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Cultural Relationship between Indonesia and Sri Lanka



Indonesian National Day falls on Aug. 17

by Dr.P.G. Punchihewa

In spite of Sri Lanka and Indonesia (Java and Sumatra) having a common heritage based on Buddhism, the evidence of political, religious and cultural relationship that existed between the two countries in ancient times, is meagre.

It is presumed that Buddhism was established in Java by the 5th century A.D. The earliest evidence in Buddhism in Indonesia is found in an account of the voyage of a Chinese monk Faxien, who having spent two years in studying Buddhism in Sri Lanka on his return trip on a merchant ship in 414 A.D visited Java. With both countries being placed on the sea route from Far East to India and to West there would have been close links between the two. In the 14th century Venetian traveler Marco Polo visited both countries

Reports by the travelers particularly the Chinese and the archaeological monuments in situ and excavations done both in Java and Sumatra indicate the extent Buddhism influenced the culture of these islands and the links they had with the outside world, including Sri Lanka.

J.G. De Casperis in Artibus Asiae Vol 23 no 3/4 (1961) refers to an inscription found in Ratubaka Plateau in West Java which mentions “This Abhayagiri Vihara here of the Sinhalese ascetics was established”. He further says that “In the present state of research there is, however one important conclusion that may be safely drawn from the inscription: the existence of cultural relations between Java and Ceylon in the Sailendra period (around the 8th century).This means that the possibility of Sinhalese influence upon Old Javanese art and architecture should be kept in mind.”

Incidentally the famous Borobudur Temple was built during the time of this dynasty. The Buddha statues of Borobudur temple have a very close affinity to early Sri Lankan Buddha statues and to those about the same time. Two inscriptions from Palembang Sumatra dating 682 and 684 A.D belonging to the Sri Vijaya period contain references to Buddhist influence. The first one refers to setting up of a park to be planted with coconuts, arecanuts, sugar palm, fruits of which can be had by the people. Though they are dated according the saka era, months are according to the lunar Buddhist calendar. It says on the eleventh day of crescent moon, Citta (April).The other refers to the eleventh day of the crescent moon of Vaisakh (May). (Incidentally, Culavamsa refers to establishing a coconut garden three yojanas in length, about the same time in Sri Lanka by King Aggabodhi 1 who reigned from 571 to 604 A.D.) .What is more important is that the two inscriptions have been written in Pallava script also used in Sri Lanka about the same time.

Buddhism prevailed in Indonesia up to the time of the introduction and expansion of Islam from late 13th century in Sumatra and 14th century in Java. From then onwards the religious and cultural relationship between the two countries diminished.

But a different kind of relationship developed between Indonesia and Sri Lanka due to their occupation in part or full by the Dutch. The household objects like lemari, arloji,meja, kemaja, kuvitansi, notaris, sendok, and food items like achcaru, dodol have their parallel in Sinhalese. But there are others as well. For example, the word “asik” meaning nice, attractive, infatuated in Indonesia, in Sinhala is now common among the average Sinhala folk. Meaning in Sinhala too is a close one.

The word ‘mara’ in Sinhala must be as old as the ancient times meaning death. But now how come it means anger? When one is very angry one says “mara tarahai”. Strangely the word “mara” in Indonesian means anger, wrath. Some of the Indonesian words that have found their way to Sinhala vocabulary have acquired a secondary meaning. In Indonesia the word “pendek” means a short or small. It applies to animate as well as to inanimate objects but does not connote a derogatory meaning. When in a shop a short-sleeved shirt is called kemeja pendek. But in Sinhala it means a timid, effeminate person who cannot do anything by himself. Sarong in Indonesia is worn by ladies. Sarong no doubt introduced to SrI Lanka from Indonesia, is an attire here for men. Over the past century the Indonesian art of batik-making has become firmly established in Sri Lanka.

Reflecting on the past we recall how our parents used to keep us on their laps and rock us to and fro, crooning ‘ aspaya goyang, goyang goyang, kolomba duwang, duwang, duwang.’We were thrilled by the movement of our body, this way and that way as our beloved ones rocked us to the rhythm of this ditty.

What does ‘goyang’ mean? What is its connection to ‘aspaya’.What we really did was not to ride a horse. But to rock on the lap of a parent. ‘Goyang ‘in Bhasa Indonesia according to Indonesian –English dictionary is to ‘shake, swing, to rock’ (a cradle).

This is one of the many foreign words that have crept into the Sinhala vocabulary about whose origin we have not paused to ponder.

In urban colloquial Sinhala one word which is often used is “nakkal”.We hear people saying “nakkalayak damma.”In Indonesia the word nakkal means disobedient, rowdy and mischief.

In course of time it is natural for words to acquire a different meaning and some of them even get a derogatory connotation. The word “bang” in Sinhala is still being used. There is a similar word “bang” or “abang” in Indonesia meaning older brother and is even used by the wife to address the husband. The word “ado” in Sinhala is certainly derogatory. In Indonesia “adoo” means “surprise.”

During the Sinhala New Year it is a common sight to see children as well as adults indulging in a game of “panchi.”The chart used here is called “peta.”In Indonesian peta means a “map” “chart”. The ‘peta’ used here is like a map where according to the points gained the contestant go higher.

Leekeli is now considered to be a national game in Sri Lanka. No Buddhist procession (perahara) can be had without lee keli players. In leekeli when the players reach a certain point the leader calls “habis.”In Indonesian habis means “finish.” In any case lee keli is a sport which has its origin in Malaysia/Indonesia.

In Indonesia one finds certain varieties of fruits which have their origin in Indonesia or Malayasia., along with the name. Rambutan means the fruit with hair and durian means with thorns/spikes.

There are many varieties of mangoes in Indonesia and the most sought after is the one called Harumanis’, Haru means smell and manis is sweet meaning the one which is sweet and fragrant. However it does not seem to have any connection to Haramanis, the personal name. There is no trace it being used in Indonesia although we get such names as Padmavathie common to both countries.

Sinhala language has been enriched with words from numerous sources. The words we have from Indonesia are not many. Some of the words mentioned may have a common origin like Dutch. It calls for a separate study.

With both countries achieving independence in mid-20th century, there was the initiative to commence closer diplomatic relations. Sri Lanka established diplomatic relations with Indonesia in 1950. Indonesia reciprocated with the establishment of a Consular Office in 1952. Indonesia was one of the five countries along with Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan and Burma to initiate the Bandung Conference which subsequently developed to be the Non Aligned Movement.

Buddhism in Indonesia received an impetus with the declaration of Vaisak Full moon Day as a holiday in1983. Therevada Buddhism too has revived due to the untiring efforts of Ven.Narada Maha Thera from Vajiraramaya , Colombo. After many centuries, he was the first Theravada bhikkhu to visit Indonesia. The movement of Buddhist pilgrims between the two countries is now a common feature.

A Bo sapling from the Sri Maha Bodhiya in Anuradhapura planted in Borobudur in early 1980s heralded the revival of Theravada Buddhism in Indonesia and renewing the cultural and religious links between the two countries.

One area where the impact of Indonesia had not been felt in Sri Lanka is in literature. Indonesian writers were highly involved in the Indonesian fight for freedom from the Dutch and Japanese and some of their literary works speak of their struggle. Sri Lankans are hardly aware of such Indonesian literary giants as Pramodeya Ananta Toer,Mochtar Lubis or Madelon H.Lulofs. Although they wrote in the Indonesian language, their work has been translated into English by Western writers mainly from Australia.

The New York Times wrote thus on Pramodeya’s first novel, the Fugitive. “Mr.Toer is a master and a brilliant one at setting out an intricate web of motivation, character and emotion (the prose) owes much to the sensitive translation of William Samuels.” Prof.Anthony H. Jones of Australian National University in his introduction to Mochtar Lubis’s, “A Road with No End” says “He writes in the tradition of Swift – hard, incisive, belligerently honest and merciless in the exposure of corruption and humbug.”

Dr.P.G. Punchihewa

The original article appeared in my book “A String of Archaeological Sites in the East.” I have added more material to this article particularly the last paragraph.( I have translated “the Fugitive” to Sinhala which was published sometime back. The writer lived and worked in Indonesia for many years, heading what was the Asian Coconut Community following his retirement from the position of Secretary to the Ministry of Coconut Development here)


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Credibility in governance through elections and not security forces



Ranil Wickremesinghe

By Jehan Perera

President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s warning that he is prepared to declare a state of national emergency and use the military to suppress any public protests for change of government would reflect the pressures he is under. The manner in which he has used the security forces to deal with the protest movement has been unexpected. His words and deeds are contradictory to what he has previously stood for as a five-time former prime minister. This is especially true in the case of the ethnic and religious minorities who have consistently voted for him and his party at elections. They have felt safer and more secure under his governments which always sought to reduce the heavy hand of state oppression in which national security is given pride of place. He has always promised them much though he has been unable to deliver on much of what he promised.

Notwithstanding the unfortunate rhetoric and actions of the present time the belief still persists that President Wickremesinghe is the best of the available options. Recent pronouncements of the president have reignited hope that he will address the problems of the religious and ethnic minorities. He has stated that he does not want to leave this problem to the next generation. He has said that he wants to resolve this intractable national problem by the country’s 75th independence anniversary on February 4 next year. The hope that the president will make a fresh effort to resolve their problems has led the main Tamil party, the TNA, to desist from voting against the budget which passed with a relatively small majority. Their spokesperson, M A Sumanthiran said in Parliament that due to the president reaching out to them, stretching out his hand, they did not vote against the budget although they disagreed with it.

It is not only in words that the president has reached out to the ethnic and religious minorities. Reports from the north and east indicate that the Maveer (Heroes) Day commemorations this year took place without incident. During the past two years scores of people were arrested and a massive presence of security forces blocked the people from participating in public events. On this occasion the security forces did not get involved in any attempt to stop the commemorations. University students distributed sweets and even cut a birthday cake to celebrate slain LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s birthday. The analogy that the president drew to himself being seen as a Hitler who exterminated ethnic and religious minorities is misplaced. The release of those held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for engaging in similar acts in the past would further contribute to the reconciliation process.


In this context, the president’s use of militaristic rhetoric can only be understood in relation to the growing economic crisis that shows no sign of abating. The anticipated IMF bailout package is at risk of getting indefinitely delayed. It was initially anticipated to come in September then in November but now January is being targeted. Japan’s top brokerage and investment bank, Nomura Holdings Inc, has warned that seven countries – Egypt, Romania, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Czech Republic, Pakistan and Hungary – are now at a high risk of currency crises. Sri Lanka is in third place on the table of risk. The next devaluation of the rupee could see another spike in inflation that will make the cost of living even more unbearable to the masses of people.

The president is on record as having said that the economic crisis will get worse before it improves. Both anecdotal and statistical evidence indicates that it is indeed worsening. University teachers at the University of Sabaragamuwa reported that attendance in their classes was down by at least a quarter. Students who come from other parts of the country are unable to afford the cost of meals and so they stay at home. A study by the Institute of Policy Studies has shown that about four percent of primary, 20 percent of secondary and 26 percent of collegiate students had dropped out of school in the estate sector, which is the worst affected. The future costs to the country of a less well educated population is incalculable and inhumane.

As it is the situation is a dire one for large swathes of the population. Research from the University of Peradeniya has revealed that close to half of Sri Lanka’s population, 42 percent (up from 14 percent in 2019) are living under the poverty line. Professor of Economics Wasantha Athukorala has said there is a dramatic increase in the poverty level of over three-hold across the past three years. In 2019, nearly 3 million people lived below the poverty line, but that number has increased to 9.6 million in October 2022. In these adverse circumstances stability in a polity can be ensured either through legitimacy or through force. It would be tragic if the latter is the choice that is made.


President Wickremesinghe has been stressing the importance of political stability to achieve economic development. His recent statement that the security forces will be used to negate any unauthorised protest is a sign that the government expects the conditions of economic hardship to escalate. The general public who are experiencing extreme economic hardship are appalled at the manner in which those who committed acts of corruption and violence in the past are being overlooked because they belong to the ruling party and its cliques. The IMF has made anti-corruption a prerequisite to qualify for a bailout, calling for “Reducing corruption vulnerabilities through improving fiscal transparency and public financial management, introducing a stronger anti-corruption legal framework, and conducting an in-depth governance diagnostic, supported by IMF technical assistance.”

It is morally unacceptable even if politically pragmatic that the president is failing to take action against the wrongdoers because he needs their votes in parliament. As a start, the president needs to appoint a credible and independent national procurement committee to ensure that major economic contracts are undertaken without corruption. Second, the president needs to bite the bullet on elections. The country’s burning issues would be better accepted by the country and world at large if they are being dealt with by a statesman than by a dictator. Government that is based on the people’s consent constitutes the sum and substance of democracy. This consent is manifested through free and fair elections that are regularly held. Local government elections have been postponed for a year and are reaching their legal maximum in terms of postponement. These elections need to be held before March next year.

Elections will enable the people to express their views in a democratic manner to elect their representatives for the present. This would provide the government with guidance in terms of the decisions it is being called to take to revive the economy and place the burden in a manner that will be acceptable to the people. The provincial council elections have been postponed since 2018. Democratically elected provincial councils share in the burdens of governance. The devolution of power that took place under the 13th Amendment was meant to promote ethnic harmony in the country. The president who has taken the position that he is for a solution to the ethnic conflict should seriously consider conducting the provincial council elections together with the local government elections se their financial costs. By doing so he will also gain legitimacy as a democratic statesman and not a dictator.

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WEDNESDAY – Movie Review



The Addams Family is back with a new tale to tell! Originally created by Charles Addams as a comic strip published in The New Yorker, it offered readers a sarcastic take on the ‘typical nuclear family’ by substituting it with a more macabre bunch of strange and eerie individuals. Since then the titular family has been adapted on to the big screen many times, from live action movies to animated versions, the Addams Family has gained many fans throughout the years. Created by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, with Tim Burton working on four episodes of the eight-part series, Wednesday is a welcoming tale for young fans, but unfortunately fails to think outside the box and remains anchored to the floor with a messy storyline.

Dead-eyed Wednesday Addams (Jenna Ortega) is a stubborn, independent and intelligent teenager in this new series. Her penchant for attracting trouble wherever she goes alarms her parents, Morticia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Gomez (Luis Guzmán). With an already strained relationship with her parents (specifically her mother), Wednesday is enrolled at Nevermore, an academy for outcasts like herself. Having attended the academy themselves, Morticia and Gomez are hopeful that their daughter will ‘fit right in’. Caught between trying to build her own identity and other teenage complexities, Wednesday soon finds herself in the middle of a twisted mystery.

This is the first time audiences are introduced to a teenage Wednesday, which allowed the creators to build a new world on their own terms, but while keeping true to the original nature of the character. The creators do a fair amount of world building by introducing other outcasts like the Fangs (vampires), Stoners (Gorgons), Scales (sirens) and Furs (werewolves), among others. Nevermore Academy itself is beautiful and comes with the classic package of creepy crypts, hidden rooms and secret societies. The series also offers a decent amount of gore, although they could have added more given Wednesday’s proclivity for gore-related activities. The series deals with classic young-adult tropes which includes teenage crushes, bullies, relationships and even prom, among other things. The series navigates through Wednesday’s journey of self-discovery, which is a new avenue for both the character and the fans. From understanding and displaying her emotions to discovering her identity and understanding her peers, the series takes a deep dive into heavy material.

Ortega’s performance as the titular character plays a major role in keeping audiences glued to the screen. This is also the first time viewers are shown a teenage Wednesday Addams, which works to Ortega’s benefit as she depicts more dimensions to the ghoulish, morose character many are associated with based on previous renditions. Her facial expressions and ability to deliver on seriously emotional moments strengthens her role as the lead. The rest of the Addams Family, even with limited screen time, lack the eccentricities their characters should have. Hopeless romantics Morticia and Gomez seem incompatible in this version and Uncle Fester is far less crazy than he ought to be. The only member worth mentioning is the Thing—a severed hand— who brought more character and spirit to the series acting alongside Ortega. With barely any room to develop a majority of the characters are prosaic and tedious, even though they remain vital to the plot.

Apart from Ortega, Gwendoline Christie and Emma Myers deserve honorable mentions for their roles as Nevermore’s head teacher, Larissa Weems and the peppy Enid Sinclair respectively. Enid quickly became a fan favorite as the character was the polar opposite to Wednesday. Her character is vital to Wednesday’s character development and their journey to find common ground as mismatched individuals is amusing.

Christina Ricci who played Wednesday in the 90s returns as ‘normie’ teacher, Miss Thornhill and unfortunately barely stands out and this in large part due to the messy storyline. The series is bogged down with numerous subplots and overlapping tropes and the characters with potential for growth are completely overlooked. With love triangles, bullies and killer monsters on the loose, the series self-destructs and the climax sinks into disappointment.

At the end of the day, Wednesday plays to the beat of the new generation and touches on new themes, which is welcoming seeing as the character should grow up at some point. While not everyone may relate to Wednesday’s teenage perils, it is interesting to witness her growth and her journey as an ‘outcast’ or ‘weirdo’. And while Wednesday doesn’t exactly offer a distinctly unique story, it gives audiences a small taste of what Jenna Ortega’s Wednesday is capable of. Creating a story around a well-established franchise is a difficult task, and in this case the creators fail to add value to their visions. If the series continues, the creators will have the opportunity to think further outside the box and push the limits to Wednesday’s character and give audiences a bone-chilling experience. Wednesday is currently streaming on Netflix.



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Stage set for… AWESOME FRIDAY



The past few weeks have been a very busy period for the new-look Mirage outfit…preparing themselves for their big night – Friday, December 2nd – when they would perform, on stage, for the very first time, as Donald Pieries (leader/vocals/drums), Benjy (bass), Niro Wattaladeniya (guitar), Viraj Cooray (guitar/vocals), Asangi Wickramasinghe (keyboard/vocals), along with their two frontline female vocalist, Sharon (Lulu) and Christine.

They have thoroughly immersed themselves in their practice sessions as they are very keen to surprise their fans, music lovers, and well-wishers, on opening night…at the Peacock, Berjaya Hotel, in Mount Lavinia.

Action starts at 8.00 pm and, thereafter, it will be five hours of great music, along with EFFEX DJs Widhara and Damien, interspersed with fun and excitement…for the whole family!

Yes, opening night is for the whole family, so you don’t need to keep some of your family members at home – kids, especially.

Working on their repertoire for Friday, bassist Benjy says “what we will dish out will be extra special, with lots of action on stage.”

It would be interesting to see Sharon (Lulu) doing her thing with Mirage, after her early days with the Gypsies, and, I’m told, a dynamic performance from Sharon is what is in store for all those who make it to the Peacock this Friday

Edward (Eddy) Joseph (centre) with Donald and Benjy

While the band was at one of their practice sessions, last week, they had a surprise visitor – Edward (Eddy) Joseph, a former member of the group Steelers, who is now based in Germany.

Eddy is here on a short visit and is scheduled to return to Germany, tomorrow (30).

He spent an hour with Mirage, at their practice session, and says he is disappointed that he would not be around for the group’s opening night.

However, there is a possibility of several well-known personalities, in the showbiz scene, turning up, on Friday night, to experience the sounds of the new-look Mirage, including Sohan Weerasinghe and Joey Lewis (from London).

Rajiv Sebastian, too, says he is keen to be a part of the fun-filled evening.

You could contact Benjy, on 0777356356, if you need to double check…their plans for AWESOME FRIDAY!

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