TamilWeek Apr 9, 2006

When avurudu smiled
on our village


by Lalitha K. Witanachchi
A special
Sri
Lankan
breakfast
Here I am seated at the typewriter writing the story of a bygone age,
seen through the eyes of a five year recalling memories of the Sinhala
Avurudda. They run like a golden thread of spiritual and cultural
values that have not changed, but only altered just a little for I have
not forgotten that I was born and bred in a village.

In my mother’s home known as ‘Pahala Walawwa’ in Bandarawela,
deep in a valley in the steadfastness of the Uva mountains, the new
year was not heralded by the sound of the ‘koha’. But the light breeze
on sunny patna grasslands where we played the long day through, the
harvesting of the fields in the narrow valley, the incessant pounding of
rice in the outhouse, the smell of wood fire and boiling coconut oil and
mingling with the aroma of rasakevili, the white washing of the walls
and the sound of the rabana as it echoed in hills told us that the
avurudda has come to our village.

The rambling old house was full of people grand children (just imaging
twelve girls and one boy!) fathers and mothers and uncles and aunts
and ruling in gentle authority this little kingdom of ours were our grand
parents.

Everyday we played on the hill, but today was going to be different.
Anxiously we look towards the Circular road. Suddenly one could cry
out "There they come!"

Over the crest of the hill grand father could appeared smiling, blowing
puffs of smoke from his pipe. Behind him came Gampola Thambi
wearing a tweed cloth and coat, smiling so that his gold tooth shone
for all to see, and two other men with great big bundles on their head ,
Yes three big bundles all, and that’s how the shop was brought to our
doorstep, for in those days we never went out shopping.

We would run home and take our place on the verandah and wait
impatiently till grandmother served tea to Gampola Thambi which he
drank ever so slowly from the saucer and discussed the weather and
every thing else that was not at all important.

Then the long mats were laid on the floor. With a quick flick of the
hand the khaki bundle was opened. Rolls of pretty chintzes every hue,
sarongs and camboys were heaped on the mat. The smell of their
newness was intoxicating. In little boxes there were buttons and hooks
and eyes, reels of thread, small bottles of Evening in Paris and little
tins of powder.

Then came the great moment when we were asked to choose our
Avurudu clothes.

"Better choose something with little red in it", some one would say for
that was the colour for this new year.

So we chose whatever we fancied and Gampola Thambi cut the
lengths with his enormous black pair of scissors.

All the while the mothers and aunties were referring to their lists.

This would do for Kalu and this for Kiriwanthe. What about this for
Sinniah and this for Ukkumenika’s girl?

Not a single person was forgotten in those generous leisurely days.

It was late afternoon when Gampola Thambi and his assistants went
back with just a small bundle and the khaki cloth folded in their hands.

Then would begin the sewing of new year clothes. From morning till
the lamps were lit the sewing machine whirred.

Meanwhile all day long there were people in the small dining room
moulding soft lumps of rice flour and treacle into fancy shapes on oiled
plantain leaves. Sometimes we made funny people too. Tray after tray
was taken to the outhouse where the kavun was fried and later packed
in kuruni boxes of pane.

In the outhouse women were pounding flour.

Doog, doog, doog.

Doog, doog, doog, went the pestles in the mortar and you knew there
were two women pounding.

Doog, doog, doog

Doog, doog, doog, pestles in the mortar and you knew there were
three then with the crash you heard the wooden sound of pestles
striking and the pounding stopped.

Then gently the flour was sifted. Slowly the snow white floury mountain
rose and if you put your finger in, it was on, so soft.

But most interesting of all was to watch the kokis being fried. Gently
the mould is dipped in the batter and then immersed in the sizzling oil.
A deft flick of the wrist and there is the patterned waffle dancing in the
oil.

You could eat as many kokis as you liked and no one stopped you.

You could even give them to the cast and dogs, there was so much of
it.

Then there would come the parana avuruddha. There was feverish
activity to finish all the work; before old year passed away. We had our
meals early and the dishes and pots and pans were washed. The
hearth was cleared of all wood-ash and looking all forlorn there
remained only the hearth stones. The kitchen floors were washed and
saffron water was sprinkled.

Then with the old year going to sleep, I remember grand mother
relating jataka stories, or reading her book of sutras and we children
had nothing to do. It was all so boring as it was nonagathaya, and we
were so hungry inspite of the heaps of delicious sweets, for we were
forbidden to eat anything till the auspicious time next day. So we went
to sleep.

That new year we woke to the sound of crackers, just as we have
done all these years. Dressed in our new finery we played about while
at the auspicious time, grandmother lit the hearth and placed the pot
of milk to boil and spill over. The dining table was laden with food –
kavun, kokis and kaludodol, athiraha, narang kavun, puhul dosi and
kolikuttu. A pahana was lit and as we waited in the dining room we
were full of smiles.

Louder grew the sound of crackers and when grand-mother said it was
time, we gathered as one family. One by one we walked up to
grandfather who gave us a morsel of milk rice with his own hands
made from the first harvest from his fields.

Then we would form a line according to our ages and worship him and
all the elders who were there. As each one said, "Subha Aluth
Avuruddak Wewa," there was joy and pride and contentment.

Then came the best part of the day when there was ganudenu. We
were given shining new coins wrapped in betel leaves and when the
collection amounted to a few rupees we felt we were as rich as kings!

After that for a few minutes we read our books, while Kalina put a new
coin into the well and drew a pot of water that was used to wash our
hands when we offered flowers to the Buddha when we went to the
temple later in the day.

Then we sat for the grandest meal we had ever eaten. Grandfather at
the head and grand-mother at the other end, and all the uncles and
aunts and cousins around the big table and we children around the
little table. It was a bright and prosperous New Year.

And so through twenty years or so this pattern continued except that
the scene then changed to my father’s village in Karalliyadde, after
grandfather died. There was not much of a difference here except that
we were now grown up. As children we had always received gifts for
the New Year.

There was greater pride when we came home one by one, with our
husbands and our children, with gifts for our parents. We were not
going to deny them the joy of reunion in their ancestral village home.
They would remember the new year with their Lokuaththa in Dumbara.

But sometimes there were a few adjustments that had to be made and
this came about with marriage. I remember that first new year I went to
my husband’s home in Baddegama that was to be my home thereafter.
When the auspicious time came for us to be given the first meal by my
father-in-law, I took my turn happily by my husband. I worshipped my
husband’s father and at that moment, with a pang of sorrow I thought
of my father whom I had worshipped with a daughter’s fidelity every
year of my life, and all my people who would be gathered there at that
time in Karalliyadde.

Silently I wept. My husband understood, and he came to the fine
decision that we would spend alternate new years with our respective
parents. This arrangement we followed till our parents were no more.

Things began to change. We had now our own home in Colombo and
it could not be closed for the new year.

So we observed all the customs just as we did in our village. With my
daughters, dressed in our new clothes we lit the hearth (even though it
was a kerosene cooker) at the auspicious time, and boilded milk in a
new pot. We have the first meal just as we have done in the past. My
husband in his new sarong stands with the plate of milk rice in hand.

Our two sons too wear their new sarongs, and our daughters in their
new frocks and I in a new voile saree, line up and are fed the first
spoonful of milk rice from the hands of the head of our family, and as
we pay our respects to all those who are older than us, we get their
blessings.

But there are more changes now. We do not hear the sound of
pounding from the kitchen for the servants, if there are any must go
home for the new year. But it is not difficult to make some sweets and
if everything else fails you could even buy some sweetmeats for the
new year. Nor do we wait for hours without eating during the
nonagatha. For it is not taboo to eat some food prepared earlier.

But there are somethings that will never change. The hearth will be lit
at the auspicious hour.

I have already done my new year shopping and far in to the night. I
have been sewing cloths.

Outside the strident loudspeaker blares forth, ‘Ayin venda, ayin vendo
as racing cycles whizz past. Another loudspeaker announces an
Avurudu Kumari contest.

The house is empty. Our two daughters are married and our boys are
away. As I fry the kokis I miss them for in other years they were always
hovering around eating kokis.

I can hear the gate opening and I know who has come. They
announce themselves. Five-months old Susie howls.

‘Ukkummi, we have come,’ says five-year-old Dhilmini running into the
kitchen.

‘You are making Kokis? Why? She asks reaching for one.

"It is for the Aluth Avurudda.’ I tell her ‘When is it?’ she asks.

‘Tomorrow’ I answer.

‘Is today, tomorrow?’ she asks in all innocence.

‘No, my little raththarang,’ I explain ‘when you sleep tonight and wake
up in the morning, it will be tomorrow. You will have new clothes to
wear and crackers to light, and Muttha and Aththammi will give you
their blessings.’

And as she skips and dances, some day in the far off future, in
another century she will remember the Aluth Avurudda tomorrow,
which to her will then be yesterday.
[Courtesy: Island]
"Ayubowan"
on Aluth
Avuruddhe
day! Or
greetings on
the New
Year's Day.
[Click]