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A bright life snuffed out in a flash

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2nd Death Anniversary of Lt. Sugath Nadeeshan

By Admiral Ravindra C. Wijegunaratne
(Retired From Sri Lanka Navy)
Former Chief of Defence Staff

It was the Easter Sunday of 2019. Sri Lanka Coast Guard Ship Suraksha, a 100-meter-long Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) was getting ready for a 14-day Patrol. Her tanks were topped up with fuel. All victuals required for the 10 officers and 100 men crew onboard for the 14-day voyage were loaded. Both cold and cool rooms were filled with fresh fish, meat and vegetables. The ship was ready to sail at 12 noon on 21st April 2019.

The young lieutenant on board, who took over his new sea appointment as the Assistant Logistic Officer a few days ago was looking forward for a new experience. A new appointment, new ship, new friends, and new crew for him. He wanted to impress them with his hard work. A call came from his mother around 7AM informing him that his family were on their way to the village Church at Kochchikade, Negombo. He was the second son of a devoted Catholic family.

He was going to miss the Easter Sunday Mass this year. He suddenly got an idea, and quickly went up to the Commanding Officer’s cabin and tapped gently. “Yes, the door is open” the Commanding Officer replied. His Commanding Officer was a decorated former Naval Special Forces Captain. He had been attached to the Sri Lanka Coast Guard on a two-year assignment as the Commanding Officer of this OPV. The young Lieutenant requested the Commanding Officer’s permission to go to Church and attend the Easter Mass. A decorated Naval Officer with a clear track record of bravery and valour, the commanding officer was kind-hearted and considerate.

After all, his young subordinate was requesting permission to go to church on Easter Sunday. He knew his junior was a devoted Catholic. The Commanding officer himself was a devoted Catholic and had attended the midnight Easter Mass the night before. Permission was granted to the young officer to go to Church, with guidance below, which he regrets today.

“Sugath, the closest Church to us is St Anthony’s Church at Kochchikade. It has been the custom since the immemorial Naval Officers whether or not they were Catholics, to light a candle at this church when they receive their sea going appointments. We turn our ships towards this church before leaving the Colombo harbour to get blessings of St Anthony. St Anthony is the Saint who looks after the seafarers like us. So, you’re granted permission to attend the mass at St Anthony’s Church at Kochchikade. Take the ship’s vehicle. Be sure to return no later than 1100 hrs. We are sailing at 12 noon”

The young Lieutenant quickly changed into his best civil cloths and went to Church. He wanted to light a candle, pray for him and the crew, and return to the ship as soon as possible. The time was 0830. Then he heard an announcement that the Tamil mass was about to start in 10 minutes at 0840. The church was full of devotees. Families with their children dressed in their Sunday best . They were happy, chatting with each other and eagerly waiting for the Mass to begin. Our young Lieutenant could understand and speak Tamil fluently. He had adequate time to attend the Tamil Mass also, as he was due to return to ship by 11:00 AM. So, he decided to return the vehicle, and wait for the Mass to begin. He told the young driver “You can go. I will attend the Mass and return to the ship shortly. I can get a three-wheeler from here. It’s not that far from here to the Naval Base”. The driver left with the ship’s vehicle.

The Tamil Mass started at 0840 sharp. The suicide bomber walked into the Church at 0845 and detonated himself. With the deafening sound, the nearby Naval Base was activated. News started coming in about the blast at St Anthony’s Church at Kochchikade. The CO of the SLCG ship Suraksha knew his subordinate was at the Church. He rang his mobile phone while rushing to the scene. The mobile phone was ringing but there was no answer. The ship’s crew was looking for their officer while transferring the casualties. The CO rang the mobile phone of his subordinate officer again. This time someone answered! A female voice! She introduced herself as a nurse in the Accident Ward of the General Hospital Colombo. She said, “Sir, he is dead!”

The CO sat at the curbside with tears in his eyes. He is a battle-hardened Naval Special Forces man. He has seen many deaths and destruction during his Naval life, but still it is not easy for him to bear this loss. He wondered “My God! Why did I grant him permission to go to Church?”

Lieutenant (S) Sugath Nadeeshan Silva was born in Kochchikade, Negambo on 23rd November 1991, as the second son of his family. He had one elder and one younger brother. He had his early education at Thoppuwa St Philip Nari Sinhala Mixed School, Kochchikade and Mari Stella College, Negambo. He had proved to be one of the best students at school who excelled in both studies and sports.

He joined the Sir John Kotalawala Defence University (KDU) as an Officer Cadet on 17th September 2012. Sugath excelled in cricket. He earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Logistics Management KDU in 2016 and subsequently completed his Sub Lieutenant Logistics Management course at the Naval and Maritime Academy at Trincomalee. Sugath had just joined the SLCG ship Suraksha as his first sea appointment when this tragedy occurred. He was promoted to Lieutenant Commander posthumously and buried with full military honours.

May he Rest in Peace!

At the going down of the Sun and in the morning, we will remember him. Please keep him in your prayers.



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Strong on vocals

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The group Mirage is very much alive, and kicking, as one would say!

Their lineup did undergo a few changes and now they have decided to present themselves as an all male group – operating without a female vocalist.

At the helm is Donald Pieries (drums and vocals), Trevin Joseph (percussion and vocals), Dilipa Deshan (bass and vocals), Toosha Rajarathna (keyboards and vocals), and Sudam Nanayakkara (lead guitar and vocals).

The plus factor, where the new lineup is concerned, is that all five members sing.

However, leader Donald did mention that if it’s a function, where a female vocalist is required, they would then feature a guest performer.

Mirage is a very experience outfit and they now do the Friday night scene at the Irish Pub, in Colombo, as well as private gigs.

 

 

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Dichotomy of an urban-suburban New Year

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Ushered in by the ‘coo-ee’ of the Koel and the swaying of Erabadu bunches, the Sinhala and Tamil New Year will dawn in the wee hours of April 14. With houses to clean, preparation of sweetmeats and last-minute shopping, times are hectic…. and the streets congested.

It is believed that New Year traditions predated the advent of Buddhism in the 3rd century BC. But Buddhism resulted in a re-interpretation of the existing New Year activities in a Buddhist light. Hinduism has co-existed with Buddhism over millennia and no serious contradiction in New Year rituals are observed among Buddhists and Hindus.

The local New Year is a complex mix of Indigenous, Astrological, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions. Hindu literature provides the New Year with its mythological backdrop. The Prince of Peace called Indradeva is said to descend upon the earth to ensure peace and happiness, in a white carriage wearing on his head a white floral crown seven cubits high. He first plunges, into a sea of milk, breaking earth’s gravity.

The timing of the Sinhala New Year coincides with the New Year celebrations of many traditional calendars of South and Southeast Asia. Astrologically, the New Year begins when the sun moves from the House of Pisces (Meena Rashiya) to the House of Aries (Mesha Rashiya) in the celestial sphere.

The New Year marks the end of the harvest season and spring. Consequently, for farming communities, the traditional New Year doubles as a harvest as well. It also coincides with one of two instances when the sun is directly above Sri Lanka. The month of Bak, which coincides with April, according to the Gregorian calendar, represents prosperity. Astrologers decide the modern day rituals based on auspicious times, which coincides with the transit of the Sun between ‘House of Pisces’ and ‘House of Aries’.

Consequently, the ending of the old year, and the beginning of the new year occur several hours apart, during the time of transit. This period is considered Nonegathe, which roughly translates to ‘neutral period’ or a period in which there are no auspicious times. During the Nonegathe, traditionally, people are encouraged to engage themselves in meritorious and religious activities, refraining from material pursuits. This year the Nonegathe begin at 8.09 pm on Tuesday, April 13, and continues till 8.57 am on 14. New Year dawns at the halfway point of the transit, ushered in bythe sound of fire crackers, to the woe of many a dog and cat of the neighbourhood. Cracker related accidents are a common occurrence during new year celebrations. Environmental and safety concerns aside, lighting crackers remain an integral part of the celebrations throughout Sri Lanka.

This year the Sinhala and Tamil New Year dawns on Wednesday, April 14, at 2.33 am. But ‘spring cleaning’ starts days before the dawn of the new year. Before the new year the floor of houses are washed clean, polished, walls are lime-washed or painted, drapes are washed, dried and rehang. The well of the house is drained either manually or using an electric water pump and would not be used until such time the water is drawn for first transaction. Sweetmeats are prepared, often at homes, although commercialization of the new year has encouraged most urbanites to buy such food items. Shopping is a big part of the new year. Crowds throng to clothing retailers by the thousands. Relatives, specially the kids, are bought clothes as presents.

Bathing for the old year takes place before the dawn of the new year. This year this particular auspicious time falls on April 12, to bathe in the essence of wood apple leaves. Abiding by the relevant auspicious times the hearth and an oil lamp are lit and pot of milk is set to boil upon the hearth. Milk rice, the first meal of the year, is prepared separate. Entering into the first business transaction and partaking of the first meal are also observed according to the given auspicious times. This year, the auspicious time for preparing of meals, milk rice and sweets using mung beans, falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 6.17 am, and is to be carried out dressed in light green, while facing east. Commencement of work, transactions and consumption of the first meal falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 7.41 am, to be observed while wearing light green and facing east.

The first transaction was traditionally done with the well. The woman of the house would draw water from the well and in exchange drop a few pieces of charcoal, flowers, coins, salt and dried chillies into the well, in certain regions a handful of paddy or rice is also thrown in for good measure. But this ritual is also dying out as few urban homes have wells within their premises. This is not a mere ritual and was traditionally carried out with the purification properties of charcoal in mind. The first water is preferably collected into an airtight container, and kept till the dawn of the next new year. It is believed that if the water in the container does not go down it would be a prosperous year. The rituals vary slightly based on the region. However, the essence of the celebrations remains the same.

Anointing of oil is another major ritual of the New Year celebrations. It falls on Saturday, April 17 at 7.16 am, and is done wearing blue, facing south, with nuga leaves placed on the head and Karada leaves at the feet. Oil is to be applied mixed with extracts of Nuga leaves. The auspicious time for setting out for professional occupations falls on Monday, April 19 at 6.39 am, while dressed in white, by consuming a meal of milk rice mixed with ghee, while facing South.

Traditionally, women played Raban during this time, but such practices are slowly being weaned out by urbanization and commercialisation of the New Year. Neighbours are visited with platters of sweetmeats, bananas, Kevum (oil cake) and Kokis (a crispy sweetmeat) usually delivered by children. The dichotomy of the urban and village life is obvious here too, where in the suburbs and the village outdoor celebrations are preferred and the city opts for more private parties.

 

 

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New Year games: Integral part of New Year Celebrations

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Food, games and rituals make a better part of New Year celebrations. One major perk of Avurudu is the festivals that are organised in each neighbourhood in its celebration. Observing all the rituals, like boiling milk, partaking of the first meal, anointing of oil, setting off to work, are, no doubt exciting, but much looked-forward-to is the local Avurudu Uthsawaya.

Avurudu Krida or New Year games are categorised as indoor and outdoor games. All indoor games are played on the floor and outdoor games played during the Avurudu Uthsava or New Year festival, with the whole neighbourhood taking part. Some of the indoor games are Pancha Dameema, Olinda Keliya and Cadju Dameema. Outdoor games include Kotta pora, Onchili pedeema, Raban geseema, Kana mutti bindeema, Placing the eye on the elephant, Coconut grating competition, Bun-eating competition, Lime-on-spoon race, Kamba adeema (Tug-o-War) and Lissana gaha nageema (climbing the greased pole). And what’s an Avurudhu Uthsava sans an Avurudu Kumari pageant, minus the usual drama that high profile beauty pageants of the day entail, of course.

A salient point of New Year games is that there are no age categories. Although there are games reserved for children such as blowing of balloons, races and soft drinks drinking contests, most other games are not age based.

Kotta pora aka pillow fights are not the kind the average teenagers fight out with their siblings, on plush beds. This is a serious game, wherein players have to balance themselves on a horizontal log in a seated position. With one hand tied behind their back and wielding the pillow with the other, players have to knock the opponent off balance. Whoever knocks the opponent off the log first, wins. The game is usually played over a muddy pit, so the loser goes home with a mud bath.

Climbing the greased pole is fun to watch, but cannot be fun to take part in. A flag is tied to the end of a timber pole-fixed to the ground and greased along the whole length. The objective of the players is to climb the pole, referred to as the ‘tree’, and bring down the flag. Retrieving the flag is never achieved on the first climb. It takes multiple climbers removing some of the grease at a time, so someone could finally retrieve the flag.

Who knew that scraping coconut could be made into an interesting game? During the Avurudu coconut scraping competition, women sit on coconut scraper stools and try to scrape a coconut as fast as possible. The one who finishes first wins. These maybe Avurudu games, but they are taken quite seriously. The grated coconut is inspected for clumps and those with ungrated clumps are disqualified.

Coconut palm weaving is another interesting contest that is exclusive to women. However men are by no means discouraged from entering such contests and, in fact, few men do. Participants are given equally measured coconut fronds and the one who finishes first wins.

Kana Mutti Bindima involves breaking one of many water filled clay pots hung overhead, using a long wooden beam. Placing the eye on the elephant is another game played while blindfolded. An elephant is drawn on a black or white board and the blindfolded person has to spot the eye of the elephant. Another competition involves feeding the partner yoghurt or curd while blindfolded.

The Banis-eating contest involves eating tea buns tied to a string. Contestants run to the buns with their hands tied behind their backs and have to eat buns hanging from a string, on their knees. The one who finishes his or her bun first, wins. Kamba adeema or Tug-o-War pits two teams against each other in a test of strength. Teams pull on opposite ends of a rope, with the goal being to bring the rope a certain distance in one direction against the force of the opposing team’s pull.

Participants of the lime-on-spoon race have to run a certain distance while balancing a lime on a spoon, with the handle in their mouths. The first person to cross the finish line without dropping the lime wins. The sack race and the three-legged race are equally fun to watch and to take part in. In the sack race, participants get into jute sacks and hop for the finish line. The first one over, wins. In the three-legged race one leg of each pair of participants are tied together and the duo must reach the finish line by synchronising their running, else they would trip over their own feet.

Pancha Dameema is an indoor game played in two groups, using five small shells, a coconut shell and a game board. Olinda is another indoor board game, normally played by two players. The board has nine holes, four beads each. The player who collects the most number of seeds win.

This is the verse sung while playing the game:

“Olinda thibenne koi koi dese,

Olinda thibenne bangali dese…

Genath hadanne koi koi dese,

Genath hadanne Sinhala dese…”

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