April 14 is the Tamil New Year, not Sinhalese!

By Lakruwan de Silva

The Sinhalese Buddhists are heirs to an old hydraulic civilization. We were the sole custodians of Theravada Buddhism after it had ebbed in India and transmitted it to Myanmar and Thailand. It is interesting therefore that we now celebrate the Hindu solar New Year as our new year. We have forgotten our own lunar calendar.

April 14 does not mark the Sinhalese New Year! It is the Tamil Hindu New Year instead. Our new year falls on the new moon of the lunar month of Bak. This happened to be on 19th March, 2007 this year. Let me refer you to the traditional Sinhalese almanac i.e. the Lipa.

The Theravada Buddhist calendar is a lunar one. Each month starts with the new moon, peaks at the full moon and then wanes until the next new moon which signifies the start of the succeeding month. The first month of the Buddhist lunar year is “Bak”. The first day of the lunar month of Bak fell this year on 19th March, 2007. 14 April this year happens to be the 27th of Bak! It is clearly not the start of the Sinhalese calendar! Further the 17th of April marks the first day of the lunar month of Vesak – the second month in the Sinhalese calendar.

The Hindu solar calendar by contrast follows the signs of the traditional zodiac and commences when the sun enters the sign of Mesha or Aries on the 14th of April each year.

It is ironic that the Sinhalese now observe the Hindu solar calendar where the first day of the first solar month i.e. “Chitterai” falls each year on 14 April. This is the Tamil New Year! The Tamil Hindu calendar is a solar one. This explains the auspicious times, the punya kala, the precise time that the traditional new year dawns, the head annointing ceremony with herbal oil, the ganu-denu/kaivishesham etc which have more to do with Hindu tradition than Buddhism. Buddhism has no concept of auspicious times – all times in fact are auspicious for the Dharma.

14 April is also observed as the traditional New Year in Assam, Bengal, Orissa, Kerala, Nepal and Punjab. This is in keeping with their solar Hindu traditions.

It is ironic that the Sinhalese people celebrate the New Year on 14 April and failed to observe 19 March this year as the start of the lunar calendar.

It is evident that the Hindu solar calendar, not the Buddhist lunar calendar, is now used to calculate the Sinhalese New Year. The Sinhalese seem to get more enthusiastic about the traditional Tamil New Year in a manner that even Wesak does not witness. I explain this with reference to the Nayakkar interlude in the Kandyan kingdom that commenced in 1739 AD when the Sinhalese people adopted South Indian customs and traditions wholesale. The Nayakkars had their origins in Tanjore in South India. This could also be due to South Indian influence during the time of Gampola dynasty when Generals like Alakeshwara who had their origins in Kerala fought the Kingdom of Jaffna between 1396 and 1408 AD. This led to considerable Dravidian influence on the Sinhalese cultural matrix.

It is time to acknowledge the Tamil Hindu roots of the current Sinhalese festivities be it the traditional New Year on April 14, the Kandy Esala Perahera (Adi Vel) and the Aluth Sahal Mangalya (Pongal).

8 Comments

  1. We do follow the Hindu calender!! Who said don’t??
    Sinhalese new year has been celebrated over centuries!!!!!!! It’s new year ppl!! Not the time to argue over who it belongs to!!!!! It’s a new start, joy, sinhala/ tamil celebrate it in peace!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    oh! btw it’s not lipa! It’s litha~

  2. Cultural traditions are a legacy generally of homogenous races and so the confusion in this case. de Silva is very much on the ball that the Sinhalese are celebrating the Hindu New Year with them. So far as the Tamils are
    concerned, there is no problem here because we are part of the Sanatan Dhram tradition. Others are welcome to practise and, if necessary adopt, our religious and cultural traditions. If the Sinhalese want to go on an imaginary voyage of discovery to find a pure Sinhala New year for themselves – we wish them well. But, I fear, they may have a problem here because they have always had a problem of who they are. Many of them refuse to admit they are from India – though learned historians like Dr Colvin R de Silva and Archeologist Dr Shiran Deraniyagala have no problem in admitting where they are from. As Dr Colvin says the doubt is “only when and where did we come from? Where is never the doubt” In today’s world to say you came out of a wedlock between a Lion and a Sinhala princess will take you to Angoda. The Sinhalese are shy to admit their forebears were negroid, blood-drinking rakshakas of the Kuveni variety. The Vijaya story also does not go too far because by the time he set foot in the isle with his merry-men, the place was full of other people. Methinks at the moment the Sinhalese have too much in their plate to worry too deeply about trivia. They should, most importantly, try to figure out how they are going to share the land and power with the Tamils – the obstinate failure of which is the cause of so much problem since the early 1950s.

  3. Correction “When and how did we come?” and not “When and where did we come from?”

  4. This article does not shed any thing new.

    It was Jesus Christ who said we all have common roots, Adam and Eva.

    So no doubt we share things in common with tamil new year or any other nations new year on this earth.

  5. Oops!! too late!!!!!!!!!!!!! We just celebrated it AND had sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo much fun!!

    We ain’t going to change ANYTHING!!!!!!!!! If you have a problem with that? why don’t you re_ invent yours, AND SETTLE DOWN IN KERALE!!

    By the way… SUBA ALUTH AWRUDHAK WEWA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. Thanks Lakruwan. I have heard this version of Sinhala new year before, from a Buddhist Monk who explained me as in many cultures, traditions may get blend in and form a new fusion of tradition.

    It also useful to mention Tamil too were following Buddha in the early days, and many literature from 1 B.C were based on Buddhism ( i.e. Silapathigaram, Manimehalai, Seevahasinthamani).

  7. It might come as a form of education to Suresh M that Tamil language and culture precedes the Hindu Prince Siddartha of Kapilawastu then in India and now Nepal, who through the Hindu form of meditation reached the heights of Putthi/Buddhi. But most Sinhalese in Sri Lanka mistakenly believe Buddha is a name of a person, which is not. It is a condition of the mind. The Buddhist monk you quote is perfectly right. With the passage of time cultures and traditions change. At any rate, what is popularly known as Hinduism – which is really Sanatan Dharm, is far greater in antiquity than the Christian B.C. 1 period mentioned.

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