Come Avurudu season, the home of George Senadhira better known as the veda gedara in the village of Mullegama Habarakada is abuzz with preparations to celebrate the oil anointing ceremony ritual on a grand scale. An integral part of the Sinhala and Hindu New Year, the customary oil anointing ceremony is gradually slipping away from the list of avurudu traditions in the city although this practice is still followed in the rural heartland of Sri Lanka.
The veda mahattaya and his wife Pix by Nilan Maligaspe
In the days gone by, the temple and the veda gedera in a particular village were considered the two main locations where this ritual was performed, says Mr. Senadhira, a well-known Veda Mahattaya who has been practising Ayurveda for the past 50 years. “Being the Vedha gedara of this village we still follow this ritual to the letter,” he says.
Elaborating on the importance of this custom, he says it is a combination of both ayurveda and astrology and as such the benefits one can get by following the ritual are two-fold. “By performing this ritual as the planetary changes occur, people can derive a quantum of health benefits. This is done according to the nekath time (auspicious time) calculated when the best planetary changes occur and they help absorb the universal powers into our bodies,” he says.
In terms of health benefits, the Veda Mahattaya says preparations of herbal oil and Nanu (medicated shampoo) applied on the head on that day are done with the use of medicinal herbs to maintain good health. “Massaging the head with Nanu heals the mind, body and the soul. It soothes the system with its effects on vatha, pitha and sem, strengthens the nerves, eye sight, promotes sound sleep and hair growth,” he goes on.
The herbal oil used for the ceremony is made of herbal varieties such as kalanduru-ala, sathsanda, sevendara, sandalwood, iriveriya, beli-mal, kohomba-kola, kumkumappu and gorochana. However, the ingredients used for Nanu differ every year as this is once again done on astrological calculations taking into consideration the herbs associated with each planet. It is the same medicinal leaves used to hang on top and lay on the bottom of the ground when the custom of oil anointing takes place that is used to prepare the Nanu, he says. In addition several oils such as Siddahartha and Nilyadhi are also added into the Nanu; most often this is a common practice followed by indigenous ayurveda doctors when they perform this ritual.
When the oil anointing is done, a gatha is chanted to invoke blessings for good health, long life and happiness, the Veda Mahattaya says.
Asked if this ritual has a connection with the customary bathing for the past year he says the herbal bath with gingelly oil is equally important to purify the system.
On the method of preparation of oils and Nanu, this Veda Mahattaya says as a medical practitioner he keeps oils ready at his veda gedera all the time. “There is no auspicious time to make Nanu; we generally find the herbal plants needed a day prior to the ceremony. Most of these plants are available in the home garden or in the village and a few hours before the ceremony we make Nanu,” he says adding that he conducts a gihi piritha a day prior to making of the Nanu so as to seek religious blessings too.
Having performed this Avurudu ritual for over 50 years, the day of the oil anointing ceremony brings about 50 visitors to his home including his children, grandchildren and relatives to the villagers, according to his wife Karunawathi. A retired teacher by profession, she says they follow new year traditions with special priority being given to this particular custom.
“We make preparations for about a week starting with the gihi piritha. We make kiribath (milk rice) and other food to welcome guests who come to our place for the oil anointing ceremony which happens throughout the day. As a symbolic gesture we apply the oil on one particular individual at the auspicious time and go on to perform this custom on others throughout the day. In the past, there were so many visitors that we had to keep a kettle of water boiling the whole day to make tea for the visitors,” she says adding that sadly people have lost enthusiasm in this tradition now.
A descendant of a third generation of indigenous medical practitioners, George Senadhira says during his childhood he used to go to the village temple in Nawagamuwa for this ritual.
He advises everyone who will b celebrating this new year to pay attention to this important custom as the benefits are immense.
“Those who cannot perform this custom at home should at least make it a point to go to the nearby temple. I am 83 years old now, but I have no health complications and I am fit to do anything and everything on my own. This could be the health benefits I have reaped from ayurveda over the years.
He also believes ayurveda doctors in the country have a role to play in promoting these age-old beneficial customs.