Celebrating Sinhala and Tamil New Year
Suba Aluth Avurudhak Wewa! Happy Sinhala Tamil New Year!
Sinhala and Tamil New Year, translated in Sinhala as Aluth Avurudu and Puthandu in Tamil, celebrates the traditional New Year in Sri Lanka. It is generally celebrated on the 13th or 14th of April and customarily begins at the sighting of the new moon.
Unlike Western societies where the New Year is welcomed at the stroke of midnight, according to Sinhalese astrology, the auspicious New Year begins when the sun moves from Meena Rashiya (the house of Pisces) to Mesha Rashiya (the house of Aries). Aluth Avurudu also originally coincided with the end of the paddy (rice) harvest season and of spring, so for farming communities, the traditional new year is a festival of harvest as well.
When the auspicious time arrives, the New Year is welcomed with the lighting of the hearth and boiling of fresh milk in a clay pot which is a symbol of prosperity. The spilling of the milk from all sides of the pot is considered to bring good luck for the entire family.
Food plays a major role in New Year celebrations in Sri Lanka. The first meal at the Avurudu table (Ahara anubawaya) includes a stunning centrepiece of kiribath (milk rice), bananas, and an abundance of sweets, such as kavum (small oil cake) and kokis (crisp and light cookie, originally from the Netherlands), thalaguli, aggala, aasmi, and aluwa are served at home and then shared with neighbours. This simple gesture symbolizes unity amongst all with no boundaries.
Household preparations for the New Year are done in advance, perhaps even two or three weeks prior to the festival. And on the much anticipated and loved New Year’s Day, countless customary rituals, festivities, games, and gatherings with friends take place.
Even if you are not Sri Lankan, you can celebrate this wonderful occasion by preparing a beautiful plate of milk rice at home. Here are my recipes for milk rice (kiri bath) and an accompanying condiment, onion chili (lunu miris sambol), from Milk, Spice & Curry Leaves:
Milk Rice (Sinhalese Translation: Kiri Bath)
This simple dish has strong cultural significance and is mostly reserved for special occasions, and in particular, for Sinhalese New Year’s Day, on April 14. Served in the morning, it is a symbol for abundance, prosperity, harvest, and good fortune. My grandmother’s milk rice was prepared in a clay pot (muttiya) over an open hearth with red rice and fresh coconut milk. The kernel of the coconut would be scraped and then pressed for several extracts of milk.
In Sri Lanka, a short-grain red rice (kakulu hal) is typically used for the preparation of milk rice. Kakulu rice is un-milled rice. For this recipe, I suggest using jasmine rice for its naturally sticky texture and faster cooking time. Milk rice is often served with sweets, or spicy relish-style accompaniments.
2 cups jasmine rice
1-1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
1 cup coconut milk
Tip: use jasmine rice, which already has a sticky texture when cooked.
Wash the rice and place it in a large pot. Start with adding 3 cups water and the salt. Place the pot of rice over medium-high heat and bring the rice, uncovered, to a boil. Turn down the heat to medium-low and let cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until the rice grains are cooked completely through. To test for doneness, try biting a grain of rice; it should not be mushy but rather firm and cooked through. Add water if needed.
Once the rice is cooked, and the water is gone, turn down the heat to low and add the coconut milk and additional salt (if needed) to the rice and stir gently with a wooden spoon to combine. Let cook until the milk is completely absorbed, about 10 minutes. The milk rice should be the consistency of thick porridge.
Pour out the milk rice in the centre of a large round or oval serving dish. It should almost fall out of the pot in one lump. Spread and smooth the rice into a round or oval (match the shape of the dish you’re using) using the back of a broad spoon (or spatula), about an inch from the edge of the dish. Smooth the edges of the milk rice.
Using a sharp knife, neatly cut criss-cross lines across the rice to create a diamond pattern. Serve with sweet syrup or spicy, tangy and sharp onion chili (lunu miris sambol), see below.
Onion chili (Sinhalese Translation: Lunu miris sambol)
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 Tbsp crushed dried chili pepper flakes 1/2 tsp cayenne powder 1 1/2 - 2 tsp paprika powder
Generous sprinkling of fine sea salt 2 Tbsp lime juice 1 tsp dried Maldives fish (optional)
Either pound all the ingredients together using a mortar and pestle to a paste-like consistency or, using a sharp knife, ensure the onion is very finely chopped, then spoon the onion into a bowl and add all other ingredients and thoroughly mix (either with clean hands or a spoon) to combine.