Did you know that the Sinhala Avurudu celebration in the manner we celebrate today, first came into being only in 1886? Well that is the year that it was declared a Public Holiday due to untiring efforts made with the British Colonial government, by people like Ven. Migetuwatte Gunanada Thero, Ven. Hikkaduwe Sumangala Thero, Anagarika Dharmapala, Walisinghe Harischandra, Piyadasa Sirisena and John de Silva led by Col. Henry Steel Olcott. (This was just one year before Dharamaraja was started.) Till then the only celebration in this country was Christmas and the dawn of the New Year on 1st January, according to the Western Calendar. We were like strangers in our own country. We did not know that we had our own calendar. Also this was just one year after Wesak was made a Public holiday. On 14th April 1886 these leaders and their supporters, national heroes of that time, donned the Sinhala National dress held the first Avurudu celebration in accordance with our national customs.
But we were in such a deplorable state as a nation that since then, people only remained indoors on the New Year day and practically did nothing. We were so demoralized and listless as a people at that time. Yet this was the beginning of Sinhala Buddhist revival after their defeat by the British in 1818 rebellion. It was only after 24 more years later in 1910 that a group of young Sinhala Buddhist patriots led by man named D.B. Jyatillake who later became the first Principal of Dharmaraja College, that set up an organization named Sinhala Tharuna Sanvidhanaya in 1910 who organized a Sinhala Avurudu celebration on a national scale in 1914. They held the first national celebration in Colombo. In the next year, the celebrations were held at the Vihara Maha Devi park (then Victoria park, named after Queen Victoria) where more than 1000 people had participated according to the Dinamina newspaper. The next year it was held with great success at Kandy. Thereafter it spread to every village with a lot of traditional games etc. That is the beginning of what we celebrate today with TV coverage etc. on an organized fashion all over the country. These celebrations today give us unity and identity and pride as a unique nation.
So it is upto us, the present generation, to celebrate this festival observing all the traditional customs, instead of making it a day for liberal consumption of liquor and chicken curry.