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The splendor of Tamil culture and its endurance
Jaffna, a land rich in culture and a salubrious milieu is what today called the Land of war. There are very few revelations on the cultural beauty of this land. There are more to discover and explore. Even though this culture which is bound by many traditions, customs and rituals is abided by the indigenous inhabitants of the land, they are ignorant of the actual meanings and purpose of following these rituals. The culture which was brought from the Dravidian culture of southern India is still being followed but whether everybody understands their deep underlying meanings is still a question. The customs are still being sustained because it is a must and a tradition. The proportion of the community that performs these customs with proper comprehension of their purpose is scarce. Many festivals are celebrated in Jaffna and the inner meanings of their celebrations are interesting and thought provoking.
The king, who was captivated by the melancholic music and the moving performance of the famous lutist “yalpadi”, rewarded him a land. It was the hard work of this lutist that developed the barred land to a cultivatable land. Later, this lutist went and brought his friends and relatives from India to settle. The name “Yalpanam” comes from the words “yal” which is the lute and “yalpanam” means the land of lutists. This is one of the archaeological discoveries on the history of Jaffna.  
Festivals
The year begins with the celebration of “Thai Pongal” to express the gratitude to the Sun God for a prosperous harvest and to bid farewell to the months of autumn. The rice from the harvest is cooked with the joyous cry “pongalo pongal” at the time of its boiling and offered to the God to bless with a flourishing future. This unique festival pays tribute to the Sun god, “the provider of energy”. The floor is cleaned with cow dung mixed with water. On the dry floor a beautiful Rangoli or “kolam” is drawn near which the earthen pot is placed to cook the harvested rice. Sugar canes are used to decorate around the earthen pot. The boiled rice is first offered to the god and then shared among the relatives and the neighbors.
The following day is called the “mattu pongal” which is celebrated to thank the cow. In the early days when technology wasn’t developed, cows were used to plough fields which used to be an immense help to the farmers. In return to this, farmers felicitate the cows on this day.
Sivarathiri which means Shiva’s night is a long night with a day long feast devoted to eulogize and attest his power as superior and eternal after a dispute between his sub-ordinates Brahma and Vishnu as to who was the superior among he two.
The Tamil New Year begins in the month of April when Sun enters the Zodiac of Aries after the vernal Nor. Following a head bath early in the morning, people go to temples to get the blessings of the almighty wearing new clothes. The first meal for the year, usually milk rice is cooked and shared among relatives and neighbors. A practice called kaiveshesham is given by the head of the family to mostly children for luck to flourish throughout year.
In order to guard and protect her and her living quarters, Parvati the beloved spouse of lord siva created Lord Ganesha. This day is celebrated as Vinayagar Sathurthi. After a pooja, Kolukaddai, a sweet cake made up of jaggery, coconut, green gram and flour are offered to the clay figure of Lord Ganesha.
Navarathiri, Nine nights is celebrated to extol the three Goddesses, Thurga, Lakshmi and Saraswati. The gods of energy are worshipped by fasting and feasting during these nine nights. First three days are devoted to Thurga the goddess of power and energy, the second three days are dedicated to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity and Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge and wisdom is worshipped on the last three days. Following these nine auspicious nights, on the tenth day, Vijaya dasami is celebrated which is denoted as “the day of victory”. This is chosen as the ideal day to commence new ventures in learning whether it is fine arts or any other studies for successful accomplishments.
Deepavali, the festival of lights is celebrated to highlight the victory of good over the evil or light over the darkness. Lord Vishnu, the preserver of earth, takes the form of Narasiman to destroy Narahasuran, a ruthless king. The king realizing his blunder orders the people to celebrate the day of his death which is until now celebrated as Deepavali. On this day, people take bath by applying Marunthu neer, holy water distributed by the temples on the previous day, on the hair and wear new clothes to go to temples.
Sooran Pore, is the day when lord Murugan destroys Suran who used his invincible powers and his gift of immortality for his ruthless acts. Murugan who was created by Lord Shiva with all supreme powers to raze the evil, destroys Suran. Suran takes the form of a rooster and a pea cock to serve Murugan after his extermination. This titanic battle between Murugan and Suran is dramatized in all the temples on the 6th day of the feast and the victorious idol of Murugan is carried back jubilantly into the temple.
Karthihai vilakidu is celebrated between the months of October-November on a poya day as a festival of light to mark and celebrate the birth of Lord Murugan. A twenty day long festival is celebrated between the months of December-January called Thiruvembavai to worship and praise Lord Shiva. The famous Thiruvasaham, an anthology of hymns written by the great author and Saint Mannikavasagar is choired verse by verse in all the temples during these twenty days.
Marriage
This is the biggest celebration in any culture and it has been customized according to the cultural practices, traditions and customs. Like in many other cultures, the practice of dowry to the groom from the bride also exists in Jaffna. This practice which was brought in as a support to the wife in case of her husband’s death has become a burden to the bride’s family due to the size of dowry that is demanded these days. The wedding ceremony does not necessarily need to take place in a temple. On the day of the wedding, the brother of the bride goes to the house of the bridegroom accompanied by his relatives. The groom is taken on a procession to the temple or the bride’s home. There the priest chants the mantras and guides the couples to follow the customs. The bride’s parents handover their daughter to the groom which is called ‘theththam’ in Tamil. The groom presents the bride with a wedding saree called koorai patu to accept her as his life partner.
The Bride returns wearing the saree presented by the groom with a garland and shows her acceptance by presenting the garland to the groom. The groom ties the tall with the assistance of married women usually his sisters amidst the sounds of ‘ketimelam’, high pitch music recited by the drums and Nathaswaram, and the mantras chanted by the priest with the blessings of the audience thereby officially declaring the marriage contract. The newly married couple goes around the round fire three times to reassure the Agni god of their marriage. Following some rituals, the bride steps on the grinding-stone for the groom to put on the “metti”, which is a ring worn on the 2nd fingers of the leg and the couple point at a star called Aruntati, a symbol of chastity. After having fruit and milk behind closed doors, the audience queue to bless and wish the couple for a long lasting life together.
Puberty Ceremony
Attaining puberty is called “Poopeithal”. The girl who has attained age is isolated from the rest of the family and prohibited from seeing men. Until the official day of ritual or the final day of menstruation, the girl is kept inside a closed room with Margosa leaves around her bed which is believed to be effective against evil, palm leaves and a knife. On the day of official ritual, the girl is given three arecanuts with coins inside folded beetle leaves symbolizing a wealthy and prosperous life and taken for a bath mostly by her Uncle and Aunt. Later the girl gets dressed with saree and ornaments for the first time in her life and is taken to a place of prominence among the invited guests. Then a ritual called Arati takes place eleven times with lighted camphor, foods, fruits, coins, cakes, flowers etc to chase away any evil influences. Finally the girl gives away the “kumbam” a symbol of god decorated with coconut, mango leaves and flowers to her uncle and aunt and receives their blessings.
These customs and rituals have changed along with the time due to urbanization and modernization. It is a great consolation that these traditions are still being followed strictly, even though their purpose is unclear to the younger generation. When the passion for westernized living is spreading vigorously among us, the endurance of this culture is bleak; it is by sustaining and performing these festivals and ceremonies, we remind ourselves of our root.
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