Minnesota Buddhist Vihara prepares to usher in Aluth Avurudda

By Shelton Gunaratne, Asian Tribune, April 9, 2009

Minneapolis, MN (USA) -- The Minnesota Buddhist Vihara has made elaborate arrangements to impress the cultural significance of the Aluth Avurudda (Sinhala and Tamil New Year) upon the expanding Sri Lankan diaspora, as well as their local and foreign friends, in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, including the many surrounding cities constituting the metropolis.

The Ven. Witiyala Seewalie Thero, abbot of the Vihara, said that the organizers have scheduled the New Year celebrations for Saturday, April 18, although the New Year itself falls on Monday, April 13, in the U.S. Midwest. (Because of the global time differences, the Aluth Avurudda in Sri Lanka falls on Tuesday, April 14.) A Saturday celebration, even though at the expense of authenticity, is expected to draw more families and well-wishers to participate in the planned activities lasting five hours from 11 in the morning to 4 in the afternoon.

The planned activities include participation in a range of traditional games, and practicing traditional customs. The organizers have asked the diaspora to attend the celebrations dressed in the national costume—sarong or saree, preferably in the year’s auspicious colors: cream or white.

The biggest draw, however, will be the range of traditional delicacies and foods associated with the New Year that the diaspora will bring to the celebration for sharing with others in the pot-luck meal coordinated by Indu Sonnadara and Priyangani Abeyratne.

Abeyratne said she expects sufficient quantities of kiribath, the traditional auspicious food of the Aluth Avurudda, curd and treacle, seeni sambol, lunumiris, etc. for all to share, in addition to the delicacies without which no New Year celebration is complete—kavun, kokis, aggala, aluwa, athiraha, bibikkan, dodol, helapa, and the like. (Those who want to learn about the recipes and the methods of preparing them can do so by entering the Web site www.bojoon.com/secretmap.)

The celebrations will take place at the City View School Auditorium, across the street from the Vihara located at 3350 N. Fourth St., Minneapolis.

Meanwhile, about 250 miles northwest of the Twin Cities on Interstate 94, the more than 100 Sri Lankan students currently enrolled at North Dakota State University, Minnesota State University Moorhead and Concordia College and their families in the Red River Valley have joined the Sri Lankan diaspora to celebrate the Aluth Avurudda even before the sun completed its movement away from the constellation of Pisces to that of Aries, which signals the arrival of the New Year.

A large number of these Red River Valley students from Sri Lanka pre-celebrated the New Year at the home of Ari and Theja Wijetunga of north Fargo on Sunday, April 5. The senior members of the diaspora—Shelton and Yoke-Sim Gunaratne, Asoka Marasinghe, Upasiri and Indrani Samaraweera, Darshi and Cushme De Saram—had the opportunity to meet the new batch of Sri Lankan students, who said they thoroughly enjoyed volunteering for sandbagging the bulging Red River to prevent floods in Fargo and Moorhead after the record snowfall.

Those Sri Lankans living in the U.S. Midwest will find the following astrological calculations of Sri Lanka Jyotisha useful if they want to adhere to authentic New Year practices:

• The Aluth Avurudda begins at 2.17 p.m., DST, on April 13

• The auspicious time for preparing the New Year’s auspicious food of kiribath is 6.35 p.m., DST, keeping in mind the year’s auspicious direction (north) and the year’s auspicious color for clothing (cream or white)

• The auspicious time for starting work, transacting business and eating the first meal is 7.16 p.m., DST.

• Keep in mind the nonagathe (neutral period), the astrological time-gap between the end of the old year and the beginning of the new. Devote this period for spiritual activities and avoid any material pursuits

The New Year provides the occasion to forget and forgive. Younger members of the family kneel before the older members to ask for forgiveness and blessings. For both children and adults, the New Year’s Day is for play and enjoying the best of traditional foods.

Many believe that Sri Lankans can use the New Year as a tool to promote amity and trust between the Tamils and the Sinhalese because the celebration is common to both communities. One suggestion is to initiate a program whereby children from the south can join children from the north to camp, play and eat together during the New Year period.

Shelton Gunaratne is professor of mass communications emeritus at Minnesota State University Moorhead.

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