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Festivities and Games associated with the Sinhala and Hindu New Year

Fri09212018

Last update19:17:13 UTC 2018


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Festivities and Games associated with the Sinhala and Hindu New Year

festival.pic5.5.9During the Sinhala and Hindu New Year when the performance of various activities associated with auspicious times have been successfully concluded, it is time for festivities and games. Even in the matter of entertainment hoary tradition plays a vital role. As such there are traditional games that are associated with this national event. They are both indoor and outdoor games and sports.

Foremost among the traditional indoor games are the board games viz. Olinda Keliya, Pancha and Dām (draughts). Today games that have been introduces by the Colonial masters have been added. Cards (introduced by the Dutch) is the commonest of such games, and is very often played for stakes. Other games, such as Carom, Chess, Ludo and Monopoly are also played. What is special here is that very often, the whole family joins in. Under normal circumstances, throughout the year, the parents have no time to join their children, playing games. The father is at work, so is the mother, if not outside the house,at least within it, attending to the various household chores. But New Year changes this pattern.

There is another custom, which is a part of the New Year festivities. Plates of sweetmeats are exchanged between neighbors. Very often it is the children who expected to perform this tradition. There used to be a custom of rewarding the child who brings the plate of sweetmeats with a packet of fire crackers, but alas this custom is no more. Sometimes, a substitute gift of a chocolate or a currency note has taken its place.Sometimes there is nothing at all.

The traditional outdoor games are swinging, raban (drum) beating, Chak Gudu, Tachchi etc. Swings take an important and integral place in the New Year festivities. Before New Year, a large swing is tied on a strong branch of a tree in the garden. It has to be large and strong as ladies of house, who are normally shy and reserved, throw modesty to the winds and join in the fun. This is the time when they just let go and no one looks down upon this behavior of our women. Sometimes when swinging, there are two on the swing and one on the ground pushing the swing and they recite special verses, which are known as ‘varang kavi (Swing songs).

The drum or ‘bench rabana’ which is used for raban playing is a large one, which is supported on 4 wooden legs about a foot in height. The players, mainly woman, about 4 in number, sit around the drum and play in unison, using their hands only. Very often the drumming is accompanied by the singing of verses which indicate the beat that has to be played. Sometimes, there are competitions, when one player, plays a beat which the other has to replicate. There are instances, when men too, take part, especially those who in their own right, play the drums, equally well. The drum is heated before the session begins,so that it will give a melodious tone when beaten.

Chak Gudu and Thachchi are fast disappearing games that were played during New Year time.
Fortunately the Indian game Kabadi, which is very similar to Chak Gudu has been introduced to Sri Lanka, but not necessarily as a New Year sport.

In the plantation sector a game called Kitti, is played with very baric equipment: a stick of about a meter in length and another about 15cm. This is also a team game.

Marbles and another game involving throwing coins on to an erect board are two more games that are played. The latter is normally played only during New Year and involves stakes.

Hop Scotch, volleyball, badminton, soft –ball cricket are also played where space is available. In addition to these, informal traditional and non- traditional games, played informally, in compounds and open spaces, a large number of organized New Year celebrations are now common. Rural associations, sport clubs, societies or ad hoc organizations tablished for this purpose only, conduct New Year festivities on a grand scale, involving the village or sometimes a number of villages. Many new items such as Beauty Queen Contests, Fancy dress competitions, pillow fighting, tug o´war and various kinds of races such as bicycle, ackery, cross country, lime and spoon, obstacle, sack, three legged etc are included. To give the festivities a national flavor and also to attract adults, competitions in coconut scraping, weaving of coconut fronds, reciting verses etc. have also been added. Another popular New Year sport is the Greasy Pole. It provides real entertainment to both the contestants and the onlookers.

There are two competitions where the contestant is blindfolded. One is to marking the eye of the elephant in the correct place and the other is to break a hanging pot hitting it with a stick.

Hook Tagging (Angkeliya) and Coconut Striking (Pora Pol) are two games that have religious overtones. They are held to invoke the blessings of Goddess Pattini and usually held when infectious diseases are around or when there is a prolonged drought. But they are sometimes held during New Year to propitiate the Goddess Pattini. The village is divided into two sections along a water way or some such natural or man made boundary. The 2 teams are identified as ‘Yati Pila’ and ‘Udu Pila’. A suitable spot is chosen,very often under a large spreading Ironwood, Banyan or Bo Tree. The arena is cleaned and the boundary is marked with young coconut fronds hanging from coir rope.

In Pora Pol two types of coconuts are needed: one in the shape of a Rugger ball and having a very hard shell, the other a normal round one. A coconut is thrown at a contestant in the opposite side. The opponent uses a coconut to crack or chip the on coming coconut. The ultimate winning side is the one that has least number of chipped nuts.

Ang Keliya (Hook Tugging) is also ritualistic game to invoke the blessings of Goddess Pattini. The origin of this sport was a tussle between Pattini and Palanga, when they were plucking Sapu flowers. The two hooks got entangled and when they tugged, Palanga’s hook gave way and Pattini won.

These games go on for 7 days at the end of which there is a Gam Maduwa (a ritual dance performance) and an alms giving on the next day which the whole village partakes, without any sort of class or creed distinction. In the evening there is further dancing and sometimes even fire walking.

Added to all this is nature’s contribution to the Sinhala and Hindu New Year festivities, in the form of the Indian Cuckoo’s call and the bright red flowers of the Indian Coral Tree (Erythrina variegata) commonly known as Erabadu in Sinhala and Munmurukku in Tamil which help to make the Sinhala and Hindu New Year a joyous one for all to enjoy.

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D.P.L. Walter Silva

Living and Travel


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