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Pillow fights! The domain of children and unreasonably attractive sorority sisters in underwear, right? That’s what society has led us to believe up to now, at any rate. The truth is this: pillow fights are not any one person’s exclusive domain. Indeed, I had not realized until recently that they’re highly prevalent in other cultures, besides B-level comedies about college shenanigans. Today, we’re off to the island of Sri Lanka!
The festival of Aluth Avurudda marks the beginning of the New Year for the Sinhalese people of Sri Lanka, but it is also celebrated as well by the large Tamil minority in the country as well. This year, the holiday begins on April 14th. With the people of Sri Lanka being a predominantly Buddhist population, this festival, also known colloquially among Westerners as the Water Festival, involves a lot of splashing of water on figures of Buddha as well as on everyone else celebrating as a means of bringing cleansing, blessing and prosperity to bring in the start of a new year. Similar traditions also exist in other southeast Asian Buddhist countries like Myanmar, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos, as well as in countries with a much smaller subset of Buddhist population such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, India, and China.
The Water Festival, while being an important holy event for Sri Lankans, still allows for a lot of celebrating mixed in with traditional religious rituals over the three days of festivities. One of the most exciting parts of this is the annual Pillow Fighting competition that takes place in many locations all over the country. Known in Sinhalese as kotta pora, this sport is very simple to partake in:
- Two people sit on a pole sitting horizontal to the ground – probably about 6 feet up. This can be done either over land or water, but doing it above a river definitely increases the drama.
- One hand must be behind the back at all times.
- The other hand has to hold the pillow in it – this leaves only the legs/hips as the means of staying aloft on the pole.
- You can hit the other person wherever you want with the pillow. Face, chest, arms, legs, no matter. Whack away!
- First one to fall off is the loser!
Essentially, the main advantage of this happening over water (besides the fact that it’s awesome) is the fact that the pillows getting wet means that the stuffing inside of them is also heavier, meaning that getting smoked in the face is that much more impactful. Hilarious, if you ask me.
Here’s an example from 2013 of an over-water version of kotta pora, though curiously, in this video (which unfortunately appears to be shot from a potato) the combatants aren’t adhering to the “one hand behind the back at all times” rule. At any rate, it’s still probably hard as hell to hang onto this thing as is.
Here’s another good one, of two guys going a few rounds against each other above what appears to be a storm culvert. I can’t imagine water in Sri Lanka being as sanitary as it is here in North America, but we’ll just say that the experience of losing here is extra character-building, then.
Anyone can play this game – men, women and children alike – but competitors have to be the same gender. Here’s some women going at it pretty fiercely on land in a female competition!
Overall, if a pillow fight has the potential to give you a concussion, it’s definitely not something to be taken lightly. Still, I’m certain we could convince Josh Norman and Odell Beckham Jr. to strap up and give this a whirl, in order to settle their differences once and for all. I think we could make some pretty good coin off it, actually. Anyways, to our southeast Asian Buddhist readership here at DFO, have a happy new year, and I hope you all win your pillow fights this year!