2013