In a society in which all spheres of life are stamped by a deep sense of religiosity, it is to be expected that the dividing line between religious and secular festivals remains blurred. Since most of the Tamils of Jaffna are Hindus, their festivals have been interpreted in the light of Hindu myths and traditions. In addition, at least some of their festivals are nature-related. The “natural phenomena of New Moon, the entering of the sun into each sign of the Zodiac, the eclipses, the equinoxes, the solstices were all considered ‘Punnyakalams’ (Holy times). The national festivals were so fixed as to coincide with the natural phenomena”.
The New Year begins on the day the sun is said to enter the Zodiacal house Aries in the month of Chithirai (April-May) after the vernal nor. Since this feast is based on the solar calendar, the date never changes.
On the previous day, the house and compound are cleaned and ceremonially sprinkled with water mixed with cowdung (or with saffron). Pots and pans are polished and incense is burned. People get up early and as the first thing are expected to set their eyes on auspicious objects. All wear new clothes. Men wear white veddis and shawls and women wear sarees in colours as prescribed in the Hindu Almanac.
All members of the family visit the temple to worship and to offer gifts. The first fire is lit usually by the lady of the house facing the direction indicated by the astrologers. The first meal, customarily milk rice, is cooked and eaten at an auspicious time.
The ceremony of kaivispsham, namely the gift or exchange of coins wrapped in betel leaves, takes place after the meal, ordinarily between the head of the family and a visitor who has been invited to be present at the meal. It is believed that if the “giver” is a lucky person, the “receiver” too will have luck with money right throughout the year.’ Kaivisesham also takes place among family members, relations and friends.
The first bath takes place at an auspicious time after having applied oil and medicament prepared from certain leaves, flowers, saffron and milk. Visits to parents and relatives are made and the poor are fed and given alms.
The full-moon day in Chithirai is called Chithiraippaurnami and is a special day of fast and penitence. It is believed that the observances Oh this day seek to propitiate Chandragupta, the record-keeper of Yama, the god of death,, who passes judgement on the future of a person on the basis of statistical record of good and bad deeds kept by Chandragupta This day is observed in remembrance of departed mothers.
On the darkest night of the month of Adi (July – August) called Adi Amavasai a fast is undertaken in remembrance of departed fathers. It is a day of worship and of abstinence from meat and fish.
The festival of Vinayaga Sathurthi occurs on the fortnight of Avani (August – September) and is sacred to Pillaiyar, the elder son of Siva and Parvathi. It is in remembrance of the day Parvati created him in order to guard her personal living quarters. It is observed by making clay figures of Pillaiyar and offering pujas “with 21 kinds of leaves, 21 kinds of flowers and 21 kinds of grass” which is considered sacred and used for Hindu rituals; kolukkaddai, which is some sort of cake made out of green gram, jaggery, coconut and flour is prepared and offered to him; coconuts are broken before the image and people knock their foreheads with the knuckles while they sit and stand alternately. The image of Pillaiyar is then taken to a tank and subsequently immersed.