Sinhala and Tamil New Year, Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan New Year

II. A New Year and a New Name

For days before New Year, fire crackers echo around Gelioya. In kitchens all over town, women cook up a flour-storm of sweet cakes. Temperatures rise with the coconut oil. The smell of honey cakes fill the air.
Rice is put on the heat, along with milk on the open hearth. Families gather round the pot to watch the milk boil over – it means prosperity for the year ahead.

On New Year’s Day, Dimuthu presented me with a gift laid out on a neat pile of betel leaves. She pressed her palms together and bowed her head, holding out her offering in respectful deference.
I read the tag and found a name I didn’t recognise: Duvidu. Duvidu!At last, Janaka and Dimuthu’s child was no longer just ‘baby’ – but anchored in name as well as place.
In Sinhalese culture, the baby’s name is closely linked to the stars, the sun, the moon and their position in the sky. Dimuthu and her family had a given set of letters linked to the astrological charts to work around – a Rubix cube of possibilities to be arranged and rearranged until the perfect name is found.
Janaka and his father-in-law had spent an evening earlier in the week discussing the possibilities, and having finally agreed on a name, they’d gone to Dimuthu triumphantly with their choice. But Dimuthu said no: ‘Too common’ and in the end, she’d chosen the name herself.

That night, we ate a New Year’s feast with Dimuthu’s many relatives. Lathika had hosted in the Sri Lankan tradition – not eating with the guests, but hovering in the background, serving and checking the guests had enough to eat – although the table was buckling under the multiple bowls of spicy dishes and sweet cakes.

At the end of the evening, Tom and I made our way home along the earthen lane. It was then we saw the lights, drifting across the tree trunks like weightless seed-heads. We switched off the torch and watched fireflies float through the undergrowth. They looked particularly fragile and ethereal in among the knotted roots and gnarled barks; elegantly silent among the bark of dog, the thud of music and the explosion of fire cracker.
Then, for a moment, the dogs stopped yapping, the fire crackers ceased and the pop song faded away – leaving just the faint hum of traffic in the town.
And there was just me and Tom and the fireflies in the forest. And the near silence.

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