In Sri Lanka the most pronounced areas of the Sinhala and Hindu New Year festivities are food, games and rituals of goodwill. We are blessed with several traditional games which are played during New Year holidays in the month of Bak (April). The significance of these games is that they are designed to suit and meet the needs of the peasantry whose objective is to achieve the mental comfort and consolation after hard and tedious work in agriculture and allied areas. As a tradition followed by the peasantry, from generation to generation, these games are played especially during the festive season – the apex being the “Nonagatha” (the period of time not belonging to any lunar mansion) or the inauspicious or unlucky time in between the old year and the New Year.
MANY GAMES TO CHOOSE FROM
Chaturanga or Chess, Olinda keliya or game of liquorices, Pancha keliya or the game cowries, Nerenchi, Gal keteema or slinging of stones and Beeralu weaving contest are some of the traditional indoor games played by family members with the participation of neighbours, friends and well-wishers.
Outdoor games such as Gudu paneema, Kamba adeema or tug of war, Pora pol gaseema or throwing coconut at each other, Lanu paneema, Amba ata paneema or Mango hard kernel play, Gas kotu bandeema or running from tree to tree, Wala kaju gaseema or cashew nut play, Kotta pora or cushion fight, Onchili Padeema or riding the swing, Eluwan kama or goat play, Ang adeema or pulling horns, playing Rabana, Coconut scraping, Gudu keliya, Lissana gaha nagema or climbing the greasy pole and Bunis kema or eating buns are played with the participation of young men, women and children in the village and occasionally with those in neighbouring villages. Aliya asa thabeema or placing the eye on the elephant is a play enjoyed by everyone-young and old. Participants must spot the eye on the elephant’s body
GAMES RELATED TO ITEMS USED IN DAY-TO-DAY LIFE
Coconuts, cashew nuts, Mango and Buns are food items. Sri Lankan house wives must scrape coconuts to prepare curries. Hence scraping coconuts is a traditional game during the New Year. One who is fast in scraping wins the game. Pora Pol gaseema or throwing coconuts at each other is another game played during the New Year days by young men in the village. Throwing coconuts at each other can be compared to creating harmony among relatives and neighbours after throwing harboured ill-will or hatred out of the window. Maintaining peace and harmony is an objective of the peasantry. Mango fruits and cashew nuts are abundant during the new year season. Hard coat of the Mango seed is used in the game of Amba Ata Paneema. In the game of Banis kema (Bun eating competition) buns are suspended in a row from a horizontal pole or string. Competitors whose hands are tied behind should kneel down and eat buns.
GAMES RELATED TO RELIGIOUS RITES
The game of liquorices-Pancakeliya or the game of cowries Nerenci, Galketeema, Amba ata Paneema, Kana Mutti bindeema or breaking pots blind folded, Muthu keliya or game of pearls, Sokari, Udakki or the drum which is small in the middle are some of the New Year games connected with religious beliefs and rites. Most of these games are played to please goddess Pattini. Playing on the swing is a game dedicated to the Sun god. The ups and downs of the movements on the swing indicate the sun rise and the sunset respectively.
GAME WITH COWRIES
Game with cowries is a game dedicated to goddess Pattini played especially in the South. People in this part of country start playing the game by the end of March or often earlier and continue till Vesak or Poson. This game has a long history. King Gajaba who brought 12,000 men from Chola desa in India also brought the anklet of goddess Pattini. Hence, Panca keliya is treated as a game associated with goddess Pattini. “Panca” is the Tamil term used for cowries or oysters. Tamil terms onru and rendru are used in this game to mean one and two respectively. Panca peta or draft board is designed according to the Tamil tradition. There is evidence to the effect that the game is greatly influenced by the Tamil community. Men, women and children play this game. Peasants believe that the blessings of goddess Pattini can be evoked by playing this game. Two sides should have an equal number of members or players. However, no one will be left out in the event of an odd number of players turning up to play. An additional player is assigned to the side with a lesser number of players, who is referred to as “Hungi.” One member of the other side is given an extra chance to play on such occasions.
OLINDA KELIYA OR WILD LIQUORICES SEEDS
Another game dedicated to goddess Pattini is Olinda Keliya. Olinda or wild Liquorices seeds are used to play on a board which is called “Olinda Porujwa”. There are two sets of holes in the board into which the players can put the seeds. According to the evidence associated with the history of the game it has been popular among women. This was a game in which the princes of the court featured. The boards used in the royal palaces and those used by nobles were decorated with wood carvings. Game of Olinda is also played as an outdoor game. Two sides are formed with well-dressed girls and they indulge in a two-way recital conversation. The leader of one side recites a line of a poem “Olinda thiyenne koi koi dese.” The other players in the side repeat it. The leader of the opposite side replies. “Olinda thiyenne Bangalidese” The others in her side repeat it. The game ends when the whole poem is completed.
GAL KETEEMA OR BALANCING OF PEBBLES
Gal keteema or Balancing of pebbles is yet another New Year game popular among women and children. Only six pebbles are required to play this game. After deciding the playing order, the opener takes the pebbles into her palm and after throwing them up collects as much as possible on the other side of the palm and then she should get as many pebbles as possible including the one marked by the others into her palm. The pebbles thus taken by her into her palm are those collected by her and the game continues. Kaju keliya is a game similar to Gal keteema. In this game cashew nuts are used instead of pebbles.
Another traditional game is Elu kotu bandeema or goat fencing. This game is also called Eluwan kema or catching of goats. This game relates to goatherds. It is an outdoor game played mainly by girls. They make an enclosure to prevent those outside from getting in. Those who are inside are imaginary goats and those who are outside are goat catchers. Goat catchers recite a line of a verse asking whether they could jump over the fence. ”Udin panindo” Those who are holding the hands to make the fence reply “Thalla kadeido” Will you break your chin “ Then she pleads “Watee wadinnan yaluwse denawada eluwa If I kneel down and salute my friends will you give the goats” Then those who are holding hands to make the fence reply “Koccara keewath yaluwe nodemiya eluwa. Whatever you say or do you will not get the goat.”. The game comes to an end when the outsiders break in.
The significance of these games is that they are designed to suit and meet the needs of the peasantry whose objective is to achieve the mental comfort and consolation after hard and tedious work in agriculture and allied areas
BEATING THE LARGE DRUM-RABAN GASEEMA
Beating the large drum is another form of recreation enjoyed especially by young girls and elderly women during the New Year days .There is a saying that there is no rest for the drum and the women’s hands during the New Year All the women, young and old, sit round large drums and beat them rhythmically and sing songs to the tune of the beat. Veterans beat the drum with their hands, elbows and sometimes with their chins. While beating drums they occasionally clap too. Songs are worded in keeping with their day to day work. “Bolan podi nangi tikak hitapan, Bulth wita kanta tikak hitapan, kadangodaganna tikak hitapan. Oh, young sister, stay here for some time, to chew betel, wait to take the logs in”. In another poem a parrot is summoned. Rhythmically the parrot is invited to come flying or walking. ”Udin udin wara pettappu, Bimin bimin wara pettappu” Meanwhile, young men dance to the tune of the music making the scene melodramatic
RIDING THE SWING
Riding the swing is another way of spending the New Year season merrily. This s also a recreation popular among the girls although males too partake in the game. As mentioned earlier this is a game dedicated to the Sun god. Well-dressed girls get on to the swing hung on an overhead branch of a tree. One of them sits on the seat of the swing and others stand behind and push the swing forward while singing waran or quatrains. “Wawulan lesa karakena oncilla, Apith padimu dan ran oncilla Let us also ride the golden swing which turns like a bat.”
There is yet another game played by girls using an ornament worn by one of them. This is called Mewara Keliya. At least five girls should participate to make this game successful. One of the girls hides her bangle in the sand and pretending she has lost it questions the others whether they have found it. “Sarasadisi PetiThora Nelanakala walagiyado mage mewareya. I feel that I have lost my ornament while plucking Peti Tora” Others reply they have not seen the ornament. “Nano numbapal Numbe daruwanpal apa dutuwe nata mewaraya” Oh sister we have not seen the ornament.” At last the owner of the ornament hops to the music of the song and gets closer to the place where she had hidden the bangle and snatches it saying she had found it.
ANG ADEEMA – PULLING THE HORNS
Villages such as Angkumbura, Angammana, Ampitiya, Udugambawa and Yatigambawa appear to have been named after the game of Ang Adeema- Pulling of horns. This game had been very popular in the past. When king Gajaba brought 12,000 persons from Chola desa in India, the statues of Kannagi (goddess Pattini) and that of her husband Palanga were also brought. Hindus believe that the statues have divine power. When Kannagi and Palanga were plucking flowers, their hooked sticks got entangled and when they pulled the hooked sticks to either side Palanga’s hooked stick was broken. In another story Kannagi and Palanga had cursed the Pandyan king and the country as a result the country was ablaced. People had started playing Ang Adeema in a bid to appease Kannagi.
At the auspicious moment a six-foot-deep hole is dug in the ground and a log of Kekuna is erected turning the top corner of the log towards the ground. This log is called Ang Kanuwa. An Arecanut flower is tied to it and is called” Wallimala.” Close to the Ang Kanuwa another log is erected which is known as “Buhukanuwa.” Ang or horns are made of wood. such as Karanda, Pihimbuwa, Andara or Akiri. Players form two teams which are known as “Udupila” and “Yatipila” Udupila is Palanga’s and Yatipila represents Kannagi. It is believed that when Yatipila wins it is a good omen.