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More on diving off the Pearl Banks

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by Rex. I. De Silva

(Continued from last week)

Sharks

In the nineteenth century the Government employed a “shark charmer” to protect divers during the pearl fisheries. He did this by means of incantations and other “magical” rituals. There apparently were no fatalities from shark attacks while he was on duty. This is hardly surprising as during the old pearl fisheries, divers and boats arrived from as far away as Arabia, (what is now) Pakistan, and India. Hundreds of divers and boats, and the resulting noise and turmoil, would have kept even the boldest sharks away. The chank divers and we did very well without the assistance of such a virtuoso.

Nevertheless, sharks (mora) were not rare – far from it. One or two harmless white-tip reef sharks often stayed around while we were spearfishing, possibly in the expectation of stealing our catch. In fact, we speared fish every day in order to feed the chank divers, boat crew and ourselves. Nurse sharks, which are primarily nocturnal, stayed in their caves during the day where we sometimes encountered them apparently in deep sleep. A variety of requiem sharks, including the blacktail, reef blacktip, graceful shark, pig-eye shark, a dangerous looking brute, and blacktip were seen from time to time.

One morning while I was spearfishing a largish shark swam towards me. The vertical dark stripes helped to identify it as a tiger shark (koti mora), a reputedly dangerous species. It was probably attracted to the fish I had speared which were on a stringer loosely fastened to my waist. I quickly undid the stringer, deciding to let the shark have the fish if it became aggressive. I also released the safety catch of my speargun and kept a finger on the trigger, although the weapon would probably have been poor protection at best.

The shark approached slowly to within about five metres, made a wide half-circle around me and then, seemingly alarmed, swam away. I had mixed feelings at the time; anxiety, combined with admiration at the beauty and grace of the creature. In retrospect, however, this encounter was to me the highlight of our expedition. This was the only live tiger shark I saw in Sri Lanka. Later I came across others in the Maldives, but that is another story. The chank divers told us that they often saw hammerhead sharks, but disappointingly we did not see any.

I speared a jack (parawa) on one of the deeper reefs, and as I was surfacing for air a largish grey shark seized the fish, tore off the posterior half and swam away, leaving only the head and part of the thorax on my spear. I am often asked if sharks are a danger and I invariably reply that they are usually a potential rather than actual danger, in Sri Lankan waters at least.

Most of the sharks we saw were accompanied by suckerfish. These are slim fish with a sucker apparatus on their heads by which they attach themselves to sharks, and other creatures, such as turtles and rays. The suckerfish feeds off scraps from its host’s meals and also gets transportation and possibly a degree of protection from its larger companion.

Large schools of yellowfin barracuda (jeela, silava) were common. These fish have a Jekyll and Hyde reputation. They school during the day when they are usually quite harmless but disperse at dusk to hunt individually. They can then become dangerous and several divers have been attacked at night.

Rays

We encountered many large eagle rays (vavul maduwa). They are gentle giants, which appear to fly underwater like enormous birds. Eagle rays relish chanks and other shellfish and we often came upon remains of their feasts on the seabed.

I saw my first guitar fish, a strange creature which looks like a cross between a shark and ray. It is however a true ray as the gill-slits are on the ventral surface. We also encountered a few electric rays. These are sluggish bottom-dwellers which have the ability to produce a powerful electric shock that is used to stun prey and also for self-defence. I might mention that as a schoolboy I hand-speared one of these rays and received a shock which made me lose hold of my spear and also deprived me of speech for a minute or two.

Turtles

The herbivorous green turtle (gal kasbava, mas kasbava) was common on the seagrass and seaweed beds. We also occasionally met with its relatives the hawksbill (pothu kasbava, pang kasbava) and olive ridley (mada kasbava, eramudu kasbava). One morning we saw a very large loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta), so-named because of its large head. This is the second largest turtle species in our waters. We were probably the first humans it had seen as it swam around us in apparent curiosity.

Most interesting though was the giant leatherback turtle (dhara kasbava, vavul kasbava ) in which a thick leathery covering replaces the bony carapace of the other turtles. Leatherbacks grow to almost three metres in length and although not rare on the deeper banks, are wary and difficult to approach underwater. From the boat I watched one dive. It flipped backwards, almost somersaulting to submerge.

Some giant fish

Giant groupers (kossa, gal bola, gal kossa) were rather scarce, possibly due to a relative sparseness of large caves. Nevertheless we saw a few estuary groupers, at least one of which we estimated at around 100 kg in weight.

A single, large, one and a half metre long potato cod – actually a grouper despite its name – turned up when I shot a large golden snapper, which a white-tip reef shark tried to steal off my spear. The grouper also wanted the snapper and rammed the shark, making it retreat a short distance. The grouper then made for my fish and I had to kick at it and swim for the boat. The shark lost interest, but the grouper trailed me until I threw the snapper into the vessel.

While diving in deep water Rodney pointed out two large fish which resembled the common reef sweetlips (boraluwa), except that each probably weighed around 50 kg. These were the first giant sweetlips I had seen. The species was always rare and sightings few.

Two great jacks emerged from a crevice in a sandstone reef where I was diving. One bore the normal silvery-grey coloration of the species whereas, to my great astonishment, the other was black. As I had never before observed a black jack (no pun intended) I asked Rodney if he could account for this aberration. He replied that he too had on a few occasions come across this phenomenon, but had no ready explanation. It was many years later that a research paper on Caribbean marine fishes clarified the mystery. The black coloration is apparently the courtship (or mating) livery of male jacks of several species. The fish presumably revert to their normal coloration after sometime.

Leisure in camp

On some days we would finish diving early. Rodney and I would then explore the jungles around our camp, while Trevor who did not like jungles stayed back. We would encounter grey langurs, black-naped hare, and other denizens of the forest. After a shower of rain we often saw star tortoises grazing out in the open. One purpose of these jungle outings was to shoot a few grey partridge for the pot in order to vary our otherwise monotonous fish diet. Nights in the camp were peaceful and quiet. The silence was occasionally broken by the strains of “Oh Danny Boy”, Rodney’s favourite song played on his piano accordion, or sometimes by the rather mournful chants of the divers.

The dark unpolluted skies were an astronomer’s delight, with stars shining as they never do in the city. It was here that I saw my first fireball or bolide, a very bright, slow-moving meteor or shooting-star. This one left a glowing train, which remained visible for several minutes.

Reef off Silavatturai

One morning Rodney persuaded the captain to take us to Silavatturai reef, which he (Rodney) had visited earlier. The reef is shallow and is made up of magnificent corals interspersed with sandy patches. In most of these sandy areas we would find one or two large coralheads, around and under which were a variety of fish, including schools of silver sweetlips (boraluwa) and numbers of lobsters, including the large ornate spiny lobster (pokurissa).. That day we speared our quota of fish in less than fifteen minutes, and at night dined on lobster.

Several species of gastropod molluscs, including the large tiger cowrie (kavadiya) were common on the reef. The sandy areas harboured a variety of cone shells, including the colourful but highly venomous textile cone. This mollusc has a poisonous sting capable of killing a human. Colourful angelfish (manamalaya), butterflyfish, and moorish idols were almost everywhere, giving the reef a festive atmosphere. There were no large fish, the exception being a single great barracuda ( jeela, silava, ulava). This species, unlike its congener the yellowfin, can be dangerous by day as well as at night, although attacks are rare. If harpooned it will sometimes turn on its attacker and, being large and having a fearsome set of dagger-like teeth, is well able to cause severe injury or perhaps even death.

It was on Silavaturai reef that we encountered parrotfish in some numbers. These are often brightly coloured fish in which the teeth are fused into a parrot-like “beak”, giving the group its name. Parrotfish feed primarily on algae and corals; hence their relative abundance on this reef. The males of most species occur in two phases, viz. the initial phase (sexually mature) young males which resemble the females, and the older terminal phase males (“supermales”) which are usually larger and differ considerably from the younger males.

In the past this sometimes led to confusion, with females and young males being classified as one species and “supermales” as another. Despite the fair size of many individuals, they were spared from our spears as the flesh of most parrotfish, while edible, lacks flavour. Another interesting fact about this family is that many species of parrotfish secrete a mucous cocoon around themselves before settling down to sleep at night, which they do in a crevice or cave in the reef. The exact function of the cocoon is not known, but is suspected to be protective.

It was on Silavatturai reef that I first encountered the courtship of a pair of octopuses (buvalla) in four metres of water. They stayed at arms length and the (presumed) male gently stroked the female with one of its arms. I found this behaviour touching and almost human in its gentleness. Frank Lane in his classic work “The kingdom of the octopus” states that courtship can go on for hours or even days. The female octopus however makes the ultimate sacrifice. After laying her eggs in an underwater cave she stops feeding to guard and care for them. She uses the suckers on her arms to clean them and jets water from her siphon to keep them aerated. One of her duties is to protect the eggs from predators, including other octopuses. The mother often dies soon after her babies hatch out.

It was in deeper water on the seaward side of the reef that we were spectators to a mysterious act. Two large cuttlefish (poku dhalla) had joined together head-to-head with arms entwined. In this species a blue line runs around the body at the junction of mantle and fin. In the two individuals we watched, these lines glowed and pulsated like neon lights. They remained motionless, except for the rippling movements of their fins. Whether this was courtship, mating, or aggressive behaviour between two males I did not know. Rodney and Trevor were equally mystified. None of us had seen anything like it before. I learned subsequently that this was mating behaviour.

All too soon our ten-day expedition came to an end and we regrettably had to return to “civilization”. As we packed the vehicle and said good-bye to our new friends, I promised myself that I would return to the Pearl Banks someday. I never did.

Rodney passed away in November 1989. He is sorely missed by his many friends. Trevor now lives in retirement in Melbourne. We meet occasionally but strangely never talk about the underwater adventures we once shared.

(Concluded)

(Excerpted from ‘Jungle Journeys in Sri Lanka: experiences and encounters’ compiled by CG Uragoda)



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South’s development debacle compounded by SAARC’s inner paralysis

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From a development point of view, it’s ‘the worst of times’ for the global South. The view of some of the most renowned development organizations is that the woes brought upon the hemisphere by the Covid-19 pandemic have probably stalled its development by decades. The inference is inescapable that the South would need to start from scratch as it were in its efforts to ease its material burdens, once the present health crisis shows signs of lifting.

A recent Jakarta Post/ANN news feature published in this newspaper on January 14th, detailing some of the dire economic fallout from the pandemic on the South said: ‘Between March and December 2020, the equivalent of 147 million full time jobs were lost in the Asia Pacific region. In 2020, the World Bank estimated that between 140 million people in Asia were pushed into poverty and in 2021 another 8 million became poor…..Vulnerable groups such as women, ethnic and religious minorities and migrant workers were worst affected. Across Asia, informal and migrant workers suffered an estimated 21.6 percent fall in their income in the first four months of the pandemic.’

Needless to say, being one of the least developed regions of the South and its most populous one, it is South Asia that is likely to be worst affected in the current global crunch. A phenomenon that should not go unnoticed in this connection, is the rising number of the ‘new poor’ in the South. This refers in the main to those sections of the middle class that are sliding into the lower middle class and the ranks of the poverty-stricken as a result of the ill-effects of the present crisis. Job loss and decreasing income are some of the causes behind this rising tide of pauperization.

Referring to this and connected processes the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka states in its ‘Sri Lanka State of the Economy 2021’report: ‘Estimates at the USD 3.20 poverty line are forecasted to be at least 228 million, with a larger share of the population emerging from South Asia yet again. Initial projections for 2021 estimate the number of individuals in extreme poverty to be between 143 and 163 million.’ The stark and widespread poverty emerging in Afghanistan since mid-August 2021, ought to push up these figures quite a bit.

Considering that the South is way behind the North in developmental terms, the unfolding global economic crisis could be expected to widen the chasm in material wellbeing between the hemispheres in the days ahead. However, ‘the overwhelming question’ for the South would be how it could fend for itself in the absence of those Southern-centred organizations that could take up its cause in the forums of the world and bring the region together in an effort to work towards its collective wellbeing. The importance of this question is strongly underscored by the fact that SAARC is more or less dysfunctional or paralyzed at present.

The immense magnitude of the poverty question is yet to be realized by the ruling elites of the South. It is as if the chimerical growth spurt in some sections of the South over the past 30 or so years has rendered them numb and insensitive to poverty-related issues, including the ever-yawning gulf within their countries between the obscenely wealthy and the desperately poor. As is known, while the so-called ordinary people of the South have been wilting in dire want over the past two years, the hemisphere has been producing billionaires in disconcertingly high numbers. This could be true of Sri Lanka as well and the Pandora Papers gave us the cue a few months back.

By burying their heads in the sands as it were in this manner, Southern political elites could very well be setting the stage for bloody upheavals within their states. The need for substantial ‘bread’ has always been a driver of socio-political change over the centuries. They are bound to find their problems compounded by the accentuation of ethnicity and religion related questions, considering that such issues are taking a turn for the worse amid the current economic debacle. Vulnerable groups would need to be cared for and looked after by rulers and these include women and ethnic minorities. An aggravation of their lot could compound the worries of Southern rulers.

The phenomenal increase of billionaires ought to be researched more intently and thoroughly by Southern think tanks, R and D organizations and the like. Among other things, does not this disquieting emergence of billionaires prove that classical economics was wrong in assuming that wealth would easily ‘trickle-down’ to the masses from wealth creators, such as businessmen and other owners of capital? After all, we now have clear evidence that mountainous wealth could exist amid vast wastes of poverty and powerlessness.

However, the view of some commentators that ‘neoliberal policies of privatization’ and connected issues should now be reassessed and even eschewed ought to strike the observer as worthy of consideration. These policies that enthrone free market economics should be viewed as badly in need of revision and correction in view of the inherently unstable economic systems that they have given rise to over the past three decades. Their serious flaws are thrown into strong relief by the present Southern economic crisis which has resulted in some isolated, formidable towers of wealth and opulence sprouting in a sea of hardship and economic want.

Hopefully, we would see a renewed wide-ranging discussion on development models from now on. Ideally, growth needs to go hand-in-hand with equity if development is to be achieved to a degree. There is no getting away from the need for central planning to some extent in our efforts to reach these ends. Capital and Labour would need to come together in a meeting of minds in these endeavours. Development thrusts would need to be launched on pragmatic considerations as well.

However, a regional approach to resolving these issues facing South Asia needs to be renewed and persisted with as well. As long as SAARC remains paralyzed such efforts are unlikely to bear full fruit. Accordingly, India and Pakistan, the regional heavyweights, need to negotiate an end to their differences and help rejuvenate SAARC; South Asia’s key collective body that could usher in a measure of regional development.

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History of St. Sebastian’s Shrine, Kandana

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By Godfrey Cooray

Ambassador of Sri Lanka to Norway, Finland and Iceland

According to legend, St. Sebastian was born at Narbonne in Gaul. He became a soldier in Rome and encouraged Marcellian and Marcus who were sentenced to death to remain firm in their faith. St. Sebastian made several converts; among them were master of the rolls Nicostratus, who was in charge of prisoners and his wife, Zoe, a deaf mute whom he cured.

Sebastian was named captain in the Roman Army by Emperor Diocletian, as Emperor Maximian went to the east. Neither knew that Sebastian was a Christian. When it was discovered that Sebastian was indeed a Christian, he was ordered to be executed. He was shot with arrows and left to die but when the widow of St. Castulas went to recover his body, she found out that he was still alive and nursed him back to health. Soon after his recovery, St. Sebastian intercepted the Emperor; denounced him for his cruelty to Christians and was beaten to death on the Emperor’s order.

St. Sebastian was venerated in Milan as early as the time of St. Ambrose. St. Sebastian is the patron of archers, athletes, soldiers, the Saint of the youths and is appealed to protection against the plagues. St. Ambrose reveals that the parents young Sebastian were living in Milan as a noble family. St. Ambrose further says that Sebastian along with his three friends, Pankasi, Pulvius and Thorvinus completed his education successfully with the blessing of his mother, Luciana. Rev. Fr. Dishnef guided him through his spiritual life. From his childhood, Sebastian wanted to join the Roman Army and with the help of King Karnus, young Sebastian became a soldier. Within as short span of time he was appointed as the Commander of the Army of king Karnus. Emperor Diocletian declared Christians the enemy of the Roman Empire and instructed judges to punish Christians who have embraced the Catholic Church. Young Sebastian as one of the servants of Christ converted thousands of other believers into Christians. When Emperor Diocletian revealed that Sebastian had become a Catholic, the angery Emperor ordered for Sebastian to be shot to death with arrows. After being shot, one of Sebastian supporters, Irane, treated him and cured him. When Sebastian was cured, he came to Emperor Diocletian and professed his faith for the second time disclosing that he is a servant of Christ. Astounded by the fact that Sebastian is a Christian, Emperor Diocletian ordered the Roman Army to kill Sebastian with club blows.

In the liturgical calendar of the Church, the feast of the St. Sebastian is celebrated on 20th of January. This day is, indeed, a mini Christmas to the people of Kandana, irrespective of their religion. The feast commences with the hoisting of the flag staff on the 11th of January at 4 p.m. at the Kandana junction, along the Colombo- Negombo road. There is a long history attached to the flag staff. The first flag staff which was an ariecanut tree, 25 feet tall was hoisted by the Aththidiya family of Kandana and today their descendants continue hoisting of the flag staff as a tradition. This year’s flag staff too was hoisted by the Raymond Aththidiya family. Several processions originating from different directions carrying flags meet at this flag staff junction. The pouring of milk on the flag staff has been a tradition in existence for a long time. The Nagasalan band was introduced by a well-known Jaffna businessman that had engaged in business in Kandana in the 1950s. The famous Kandaiyan Pille’s Nagasalan group takes the lead even today in the procession. Kiribath Dane in the Kandana town had been a tradition from the time immemorial.

According to the available history from the Catholic archives and volume III of the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka, the British period of vicariates of Colombo written by Rev. Ft. Vito Perniola SJ in 1806 states that the British government granted the freedom of conscious and religion to the Catholics in Ceylon and abolished all the anti-Catholic legislation enacted by the Dutch. The proclamation was declared and issued on the 3rd of August 1796 by Colonel James Stuart, the officer commanding the British forces of Ceylon stated “freedom granted to Catholics” (Sri Lanka national archives 20/5).

Before the Europeans, the missioners were all Goans from South India. In the year 1834, on the 3rd of December, XVI Gregory the Pope, issued a document Ex Muwere pastoralis ministeric, after which the Ceylon Catholic Church was made under the South Indian Cochin diocese. Very Rev. Fr. Vincent Rosario, the Apostolic VicarGeneral, was appointed along with 18 Goan priests (The Oratorion Mission in Sri Lanka being a history of the Catholic Chruch 1796-1874 by Arthur C Dep Chapter 11 pg 12) Rev Fr. Joachim Alberto arrived in Sri Lanka as missionary on the 6th of March 1830 when he was 31 years old and he was appointed to look after Catholics in Aluthkuru Korale consisting Kandana, Mabole, Nagodaa and Ragama. There have been one church built in 1810 in Wewala about three miles away from Kandana. Wewala Chruch was situated bordering Muthurajawela which rose to fame for its granary. History reveals that the entire area was under paddy cultivation of which most of them were either farmers or toddy tappers. History further reveals that there have been an old canal built by King Weera Parakrama Bahu. Later it was built to flow through the Kelani River and Muthurajawela up to Negombo which was named as the Dutch Canal (RL Brohier historian).

During the British time this canal was named as Hamilton Canal and was used to transport toddy, spices, paddy and tree planks of which tree planks were stored in Kandana. Therefore, Kandana name derives from “Kandan Aana”.

Rev. Fr. Joachim Alberto purchased a small piece of land called Haamuduruwange watte at Nadurupititya in Kandana and put up a small cadjan chapel and placed a picture of St. Sebastian for the benefit of his small congregation. In 1837 with the help of the devotees, he dug a small well of which water was used for drinking and bathing and today this well is still operative. He bought several acres of land including the present cemetery premises. Moreover, he had put up the church at Kalaeliya in honour of his patron St. Joachim where his body has been laid to rest according to his wish of the Last will attested by Weerasinghe Arachchige Brasianu Thilakaratne. Notary public dated 19th of July 1855. Present Church was built on the property bought on the 13th of August 1875 on deed no. 146 attested by Graciano Fernando. Notary public of the land Gorakagahawatta Aluthkuru Korale Ragam Pattu in Kandana within the extend ¼ acre from and out of the 16 acres. According to the old plan number 374 made by P.A. H. Philipia, Licensed surveyor on the 31st of January 195, 9 acres and 25 perches belonged to St. Sebastian church. However, today only 3 acres, 3 roods and 16.5 perches are left according to plan number 397surveyed by the same surveyor while the rest had been sold to the villagers. According to the survey conducted by Orithorian priest on the 12th of February 1844 there were only 18 school-going Catholic students in AluthKuru Korale and only one Antonio was the teacher for all classes. In 1844 there was no school at Kandana (APF SCG India Volume 9829).

According to Sri Lanka National Archives (The Ceylon Almanac page 185) in the year 1852 there were 982 Catholics – Male 265, female 290, children 365 with a total of 922. According to the census reports in 2014 prepared by Rev. Ft. Sumeda Dissanayake TOR, the director Franciscan Preaching group, Kadirana Negombo a survey revealed that there are 13,498 Catholics in Kandana.

According to the appointment of the Missionaries in the year 1866-1867 by Bishop Hillarien Sillani, Rev. Fr. Clement Pagnani OSB was sent to look after the missions in Negoda, Ragama, Batagama, Tudella, Kandana, Kala Eliya and Mabole. On the 18th of April 1866, the building of the new church commenced with a written agreement by and between Rec. Fr. Clement Pagnani and the then leaders of Kandana Catholic Village Committee. This committee consisted of Kanugalawattage Savial Perera Samarasinghe Welwidane, Amarathunga Arachchige Issak Perera Appuhamy, Jayasuriya Arachchige Don Isthewan Appuhamy, Jayasuriya Appuhamylage Elaris Perera Muhuppu, Padukkage Andiris Perera Opisara, Kanugalawattage Peduru Perera Annavi and Mallawa Arachchige Don Peduru Appujamy. The said agreement stated that they will give written undertaking that their labour and money will be utilised to build the new church of St. Sebastian and if they failed to do so they were ready to bear any punishment which will be imposed by the Catholic Church.

Rev. Fr. Bede Bercatta’s book “A History of the Vicariate of Colombo page 359” says that Rev. Fr. Stanislaus Tabarani had problems of finding rock stones to lay the foundation. He was greatly worried over this and placed his due trust in divine providence. He prayed for days to St. Sebastian for his intercession. One morning after mass, he was informed by some people that they had seen a small patch of granite at a place in Rilaulla, close to the church premises although such stones were never seen there earlier and requested him to inspect the place. The parish priest visited the location and was greatly delighted as his prayers has been answered. This small granite rock provided enough granite blocks for the full foundation of the present church. This place still known as “Rilaulla galwala”. The work on the building proceeded under successive parish priests but Rev. Fr. Stouter was responsible for much of it. The façade of the church was built so high that it crashed on the 2nf of April of 1893. The present façade was then built and completed in the year 1905. The statue of St. Sebastian which is behind the altar had been carved off a “Madan tree”. It was done by Paravara man named Costa Mama, who was staying with a resident named Miguel Baas a Ridualle, Kandana. This statue was made at the request of Pavistina Perera Amaratunge, mother of former Member of Parliament gate muadliyer D. Panthi Jayasuriya. The church was completed during the time of Rev. Fr. Keegar and was blessed by then Archbishop of Colombo Dr. Anthony Courdert OMI on the 20th of January 1912. In 1926, Rev. Fr. Romauld Fernando was appointed as the parish priest to Kandana Church. He was an educationalist and a social worker. Without any hesitation he can be called as the father of education in Kandana. He was the pioneer to build three schools to Kandana: Kandana St. Sebastian Boys School, Kandana St. Sebastian English Girls School and, the Mazenod College Kandana. Later he was appointed as the principal of the St. Sebastian Boys English School. He bought a property at Kandana close to Ganemulla road and started De Mazenod College. Later, it was given officially to Christian Brothers of Sri Lanka, by then Archbishop of Colombo, Peter Mark. In 1931, there were three hundred students (history of De Lasalle brothers by Rev. Fr. Bro Michael Robert). Today, there are over three thousand five hundred students and is one of the leading catholic schools in Sri Lanka. In 1924, one Karolis Jayasuriya Widanage donated two acres to build De Mazenod College for its extension.

First priest from Kandana to be ordained was Rev. Fr. William Perera in 1904. With the help of Rev. Fr. Marcelline Jayakody, he composed the famous hymn “the Vikshopa Geethaya”, the hymn of our Lady of Sorrow.

The Life story of St. Sebastian was portrayed through a stage play called “Wasappauwa” and the world famous German passion play Obar Amargave wchi was a sensation was initiated by Rev. Fr. Nicholas Perera. Legend reveals that in the year 1845, a South Indian catholic on his way to meet his relatives in Colombo had brought down a wooden statue of St. Sebastian, one and half feet tail to be sold in Sri Lanka. When he reached Kalpitiya he had unexpectedly contracted malaria. He had made a vow at St. Anne’s church. Thalawila expecting a full recovery. In route to Colombo he had come to know about the church in Kandana and dedicated to St. Sebastian. In the absence of the then parish priest Rev. Fr. Joachim Alberto, the Muhuppu of the Church with the help of the others had agreed to buy the statue for 75 pathagas (one pahtaga was 75 cent). Even though the seller had left the money in the hands of the “Muhuppu” to be collected in the meantime he never returned.

On the 19th of January 2006, Archbishop Oswald Gomis declared St. Sebastian Church as “St. Sebastian Shrine” by way of special notification and handed over the declaration to Rev. Fr. Susith Perera, the parish priest of Kandana.

On the 12th of January 2014, Catholics in Sri Lanka celebrated the reception of a reliquary containing a fragment of the arm of St. Sebastian. The reliquary was gifted from the administrator of the Basilica of St. Anthony of Padua and was brought to Sri Lanka by Monsignor Neville Perera. His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjit, Archbishop of Colombo accompanied by priests and a large gathering received the relic at the Katunayake International Airport, brought to Kandana lead by a procession and was enthroned at the St. Sebastian Shrine.

Rev. Fr. Lalith Expeditus the present administrator of the shrine and other two assistant priests Rev. Fr. Sunath Udara and Fr. Sumeda Perea have finalized all arrangements to conduct the feast of St. Sebastian in grand scale. The vespers service will be officiated by his Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjit and the festival high mass will be solemnized by most Rev. his Lordship J.D. Anthony, Auxiliary Bishop of Colombo.

The latest book written by Senior Lawyer Godfrey Cooray named “Santha Sebastian Puranaya Saha Kandana”. (The history of St. Sebastian and Kandana) was launched at De La Salle Auditorium De Mazenod College, Kandana.

The Archbishop of Colombo His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith and former Chief Justice Priyasath Dep were the guests at the event.

The book discusses about the buried history of Muthurajawela and Aluth Kuru Korale civilization, the history of Kandana and St. Sebastian. The author discusses the historical and archaeological values and culture.

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His musical exploits has touched millions of fans

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Tribute to entertainer-singer par excellence – Desmond de Silva

By Trevine Rodrigo

(Melbourne, Australia)

The great Desmond De Silva, who departed from this world, on Sunday, January 9th, had been in hibernation for several months, due to the devastating outbreak of Covid, which shut down many parts of Australia.

After border closures were lifted, he embarked on a 31st night dinner dance, at the Sri Lounge in the Docklands, in Melbourne, where he delivered his last fully energised performance.

Widely regarded as Sri Lanka’s best singer/entertainer by far, over five decades, Desmond has covered every spectrum of music, in Sri Lanka, and later, in England and Australia, while wowing millions of adoring fans around the globe.

His achievements in music cannot be encompassed in a few paragraphs but his fans will readily testify to the indelible mark he has made as a wonderful performer. He was to Sri Lankans what Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra was to the world, showcasing a rare and extraordinary talent that even extended to Motown.

He has travelled through numerous countries as a band member, mainly Europe and Asia, and has teamed up with hundreds of musicians along the way who have marvelled at his unique presence on stage.

After years of globe-trotting as a performer, with the Jetliners and later the Spitfires, he then continued his work as a leader of his own band, Desmond and the Clan, and this setup was very popular in Europe and Scandinavia.

After years of adventure, on the road, he then settled on a solo career, singing as a guest singer and his popularity soared when he ventured into the Sinhala music scene, as well.

Before long, he commanded the respect of the nation by being proclaimed the King of Baila which skyrocketed his fame in an era that gave fame but no massive financial gain, as he rose to an iconic status.

Ironically, Desmond always harboured his love for Western music and quite naturally chose not to be categorised, or pigeonholed, as one dimensional. He has produced many CDs, videos and commands thousands of followers on YouTube, and other related music channels.

His impressive versatility and ability to own the stage made him a standout among music lovers, immaterial of their ethnicity, and, sadly, he is another of the Sri Lankan icons who have departed this world, alongside Sunil Perera (of the Gypsies) and Ronnie Leitch, in recent times.

His musical exploits has touched millions of fans through several generations and will continue to do so, such is the impact he has cemented as a once-in-a-lifetime performer. He has nurtured several musicians, along the way, giving them pointers which have helped them launch their own careers in music to great heights. He maintained a high degree of professionalism and would not compromise his standards for anything less.

Never the arrogant performer, Des had an uncanny ability to interact with his fans, on and off stage, and this trait would see him draw invitations from all over the world.

I for one was amazed at his stamina and durability…to be in England one day, then on to Toronto and other cities in Canada, on to Sri Lanka, and several other countries, until, unfortunately, the pandemic curtailed his foreign assignments.

In our own interaction with him, my wife, Anne, and I, shared a special love for the man who slipped into our lifestyle, seamlessly, with wife, Phyllis.

He was a caring and wonderful friend and would call us at least once a week, from Sydney, to check how we were going or to share a joke. Our lives will never be the same without Desmond De Silva, a gentleman and wonderful friend.

Yes, the brilliant musician and singer/ entertainer Desmond De Silva was tragically snatched away from our midst in cruel circumstances when he suffered cardiac arrest, in his sleep, while in Melbourne. He was 77.

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