Thursday, April 12, 2012

A National New Year

Courtesy - Daily News By Daya DISSANAYAKE

On April 14 we are once again celebrating a Sinhala and Tamil New Year. As usual we begin our new year preparations well ahead of the date.

New Year is said to be the first day of the year in the calendar used in the country. The Gregorian or the Christian calendar has been accepted internationally, since 1852. This is a development of the ancient solar calendar, which was probably begun by the Egyptians, “using as a fixed point the annual sunrise reappearance of the ‘Dog Star’ - Sirius, or Sothis - in the eastern sky, which coincided with the annual flooding of the Nile river” (Encyclopaedia Britannica). For the solar calendar of 365 days (1 day added to a leap year), the position of the earth in its orbit around the sun is reckoned with respect to the equinox, the point at which the orbit crosses the celestial equator. The Hindu, Tamil and the Thai calendars also follow this system.

However there are over 40 types of calendars around the world. The Lunar calendar is based on the natural cycles of the moon. The Lunisolar calendar tracks both the sun and the moon, but tracks the seasonal cycle more closely. The Solilunar calendar tracks more the moon cycle than the seasons. There are also calendars based on astronomical observations and astronomical calculations.

China uses the Gregorian calendar for business and international dealings, while they use a Chinese calendar for determining their festivals, based on astronomical observations of the sun and the phases of the moon.

In India there were about 30 different calendar systems, till a National calendar was adapted in 1957 based on the Saka Era, but for all business and administrative purposes the Gregorian calendar is used.

In our country too, we follow the Gregorian calendar for official work, the Buddhist calendar for all Buddhist festivals and the Indian Lunisolar calendar to reckon the New Year date and times.

Harvest festival

The New Year festival and all the cultural and religious observations during this period were based on our agri-cultural society, as a harvest festival.

Today very few of our people live by cultivating their own paddy fields, and even if they do, the farming seasons have changed, the traditions and technology has changed, and they have come to depend more on agro-chemicals and scientific advise than on our ancient farming techniques. For the majority of the population in our country who are monthly or daily wage owners, a New Year based on Agri-culture does not make sense.

The New Year, all over the world used to be a cultural festival, which probably began as Homo sapiens gradually turned to farming from his previous stage of gathering and occasional hunting.

It may have been much earlier in countries where they faced a winter and then the new dawn of spring, when everything came back to life again.

Man had very good reasons to celebrate a New Year then, either because of the rebirth of plant life around them, and the rebirth of their gods. This was also the time of the gathering of their harvest, the offering of First Fruits to their gods.

It was a time of prosperity, a time when they were happy and contended and had a good reason for celebrations and share their happiness with everyone.

Today the time has come to rethink of the new year celebrations as we know it. One argument is that it is already redundant. Something that belongs to a museum. Because in the towns and cities there is no harvest festival. Where most people live on monthly or daily wages there is no special month or day when they get a special large income, or a reason for celebration which is common to all the people at once.

In our villages too, harvesting times have changed, due to the climate changes and because of the new varieties of crops used with their varying crop cycles. Farmers too are completely dependent on business men or the Government who purchase their harvest.

The people today, do not have a substantial income before the New Year, nor do they have the time and peace of mind to relax for a few days and observe all the traditional New Year festivities.

The traditional festivities and all activities today have been taken over by commercial interests, unlike when people celebrated the new year in the calm and quite of their own villages, among their own families. Everything is worked out in rupees and cents and profit margins and interest rates.

Today in the city we are all strangers, with many barriers and partitions built between us. Even in the new high-rise apartments or in the suburbs, we do not know our neighbours. We are not concerned. We prefer to mind our own business.

Since most of us still want to have a New Year, of our own, to celebrate and enjoy, perhaps it is time to think of a National New Year, which can include all the people of our country, irrespective of their race, caste or creed. We could make this a ‘heaven sent’ opportunity to bring down all the barriers and partitions we ourselves have built around us.
One family

A National New Year could bring us all together into one family, in our villages, where today there are strangers, migrants from other villages, regions and districts, and there are also our own kith and kin who too had become strangers, drifted further apart than the strangers themselves.

When we can bring this unity into the villages, then it would come into the towns and to the city.

Let us adapt all the kind, beneficial, environment-friendly customs and rituals and games from all the different cultures and develop New Year festivities which are more practical, more sensible, more enjoyable and more affordable to all of us, the children, the youth and the elderly.

Unless we adapt our cultural festivals to modern times, they get ignored, forgotten and pushed back into history. In a 21st Century urban setting, we cannot retain customs which were developed for rural life of the early and mid 20th Century.

Failure to adapt to the times, has resulted in the total abandonment of New Year festivals in most of the ‘Developed’ countries.

When the festivals and social activities do not fit in to the busy schedules of urban life, they are ignored. It is already happening in our country, with regard to most of the New Year practices.

It is easy to merge the Sinhala and Tamil New Year celebrations as a first step, because we already have so much in common, beginning with the date and the concept of Sankranthi. In our religious beliefs we have so much in common. The sweetmeats we prepare are almost identical, and acceptable to all.

Most of the games we play during the New Year either have South Indian origins or are similar to the games played among the Tamil community. Some games are linked with the belief of goddess Patthini.

Let us set an example to the rest of the world, of what unity among all mankind could mean, could achieve. Instead of letting other countries tell us, teach us or order us to live their way, let us show them that we have a better way of life, based on our ancient traditions and beliefs. Let us show the world that we can live not only in harmony and unity among all mankind, but also with nature and with all life around us.