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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2615

The forgotten Sinhalese Thai Pongal festival - Alootsaulmangalle

Thai Pongal – a harvest festival and it is celeberated to thank Sun God for prosperity. The celeberations is used to be held on the First day of the Thai (January) month in the Tamil calendar

The astronomical significance of the festival is that it marks the beginning of Uttarayana, the Sun's movement northward for a six month period. In Hinduism, Uttarayana is considered auspicious, as opposed to Dakshinaayana, or the southern movement of the sun. All important events are scheduled during this period. Makara Sankranthi refers to the event of the Sun entering the zodiac sign of Makara or Capricorn.

A similar festival was celeberated by the Sinhala Buddhists in the ancient days. It is called Alootsaulmangalle. - the Festival of new Rice, which is held in the month of January. Today it is a forgotten festival in the midst of the Sinhalese.

National religious festivals during the Kandiyan monarchy

During the Kandian monarchy there were five national religious festivals, which were annually solemnized with great pomp and rejoicing; but since the dethronement of the Kind of Kandy, the Parraharrah alone is celebrated with any portion of the splendor which appertained to these festivals in former times.

The names of the five national festivals are the Alootsaul-mangalle, or the Festival of new Rice, which is held in the month of January; the Awooroodu-mangalle, or Festival of the New Year, which occurs in the month of April; the third takes place in the month of May, when the priests of Buddha, who are deemed sufficiently learned, are promoted from the ran of samenero to upasampada. The fourth and principal festival, called Parraharrah, or the Procession, occurs in the month of August; the fifth festival called Karttiemangalle, or Feast of Fortunate Hour, is celebrated in the month of November. These festivals are held in honor of, and dedicated to, the gods Vishnu, Katragam, Nata-Samed, and the goddess Patine.

Alootsaulmangalle

We will now proceed to describe these religious festivals in the order in which they are celebrated, and will, therefore, commence with the Alootsaulmangalle, which is held in the month of January, when the moon is in the second quarter. This festival is intended as propitiation to the gods, to send an abundant harvest of the staff of life in Ceylon (rice), and is held at the commencement of the Maha, or great harvest.

Formerly, the king’s astrologers used to fix an hour on two distinct days, after consulting the stars to ascertain the most fortunate one; at the appointed hour on the first day, the new rice was to be brought into the city, and at the hour named on the second day, the grain was to be cooked and eaten. These instructions were written, and the document was called Nekat-Wattoroo, the original being presented to the king by the royal astrologers, whilst copies were borne, in great state, by the chiefs, to the royal farms.

At the appointed time the new rice and paddy (or rice in the husk), which were intended for the use of the temples, the royal family, and the monarch’s storehouses, were carefully packed up by, and in presence of, certain officers, who were duly appointed to perform and witness the ceremony: the rice being placed in new white mat, or cotton bags, whilst the paddy was put into new chatties of earthen jars.

The grain was intended for the use of the Dalada-Malegawas, or principal temple of Buddha, at Kandy, was borne by one of the king’s elephants; that which was appointed to the service of the dewales, or temples of the gods, was carried by men, who walked under canopies of white cloth; whilst that which was destined for the use of the palace and the king’s store, was conveyed by men of good caste, who belonged to the king’s villages or districts where the royal farms were situated. The men who carried the rice which was intended for the king’s used, were compelled to observe a strict silence during the period the grain was being borne by them, and to keep a white muslin handkerchief before their mouths and nostrils, lest their breath should pollute the food which was to be eaten by their monarch.

When all the various carriers were formed into procession, jingalls were fired, and all started from the respective farms at the same moment, accompanied by tom-tom beaters, men playing upon other national instruments, and flag-bearers. Before the several processions reached the city of Kandy, they were met by the adikars, dissaaves, and ratramahatmeers, who walked at the head of the vast assemblage into the great square, to await the neykat, or fortunate hour, when the grain was to be borne to the various receptacles that had been prepared. A salute of jingalls announced the moment when the rice and paddy were to be carried into the respective storehouses: at the time the jingalls were fired, the chiefs and people also carried their fields into their storehouses, or dwellings

The neykat- wattoroo, or fortunate hour for eating the new rice, was fixed either two or three days afterwards; rules being prescribed by-the royal astrologers, as to the method of cooking the rice, and in which direction the face was to be turned whilst the rice was eaten. Offerings of boiled rice, mixed with vegetable curried, were also made to the gods; these offerings were regarded as being especially sacred, and none but priests of peculiar sanctity were allowed either to present the offerings or to partake of the food after it had been presented to the deities, in contradistinction to the general custom, which permits all priests indiscriminately to consume the edible offerings after they have remained on the altars a certain time. All the splendid paraphernalia of this festival is now buried in the tomb of the past, and at this time the priests merely name the day when the grain is to be carried to the respective temples, when offerings are duly made to the gods, and some slight rejoicing take place among the people.

"Ceylon and The Cingalese" - by Henry Charles Sirr
Vol. II – Chapter V – pages 123 to 127 (Published in London in 1850)

- Asian Tribune -

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