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The great man who turned the Kalutara bodhiya into a sacred place

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In commemoration of Sir Cyril de Zoysa on his 124th birthday

“My father was a Notary. He travelled almost daily from his home in Velitota to his office in Ambalangoda in a bullock cart that he hired for the purpose. My father never complained about having to hire his transport. But this was causing me grave concern. By this time, I had received my secondary education at Royal College, Colombo, and was conducting a series of extra classes for the children of affluent parents, in the vicinity. At this time such extra classes were not readily available. Drawing on my knowledge, my students had their own knowledge enhanced. It was in order to earn the money to buy my father a bullock and a brand new cart that I started on this programme of work. In a matter of about seven or eight months, I was able to find the money for this purpose.

At that time, I had to spend only three hundred rupees to buy a bullock and a brand new cart to facilitate my father’s travel. My father, who had so far travelled to his office in carts belonging to other people, was amazed at my gesture and with tears of joy in his eyes bestowed his blessings upon me. This in turn gave me a sense of joy that I had never before experienced. Today I think that in later life, all I touched turned to gold, because of the blessings I so received from my father…”

This was a declaration made in the year 1964. This was something addressed to me by none other than Sir Cyril de Zoysa himself, who at that time had earned accolades as a successful businessman and a Sinhala Buddhist leader of the land. I was then a very young monk whom Sir Cyril had very especially begun to associate and it was for my edification that he said this. He was at the time a chief dayakaya of the Kande Viharaya, in Alutgama where I had entered the folds of Buddhist monkhood when I was very small. It was in appreciation of the industriousness I displayed, even at that time, in carrying out any work entrusted to me and my pleasant manner too that he paid special attention to me. This is why he found me indispensable during the conduct of religious activities in the Vihara as well as when he wished to have Seth Kavi and Seth Pirith (recitation of blessings upon him) chanted. It was his pleasure to send his driver to fetch me from the Kande Viharaya or from my abode at Avondale Road in Maradana where I latterly took up residence. In response all religious activities were performed by me in the prescribed manner.

I clearly observed how everything Sir Cyril did, whether it be in the social or the religious sphere, was done in the prescribed, methodical and formal manner and I noticed that he was greatly pleased that I emulated him. For this very reason my great, god-like preceptor the Venerable Potuvila Sri Saranatissa Nayaka Thera, Chief Incumbent of the Alutgama Kande Viharaya fully approved of my being engaged in the religious activities of Sir Cyril. Whenever Sir Cyril felt the need for my services, he was in the habit of summoning his driver and saying, ‘Go Piyadasa, Go fetch Podi Hamuduruwo, (the Junior Monk)’, thus sending the car for me. He was fully confident that the Podi Hamuduruwo would fulfill his religious needs in the proper manner.

As such, I succeeded in performing Buddha Pooja, chanting Seth Kavi and attending to other minor religious needs, to his utmost satisfaction. As there was such a fund of trust between the two of us he even related to me, from time to time, the main and earliest events that affected his life, just as though I were among his nearest and dearest.

He related to me the story of the efforts he made in his adolescent days to find the means to buy the gift of a bullock and a brand new cart for his father. He wished to have this act stand out as an example to others as an act of gratitude and the discharge of a duty by a youth towards his parents. In this day and age when one often hears of how some children do not care for their fathers who provided them with an education from their young days and set them up in the higher echelons of society, Sir Cyril’s conduct stands out in contrast as the most valuable offering of his lifetime. Thus, by the power of the blessings of his father, as it were, he while ascending a flight of social steps to the top in society as a businessman, was also going up the political ladder first as the Chairman of an Urban Council and later as the President of the Senate.

He often repeated that the main reason for his progress, and his systematic life style which led to such progress, were the example his father set and the blessings he extended to him as his son; and this too he said was by way of setting an example to others.

Even some Heads of State respected Sir Cyril’s thoughts and many were the instances when they obtained his counsel and even assistance from him.

He was motivated into sharing with me interesting information about his social life and about certain personal triumphs he achieved. This was when his mind was free from the stress of business concerns and from such other pressures. What I realized later on was that he was personally enjoying relaxation by talking about such matters with a person whom he knew was most devoted to him. Although I was at that time a young novice I now feel that the extent of the knowledge I had of the Buddha Dhamma, even at that young age, together with my ability to chant stanzas and devotional songs impressed him so much that our relationship was one such as between a grandson and a grandfather where the elder of the two relieved his mind of both joys and sorrows and achieved some mental peace. Today when I reminisce about what he discussed with me, it seems to me that talking to a little monk like me suited him better than conducting discussions with a Maha Thera well versed in the Dhamma, highly disciplined by Vinaya rules and highly purified in mind.

When a man of his stature, who was sometimes worn out by continuously spending about 20 out of the 24 hours, clearing a mountain of work on behalf of society, was afflicted with even a minor ailment I blessed him and offered Buddha Pooja, and recited Seth Kavi with or without his knowledge. I later learnt that in my absence he was in the habit of telling his friends and well-wishers that all what Podi Hamuduruvo (the little monk) does conduce towards both my physical and my mental health. In order to bring about some relief in the case of minor ailments, I chanted Seth Kavi before the statue of God Vishnu at the Kande Vihara, conducted Bodhi Pooja before the Bo Tree at Bellanwila and performed various rituals at the Jayasekhara-aramaya at Kuppiyawatta. It was observed that these did have some good effects on his health.

He was so pleased with his association with me that occasionally he made me accompany him to participate in certain social events or travel long distances with him to faraway shrines. This he did as though he was accompanied by a child of a relative. During such travels I was able to understand and appreciate his personal qualities as well as the examples he set before society. On some days when he went to the Galle Face Green to take his exercises, he carried a small chair in the car, set it upon the green, made me sit upon it and then ventured out with the others on long walks by way of physical exercise.

Although in appearance he looked like the proverbial “great, black, Sinhalese” he was a majestic personality with a heart of gold. Only one who personally associated him closely would realise this. I am one of those who had the opportunity to savour of such sterling qualities owing to my long and close association with him.

He was one who was able to set up by dint of hard work, efficiency, honesty and commitment a vast business empire within which he generated employment for thousands of people. As if in response, day by day he was blessed with success in generating vast wealth. He was a living example to his employees, who in turn were required to serve, like he himself did, with efficiency and honesty. By his own example he illustrated that it was a duty of the owner of a business enterprise to teach his employees, more by example than by precept, as to how they should serve the workplace from where they draw their bread and butter. His friends as well as his foes in both the political and the business arenas equally well acknowledged this, also drawing upon him as an example.

In recognition of his services to country, nation and society, the British Government conferred a knighthood upon him. Although our own society too heaped upon him various types of honours, his view was that all these are empty gestures; that no honours are indicated where one serves the people genuinely, in accordance with one’s own conscience.

Sir Cyril expanded the services of the Young Men’s Buddhist Association (YMBA) founded by Sir DB Jayatilaka, of which the office is located in Borella. As the new Chairman of the YMBA he made it a place held in the highest esteem by all of Sri Lanka. He built its auditorium and gifted it to the Association in memory of both his mother and his father. Even today the building remains an income-generating asset to the Association. The services it provides to the people can barely be stated adequately in words

Although he was involved in the proverbial ‘thousand and one’ activities, yet on his visits to the South never did he fail to step out by the monuments set up at the spot where the ashes of his parents are interred, spare a moment in reflection with palms folded and pay homage to their memory.

 

It is well known that the great Bodhiya in Kalutara turned into a place held sacred by people in all of Sri Lanka, because of the services rendered by Sir Cyril. In the beginning of the era when the premises of the Kalutara Bodhiya belonged to the Residency, Buddhists who wended their way in for worship were chased away by the white Government Agent of the time. He even tried to build a tall structure to ward them off the premises. Our ‘Big Black Sinhalaya’ rose against this White Government Agent.

Sir Cyril commenced a transport business by releasing a single bus named “Swarnapali” on to the roads and soon turned this into a large Bus Company. He adopted the simple strategy of having the conductor collect coins from the passengers who willingly subscribed to have them cast into the tills placed to make collections to support the Kalutara Bodhi. This strategy was crowned with success. Soon after he enlarged the Transport Service and inaugurated the ‘South Western Bus Company’. Along with this he began the production of spareparts for motor vehicles, retreading tyres and other such. As a result, thousands of people in our land found employment which ensured them a daily livelihood.

Later on, in 1956, when the Bandaranaike Government came into power and nationalized transport services, some bus owners who were all opposed to this action, resorted to various insidious means to sabotage the nationalization programme. But Sir Cyril evaluated this decision positively. He provided a ‘spare parts kit’ for each of his 200 or so buses, topped up each bus with diesel and handed over his fleet to the Government. Even Prime Minister Bandaranaike was astounded by this action.

One of his qualities was to ensure that supplementary allocations would be available to keep sustained, without intervening breakdowns, any programme of work he initiated, be it in the social sphere or in relation to the Sasana.

When Sir Cyril invited the Engineering maestro Dr. ANS Kulasinghe to build a Chaitya in the Bodhi premises, the latter was pleased beyond measure and resolved to construct one the likes of which has never before been seen in Sri Lanka. It was built upon the very spot on which the Residency of the white Government Agent was constructed during the British period. When a request was made to transfer that part of the premises to the Kalutara Bodhi Trust, the Government Agent of the time did not comply.

When Mr. Leel Gunasekera, the litterateur, was the Government Agent, Sir Cyril made this request of him, and it was soon granted. Sir Cyril treated this as a case of the fruition of his past Karma (actions). Mr. Leel Gunasekera too, had occasion to tell us, on a later occasion, that through this decision he too performed an act of great merit.

Mr. Kulasinghe, the Engineer, built upon the very spot on which the Residency of the Government Agent had been constructed, a Chaitya, as stated before, “the likes of which has never before been seen in Sri Lanka”. Pilgrims could walk right into the middle of the Chaitya and engage in worship. Sir Cyril too was extremely pleased that he was at the helm of the programme of building such a wonderful Chaitya.

He was in the habit of telling me often, “Podi Hamuduruwane, I want to live until the work of this Chaitya is complete.”

One day, during this time, Sir Cyril took me to his huge factories which comprised a vast network of production points, which by that time had become foreign exchange generating units as well. It was only later on that I realized that he did so to prove a point to me.

“Podi Hamuduruwane”, he started. “There was a time when the Government Agent, Kalutara, a white man, placed obstacles in the way of Buddhists who came to worship the Bodhiya and prevented them from entering the premises. I stood up against him. Now you see, there are white men who know their jobs working under me in my factories.

Engineer, Dr. Kulasinghe, used the very spot upon which stood the Residency occupied by the Government Agent, to build a massive Chaitya of a very special type. This is but a travesty of destiny. In turn Dr. Kulasinghe believed that his plan for the Chaitya is but a tribute to his own creativity.

In his last days what Sir Cyril declared to a newspaper journalist whom he met was that he has performed a vast volume of work and services and the following is what he thinks:

“I am now a free man. However much wealth a person has it is of no use. They are all empty stuff. I was born without any wealth. I shall die too without any wealth. My joy, my relief, my strength are the Buddha Dhamma. As long as I live I shall receive the protection of the gods.”

One morning, in the evening of his life, he took me to his home in the Apartment Complex at Park Street, Colombo. I felt that he was in an unusual mood. As he reached home, he summoned his servant and said, “Today we have to provide the forenoon meal to this monk. So please add an extra cup of rice to the pot.” Then he had a small chair placed in the patch of garden within the quadrangular area in the middle of the house and made me sit there. He sat upon the step. “Podi Hamuduruwane” he continued. “Now, please would you chant the Karaneeya Metta Sutra and the Ratana Sutra. Thereafter please explain to me the meaning of each of them”. While I was chanting, it is with his hands folded together and placed on his forehead that he gave ear. I still remember how Mr. VT de Zoysa, his younger brother together with his nephew, Shelley Wickremasinghe too, gave ear to the chant and to my subsequent explanation of their meanings.

One day, I arrived at his home in Park Street when, as was his practice, he sent his car and driver to fetch me. He welcomed me and ushered me into the house. I then saw two youngsters leave the house. “Do you know the two who just left the house?” he queried. “They are my younger brother’s sons: Ajita de Zoysa and Tilak de Zoysa. He thus introduced them to me by name.

After the demise of Sir Cyril de Zoysa, I learnt and I saw these two youngsters playing a leadership role at various religious and other ceremonies.

Today Deshamanya Ajita de Zoysa serves as the Chairman of the Kalutara Bodhi Trust and Deshabandu Tilak de Zoysa as its Secretary. This is as if in very special honour of Sir Cyril, their esteemed paternal Uncle and man of the era, who in his own time served the interests of the nation and religion – the Sasana.

It was only the other day that Deshamanya Ajita de Zoysa who holds the Chair of the Amarapura Nikaya-arakshaka Sabha donated Rupees Sixty-Five Million and built a headquarters for the Amarapura Sanga Sabha in Wellawatte. This offering to the Sasana too may be cited as another instance of following upon the footsteps of an exemplary Uncle.

With the passage of time, Sir Cyril fell seriously ill and was lying at the MaCarthy Private Hospital when I visited him on many a day, morning and evening, to chant seth pirith wishing him recovery and prime health. This I did out of a sense of duty, as well, towards him. A few days later, on 2nd January 1978, he breathed his last.

This great national leader who made a name for himself even beyond the shores of Sri Lanka as the legendary Anepidu-sitana in Buddhist history passed away after repaying the debt he owed to the nation by being born into it and conversely making the nation indebted, as it were, to him. Soon it will be the 42nd Anniversary of his demise and the 124th of his birth.

For many, Nirvana is far far away. But for Sir Cyril, owing to his many acts of merit and charity, it is but a mere arm’s length away. It is our prime duty to wish him the peace of Nirvana very soon in the round of births and deaths.

 

Venerable Pandita Arama Sri Dhammatilaka Nayaka Thera M.A.

Justice of the Peace Reg. No.99/08/WP AI 10/078

Sanghanayaka of the District of Colombo,

Chairman/ Western Region- Kolonnawa Sasana-arakshaka Mandalaya

Paaramita Sri Maha Bodhimalu Vihara, Gothatuwa

011 253 4005, 011 268 5054



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Strong on vocals

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Dichotomy of an urban-suburban New Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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New Year games: Integral part of New Year Celebrations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is the verse sung while playing the game:

“Olinda thibenne koi koi dese,

Olinda thibenne bangali dese…

Genath hadanne koi koi dese,

Genath hadanne Sinhala dese…”

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