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Diyawanna: Divine court or palace of duplicity?

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By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

An actor is behind bars because of his untamed tongue and as our Editor pointed out with a touch of sarcasm: “Going to jail is a heroic deed only in the celluloid world” (‘Ranjan behind bars’; The Island, 14 January). However, the drama unfolding following that episode in the Diyawanna Chamber beggar’s belief! Some of our lawmakers do not seem to understand how the laws they enact are translated into action by the judiciary. The actor committed contempt of court and received a four-year sentence by the Supreme Court, the highest in the land, precluding any reversal by an appeal. The only escape route apparently is a Presidential pardon, a matter that is supposed to have been discussed by the puppet with the master puppeteer, just in jest it is claimed!

According to a news item in ‘The Island’ on 21 January, SJB MP Harin Fernando told Parliament recently that he would wear a black shawl in the Chamber until Ranjan Ramanayake received justice and had stated “Unlike those who wear the kurahan sataka in the chamber to show their family power in Parliament, I will wear a black shawl in the Chamber seeking justice. I was shocked when we heard that he would be dragged like a dog similar to a terrorist leader for criticizing the high and mighty powers of this country”.

Ramanayake, whilst being a state Minister, came out of Temple Trees and made a statement to the effect that the majority of judges and lawyers in the country were corrupt. Two private plaints forced the hand of the Attorney General to file action against him in the Supreme Court and hearings started during the ill-fated Yahapalana regime. There is video evidence that on at least three occasions Ramanayake repeated this allegation while coming out of court, irrespective of what happened inside court. Is it not an absolute shame that MP Fernando sought to hide behind parliamentary privilege to insult the judiciary further? This attack on the judiciary has to be seen in the context of the damage done to the judiciary by other actions of Ramanayake, who allegedly leaked taped-conversations amply demonstrate how he tried to influence judgements and the admission of Ranil Wickremesinghe that the FCID that operated from Temple Trees was not legally constituted.

Another news item in the same edition of The Island bstates that the Chief Opposition Whip, Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella told Parliament yesterday that MP Ramanayake had not criticised all members of the judiciary when he stated that some judges were corrupt. This makes matters even worse as it implies that the verdict of these three Supreme Court Judges was incorrect. Was it not one of the members of the Opposition that defended Ramanayake? If what Kiriella states is correct, one has to assume that either the defence counsel did not do his job properly or the judges completely disregarded facts as presented to Parliament by Kiriella. As it is very unlikely that he implied a bad defence one has to assume that he is blaming the judges. Just to support one of his colleagues, making insinuations against the judiciary is not what we expect from members of Parliament, especially one holding the position of Chief Opposition Whip.

These statements make one wonder whether these Members of Parliament are attempting to ‘elevate’ the Parliament to the status of a court above the Supreme Court: A Divine Court, perhaps!

Kiriella had gone on to say, “Ranjan Ramanayake’s sentence is a severe punishment and not proportionate to the offence he is said to have committed. For example, three months ago a judge in India levelled accusations against that country’s Chief Justice and said that the latter was corrupt. What was the punishment imposed on the former? He was fined one rupee. He declined to pay that rupee. Now, the matter has been postponed.”

It is interesting that Kiriella is quoting precedents from India, very conveniently overlooking what happened during their Yahapalana regime. If I remember right, there was jubilation when Ven Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thera was jailed for six years for contempt of court. Certainly, these justice-seeking gentlemen did not utter a word, either inside or outside Parliament, when that harsh punishment was meted out to that monk.

I, for one, had been critical of the behaviour of this Thero and other members of BBS. In a piece titled ‘Men in Robes’ (The Island, 14 October 2014) I commented: “It is not indulging in politics that we should be concerned with; it is the disgraceful way they behave and the demeaning language they use. Can you imagine a person who is supposed to be following in the footsteps of the ‘Compassionate One’, leading an attack on a safe-house giving shelter to refugees? Don’t they understand Buddhists extend compassion to all living beings, even enemies?”

However, having felt that the sentence on Gnanasara Thera was too harsh I inquired from a relation of mine who is a retired judge of the Supreme Court. He agreed that the sentence was far too harsh and commented that he was not aware of such a long sentence for contempt of court anywhere in the world. Mind you, Gananasara Thera never repeated his allegations unlike Ramanayake who, therefore, may have got a longer sentence.

Those who did not make an issue of the unfairness of the punishment meted out to a Buddhist priest but are now speaking for a colleague who repeated the offence he had been charged with—making derogatory statements about the judiciary—only demonstrate their duplicity.



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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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