By D.B.S. Jeyaraj
[transCurrents.com] Vanakkam! Vaalthukkal!! The dawn of our traditional new year or “Sithiraip Puthaandu” – April new year is one festival that is common to an overwhelming number of Sinhala and Thamil people in the Island of Sri Lanka. What is saddening and maddening is the recurring phenomenon of widespread attempts to divide the Tamils on a religious basis on this happy occasion.
[Firecrackers will be lit to welcome the new year-Pic By Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai-HumanityAshore.org]
With very few exceptions most Sri Lankan media in English and Sinhala refer to the April New Year as Sinhala and Hindu New Year. Instead of saying Sinhala and Tamil new year the reference is to Sinhala and Hindu. If the yardstick for this is the fact that Christian Tamils cannot subscribe to a Hindu new year then by the same token it is equally inapplicable to Sinhala Christians too. If so it should be Buddhist and Hindu New Year. Assuming an overarching Sinhala identity on the one hand and denying the same to Tamil on the other smacks not only of double standards but possesses designs to divide the Tamils on account of religion.
Granted that the calculation of years on the basis of a 60 year cycle has its roots in “Hindu” astrology. It is also a fact that Christians following Western custom regard Jan 1st as the New Year.The reality however is that Jan 1st has become “universal” over the years. Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians all celebrate Jan 1st as New Year. The Christians may have their Watchnight services but nowadays most places of worship have special ceremonies to mark the occasion.
It is the 365 day cycle after Jan 1st that is followed by everyone in Sri Lanka and the world in practice. The April New Year has become more of a cultural event. The world is awaking up to the reality that all of us have multiple – identities and that the notion of “one land, one language, one race , one culture, one people” etc are outdated. All of us have different identities, interests and spaces. Multiple and plural are the realistic terms of the present and future.
The custom of having two new years is but one example of this multi in ourselves. As far as Tamil Christians were concerned the introduction of Christianity through Westerners did result in many following or aping their practice and customs. Neglect of our traditional cultural values was a regrettable legacy. Post – Colonialism however has brought about a fresh reappraisal There has been a conscious effort to identify with all things Tamil. The Post – Independence politics has accelerated this desire.
Thai Pongal and Sithiraip Puthaandu are seen as Tamil cultural festivals and not as Hindu festivals. If one were to go to our rural or semi – urban places one would find Christians participating and enjoying these festivals as their own. These festivals open up Tamil cultural space. It is however less pronounced in the cities.
Three things are now affecting this pleasant commonality. The state of affairs in the Country and modernisation is restricting the time devoted to the common cultural space in these festivities. The limited time makes people focus more on religion than the social aspects.
Secondly there is an increasing tendency on the part of Hindu Tamils to transform these cultural festivals into religious ones. This is notably so in the case of Thaipongal which was a non – religious event.
Thirdly the rise of religious fundamentalism among Christians particularly the new converts is creating a situation where people are abhorring and shunning these festivals as ungodly and pagan. Thus the cultural roots and legacy of us all is being undermined.
This situation is to some extent applicable to Sinhala Christians too.
It would indeed be a sad day for all of us if we gradually get pushed into singular grooves instead of living and experiencing this vast legacy of humanity to which we are all heirs to.
If this regressive process gains strength we will become Buddhists and Christians and Hindus and Christians. That day is still to dawn.
Until then (God forbid) we are Sinhala and Tamils enjoying our common legacy of April New Year. The “Sithirai” New Year is for Sinhalese and Tamils in Sri Lanka. It cannot be for Sinhala and Hindu only. This sustained effort to prolong this “divide” by the Sri Lankan media deserves the strongest possible condemnation.
[Article, first published in April 2005]
Contact DBS Jeyaraj : firstname.lastname@example.org