April 2021 was a month of excitement and Avurudu was one of many reasons. Amidst COVID, media outlets and Sri Lankans occupied themselves with solving a ‘great mystery’ – whether the winner at a local beauty pageant was married or not. The matter not only made international headlines but put Sri Lanka under the spotlight.
Prior to the surge in number of cases, Sinhala and Hindu Avurudu festivities were in full swing. Relaxed health protocols gave enough freedom for locals to flock to Nuwara Eliya for the season, pose for pictures sans masks and physical distancing. However, Avurudu festivities were soon wrapped up in what appeared to be a third wave of the pandemic.
Avurudu has been a much anticipated time of the year. But there is a change in how some traditional customs are observed. Even today people in villages get together and organise festivals.
“Winners of the Avurudu Kumari contests of yesteryear were judged based on the pancha kalyani.Participants at the gamé Avurudu Kumari contests weren’t asked to do French pedicures!”
The gamé Avurudu festival was not only for people in one village but an event for people in adjoining towns and villages to participate and engage in fellowship. They would play traditional games and spend the day with fun and excitement. One of the popular items was the Avurudu Kumari contest where people got together to see the attractive local girls clad in redda and hatte making an appearance on stage.
“Winners of the Avurudu Kumari contests of yesteryear were judged based on the pancha kalyani (Five characteristics that determined the beauty of a woman),” opined veteran fashion designer and choreographer Senaka De Silva. “These included Niya (nails), Kesha (hair), dantha (teeth), Chavi (Skin) and Maansha (a good figure). But it is appalling to see how these Avurudu Kumari contests some of which were aired on television have distorted the cultural traditions" he says.
"Participants at the gamé Avurudu Kumari contests weren’t asked to do French pedicures!
The hair had to be let loose and not back-combed and blow dried like how it it seen today. How can the judges judge the best hair when it’s tied that way?” he questioned.
"Attire for men was the sarong and preferably a shirt. But today, it has transformed into something else. The sarong has transformed into a dhoti, influenced by South Indian fashion making male contestants look like princes who have just gotten off the horse! And what's with those sarees and frocks worn by the female contestants? Certainly not a continuation of the tradition."
Ofcourse there will be those who will question as to why we need Avurudu Kumari/kumaraya contests just like there have been questions raised about beauty pageants in general. But there will also be those who will ask why not? The Avurudu Kumari contests are very much a part of the village avurudu festival and is looked forward to by many, both young and old.