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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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India and China opting to make positive impact in Ukraine



Ukrainian troops ride atop an armoured vehicle on a road in the eastern Donetsk region

In what could be considered the most thought provoking development to date in the global politics growing out of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, China and India have called on Russia and Ukraine to go for a negotiated solution to the crisis. Of particular importance is Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s pronouncement to the effect that the parties need to ‘keep the crisis from spilling over and affecting developing countries.’

Elaborating on this policy position, Wang Yi was quoted saying: ‘China supports all efforts conducive to a peaceful resolution of the Ukraine crisis. The fundamental solution is to address the legitimate security concerns of all parties and build a balanced, effective and sustainable security architecture.’

As pointed out by some commentators, this stance by China is indeed a far cry from the unconditional support extended to Russia by China in all matters of vital importance to the former. In other words, it is a comedown of sorts from the ‘all weather friendship’ that was seen as binding the countries.

As explicit as the Chinese Foreign Minister on this question was India’s Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar. He said: ‘As the Ukraine conflict continues to rage, we are often asked whose side we are on. Our answer, each time, is straight and honest – India is on the side of peace and will remain firmly there. We are on the side that calls for dialogue and diplomacy as the only way out.’

Hard ground realities and economic pressures that are extending well beyond the Eastern European theatre could be considered as compelling China and India to adopt this policy stance on the Ukraine crisis. It is plain to see, for instance, that the Russian invasion is meeting stubborn Ukrainian military resistance which is rendering the invasion a highly costly exercise for Moscow.

Despite the initiation of some desperate measures by the Putin regime, such as the partial mobilization of Russia’s citizenry for the war effort and the holding of ‘referendums’ in territory seized from Ukraine in an effort to legitimize Russia’s hold on it, the invasion could be considered as having all but stalled. On the other hand, the Ukrainian resistance seems to be having ample resolve and morale. Bolstered by recently supplied sophisticated Western weaponry, it has more than taken the fight back to the Russian invaders.

Evidently, then, Russia’s war effort is not going according to plan. However, the human costs, in particular, for both main sides to the conflict are prohibitive. Ukraine civilians are being subjected to a bloodletting that civilized sections the world over are recoiling from in horror. They could be said to be at the receiving end of state-inspired barbarism.

On the other hand, the majority of Russian civilians ought to be seeing themselves as nothing less than cannon fodder in Russian strongman Putin’s efforts to resurrect the defunct Soviet empire, now that they are being forcibly conscripted into an apparently futile war effort.

All this and more, ‘on the ground’, is clearly evident to both the friends and foes of Russia. They are likely to be of the view that the senseless war ought to be brought to a close.

On the other hand, to a greater or lesser degree, all countries are currently experiencing the adverse economic effects of the war. As is known, the Ukraine invasion is a principal cause for the worldwide rise in food and energy prices. If stagflation is fast spreading in the world and the more vulnerable sections among citizenries are sinking further into poverty and disempowerment it is, to a considerable extent, due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and its ill effects.

China and India, two of the foremost economic powers of the South, ought to be fully alert to these realities. Among other things, they know for certain that there could be no economic growth for them and the world amid mounting material hardships and the steady impoverishment of people.

To re-state a fundamental axiom in classical economics, there could be no demand for goods and services if people lack the power to purchase, which comes from money in hand. And without the exercising of demand the production of goods and services comes to a grinding halt. That is, economies crumble. This is happening in the South right now.

The inference is inescapable from the foregoing that the invasion of Ukraine must end and that needs to be achieved by political means since a continuation of armed hostilities would only beget more war and its ill-consequences. Accordingly, China and India would prefer to have a negotiated solution to the Ukraine crisis.

A peek at recent growth trends in India and China would disclose the extent to which these economies have been dependent on the growing prosperity of their upper and middle classes to nourish their material fortunes. A report published in this newspaper on September 21, 2022 said, among other things, that by 2026, India’s dollar millionaires are expected to double. During the 2021- 2026 period China’s dollar millionaires are expected to grow by 97 per cent. It is these classes that have been keeping their economies ticking in recent decades by virtue of their growing purchasing power. Their purchasing power has steadily translated into a strong indigenous manufacturing base, among other things.

It does not follow from the foregoing that economic equity is a very strong point of India and China. That would necessitate a steady trickling down of wealth to the economically lower classes but we would certainly be having growth and that has been happening markedly in India and China.

Likewise, the prosperity of their neighbours as well as that of the rest of the world contributes positively towards the growth stories of India and China. While India and China have been interacting positively in the economic field over the decades on the basis of their increasing economic power and thereby gaining mutually, it will be to their advantage to ensure that their neighbours too advance towards economic wellbeing.

This accounts for the ready extension by India and China of economic assistance to Sri Lanka in its current woes. Indeed, India and China would extend their largesse to other countries in the region in their hour of need as well because the growth successes of these economic giants are predicated upon the prosperity of their neighbours, among other factors. In the absence of a degree of economic prosperity, these smaller neighbours could not expect to interact effectively in the economic sphere with India and China and gain significantly by it.

Accordingly, it will be in the national interest of India and China to call on Russia and Ukraine to go for a negotiated settlement. If the conflict is thus ended it will not only benefit India and China but the rest of the world as well, considering that the conflict is exerting widespread economic ill-effects.

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‘Use heart for every heart’



World Heart Day 2022

By Dr.Mohan Jayatilake
Consultant Cardiologist
Former President of Sri Lanka Heart Association

The theme of World Heart Day 2022 is “USE HEART FOR EVERY HEART”. The World Heart Federation has created this day to raise awareness about Cardiovascular Diseases (CVD).

Every year, on September 29th, people all over the world celebrate Heart Day as a way to draw attention to cardiovascular illnesses, their management as well as the worldwide toll they take on society. World Heart Day was created in the year 2000 to inform people around the globe that Heart diseases and Stroke are the world’s leading cause of death, claiming 17.9 million lives every year. According to WHO statistics, 82% of deaths occurring in low and middle-income countries are due to lack of resources.

Together with members of the World Heart Federation, we need to spread the news that at least 80% of premature deaths, from heart disease and stroke, could be avoided if the main risk factors, heavy smoking, unhealthy diet, reduced physical activity, and alcoholism, are controlled.

Increased high blood pressure, increased blood sugar levels, being obese, or overweight, are all side effects of living a bad lifestyle that may harm your heart.

The world was battling the Covid-19 pandemic for the last two years. Unfortunately, patients, with CVD, are more vulnerable and have become high risk groups. Heart patients are susceptible to get a more severe form of Covid-19 infection which could make matters worse.

National activities such as public talks, cardiovascular screening, walks, runs, concerts or sporting events are organised worldwide by members and partners of World Heart Federation.

Global leaders have recognised the urgency to give priority to prevention and control of heart diseases with other non-communicable diseases (NCD) which include cancer, diabetics and chronic lung diseases.

This year also, according to the theme, we ask people to take charge of their home’s heart health by taking steps to reduce the burden of the following risks:

Stop smoking

Stop smoking to improve your own and your children’s heart health.

Cigarette smokers are 2-4 times more prone to get heart disease and strokes, than non-smokers. Stopping smoking dramatically reduces the risk of heart disease, strokes and deaths.

A Few steps for successful cessation

Find your reason – strong motivation will help.

Line up support in advance – medical assistance

Lean on your loved ones

Find new ways to relax/unwind – stress can make a person fall back to smoking. Music, meditation, yoga or any other activity will help to alleviate stress.

Try and try again

– you only need to try again and again to achieve your target, even though you are unsuccessful in your first attempt.

Avoid alcohol and other triggers.

Physical exercise always helps to alleviate stress and avoid triggers of smoking.

Healthy diet at home

Unhealthy diet is at the root of many health issues, especially obesity, diabetics and CVD. Rapid urbanisation, changing lifestyles and easy accessibility of fast foods have made our dietary patterns unhealthy. Following are some healthy food patterns:

Limit saturated and trans fats

Limit salt

Limit sugar

Plenty of fruits and vegetables

At least five portions of fruits and vegetables per day should be a norm of your dietary habits. You should opt for low fat milk and dairy products.

Animal products, mainly beef, pork, poultry with skin, mutton, lard, butter, cheese carry a lot of saturated fat. Trans fats are contained in baked, processed and fried food items, certain margarines and spreads. In order to cut down saturated and trans fats, consume lean meats, poultry without skin, low fat dairy products, fish and nuts. Vegetable oils should be in moderation.

Regular Exercises

It is recommended that adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity or at least 75 minutes of high intensity physical activity per week.

Families should limit the amount of time spent in front of TV to less than two hours per day.

Exercise should be a regular part of your life. Due to the Covid pandemic, public exercise facilities are closed and most of the time movement of people is restricted. Therefore, home-based exercises were adopted to make exercises an enjoyable task.

Lose Weight

The world is now facing visible epidemic of obesity. It not only adversely affects your cardiovascular health, but also can affect your mental well-being.

The ways to lose weight effectively,

Do not skip meals – it will make you hungrier and go for more snacks.

Plenty of fruits and vegetables

Get active

– exercise burns off excess calories.

Use a smaller plate – eating smaller portions definitely reduces weight.

Do not ban foods

– you can enjoy an occasional treat otherwise you crave them more.

Cut down on alcohol

– it can make you gain weight.

Manage Stress

Psychological health and well-being can affect your cardiovascular health. Regular exercise, practising relaxation, being with your family and friends sometimes, adequate sleep, various hobbies, and maintaining positive attitudes towards life.

Know your numbers

Visit your doctor or healthcare professional.

Know your blood pressure which is one of the risk factors for CVD. Check regularly and take steps to control it including salt intake, exercises and medication.

Know your cholesterol – high cholesterol is another major risk factor for CVD. It should be checked regularly and controlled with dietary measures and medication.

Know your blood sugar – diabetics, conditions with high blood sugar levels multiply CVD risk. Diet control and medication required to control it.

Know your warning signs

Recognising symptoms of CVD can help you survive because earlier the treatment better the chances of survival.

Chest pain of tightening or burning in nature with pain radiating down the upper limbs or to the neck or back associated with sweating and nausea is the typical presentation of heart attacks. Sometimes heart burn or burning tummy pain could be due to a heart attack rather than gastritis or indigestion.

Sudden weakness of limbs, slurring of speech, mouth deviation or double vision could be due to a stroke. Knowing these symptoms and seeking medical assistance allow you to get treatment early and prevent complications which can be life threatening most of the time.

Take your medicine regularly and correctly

If you are already diagnosed with a heart disease or stroke, taking your medication, without fail, will reduce the chances of getting another attack of stroke or heart disease

Measures during pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic has created havoc, globally. People with CVD fall into very high risk category.

Therefore it is important to,

Continue your medication uninterruptedly

Follow medical advice

Continue exercise and balance diet.

Maintain your social network and

Do not hesitate to take vaccination.

By doing the household steps, mentioned above, you and your family can reduce the burden of heart diseases.

Breastfeeding and lifelong health

Breastfeeding is the best form of nutrition for newborn and infants, according to WHO. Increasing public awareness is important. Infants who are breastfed tend to have lower cholesterol and blood pressure as well as lower rates of overweight and obesity all of which improve cardiac health.

Both undernourished and over nourished, early in life, can increase the risk for developing CVD. Evidence suggests that children who are undernourished while in the uterus and at childbirth bear a higher CVD risk later in life.

Maternal obesity during pregnancy has been associated with obesity in children which also increases the risk of developing CVD in life.

As always, our emphasis will be on improving heart health across all nations in adult male and female, as well as children.

By adopting lifestyle changes, people all over the world can have longer and better lives through the prevention and control of heart disease and strokes.

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Doctors…taking a break



When we think of doctors, what comes to mind is medicine, patients, etc., and that’s only natural as doctors are our saviours…when we are ill.

We would hardly associate doctors with entertainment, and that’s where most of us are wrong.

I’ve been to a couple of concerts where these men of medicine have excelled, on stage, as entertainers, and some of them, I would say, are super-duper.

Yes, the Annual Sri Lanka Medical Association Doctors’ Concert is a much-looked-forward to musical extravaganza where the doctors, and their families, are provided the unique opportunity to showcase their talents, in performing arts.

It is usually held on the final day of the Annual Scientific Congress of the Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA), and it’s all happening this Saturday, October 1st, at the Lotus Room of the BMICH.

Says Dr. B.J.C.Perera, Senior Consultant Paediatrician:

“It is a common belief that medical doctors are a sombre set of people who are mainly involved in looking after people with illnesses. True enough, they do perform that ever so immensely important task in society, and such a mission is by no means to be taken lightly, in view of its tremendous significance. Healing the sick is certainly a noble task and many of them are renowned performers, as well as experts in their own chosen specialties of the profession.

“However, it may come as a surprise to many that several of these medical men, and women, have other talents – musical, acting, drama, etc. There are very many extremely gifted performers of real class amongst our medical men, and women. In recognition of this, the SLMA has provided an opportunity for these artistic men, and women, to showcase their talents, and flair, in the performing arts, at the glittering SLMA Doctors’ Concert.

“This is a much-anticipated opportunity for members of the medical profession, and their family members, to put their hair down and forget medicine, at least for an evening. The Doctors’ Concert was started many years ago as a rather informal event and it has a most proud tradition of being staged annually, for quite a few decades, in the history of the SLMA.

“A dedicated band, consisting mainly of doctors, first played at the concert, in 2014. This was in the Committee Room 1, currently the Lotus Room, of the BMICH. They performed on a small stage done for them on a side.

“The continuing progress of the event was due to the untiring efforts of that absolute virtuoso in music, a drummer himself, Dr. Christo Fernando. He left no stone unturned to make the event a resounding success, from 2014 onwards.”

This Saturday, October 1st, we will not see doctors, in their usual uniforms (Coats and Scrubs), stethoscopes, or anything connected with medicine, but entertainment, at its best…on stage!

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