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Legend of the Blue Necked One and many more

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Maha Shivaratri translates to the ‘the great night of Shiva’, also known as Mahadeva. As the name suggests, Maha Shivaratri is dedicated to paying homage to Lord Shiva, Hindu God of destruction and regeneration, considered the supreme God by Hindu devotees. Celebrated on the 13th night / 14th day of the Maagha month of the Hindu calendar Maha Shivaratri celebrates several lore on Shiva, that demonstrates his mercy and strength.

Lord Shiva is often depicted with a third eye on his forehead, a serpent around his neck, a crescent moon adorning his head and the river Ganga flowing from his matted tresses. His weapon is known as the Trishula and his instrument the Damaru. But he is also portrayed in other forms. For example, as an omniscient Yogi, and as part of a family with wife Parvati and sons Ganesha and Kartikeya. But the highest form of Shiva is thought to be limitless, transcendent, unchanging and formless.

Among the many lore behind Maha Shivaratri, the most interesting is perhaps that it celebrates Lord Shiva’s second marriage to Parvati. His divine consort Sati or Shakti self-immolates in a Yagna fire, in protest of her father humiliating her on her marriage. Thereafter Lord Shiva lived the life of an ascetic in the Himalayas. Shakti, later reborn in the family of Lord Himalaya as Parvati strove to win back Lord Shiva and finally succeeded. Their marriage was solemnized the day before Amavasya in the month of Phalgun, and this is what is commemorated on Maha Shivaratri.

At dawn, after purification by bathing, devotees donning white garments throng to Shiva Temples, carrying pots of water to cleanse the aniconic form of Shiva. The Lingam is often accompanied by a pillar placed on a receptacle that represents female creative energy. Together the pair represents the union of organs and the totality of creation. Prayers to Vishnu and Shiva ensues. The Shiva Linga is bathed in water, milk and honey to which woodapple or bhel leaves are added, that signify purification of the soul. Vermillion paste is applied on the Linga, which symbolizes virtue. Bells are tolled amidst chants of ‘Om Namah Shivaya’, the sacred mantra of Shiva. A special pooja is held at homes.

All rituals pertaining to the celebration is laden with meaning. For example, offering of fruits symbolize longevity and gratification of desires. It is believed that burning of incense yields wealth. Lighting of the lamp signifies attainment of knowledge and the use of betel leaves represents satisfaction with worldly pleasures. Devotees fast all day long while chanting the Panchakshara mantra dedicated to Shiva, followed by a night-long vigil. On Shivaratri day, devotees take a second bath in the evening before conducting Shiva Pooja or visiting the temple. Shiva Pooja is conducted during the night and devotees break fast the next day, after another bath. The ceremonies surrounding Shivaratri are particularly popular among Hindu women, especially those wishing to become pregnant.

It is believed that Maha Shivaratri is the night Shiva performed the Tandava Nritya, or the dance of primordial creation, preservation and destruction. There is also interesting lore behind this all-night vigil. According to Hindu mythology, a pot of extremely toxic poison, some believe is figurative for negativity, emerged from the depths of the ocean, threatening to wipe out all life. Lord Shiva, the only one capable of withstanding the poison, in his compassion, drank the poison, but retained it in his throat without swallowing. He remained so for the duration of the night, other deities keeping vigil, while trying to keep him awake with dance and music. Creation was saved, but the extreme toxicity of the poison turned Lord Shiva’s neck blue, earning him the name Neelakantha (the blue-necked one). It is in commemoration of this act of sacrifice and compassion Hindus of today observe the all-night vigil.

The Lingam is considered one of the most powerful emblems in Hinduism. And according to the legend of Shiva Linga or Lingodbhavamurthy, Vishnu and Brahma were arguing over which among the three was the most powerful. On hearing this, Shiva manifested in the form of a huge, flaming Lingam. They came to the mutual agreement that whoever was first to find the end of the blazing column of fire would be considered the greatest of the Hindu gods. Vishnu and Brahma engaged in a vain search for the Aadi (beginning) and Antha (end) of Lord Shiva’s power. Disguised as a swan and a boar, they extended their search for thousands of miles in every direction, but were unable to find a limit to the power of the Lingam. Consequently, they were forced to acknowledge Lord Shiva as the supreme lord.



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Features

A solution to problem of extra heavy school bags

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By Anton Peiris 

B.Sc. (Ceylon), PGCE (Kenya), M.Sc. (London), DAES (York) and Emeritus Coordinator, International Baccalaureate, Switzerland.

(‘Reduce O/LevelSTRESS’ – continued)

Extra Heavy Schoolbags carried by school children and the setting of homework

Dr. B.J.C. Perera (Specialist Consultant Paediatrician) has said, “Students, even little children, are forced to carry large numbers of books in their schoolbags, to and from school, every day. The deleterious health effects of carrying improperly loaded and very heavy school bags are another associated problem”.   It is not difficult to solve this problem.

(i)  Install a set of lockers (with at least one shelf inside) preferably in close proximity to the classrooms. Lockers can be made of wood or metal, approximately 20 X 15 X 15 inches or 30 X 10 X 15 inches. i.e. about 4500 cubic inches per student. Allocate a Locker to each student.

(ii)  The teachers should set Homework a maximum of twice per week (i.e. 2 X 20 minutes per week) in mathematics and only once per week (maximum of 30 minutes) in any other subject , making sure that a student gets no more than a total of approximately one hour of homework per day, Some subjects require homework only once a fortnight.

Some subjects do not require any homework at all. This can be done if the Deputy School Principal and the Class Teacher get together and use their ingenuity to produce a practical Home-Work Timetable for the class that allows the setting of homework only for a maximum of two subjects per day.    

Here’s the underlying principle behind this: If a teacher does a good job of teaching in class and if he makes the students work in class, then the students need very little or no homework at all. 

During my 40 years as an O/Level mathematics teacher, I have given them only 20 minutes of homework per night twice a week and sometimes no homework at all. They did well in their O/Level mathematics exam because the bulk of the work was done in class during the five years of preparation for the O/Level exams. I taught them well and I made them work maths problems in class. Some of them obtained As (distinctions) in mathematics. 

There should be no homework set in any subject for the weekend. The students will then have time to play, to climb a tree, to go swimming, to go on trips with their parents, to devote some time for their extra-curricular activities (CAS), attend Daham Paasela, etc., during the weekends.  

The foregoing is for Grades 6 – 11 only. (Obviously, there should be some homework set for the weekend for GCE A/L students).

If the schools adhere to the Homework Timetable given above, then the students in Grades 6 – 11 will be able to leave more than half of their text books in their Lockers every day because homework has been set only in one or two subjects per day. The weight of the schoolbag will be reduced automatically by more than 50%.  They will be able to keep a few other things (e. g. swimming trunk, umbrella) also in their lockers. 

If that method of allocation of homework and the use of lockers works well in Europe, the UK, Australia and Canada, why not in Sri Lanka?

Lockers should have padlocks because, when they lose their locker key, the padlock can be cut off in two seconds with a three feet long metal cutter. Each locker should have either a metal or a hard-plastic number plate fixed on its door. Lockers can be made in units (e. g.  20 or 25 lockers per unit). Most schools need additional space to keep the lockers. The Ministry of Education should provide the necessary funds to the schools to procure the additional space and to install the lockers. It is an investment on the health of the population. Nobody wants our students to grow up into adults having back problems and damaged spinal columns. The important thing is to make a start NOW by providing lockers to about 50 pilot schools. 

It is the duty of the Private Schools and the International Schools also to provide Lockers for their students.

(To be continued)

 

Next instalment: The Problem of Tuition Classes.

 

The writer has taught O/L, A/L and IB mathematics and physics for 45 years in Sri Lanka, Kenya and Switzerland.) 

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The edge of tolerance

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BY Kusum Wijetilleke

(kusumw@gmail.com)

In March of 2021, a nine-year-old girl from Delgoda, died as a result of injuries sustained at the hands of an exorcist. Her helpless screams were reported by several of the exorcist’s neighbours. The ritual required that the girl be beaten with a cane, presumably to drive out the undesirable spirit. Her father spoke to multiple news outlets, decrying the ritual and exhausting himself; insistent that his daughter was never under any sort of demonic spell.

In this supposed age of information, not only do ancient belief systems, including those that revolve around witchcraft, demons and exorcisms persist, they remain culturally relevant and widely practiced.

Garudan Thookkam, a symbolistic ritual involving Lord Vishnu, that originated in Kerala, and is also practised in Sri Lanka, requires that devotees be hung with metal hooks from a moving vehicle. An ancient Hindu ritual called Sati, which requires a widow to leap into the funeral pyre of her husband, is still practiced and was documented as recently as 2006. In parts of Africa, children suffering an epileptic seizure are treated not at a hospital, but by a witchdoctor.

There are literally hundreds of reports of exorcisms and witchcraft in various parts of India. In 2011, a woman from Kamhara died after an exorcist performed a ritual to banish a demon allegedly preventing her from conceiving a child. The exorcist branded various parts of her body, including her genitalia, with hot iron tongs and proceeded to beat her. In that same year, in Poaltore, several villagers were suffering from diarrhoea and fever. The local witchdoctor suspected a man from the same village had placed a curse and ordered his murder as well as those of his two sons. In 2021, in Odisha, an elderly couple was burnt to death while they slept, on suspicion of practicing witchcraft. Just a few months ago, a man and his toddler, from a village outside Delhi, were beaten to death during an exorcism.

There are no official statistics for the practice of exorcisms in Sri Lanka, though anecdotal evidence persists. What happened in Delgoda should not shock or surprise: these rituals occur regularly and in households of varying socio-economic backgrounds. The widespread belief in exorcisms may indicate a higher number of injuries and deaths than are reported.

Around the world, we have more substantiated evidence. The Vatican, Roman Catholicism’s HQ, has a programme that specializes in training and tutoring would-be exorcists. All the major religions have some belief in exorcisms or similar rituals.

Belief in ritual is a part of culture, and to each of us, our cultural inheritances can be definitive. The things we believe are unquestionably influenced by our environment, teachers, elders, parents and family; these are considered sacred. For many, the practice of these rituals is a key determinant of success and failure, of life and death.

The demise of the nine-year-old girl is proof that not all belief systems are benign. In Sri Lanka, we are taught the importance of culture, from an early age. We are obligated to participate in ritual and ceremony without question.

During this once-in-a-century pandemic, when the focus must be on using the latest available science to inform our decisions, Sri Lanka’s Minister of Health was pouring pots of ‘holy-water’ into a river. She approved a ‘potion’ as a remedy for Covid-19. Despite condemnation, she is still the Health Minister. She paid no price professionally for making laughable, ill-informed and potentially dangerous decisions. This should be alarming for any modern society that is serious about progressing.

Sri Lanka is hardly alone in the battle against dangerous dogmas. The UK Government’s own statistics from 2017 show 1500 child abuse cases linked to witchcraft and demonic possessions. This cannot be explained away by a lack of education. In 2018, a GP from Manchester was delisted from the NHS after taking a mentally ill patient to a church for exorcism. He also faced additional charges for threatening that she would be cursed if she told anyone about the ritual.

An average of polls from the last decade shows that more than half of all Americans believe in demonic possessions. A Gallup poll shows that belief in the devil was at 55% in 1990, but reached 70% in 2007. In 2011 the US had fewer than 15 ‘official exorcists’ (licensed by the Catholic Church); in 2019, there were over a hundred. It must be noted that, in the US, the official request for an exorcism requires a psychiatric evaluation with a mental health professional. The vast majority of mental health issues, when investigated, were found to be results of psychiatric issues and/ or related to psychotropic medication.

There has to be a reckoning, an acceptance, that we as a society must discourage belief systems that require nonsensical and often dangerous rituals, which very often leave deep psychological scars on the victims. Sometimes, it really does seem polite to simply ignore blatant incoherence. Society tolerates nonsensical statements and damaging actions if they are based on deeply and solemnly held beliefs.

Beliefs are our personal representations of the world, they affect our emotions and thus our behaviour, especially towards one another. If we feel that someone in our vicinity is disrespectful towards our belief system, this invariably affects how we treat them. This prejudice has led to the oppression of homosexuals, non-believers, scientists and philosophers. Fundamental differences in belief systems have disastrous consequences. In fact, it seems that part of the story of humanity’s progression has been the constant struggle to survive our cultural ethno-religious differences.

Liberal thought and modernism prescribes a tolerance of other’s belief systems so as to co-exist in a society. Tolerance, in the hopes of minimizing the chances of conflict, defines modern liberal thought on social issues.

The neuroscientist and author Sam Harris has eluded to the “balkanization of the world” and the consequences of being defined by our cultural assemblies. A belief is one’s personal representation of the world. A structure of thinking that guides our emotions and behaviour. The (new) liberal consensus also believes that the most appropriate means of countering extreme beliefs is to encourage moderation.

Then when skeptics question even the most extreme religious doctrines, they are instantly told that questioning these beliefs will only serve to isolate the moderates. Thus moderation provides a safe haven for fundamental beliefs because very often, moderates do not question more extreme beliefs. The conversation is muted.

Throughout history, reason and debate have left a lot of dogmas in the past and it is that willingness to question a belief about reality that has led to human progression. To hide behind moderation for the sake of tolerance, to ensure no offence is caused, has consequences of its own.

The endgame for any civilization or society is not to be politically correct and tolerate all manner of absurdity, but to use reason and openness to evidence to challenge dogma. The idea that one’s beliefs, religious or otherwise, must be respected is deeply flawed. Ultimately, as sentient human beings, it is not up to us to respect a person’s belief, it is up to us to evaluate their reasoning. Modern society has weaponised tolerance in a manner that runs counter to human progression and flourishing.

 

 

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Sustainable solution to decline in tea production, export revenue and livelihood issues

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by Jayampathy Molligoda

Chairman, Sri Lanka Tea Board

(1) Introduction:

The word “sustainability” is often distorted without being used in ecological context to get its proper meaning. In simple terms, we have the responsibility to protect the right of future generations to live in a safe environment. Similarly, Climate change can be understood as a set of alterations in the average weather caused by global warming due to the emission of greenhouse gases. Climate change phenomenon is serious, which is worse than the COVID-19 pandemic. it is the one challenge that potentially has the most severe impacts globally and on Sri Lanka. The very reason for this is that climate change affects virtually every aspect of our ‘every day today’ life, economic, social and environmental. It is a multidimensional challenge, with its impacts ranging from issues like human health, supply of safe water and food, biodiversity, economic development, etc.

 

(2) Systems view of life:

Modern Science has come to realize that all scientific theories are approximations to the true nature of reality. Science doesn’t have answers to natural phenomena. Mechanistic view looks at a closed view of a specific area which is a tiny part of a large system. They have dominated our culture for the past three hundred years and is now about to change. Before 1500 AD the dominant world view was that people lived in small communities and experienced nature by the interdependence of spiritual and material phenomena.

The Systems view looks at the world in terms of relationships and integration, inter-dependence of all phenomena i.e.: physical, biological, social, and cultural. Instead of concentrating on basic building blocks, the systems approach emphasizes basic principles of organization.

According to Prof. Fritjof Capra, an Austrian-born American physicist, the architect of “systems view of life” to find lasting solutions, there are solutions to the major problems of our time. They require a radical shift in our perceptions, our thinking, and our values. An “Eco system” is a living system of communities of plants and animals, microbes sharing an environment with non- living plants such as air, water, climate, soil. In my view, the above is the best illustration to understand the importance of adhering to the “system view of life” to find lasting solutions. Capra’s view is that our traditional politicians and business leaders have been unable to provide long term solutions to these problems and he welcomed the creation of social movements founded on the premises to change the current traditional sociological paradigm and to build sustainable communities.

From the systemic point of view, the only viable solutions are those that are “sustainable” Therefore, the challenge of our time is to create sustainable communities, that is, social and cultural environments in which we can satisfy our needs and aspirations without diminishing the chances of future generations. The sustainable communities need to be designed in such a way its social structures do not interfere with natures inherent ability to sustain life but support and corporate with natures inherent ability to sustain life.

(3) Structures, Processes and patterns:

The following ten points are useful in order to understand as to how the eco- system works.

1. Eco system is a living system of communities of plants and animals, microbes sharing an environment with non- living plants such as air, water, climate, soil

2. The theory of living system tries to understand this and the ecological literature deals with the basic principles of ecology (and live accordingly)

3. Nature, every organism, plant, micro-organism, cells, tissues all are in a living system.

4. All living systems need energy and food.

5. All living systems produce waste, but there is no net waste

6. Capra expresses the life of any living organism as made up of pattern, process and structure.

7. If we apply these ideas to ourselves or our organizations, we can see that in the patterns we find our identity.

8. In the processes we develop our relationships, our beliefs, our principles and behaviours becoming more conscious.

9. In the structures we become more fluid, more focused on the present moment; we become alive. 

10. The building of sustainable communities is deeply connected to our search for a new sociological paradigm.

This gave rise to the concept of Complex Adaptive Systems, as a multidisciplinary concept- are considered complex because they are made-up of diverse elements which are interconnected with each other and are adaptive in that they have the capacity to change and learn from experience.

(4) Decline in tea production, market share, revenue, despite chemical application:

In this connection, we wish to state that Sri Lankan tea production has been drastically declining over a period of time, despite supplying large quantities of imported artificial fertilizer. For an example, in 2010 the total tea production was 330 million kilos, covering 222,000 hectares, wherein some 160, 000 metric tons of fertilizer per year had been used on an average basis up to date on a regular basis, however, we have ended up with only 289 million kilos of tea production in 2020, covering 253,000 hectares. The compound annual average growth rate (CAGR) was negative 1.5% and the Sri Lankan tea industry cannot sustain anymore as both quality, quantity as well as the competitiveness have drastically eroded. As a result, our market share has come down and the foreign exchange revenue which was around US $ 1.6 Billion eight years back has now come down to US $ 1,24 million/year only. As you are aware, during the period 2017 to end 2019, a large number of tea factories had to close down and many smallholders were badly affected and the new/re planting extents were less than 1%, where as it should have been at least @2% of the cultivated extent.

As a result of excessive usage of agro-chemicals, there has been a number of rejections of our Ceylon tea consignments reported from the major important markets such as Japan, EU, UK, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan etc.  This situation has arisen due to detection of pesticide residues in the Ceylon Teas exported, which are over and the above the permitted maximum residue levels (MRLs). Tea Exporters Association (TEA) has brought to the notice of SLTB notice on number of occasions the serious non- compliances which includes detection of excessive pesticide and other chemical residues over and above MRLs. In addition, the presence of foreign/extraneous matters and high moisture levels which lead to microbial contamination & fungus formation may end up in development of micro toxin fungus – these will become health hazard.

 

(5) Tea plantation system as a complex adaptive system:

My own view is that the long- term goal of Sri Lankan tea industry would be to build “sustainable communities” for the tea plantations and, achieving higher foreign exchange earnings from tea exports may be only one of the unit objectives.

A sustainable community is one that is economically, environmentally, and socially healthy and resilient. It meets challenges through integrated solutions rather than through fragmented approaches that meet one of those goals at the expense of the others. And it takes a long-term perspective—one that’s focused on both the present and future.

Scientists began to observe certain properties in biological systems. The adaptation of the individual independent components within the system to the environment was one such property. The experts observed this phenomenon was visible in systems such as eco-systems, global economics systems, and social systems.

(6) Strategies implemented by the new administration:

With the new administration, the government together with the private sector stakeholders have been able to reverse the negative trends experienced previously and the higher fob prices and increased tea auction sale averages are now getting tricked down to growers, thus addressing the livelihood income issues systematically.

The Sri Lanka tea industry witnessed a recovery amidst the COVID pandemic, with a substantial increase in production and the export volume during the first quarter of 2021 compared to the corresponding period as well as the year 2020 compared to 2019.

 

During the Q 1- January to march ’21, the tea export revenue was Rs. 65 Billion, up by Rs. 16 billion YoY, from Rs 49 Billion during the 1Q, 2020.

Q 1- January to march ’21 cumulative production totaled 74 million kgs, up by 20 Mn. kg.

FOB price was Rs. 939/= per kilo during the Q1, which is an increase of 13%, from Rs. 827/= during the corresponding period 2020.

FOB price in US $ during the Q1 was US$ 4.77 as against US$ 4.47 during Q1 -20.

March fob in US $ was ($ 4.87) the highest ever.

FOB price during the year 2020 was Rs 867/=per kilo, when compared to Rs 823/= per kilo during the year 2019.

Consequent to this cabinet decision under the caption “Towards a green socio-economic pattern with sustainable solutions to climate change” actions have been taken by SLTB to request stakeholders to encourage them to produce, supply and use organic manure to be set up on each agro- climatic region in large quantities. It was suggested in the SLTB circular that immediate action be taken by TRI to formulate and prepare specifications of organic manure applications covering different applications such as Nursery stage, immature, mature VP and Seedling and recommendations for small holdings etc. The development of the organic fertilizer business needs high tech inputs based on R&D, the required raw material availability and market acceptance based on different crops. The regulatory issues that prohibit or delay arranging import of trial quantities of organic materials (without micro- organism) for R&D evaluation need to be addressed. The necessary guidelines from the regulatory authorities should support development of organic fertilizer at large scale.

(7) Implementation of tea industry strategic plan:

As a solution, we have recommended the stakeholders to follow strategies which includes ‘Integrated weed management system’ and migrate in to offering high quality ‘Ceylon Tea’ with near Zero pesticide & other chemicals to the global market in accordance with our ‘Tea industry strategic plan 20-25’ and CTTA tea strategy-road map.

One of the most striking features of the current operations of the stakeholders is the increased awareness and adherence of the social & environmental considerations at estate level. Ceylon tea is at an advantageous position in the global market viz; other competitors for reasons such as “Zero tolerance” policy on child labour, adherence to environmental considerations on a sustainable basis and of course the quality of Ceylon tea as perceived by the buyers. As a result, Ceylon tea continues to fetch a higher price at the Colombo auction compared to teas from other producing countries, although the cost structures and productivity levels of our estates are totally disproportionate to make the industry commercially viable in short to medium term scenario.

Tea plantations have to therefore pursue environmentally friendly and socially responsible practices & methods in all their agricultural field operations (i) tea manufacturing processes(ii) and managing its employees (iii)to ensure that all-natural resources and eco-systems will be managed in a sustainable manner. The companies will have to make every endeavor to conserve the usage of all resources by optimizing resource utilization and minimizing waste through practicing cleaner production principles. They will strive to be self-sufficient in green energy to operate all our tea factories through harnessing the hydropower potential within all the lands belonging to the company.

There are many strategies recommended by TRI and others such as development of Agro- forestry farming systems using all unutilised estate land to have ‘nitrogen fixation’ as suggested by Chairman TRI. This will improve the soil porosity, provided we issue guidelines instructing them to follow TRI guidelines on Integrated soil fertility management strategies as mandatory good agricultural practices (GAP)towards minimizing soil acidity, top soil erosion and wastage of inputs etc.

 

(8) Conclusion:

As stated, it is a fact that there has been no increase in productivity, but a gradual decline in tea productivity measured in terms of the yield per hectare in Sri Lankan tea estates, partly due to continuous application of chemical fertilizer and due to difficulties in adopting mitigating strategies to arrest negative impact of climate change. This depleted soil condition and land degradation issues need to be corrected as a matter of priority.  This proposed strategy will enable the growers at least to correct the high acidity levels in the soil and improve soil porosity and tea product quality.

In sustainability circles much is written about “three pillars of sustainability” or in other words, “triple bottom line” of environment, society, and economy. My own view is this is to confuse ends with means. The Environmental sustainability and Human well-being are two desirable points. Economic wellbeing in the long run is driven by those two. In other words, the necessary precondition for long term economic sustainability and profitability of the tea estates is environmental and social well-being from the long- term perspective.

As for marketing of tea in the global markets, the discerning customers have high expectations of the standards and practices applied by the supply chain including tea estates. For example, Tea” is made according to the principles of “sustainable food” thus providing values to discerning customers, employees and all other stake holders. SLTB global promotion campaign aims to popularize tea drinking around the world in order to expand demand and increase per capita consumption, using three USPs; authenticity means demonstrating sustainability credentials, wellness factor and the premium quality of Ceylon Tea.

If the estate management does not look at long term view, it is unlikely they make profits on a continuous basis. Eventually, the long- term value creation for the shareholders depends on the sustainable development of the estates and the community in which they operate. That is why I consider tea plantation sector as one of the truly complex adaptive systems.

Are we leaving the tea plantations to future generations in a better condition than the one we inherited?

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