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Road via Sinharaja and continuing squabble



Silver lining to the UNP cloud

Congratulations and celebration! “Karu ready to lead UNP” says headline of ‘The Island’ of Tuesday 25 August. “In a statement issued to media, Jayasuriya said that he had decided to inform the incumbent UNP leadership and seniors of his willingness to consider a large number of requests from various parties for him to accept the UNP leadership for the sake of the Party and the country.” Bravely he added: “I am ready to render all my services and take up the responsibilities of the Party for the benefit of the Motherland.” True, the country needs a powerful Opposition in Parliament and the oldest party cannot be allowed to die through pettiness and power hunger and factions.

Cass has been reprimanded by her greatest critic not to get personal in her Friday ramblings. Cass has to write true to her nature and her nature is ruled by gut feelings and appearance of her subject of attention. In the picture of Karu J that accompanied his declaration of readiness, we see a fine sincere face marked with lines of experience, no sardonicism or traces of political vanity. Remember Plato in his Republic approved and advocated as Head of a good Republic a statesman of many years experience, preferably over 70 years of age. (Not exactly a translation of Plato but the gist is what Cass quotes). Karu J qualifies according to the first Democrat of the Western World. Cass takes pride in that she verbally and in print strongly advocated Jayasuriya emerging from well earned retirement to help the UNP in its terrible death throes.


Scandal of road through Sinharaja Reserve

In the same daily on page 3 was this news item titled: Sinharaja Road Project: Yoshitha threatens legal action.” Cass asks – what pray is the legal action about? Is it to say, “He (Yoshitha) does not own a hotel in the Sinharaja Forest Reserve contrary to a claim made by the environmentalist to that effect? I strongly deny false accusations …” Is it Yoshita Rajapaksa’s pound of flesh that the all powerful lawyers, some fawning, who he will employ to get “a retraction of the statement, an apology and Rs 500 million damages” from the protesting environmentalist.

Who is the poor, helpless environmentalist thus cornered in the new political firmament? Environmental enthusiast Sanjeewa Chamikara. The news item proceeds to say, “Concerns were raised by various environmentalists after the project was recommenced with the Army constructing a road through the Sinharaja Forest Reserve which is a World Heritage Site. The Centre of Environmental and Nature Studies of Sri Lanka has also filed a complaint with UNESCO on the illegal road construction. The President instructed that authorities temporarily suspend road development in that area. We fervently hope Sanjeewa won’t suffer any harmful consequence for raising an alarm and the President will issue a just ruling. This is matter for environmentalists and the President to enquire into and give just ruling and UNESCO to be interested in.

To us ordinary citizens of this country it is unthinkable that a road goes through Sinharaja Forest, one of the world’s few existing virgin forests, and a hotel built within or in close proximity. Cass very nearly wrote ‘existing and verdantly thriving virgin forest’. That is nonsense as vile folk have even timber-logged from this Heritage Site. On reading the news item referred to, Cass’ mind’s eye camera-ed the now raging forest fires in California. Didn’t you see the smoke that preceded the fire? Yes, the connection to the adage ‘no smoke without a fire’. It is unfortunate that California’s forests are being destroyed, but those are not uniquely virgin like our Sinharaja Forest. Cass’ sympathies are wholly with Sanjeewa Chamikara. He is an endangered sprat against the mighty political sharks that rule with all powerful father, doting mother, brothers, top lawyers and even some high ups on Yoshitha’s side. Sanjeewa is a gnat rubbing against a high stone wall.


Losing respect for the Buddhist Sangha

That is the opinion of many Buddhists, added to by saying they are ashamed, judging by one disgraceful fracas: the ongoing actions of the three principal monks of the Ape Jana Bala Pakshaya (AJBP), who still have not decided on the member to be sent to Parliament as Party representative. The decision is fraught with infighting, accusations of kidnapping and counter accusations of cowardly hiding with the purpose of high-jacking the MP position.

This shameful infighting highlights the travesty by three monks of the vinaya rules set down by the Buddha and followed diligently by so many monks in our land. There are excellent Bhikkhus in Sri Lanka and it is believed arahants are among them, mostly forest meditators, and even among those living right lives in temples.

This squabble brought back, cynically and sardonically it must be admitted, stories of the Scarlett Pimpernel created by author Baroness Orczy which Cass devoured as a kiddie bookworm. Why on earth compare men in saffron robes, supposedly Buddhist monks, to either French aristocracy marked to be guillotined by the peasant criers for liberty, egalite, fraternite or to the suave English saviour of men from the clutches of death – the Scarlet Pimpernel – nom de guerre for aristocratic English Lord Blakeny, with French wife. The comparison – monks are here, book characters were there in France and England – seems far-fetched. But there was/is intrigue in both and borrowed identities – the Scarlet Pimpernel in the books and warring, self centred, power seeking men in saffron robes. Scarlet P cleverly kidnapped and took to safety French aristocrats with their necks almost under the descending knife. The whiskered ‘Thera’ apparently self-kidnapped himself and the calm Ratana did not turn up at an inquiry to the disappearance at the Colombo DIG’s office. Vedinigama Wimalaratne Thera intrigues (you can substitute the verb disgusts) as he has such a hirsute face. If by chance he has an allergy to the shaving razor and cream, he should get into civvies. Not only does he go against vinaya rules and sticks out like a very sore thumb, he appears proud of his overgrown face hair.

The blood thirsty French peasants guillotined the aristocrats for sake of country; here these three monks say they are being national-minded and protectors of Buddhism and the Sinhala race. Tosh! Go back to your temples and live recluse lives, is what the public says.

So within the coming week we have three outcomes to watch for. Never a dull moment in this land like no other!

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Strong on vocals



The group Mirage is very much alive, and kicking, as one would say!

Their lineup did undergo a few changes and now they have decided to present themselves as an all male group – operating without a female vocalist.

At the helm is Donald Pieries (drums and vocals), Trevin Joseph (percussion and vocals), Dilipa Deshan (bass and vocals), Toosha Rajarathna (keyboards and vocals), and Sudam Nanayakkara (lead guitar and vocals).

The plus factor, where the new lineup is concerned, is that all five members sing.

However, leader Donald did mention that if it’s a function, where a female vocalist is required, they would then feature a guest performer.

Mirage is a very experience outfit and they now do the Friday night scene at the Irish Pub, in Colombo, as well as private gigs.



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Dichotomy of an urban-suburban New Year



Ushered in by the ‘coo-ee’ of the Koel and the swaying of Erabadu bunches, the Sinhala and Tamil New Year will dawn in the wee hours of April 14. With houses to clean, preparation of sweetmeats and last-minute shopping, times are hectic…. and the streets congested.

It is believed that New Year traditions predated the advent of Buddhism in the 3rd century BC. But Buddhism resulted in a re-interpretation of the existing New Year activities in a Buddhist light. Hinduism has co-existed with Buddhism over millennia and no serious contradiction in New Year rituals are observed among Buddhists and Hindus.

The local New Year is a complex mix of Indigenous, Astrological, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions. Hindu literature provides the New Year with its mythological backdrop. The Prince of Peace called Indradeva is said to descend upon the earth to ensure peace and happiness, in a white carriage wearing on his head a white floral crown seven cubits high. He first plunges, into a sea of milk, breaking earth’s gravity.

The timing of the Sinhala New Year coincides with the New Year celebrations of many traditional calendars of South and Southeast Asia. Astrologically, the New Year begins when the sun moves from the House of Pisces (Meena Rashiya) to the House of Aries (Mesha Rashiya) in the celestial sphere.

The New Year marks the end of the harvest season and spring. Consequently, for farming communities, the traditional New Year doubles as a harvest as well. It also coincides with one of two instances when the sun is directly above Sri Lanka. The month of Bak, which coincides with April, according to the Gregorian calendar, represents prosperity. Astrologers decide the modern day rituals based on auspicious times, which coincides with the transit of the Sun between ‘House of Pisces’ and ‘House of Aries’.

Consequently, the ending of the old year, and the beginning of the new year occur several hours apart, during the time of transit. This period is considered Nonegathe, which roughly translates to ‘neutral period’ or a period in which there are no auspicious times. During the Nonegathe, traditionally, people are encouraged to engage themselves in meritorious and religious activities, refraining from material pursuits. This year the Nonegathe begin at 8.09 pm on Tuesday, April 13, and continues till 8.57 am on 14. New Year dawns at the halfway point of the transit, ushered in bythe sound of fire crackers, to the woe of many a dog and cat of the neighbourhood. Cracker related accidents are a common occurrence during new year celebrations. Environmental and safety concerns aside, lighting crackers remain an integral part of the celebrations throughout Sri Lanka.

This year the Sinhala and Tamil New Year dawns on Wednesday, April 14, at 2.33 am. But ‘spring cleaning’ starts days before the dawn of the new year. Before the new year the floor of houses are washed clean, polished, walls are lime-washed or painted, drapes are washed, dried and rehang. The well of the house is drained either manually or using an electric water pump and would not be used until such time the water is drawn for first transaction. Sweetmeats are prepared, often at homes, although commercialization of the new year has encouraged most urbanites to buy such food items. Shopping is a big part of the new year. Crowds throng to clothing retailers by the thousands. Relatives, specially the kids, are bought clothes as presents.

Bathing for the old year takes place before the dawn of the new year. This year this particular auspicious time falls on April 12, to bathe in the essence of wood apple leaves. Abiding by the relevant auspicious times the hearth and an oil lamp are lit and pot of milk is set to boil upon the hearth. Milk rice, the first meal of the year, is prepared separate. Entering into the first business transaction and partaking of the first meal are also observed according to the given auspicious times. This year, the auspicious time for preparing of meals, milk rice and sweets using mung beans, falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 6.17 am, and is to be carried out dressed in light green, while facing east. Commencement of work, transactions and consumption of the first meal falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 7.41 am, to be observed while wearing light green and facing east.

The first transaction was traditionally done with the well. The woman of the house would draw water from the well and in exchange drop a few pieces of charcoal, flowers, coins, salt and dried chillies into the well, in certain regions a handful of paddy or rice is also thrown in for good measure. But this ritual is also dying out as few urban homes have wells within their premises. This is not a mere ritual and was traditionally carried out with the purification properties of charcoal in mind. The first water is preferably collected into an airtight container, and kept till the dawn of the next new year. It is believed that if the water in the container does not go down it would be a prosperous year. The rituals vary slightly based on the region. However, the essence of the celebrations remains the same.

Anointing of oil is another major ritual of the New Year celebrations. It falls on Saturday, April 17 at 7.16 am, and is done wearing blue, facing south, with nuga leaves placed on the head and Karada leaves at the feet. Oil is to be applied mixed with extracts of Nuga leaves. The auspicious time for setting out for professional occupations falls on Monday, April 19 at 6.39 am, while dressed in white, by consuming a meal of milk rice mixed with ghee, while facing South.

Traditionally, women played Raban during this time, but such practices are slowly being weaned out by urbanization and commercialisation of the New Year. Neighbours are visited with platters of sweetmeats, bananas, Kevum (oil cake) and Kokis (a crispy sweetmeat) usually delivered by children. The dichotomy of the urban and village life is obvious here too, where in the suburbs and the village outdoor celebrations are preferred and the city opts for more private parties.



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New Year games: Integral part of New Year Celebrations



Food, games and rituals make a better part of New Year celebrations. One major perk of Avurudu is the festivals that are organised in each neighbourhood in its celebration. Observing all the rituals, like boiling milk, partaking of the first meal, anointing of oil, setting off to work, are, no doubt exciting, but much looked-forward-to is the local Avurudu Uthsawaya.

Avurudu Krida or New Year games are categorised as indoor and outdoor games. All indoor games are played on the floor and outdoor games played during the Avurudu Uthsava or New Year festival, with the whole neighbourhood taking part. Some of the indoor games are Pancha Dameema, Olinda Keliya and Cadju Dameema. Outdoor games include Kotta pora, Onchili pedeema, Raban geseema, Kana mutti bindeema, Placing the eye on the elephant, Coconut grating competition, Bun-eating competition, Lime-on-spoon race, Kamba adeema (Tug-o-War) and Lissana gaha nageema (climbing the greased pole). And what’s an Avurudhu Uthsava sans an Avurudu Kumari pageant, minus the usual drama that high profile beauty pageants of the day entail, of course.

A salient point of New Year games is that there are no age categories. Although there are games reserved for children such as blowing of balloons, races and soft drinks drinking contests, most other games are not age based.

Kotta pora aka pillow fights are not the kind the average teenagers fight out with their siblings, on plush beds. This is a serious game, wherein players have to balance themselves on a horizontal log in a seated position. With one hand tied behind their back and wielding the pillow with the other, players have to knock the opponent off balance. Whoever knocks the opponent off the log first, wins. The game is usually played over a muddy pit, so the loser goes home with a mud bath.

Climbing the greased pole is fun to watch, but cannot be fun to take part in. A flag is tied to the end of a timber pole-fixed to the ground and greased along the whole length. The objective of the players is to climb the pole, referred to as the ‘tree’, and bring down the flag. Retrieving the flag is never achieved on the first climb. It takes multiple climbers removing some of the grease at a time, so someone could finally retrieve the flag.

Who knew that scraping coconut could be made into an interesting game? During the Avurudu coconut scraping competition, women sit on coconut scraper stools and try to scrape a coconut as fast as possible. The one who finishes first wins. These maybe Avurudu games, but they are taken quite seriously. The grated coconut is inspected for clumps and those with ungrated clumps are disqualified.

Coconut palm weaving is another interesting contest that is exclusive to women. However men are by no means discouraged from entering such contests and, in fact, few men do. Participants are given equally measured coconut fronds and the one who finishes first wins.

Kana Mutti Bindima involves breaking one of many water filled clay pots hung overhead, using a long wooden beam. Placing the eye on the elephant is another game played while blindfolded. An elephant is drawn on a black or white board and the blindfolded person has to spot the eye of the elephant. Another competition involves feeding the partner yoghurt or curd while blindfolded.

The Banis-eating contest involves eating tea buns tied to a string. Contestants run to the buns with their hands tied behind their backs and have to eat buns hanging from a string, on their knees. The one who finishes his or her bun first, wins. Kamba adeema or Tug-o-War pits two teams against each other in a test of strength. Teams pull on opposite ends of a rope, with the goal being to bring the rope a certain distance in one direction against the force of the opposing team’s pull.

Participants of the lime-on-spoon race have to run a certain distance while balancing a lime on a spoon, with the handle in their mouths. The first person to cross the finish line without dropping the lime wins. The sack race and the three-legged race are equally fun to watch and to take part in. In the sack race, participants get into jute sacks and hop for the finish line. The first one over, wins. In the three-legged race one leg of each pair of participants are tied together and the duo must reach the finish line by synchronising their running, else they would trip over their own feet.

Pancha Dameema is an indoor game played in two groups, using five small shells, a coconut shell and a game board. Olinda is another indoor board game, normally played by two players. The board has nine holes, four beads each. The player who collects the most number of seeds win.

This is the verse sung while playing the game:

“Olinda thibenne koi koi dese,

Olinda thibenne bangali dese…

Genath hadanne koi koi dese,

Genath hadanne Sinhala dese…”

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