"Sri Lankan Diaspora" celebrate New Year in both East & West

By Shelton Gunaratne

(April 15, Washington, Sri Lanka Guardian) The dawn of the South Asian New Year (identified as Aluth Avurudda in Sri Lanka) was an event that neither the West nor the East could ignore.

Migration and globalization has transformed the meaning of the East and the West from geographical entities to conceptual identities. For contrary to Rudyard Kipling’s “never the twain shall meet” poppycock, Asian “colonies” have popped up in Toronto (with 684,000 South Asians), Oslo (with 20,000 Pakistanis and 7,100 Lankan Tamils), London (with 887,000 South Asians) and other European and North American cities.

The Asian New Year was even celebrated by the tiny diaspora of Sri Lankans in the Red River Valley of the U.S. Upper Midwest.

Nearly 100 people, mostly Sri Lankan students and their friends from China, India, Malaysia and a few other counties, filled the main lounge of Burgum Hall at North Dakota State University, Fargo, on Easter Sunday to experience the fun and joy of what the Aluth Avurudda was all about.  

A. I. A. Safwan, a Muslim student from Sri Lanka, said that he participated in the event because Aluth Avurudda celebrations were meant for every person, not just the Sinhalese.

Some wore sarongs over their trousers, played musical chairs, and joined a typical Lankan obstacle race, among other activities organized by an eight-member committee headed by Theekshana Jayakody, president of the NDSU Sri Lanka Students Association. The event ended with a potluck dinner of kiribath (sticky milk rice), kevili (sweetmeats), and other traditional foods.

Similar events organized by the South Asian diaspora all over the world were not uncommon because Easter Sunday provided the necessary breathing space to celebrate the departure of the old year prior to getting entangled in the nonagathe—the tail-end of the departing year when people are not supposed to engage in any material activity.

In Sri Lanka, the Aluth Avurudda arrived Tuesday exactly 47 minutes past midnight, according to Sri Lanka Jyotisha, an astrology Web service run by Lakshman Abeykoon. Sri Lanka is in the same time zone as India, where different ethnic groups celebrate the same New Year under different names.

Going eastwards, the New Year would have arrived later: at 1.47 a.m. in Myanmar, at 2.17 a.m. in Thailand, western Indonesia, and Vietnam; 3.17 a.m. in Malaysia and Singapore; and 5.17 a.m. in eastern Australia. In countries west of the Indian subcontinent, the New Year has already arrived.

The New Year marks the time that the sun famously left the constellation of Pisces to enter the zone of Aries thereby signaling the onset of another year. It is this event, the vernal equinox associated with spring, that most of South and Southeast Asians—predominantly Hindus and Buddhists—celebrated this week, with an array of names and different customs that can boggle one’s mind.

In India, different ethnic groups have shaped the New Year to suit their own customs and needs. Thus the Sri Lankan Aluth Avurudda turns out to be Puthandu or Varusha Pirappu in Tamilnadu; Mahabishuba Sankranti (incorporating Hanuman Jayanthi) in Orissa; Vishu in Kerala; Pohela Boishakh in Bengal; and Rongali Bihu in Assam.

However, not all Hindus celebrate the New Year on the same day in mid-April. Some celebrate different dates in March or April based on the lunar calendar: Yugadi in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka; Gudi Padwa in Maharashtra; Bestu Varas in Gujarat, which follows the Vikram lunar calendar, Navreh in Kashmir; and Cheti Chand of the Sindhis who celebrate their New Year one day after Yugadi and Gudi Padwa. (See table below)

Because of the Buddhist cultural connections, Southeast Asians in Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos, all of whom use the lunar calendar to coincide with the vernal equinox, also celebrate their New Year in mid-April. For them, the dawn of the New Year (noted for their unique water festivals) could happen on any of three days from April 13 to 15.

Diverse Names and Dates for New Year in Asia



What they call the New Year



Sri Lanka

Sinhala Buddhists

Aluth Avurudda

April 13/14

Sun moves from Pisces to Aries

Tamil Hindus


April 13/14

End of harvest season


Tamil Hindus

Puthandu/Varusha Pirappu

April 13/14

Day 1 of Chitirai in Hindu calendar


Rongali/Bohag Bihu

April 13/14

Day 1 of Hindu solar calendar

Bengalis, including Bangladeshis

Pohela Boishakh

April 14/15

Day 1 of Hindu  solar calendar

Andhras, Karnatakans



Day 1 of Chaitra in Saka lunar calendar


Gudi Padwa


Day 1 of Chaitra in Saka lunar calendar



April 13/14

Day 1 of Medam in Hindu solar calendar


Sajibu Cheiraoba

April 13/14

Day 1 of chahi in Hindu solar calendar




Day 1 of lunar new year


Mahabishuba Sankranti

April 13/14

Day 1 of Hindu solar calendar


Bestu Varas


Day 1 of  Vikram lunar calendar


Cheti Chand


Day after Yugadi/Gudi Padwa


Chaitti & Basoa/ Vaisakhi

April 13/14

Chaitra/Baisak month begins


Tamil Hindus


April 13/14


Tamil Hindus


April 13/14




April 13-15

Marks the week-long water festival



Chaul Chnam Thmey

April 13-15

Marks the week-long water festival



Bpee Mai

April 13-15

Marks the week-long water festival




April 13-15

Marks the week-long water festival


Chinese, including diaspora

Chinese New Year

Between Jan. 21 and Feb. 20

First day of Chinese lunar calendar




First day of Vietnamese lunar calendar




First day of Korean lunar calendar



Tsagaan Sar

First day of Mongolian lunar calendar


Bhutanese and Tibetans


First day of  lunar calendar

Islamic countries


Islamic New Year

Migrates throughout seasons

First day of Muharram, first month

Compiled by Shelton Gunaratne©2009

The New Year that East Asians celebrate always precedes that of South Asia. The Chinese New Year—just as the Korean Seollal, the Mongolian Tsagaan Sar, the Vietnamese Tet, and the Tibetan and Bhutanese Losar—occurs between Jan. 21 and Feb. 20 on the second new moon after the winter solstice in accordance with the Chinese lunar-solar calendar. And the celebrations go on for 15 days.

-Sri Lanka Guardian
Unknown said...

you omitted Nepal--they also celebrate the same new year but currently they are now in year 2066