By Rajitha Ratwatte
My writings seem to be gaining some momentum. A few weeks ago, the Editor had kindly made a reference to a description I had made of our politicians’ past and present, and last week a fellow columnist, using my name as an expletive (no reference to if I was man or beast), had insinuated that I write what I write from the safety and security of Aotearoa. Thereby establishing that she cannot write what she would really like to write due to living in the Pearl and possibly stirring the wrath of the rulers and attracting the consequences thereof. Before that the Editor had received a letter from Aotearoa complaining about the coverage, I gave to a function held on behalf of a politician over here. Not polite enough and rather damaging to the egos of those on the periphery of this blossoming political career.
I am dismayed that my writings (if you don’t mind me calling them such; they have been called much worse) are construed to be aimed at our politicians. What I say is aimed at the very fabric of the society that we live in. The fact that it is that society with their sycophantic and hysterical behaviour that nurtures, grows, and allows this scum to flourish, is well established. Any damage caused to the egos of politicians is purely collateral damage and should be treated as such. They were in the way and definitely not the prime reason or target. May I also add, and this may be a compliment to the age of the dear lady fellow columnists, that I have been writing these things and signing my name at the bottom from the time I lived in the Pearl and during some really scary regimes, in the times of suicide bombers and white vans, not to mention tyre pyres. Probably even before she could read and possibly from before she even assumed this life (was born!) in our beloved Pearl!
To get back to the matter at hand. It is impossible as a former Basnayake Nilame (lay trustee), albeit of an obscure pitisara devale (rural temple), to allow the crass and disgusting behaviour of a thug dressed in a yellow piece of cloth that covered his bulging waist, who was purported to be a member of the Buddhist clergy and which was all over the internet, go without comment. This person was verbally abusing a purported squatter on land belonging to the temple. It does not come as a shock, for during the five-year term of office I held and associated with those gentlemen mostly with inflated egos and an inexplicable need to display themselves on the streets of Kandy (Nilames’), I saw and observed much worse. It is not appropriate to disclose those “secrets” and certainly not in a public newspaper. It moved me to write earlier and ask for a Sangha Sanshodanaya and even to volunteer to help activate it.
One occurrence that may stir the memories of those who care, is a protest meeting that was supposed to be held in Kandy in the Maha Maluwa in front of the Maligawa. It was called for by the Mahanayaka Thero of the Nikaya that is situated on the shores of the Kandy Lake. This venerable gentleman was once lying in the cancer ward of the Kurunagala hospital with terminal cancer and not expected to live. But he did and slight deafness seemed to be the only apparent ill effect when I knew him. It was detrimental to politicians who were used to whispering nonsense in the ear of his predecessors as they now had to bellow at the top of their voices and of course this allowed others to hear, and it made these people rather uncomfortable. I used to enjoy such audiences immensely, and I am certain I saw a gleam of mirth in the eyes of the venerable monk, on occasion, as well! The response to this call for the gathering of the Sangha and lay supporters was stopped in its tracks by the then executive, with a simple threat. The threat was to remove certain temples from the diocese of this Maha Nayaka and his karaka sabhawa. This would result in the income and of course the power base of that temple being reduced dramatically. The karaka sabhawa was having nothing to do with that and therein lies the crux of the matter. I have heard many people ask why the head priests do nothing, for behaviour such as this and dare I say much worse, has happened and been filmed many times before. The reason why nothing happens is that the Maha Nayaka Theros’ are just figureheads (remember there was one appointed when he was in his nineties) and it is the Karaka Sabhawa that runs the Nikaya or sect. The Karaka Sabhawa is nothing but a glorified board of directors running a multimillion-rupee corporation with huge assets and lots of “employees”. Unfortunately, these directors have no real-life experience except for that gleaned in the uncouth and sometimes brutal environs of the local universities they studied in! As for the Seelaya (religious ethics), they are supposed to practice in accordance with the Vinaya ( self-discipline), it only exists in theory. One wonders if the true calling of the Nilames’ wasn’t to, as laymen, help run these temples and leave the priests and monks to practice their calling? That role too has now been corrupted beyond recognition.
Now for those of you who are girding your loins to attack this person who is trying to undermine their great religion, firstly let me point out that Buddhism is a philosophy and not a religion. My association with devout members of ALL the other religions practiced in the Pearl show me hardly any difference in the practice of those religions either, by the priests and clergy. It is not only Buddhism that needs a clean-up, but all religions practiced in the Pearl. They are mostly controlled by sacrilegious people pretending to be priests. They all need a clean-up. Contrary to popular belief, (and the view of the foreign Minister) the Pearl is all we can speak for and we are not the center of the universe and therefore cannot comment on religious practices in the rest of the world!
The guidelines for such a clean-up or Sanshodhanaya I believe is the term (I am open to correction) is written in Buddhist history and such things have been done, even in the time of the Lord Buddha.
What we need is strong unwavering leadership. A politician will lose votes and never win again if they do such things, seems to be the consensus of opinion. I beg to differ. I call upon SIR (and I hope I am not using this word as an expletive!) to commence a clean-up of all religions and their practice in this our beloved ex-Pearl of the Indian Ocean. If this is done together with solving our out-of-control Human-Elephant Conflict, SIR (popular name for incumbent president) will not only win the next election he will get as many terms as he requires to get this work done. Furthermore, this seems to be the last card left in Sir’s hand and what the people expected, when he was originally voted in with such a large majority.
Our people are beginning to realise that they need discipline in all walks of life and we no longer look to politicians. The Police force is a write-off. If we don’t even have the clergy to turn to what will our children do?
Furthermore, it will be a more than a useful distraction from the immediate problem of lack of vaccines (due to a monumental mess up of the original vaccination plan) and the debate as to who gets possibly substandard vaccines, to the future economic woes that the Pearl will definitely face due to the Pandemic, the activities of Cubby and his cohorts and the shenanigans in Geneva.
Strong on vocals
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.
Dichotomy of an urban-suburban New Year
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.
New Year games: Integral part of New Year Celebrations
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…”
Six nabbed with over 100 kg of ‘Ice’
Happy New Year!
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