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Meeting the Maha Mudaliayar as a young ASP

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(Excerpted from Senior DIG Edward Gunawardena’s memoirs)

It was indeed a privilege to meet and come to know Sir James Peter Obeysekera, a doyen of the Low Country aristocracy. Although the Obeysekera family was spread far and wide in the Western Province, Batadola Walawwa situated in the Gampaha District was its seat. This was the majestic residence of Sir James. With Lady Hilda Obeysekera having passed away earlier, he lived alone at Batadola. His son, J.P. Obeysekera Jnr., who was the Member of Parliament for Attanagalla and his wife, Siva, visited him frequently and attended to all his needs.

I had heard of him. After I met JPO Jnr. at the Fountain Cafe I remembered my father (the assistant manager there) telling me that he was the son of a former Maha Mudaliyar. With Batadola in the police district of Gampaha I was anxious to meet and strike a conversation with this senior colonial official when I was posted there. I was wondering how I could make an appointment and call on him. It was my good fortune that I mentioned this to Inspector Alex Abeysekera when I visited the Nittambuwa police station one day.

Alex was quick to say that Sir James was a man I should meet. He believed that few in the younger generation would have even have heard of him, leave alone meeting him. Alex had called on him several times and Sir James had begun to look forward to his visits. Small wonder because Alex, although he had started his police career as a constable, was an erudite gentleman who spoke excellent English.

Alex lost no time in informing Sir James of his intention to visit him with the ASP of Gampaha. He telephoned me to say that Sir James would be pleased to see us in the afternoon of the Saturday to follow. Dressed in uniform I drove to the Nittambuwa police station in my car. Alex was also in uniform. He suggested that we go to Batadola in the Police Jeep.

With a laugh Alex told me that Sir James was a man who had long associated with the uniformed elite as an ADC to the Governor. In any event, in the sixties men in uniform were much respected and trusted.

Alex took the wheel and I was seated in front. The Police driver and a constable got into the rear. With the time approaching five we reached the driveway to the Batadola Walawwa. The narrow avenue of Na (ironwood) trees resembled a dark tunnel. It was cool, silent and dark. The sky could not be seen. I felt that I was in a different country. I suggested to Alex to stop for a few minutes and enjoy the ‘silence of the afternoon’!

A minute after we started off again we saw the light at the end of the tunnel of Na trees. What a fascinating sight it was! The setting sun shone on the white walled, imposing, castle-like Batadola remains a sight firmly etched in my memory. From the darkness of the avenue of Na trees Batadola certainly resembled an edifice out of this world.

Recognizing the police jeep a middle aged man, presumably a watcher, opened the main gate. Alex cautiously drove the vehicle to the portico. Before we could even get off the jeep Sir James appeared at the main entrance. Behind him stood a man dressed in a white sarong and white tunic coat buttoned to the neck. “Come in gentlemen, please make yourselves comfortable”. So saying he bade us sit down. His voice sounded squeaky.

The furniture in the sitting room consisted of settees and chairs of ebony and calamander with crimson velvet cushions. On all the chairs were heaps of books, magazines and newspapers. Alex and I had to clear the chairs of these books and magazines to sit down. Before Alex could introduce me the old man turned to Alex and good humouredly said, “So Abeysekera this young man is your boss”. With this I got up, introduced myself and shook hands with him. He was gracious enough to get up from his seat.

Dressed in a long sleeved white shirt and cotton khaki longs and wearing gold rimmed glasses he looked wiry and fit. Although in his late seventies with wooden clogs as footwear he looked quite tall. After we settled down in our seats he was curious to know my family background, my educational achievements, the school that I attended, what my brothers were doing etc. He appeared to be very pleased when I told him that I had already met his son, the MP. But he laughed and said, “that fellow is not cut out for politics. He likes to drive racing cars and pilot aeroplanes!”

I then saw the man who was dressed in white bringing a tray with two cups and saucers and a small glass tumbler which had a liquid the colour of wine. He left this tumbler on a stool near his master and brought the tray round. He then said, “I don’t know whether police people will like this drink. You know Abeysekera this is what I sip throughout the day. It is plain cold tea without sugar. It is good for your health.” I responded by saying that I too like it, but with a little lime juice and chilled.

With the time approaching 6.30 p.m. it suddenly occurred to me that Alex had mentioned about the old man’s fondness to keep on talking. His advice to me on the way was to keep mum as much as possible and to allow him to do the talking. But to get him talking I had to ask a question or two. I then told him how fascinated I was seeing the Batadola Walawwa for the first time and asked him, “Sir, how old is this lovely structure?”

His immediate response was to say that it was the oldest Walawwa in Siyane Korale. I also remember him saying that an ancestor of his, a chieftain from the south who also had Dutch blood, had been able to obtain about five hundred acres from an early British Governor to plant coconut and cinnamon. This ancestor had first built a modest house by a stream lined with bata (small bamboo). According to what he related the present structure dates back to the mid-nineteenth century. However, Sir James himself truthfully admitted that he found it difficult to recall the details of the origins of Batadola Walawwa.

At 7 p.m. sharp the man in white brought a meat mincer and mounted it on a small table near which Sir James was seated. Alex kicked my leg as if to say it is time to go. Moments later this man brought a plate with a fork and spoon. A small dish of food was also brought. I knew it was food by the colour of the green beans and carrots. I got up from my seat to indicate that the time had come to leave. “No, no, please stay, let’s talk a little more,” he said.

“How is it, Sir, that Horagolla is better known than Batadola?” “Better known? What nonsense. True, the riff-raff have heard of only Horagolla. And that too only after Banda became prime minister”; he sounded slightly agitated, but appeared to be enjoying the banter. Proud of the superiority of Batadola, Sir James began to rattle off the ancestry of the Bandaranaikes and how they had become rich.

According to him the Bandaranaikes had been ‘Poosaris’ of the Nawagamuwa Devala who had got contracts from the British Government to supply labour and metal for the construction of the Colombo — Kandy Rd.

While we were talking the man in white started putting the contents of the dish in small doses to the meat mincer and turning out little lumps of minced food to be eaten by his master. Nevertheless, he appeared to be keen to keep talking about the Bandaranaikes even whilst eating his dinner. However keen he was to go on with the conversation, I thanked him for the wonderful reception we received and got up to leave. He virtually pleaded that we should drop in often. Despite eating his dinner at the time, he walked up to the door to see us off.

A few weeks later I visited the Wathupitiwala Hospital in connection with a serious motor accident that had occurred on the Kandy — Colombo Rd at Pasyala. As I drove in, from a distance I spotted Sir James standing near the entrance. He was dressed in a lounge suit of khaki cotton drill and wearing a brown felt hat. His footwear was light brown canvas deck-shoes. He also carried a black umbrella. In every respect he resembled a typical English country gentleman.

I saluted and shook hands with him. He remembered our meeting at Batadola. Before getting into his car he thanked us again for our visit and said he’d like to meet us again. As was his practice he had visited the hospital semi-officially to inspect the buildings and premises. This hospital had been built in memory of his late wife, Lady Obeysekera.

It wasn’t long before we met Sir. James again. Alex and I had to visit a scene of murder close to the Batadola Estate and we took the opportunity to drop in at the Walawwa. Sir James greeted us warmly. “I knew that you were coming to this area. I expected you to drop in. Perhaps we can continue the discussion from where we left off.”

He appeared to be keen to tell us more about the Bandaranaikes. The jovial mood he was in was obvious. “Today you will not get plain tea”. So saying he ordered the butler to bring us iced coca cola.

Starting off the conversation he expressed the opinion that the Obeysekeras were more refined people as a clan. Most of them were Oxford or Cambridge educated. He referred to his cousins, Forester and Donald. Alex butted in having been a boxer to say that he knew Donald’s sons, Danton and Alex. He also was keen to impress on us that the Bandaranaikes particularly the late Solomon and R.F. Dias reveled in crude ribald jokes. He was in an unstoppable mood. When I interjected to say that S.W.R.D was a distinguished Oxford alumnus, “Yes the first and perhaps the last,” was his response.

Perhaps he felt that I knew more about the Bandaranaikes. He may have even thought that I was an admirer of the Bs, by the questions he began to ask me. “Have you been to Tintagel?” he asked me. I told him that I called on the Prime Minister officially at his Colombo residence. “What do you know of the ‘Maligawa’ in Cinnamon Gardens?” “I have not seen or heard of a Maligawa other than in Kandy,” was my reply.

He laughed loudly. Alex who was a silent listener provided the answer. “It is adjoining the Cinnamon Gardens police station Sir, the palatial residence of the Obeysekeras in Colombo.” Sir James was pleased. He got another starting point to educate me more about the Obeysekeras.

Continuing he told me that the Cinnamon Gardens police station is on a land donated to the Police Dept. by the Obeysekera family. Unlike Tintagel which was owned by an Englishman the Maligawa had been built at about the same time that the Batadola Walawwa had been built. He recalled the WW II years when as a young man he had been an additional ADC to the Governor.

When I showed interest he began to speak freely. According to him the Maligawa, where he lived during the war years was only second to Queen’s House. He described two luxury suites that were reserved for visiting dignitaries and other special guests. Even Queen’s House did not have such accommodation, he said.

Unlike Queen’s House the location of the Maligawa had special advantages. He had been fond of riding and the Governor’s stables had been located across the road in the race course. Geoffrey Layton and Louis Mountbatten, whenever they wanted to ride, had been his guests at the Maligawa. What has stuck in my memory is the peculiarity that Layton had, a preference to ride a piebald named Tojo, the name of the Japanese war lord! What was unsaid was that the Bandaranaikes never hosted such important people at ‘Tintagel or Horagolla.

He also told some interesting stories about, Geoffrey Layton and Mountbatten. Saying both were playboys, he laughed. With the arrival of his son JPO. Jnr. apparently for a private and personal meeting with his father, Alex and I decided to take leave of Sir James.

I met him once more before I left Gampaha district on transfer; and this happened to be the last time. The occasion was a handicrafts exhibition at Nittambuwa. Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike was the chief guest at this exhibition and I had to accompany her as the ASP Gampaha. Most of the Members of Parliament of the area were present. I distinctly remember the tall and big made Wijayabahu Wijesinghe, Laksman Jayakody and M.P. de Z Siriwardena.

The MP for Attanagalle, J.P. Obeysekera Jr. was a notable absentee. But his father, Sir James, stood amongst the distinguished invitees. What struck me was his dress, the attire I had seen him in before; the khaki lounge suit, khaki canvas shoes and the brown felt hat.

When the Prime Minister started going round viewing the exhibits, the MPs too followed. They kept a reasonable distance from her but Sir James kept up with her talking to her all the time, even joking and laughing. The Prime Minister too appeared to enjoy his company.

One episode in which Sir James figured remains firmly etched in my memory. A large stall exhibiting terracotta statuettes drew the special attention of the Prime Minister. Prominent among these exhibits were several nude figurines. With a mischievous smile Sir James turned to the Prime Minister and to be heard by all close by commented, “Sirima, I never knew Attanagalla women had such lovely breasts!” Everybody nearby laughed. Without showing any embarrassment the Prime Minister smiled graciously.

Sir James Obeysekera was not a public figure when I met him. He was living in quiet retirement having faded away from the public gaze. From what I could gather in the limited moments I spent with him he longed for company and conversation. Having been a central figure among the social elite during the era of the Queen’s House Ball, the social evenings at the Maligawa and the Governor’s Cup the blue riband of local horse racing, loneliness had overtaken him.

I consider myself fortunate to have met this great gentleman. Undoubtedly, Sir James, the Maha Mudaliyar had been the leading aristocratic figure in the low country. But when I met him he was a simple, erudite, witty gentleman. I regret I could not attend his funeral in 1968 as I was out of The country as a Fulbright student in Michigan.



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India at 75

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By Gwynne Dyer

Last Tuesday, on the 75th anniversary of Indian independence, Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised to turn India into a developed country, within the next 25 years. If all goes well, that could actually come to pass, but it would have to go very well indeed.The demographic and economic signs are positive. The country’s population has grown fourfold, since independence in 1947, but population growth has now dropped to ‘replacement level’: 2.1 children per completed family.

The current youngest generation is so large that the population will keep growing, until 2060, when it will have reached 1.7 billion. The upside of this is that India will continue to have a rapidly growing young workforce for another generation, while its only rival, China, will have a rapidly ageing and dwindling population (1.2 billion and still falling in 2060)

India’s GDP per capita has been growing at about 5% for years, and if that continues for the next 25 years, it will have grown to $7,500 per person. That’s certainly within the lower ranks of developed countries (like Mexico, South Africa or China today). Given the size of India’s population, the economy would certainly rank in the world’s top five.

So, Modi’s prediction was certainly within the realm of possibility, but there are two big wild cards. One is climate: although only half of India, technically, falls within the tropics, all of it, except the very far north, suffers long, very hot summers.This summer has been the hottest ever, with many of the largest cities experiencing temperatures, above 45°C, for days at a time. Whatever we do about climate in the future, it can only go on getting worse for India, for the next 25 years.

That will bring the country into the zone where it literally becomes unsafe for people to do manual work outside, at the height of summer; death rates will go up, and food production will go down. Nobody knows exactly how bad it will get, but it will certainly get much worse that it is now.

The other wild card is war. Since the Indian and Pakistani tests of nuclear weapons, in 1999, the subcontinent has lived under the threat of a ‘local’ nuclear war that would devastate both countries (and also cause global food shortages lasting for at least four or five years).An Indo-Pak nuclear war is not inevitable, but, unlike the major nuclear powers, these two countries have fought real wars against each other – three in the past 75 years. The likelihood of such a catastrophe actually happening is certainly a lot higher than zero.

Each country now has about 160 nukes, and although both are now working to move beyond the dangerously unstable ‘use them or lose them’ phase where a a surprise attack might disarm the other side, there is no real stability to be found when the adversaries are so close and the hostility is so intense.So there is no harm in considering whether it might have been better to keep the entire Indian subcontinent, first united by the British empire, in one piece, at independence, rather than splitting it into two countries (and eventually three, counting Bangladesh).

The split was by no means inevitable. Both Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, the two main Hindu leaders of the independence movement, wanted an inclusive, non-sectarian republic, including all of British India, although they failed to offer Muslims sufficient guarantees to ensure their support.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the main Muslim leader in 1947, did want to carve a Muslim-majority Pakistan out of the country, but there was no obligation for the British government to satisfy his demand. He got his way because the United Kingdom was virtually broke after the Second World War and in a great hurry to dump its responsibilities in India.

Sir Cyril Radcliffe, a British lawyer who had never been east of Paris, had five weeks to draw the dividing line between the two new countries. Around 15 million people, who found themselves on the wrong side of that line, became refugees, mutual massacres followed, and within weeks India and Pakistan had their first war. But it could have been different.

The undivided ‘big India’ would have 1.8 billion people today, about one-third Muslim and two-thirds Hindu. That would virtually guarantee that both groups would be represented in every government and in most political parties.

Lots of countries, elsewhere in the world, manage to be both democratic and prosperous with comparable religious and/or ethnic differences. The ‘big India’ would not have wasted 75 years’ worth of high defence spending, and there would be no risk of nuclear war.All those energies would have been devoted instead to civilian priorities, and that united India might already rank as a developed country. Might-have-beens.

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Ukraine War: Mother May I?

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By Gwynne Dyer

“This obviously does not happen because of a thrown butt,” said British Defense Minister Ben Wallace. But the Russian Ministry of Defence insisted that the explosions that destroyed at least eight warplanes at Saki Air Base in Russian-occupied Crimea on 9 August were due to “a violation of fire safety requirements.”

The implication is that some careless Russian smoker tossed away his cigarette butt and caused a fire that set off explosions. That’s hardly a testimonial to the discipline of the Russian air force’s ground crews, but it’s better than admitting that Ukrainian missiles have reached 225 km behind Russian lines to destroy a whole squadron of Russian fighters.Moscow also claimed that no Russian aircraft had been damaged by the explosions in Crimea, although the wreckage of the destroyed fighters was clearly visible on the ‘overheads’ from satellite observations.

The Russian Defence Ministry played the same silly game in April when Ukrainian cruise missiles sank the ‘Moskva.’, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. It claimed that a fire had caused munitions to explode, and that the ship then sank while under tow due to “stormy seas” (although the sea was actually flat calm at the time).And what caused that fire? Careless smokers again, presumably, because even the most damning statements about the indiscipline and incompetence of Russian sailors and airmen are preferable to an admission that the Ukrainians are really hurting Russia.

Ukraine’s Defence Ministry is having fun with this, reporting that it “cannot establish the cause of the fire [at the Russian airfield], but once again reminds of fire safety rules and a ban on smoking in unauthorized places.”

Taking responsibility for these strikes deep in Russian-controlled territory is not in Ukraine’s interest, so it’s happy for Russia to take the blame. Various anonymous defence officials in Kyiv further muddied the waters by suggesting that Ukrainian partisans were responsible, or Ukrainian special forces already operating far behind Russian front lines.

But why is it not in Ukraine’s interest to take ownership of these small but symbolically important victories?

It’s because the really decisive front in this war is how fast American and other NATO weapons systems are sent to Ukraine, and that is determined by a process that seems to be derived largely from the old children’s game of ‘Mother May I’ (also known as ‘Giant Steps’).The opening move is quite straightforward: Kyiv asks Washington for a hundred HIMARS multiple-launch rocket systems so that it can counter Russia’s huge superiority in older artillery and rocket systems and drive Moscow’s forces from Ukrainian soil.

Washington replies that it can take two giant steps and a frog hop. No, wait a minute, it replies that Ukraine can have four HIMARS systems now. Once the crews have been trained and have demonstrated their proficiency in using the weapons, Kyiv can start the next round of the game by asking for more. This takes four weeks.

Getting into the spirit of the game, Ukraine then asks for only twenty more HIMARs, leaving the rest for later. Washington replies that it can take four baby steps and a pirouette – or rather, four more HIMARs now, but with the range still restricted to 70 km. and no thermobaric ammunition (fuel-air explosives). And so on.We are now in the fourth round of this game, with sixteen HIMARs promised of which Ukraine has already deployed between eight and twelve on the battlefield. At this rate, Ukraine will have the hundred HIMARs it needs to expel the Russians around April of 2024.

Similar games are being played with other badly needed weapons from NATO stockpiles like Western-made combat aircraft, modern anti-air defence systems, and longer-range missiles for attacks like the one on Saki Air Base. This is all driven by an excess of caution about such ‘escalation’ at the White House and in the National Security Council.

Washington is right to be concerned about Russia’s reactions, but it is prone to see the Russians as dangerously excitable children. They are not. They are poker players (NOT chess-players) who bet over-confidently, and are now trying to bluff their way out of trouble. The Russian ruling elite, or at least most of it, remains rational.

The Ukrainians, however, have to take American anxieties into account even when they use their own weapons, some of which have been modified for extended range, on distant Russian targets. The simplest way is just to pretend it wasn’t their weapons that did the damage.The same policy applies to the numerous acts of sabotage carried out in Russia by Ukrainian agents – and by a happy accident the Russians are willing to collaborate in this fiction. They’d rather blame the clumsiness, ignorance and incompetence of their own troops than give the credit to the Ukrainians.

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Book Review : An incisive exploration of Sri Lanka’s religiosity

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Title: ‘Multi-Religiosity in Contemporary Sri Lanka’ – Innovation, shared spaces, contestation

Editors – Mark P. Whitaker, Darini Rajasingham- Senanayake and Pathmanesan Sanmugeswaran

A Routledge South Asian Religion Series publication

Exclusively distributed in Sri Lanka by Vijitha Yapa Publications, Colombo 5. (e-mail: vijiyapa@gmail.com)

Reviewed by Lynn Ockersz

This timely publication could be described as a revelation of the fascinating nature of Sri Lanka’s religiosity. It is almost customary to refer to Sri Lanka as a ‘religious country’ but it is not often that one comes across scholarly discussions on the subject locally. ‘Multi-Religiosity in Contemporary Sri Lanka..’, a collection of research papers put together in book form, fills this void most adequately.

Although not necessarily synonymous with spiritual development, religiosity in Sri Lanka essentially refers to the widespread prevalence of organized or institutionalized religion in the lives of the majority of Sri Lankans. What qualifies the country to be seen as religiously plural is the presence in it of numerous religions, though mainly in their institutionalized forms.

What ought to pique the interest of the specialist and that of the inquiring layman alike is the fact that though falling short of the highest standards of spirituality most of the time, religion is used innovatively and creatively by its adherents to meet some of their worldly and otherworldly needs. That is, religion is a dynamic and adaptable force in the lives of Sri Lanka’s people. ‘Multi-Religiosity in Contemporary Sri Lanka..’ explores these characteristics of religion in depth and underscores the vitality of religion in the consciousness of its diverse practitioners. A chief strength of the publication is the featuring of almost all the main religions of Sri Lanka, from the viewpoint of their innovative and adaptable use by devotees.

The research papers in question, numbering 16, were presented at an Open University of Sri Lanka forum held in mid-July in 2017. The editors of the volume have done well to bring these papers together and present them in book form to enable the wider public in Sri Lanka and abroad to drink deep of the vital insights contained in them, considering that religiosity has gained increasingly in importance in post-war Sri Lanka. Fittingly, ‘Multi-Religiosity in Contemporary Sri Lanka..’, is dedicated to the memory of well-known Sri Lankan social scientist Malathi de Alwis who, unfortunately, is no longer with us, but had contributed a paper at the relevant forum prior to her passing away. Her paper too is contained in the collection.

The thematic substance of the volume could be said to have been set out in some detail by co- editor Darini Rajasingham-Senanayake in her introductory essay titled, ‘Spaces of Protection, healing and liberation…’ She writes: ‘Religiosity appears as a means of coping with life’s transitions, celebrations, disappointments, diseases, conflicts and violence; and events such as birth and death, illness, exams, marriage, divorce, the sense of the sacred, the auspicious, and inauspicious (Sumangali-Amangali). Fundamentally, beyond the political, (multi-)religiosity provides an individual’s coping strategy and/or a social performance for negotiating with the perceived power, energies and structures that are greater than oneself, particularly the supernatural and transnational.’

When seen from the above perspective, the ability of many Sri Lankans to comfortably worship at multiple religious institutions and shrines, for example, while claiming adherence in the main to this or that religious belief makes considerable sense, because the average Lankan devotee is of a pragmatic bent and not a religious purist. Depending on her needs she would worship at a major Buddhist or Hindu temple, for example, and also supplicate her cause at a prominent Catholic church. Such practices speak volumes for the flexibility and innovativeness of the devotee. They also testify to her broad religious sympathies and her ability to share her religious spaces with others of different religious persuasions. A few places of religious significance in Sri Lanka that thus draw adherents of multiple religions are Adam’s Peak, Kataragama, Madhu Church and St. Anthony’s Church in Kochchikade, Colombo.

At these places of reverence the usually restricted adherence to a single religious belief or faith is easily transcended by worshippers as apparently part of a personal or collective coping strategy to deal with multiple personal and societal pressures. ‘Kataragama Pada Yatra – Pilgrimaging with ethnic “others” ‘ by Anton Piyaratne and ‘Religious innovation in the pilgrimage industry – Hindu bodhisattva worship and Tamil Buddhistness’ by Alexander McKinley are just two papers in the collection that deal insightfully with this aspect of worshippers’ abilities to comfortably manage multiple religious identities and spaces. These habits of the average Sri Lankan devotee highlight the potentiality of religiosity, among other things, to be a bridge-builder among communities.

For instance, Mckinley sets out in his exposition: ‘Religious innovation at shared sacred sites can thus blur or sharpen the dominant ethno-religious divisions of ‘Sinhala Buddhist’ and ‘Tamil Hindu’ in Sri Lanka. Saman devotion can simultaneously be interpreted as a sincere form of highland Hindu religiosity, a strategic innovation by Tamil workers to appease Sinhala pilgrims, as well as an opening for Sinhalas to either convert Tamils into Buddhists, or to cooperate with them towards common goals, such as environmental conservation’.

A conspicuous and continuing theme of the collection is the wide-ranging and often damaging impact of the Sri Lankan government’s 30-year anti-LTTE war. Quite a number of the researchers, thus, deal with its adverse impact on women, and quite rightly, because the war revealed as perhaps never before the marked vulnerabilities of Sri Lankan women in conflict situations. ‘Of Meditation, Militarization and Grease Yakas’ by Darini Rajasingham-Senanayake and ‘Vijaya and Kuweni retold’ by Neena Mahadev deal quite elaborately on this subject and throw valuable light on the multi-dimensional impact the Northern war has had on women, besides focusing on the resourceful ways in which religion is used by women to cope with social and political issues.

‘Emerging innovative religiosities and what they signify’ by Selvy Thiruchandran continues with the focus on women and religiosity but introduces a wider societal dimension by bringing into the discourse the phenomenon of New Religious Movements (NRM). The researcher points to the immense popularity among mainly middle class women of two of these movements, the Satya Sai Baba cult and the growing interest in Brahma Kumaris Yoga centres, and elaborates on the roles they play in enabling women to deal with personal and societal pressures.

However, Thruchandran arrives at the thought-provoking conclusion at the end of her wide-ranging research that, ‘The old religion and the new so-called innovation that is sought in the new religions can be summarized in a well-known cliché – old wine in new bottles.’ That is, these New Religions are mainly forms of escapism. We have here a fresh perspective on issues relating to the liberation of women that calls for deep consideration. Moreover, these New Religious Movements do not help in any substantive way to change the fundamental and perennial reality of male domination over women; for, we are given to understand that some men actively discourage their wives from joining the Brahma Kumaris movement.

The role of Sri Lanka’s Christian Left in giving religion a progressive and socially emancipatory orientation in recent decades is the subject of Harini Amarasuriya’s paper titled, ‘Beards, cloth bags, and sandals – Reflections on the Christian left in Sri Lanka’. The researcher’s prime focus is on an institution of mainly Left political activism established by a Christian clergyman, Sevaka Yohan, in Ibbagamuwa, Kurunegala in the seventies decade by the name Devasaranaramaya. Besides committing itself to robust Left political activism, the latter centre possessed an indigenous cultural ethos and sought to unite the country’s cultures and religions. In other words, the institution aimed at being a shared space where religions comingled on the basis of shared values.

Accordingly, the publication of ‘Multi-Religiosity in Contemporary Sri Lanka…’, is a welcome development. The book sheds invaluable light on the subject of local religiosity, which is a relatively unexplored but vital area of knowledge that has important implications for nation-building in Sri Lanka. Besides the papers discussed above, there are numerous other learned and insightful research papers on religiosity in this collection that call for urgent reading. Collectively the papers constitute a treasury of knowledge that those pursuing Sri Lankan Studies could ill-afford to by-pass.

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