As children April was a month of exhilaration. The first term of school would draw to an end. April was the month for a splendid holiday that perfectly coincided with the dawn of the Sinhala-Hindu New Year. The alluring aura of avurudu captivates me even today as an adult. It is an amazing time to rekindle relationships and celebrate the common elements of our Lankan heritage. A moment in life when one embarks on a new chapter.
As we all know the avurudu season begins with the proud proclamation of the Koha (Asian Koel Bird). This feathered friend is now part of our national culture. What a brilliant sight to witness the Koha perched on a branch and gently woo us with its mellifluous greeting, its reassuring call brining in a spirit of celebration. The festive adherences vary from a village to a city.
One of the most significant aspects of the New Year for me to observe will be the patient process of making the traditional sweet meats. This is a culinary prowess that one must inherit. Often we compliment sweets from overseas like Swiss chocolates and yet tend to underestimate the succulent flavor of our own rasa kavili.
The King of the sweet domain is the elegant Konde Kavum, as it sits on the silver platter with a majestic pomp. A perfect consistency of flour retained in oily splendour. Oh what dexterity is displayed when the old ladies with a rapid twist of their hand elevate the crown of the kavum with a thin stick as it is frying in oil. Second place goes to the Kalu dodal, another scintillating delight that keeps me craving for more. Ah how well it goes down with a cup of pure Ceylon tea! Apart from this we have all tasted the kokkis, athirasa and aasmi. Last year I received some ladduu, a sweet from Thirupathy in India, it was a relish indeed. Forget the gym for a week people!
The Sinhala-Hindu New Year isn’t simply about passionate cooking. It is a journey of upholding memories and rituals that have withstood many centuries. A time when elders are remembered with dignity. A time when focus is directed towards the family. I recollect the awesome reunions with our friend the late Nihal Weerakkody, Deputy Inspector General of Police. Playing with his sons Nalaka and Welinda. The warm hospitality of our wonderful friend Aunty Rohini Gunawardene. The ambul thiyal (fish curry) made by Kanthi aunty would permeate with such tantalizing aroma. Yohan now domiciled in Paris would gently challenge me to chew betel, of course I refrained. As teenagers we used to be quite mesmerized by the luscious long black hair of the many avurudu kumari contestants, their slender figures caparisoned in batik wraps, redefining rural beauty on television.
Long hair is certainly an asset to any woman in this era!
The pillow fights were rather weird as competing youth were unfairly matched with adults. I do remember once when a fat soul mounted the wooden frame where these bouts took place. The green bamboo couldn’t support his weight and he came crashing down before the duel. Oh how we roared with laughter. Our neighbour uncle Selvaduarai now domiciled in London would visit us clad in his immaculate white vesti, carrying a silver tray adorned with many northern sweets and his famous bottle of nelli crush.
As I reflect on these memories I can only endorse that the Sinhala-Hindu New Year must be celebrated as our National new year, where every Sri Lankan joins in steadfast solidarity. If we are to seriously embark on reconciliation and communal integration the month of April is the perfect platform to sustain and nurture our unity as blessed Sri Lankans. It is only then that we can make progressive success.