The Sinhala New Year season is a season of happiness, relaxation and fun. New clothes, food, and games are a part of the New Year celebrations. Families get together and engage in various traditional games and sports during their leisure time.
Among these games there are a variety of them suitable for different age groups. Some are indoor games whilst some are outdoor games. However today, these traditional games are fading away. Many do not engage in them. Most of the younger generation only know these games by name. Hence, we will present to you some interesting and lesser known facts about our traditional games.
According to historical texts the history of sports and games in Sri Lanka goes back to the historic period, which means to the Anuradhapura Period. Based on these details it seems that there were a few number of games that were mainly or only for royals and the elite while there were a large number of games that the public and the royals both had in common.
Games that were popular among the public are called folk games.
Although these folk games could be played during any time of the year, they were commonly played during the April New Year season. People were relaxed during the New Year season and were enjoying success after the harvest. It was like a time of leisure after a long year of hard work. Hence, families and friends would unite and engage in these games. Most of them are played outdoors and require a large space, which was abundant in a typical Sri Lankan village. The equipment used was made out of fruits, seeds, wood, and natural materials such as reed or dried leaves.
Folk games and sports could be categorised into four main types;
- Gal kireema
- Iratu hangeema
- Pancha dameema
- Dolaha dameema
- Olinda keliya (Muthu keliya)
- Pol nelima
- Wala kaju gaseema
- Lunu paneema
- Thachchi paneema
- Elle gaseema
- Bu keliya
- Chak gudu paneema
- Onchili padima
- Porapol gaseema
- An adeema
- Lee keliya
- Kadu harambaya
- Amba ata paneema
- Idok gaseema
- Kata gaseema
(Source – Ape Sanskruthiya by Ven. Panditha Baddegama Wimalawansa Thera)
Out of the many indoor games, olinda keliya is one of the most famous folk games. This board game was popular among women. It is said that this was a game played by royal women and they had used pearls (muthu) instead of olinda. Hence the game was called muthu keliya. Another belief is that olinda keliya has its origin in the cult of Pattini. This is why the game is known to be a game played by women. Although there are no religious rituals performed, the olinda kolombuwa or the poruwa (the board) is not kept on the ground without a mat and also it is not placed on earth.
As the game grew popular among the public, it was not possible for them to afford pearls. Therefore, olinda seeds (Rosary pea), which were commonly seen in villages, were used instead of pearls. There are a large number of folk poems related to this popular board game.
The wooden board used to play it is called the olinda kolombuwa or the olinda poruwa. These are usually made out of ebony wood and beautifully carved. A large number of olinda poruwas are kept in museums all over the island. The Colombo National Museum has a large number of olinda kolombuwas on exhibit. On either side of the poruwa there are usually nine holes in which are placed four beads each.
The players have to shift the beads from one hole to the other and collect the seeds found in the hole immediately after an empty one. Ultimately, the player who can collect the largest amount of olinda beads becomes the winner of the game.
Although this was a widely played game in the past, today olinda keliya is rarely played.