SIGIRIYA – THE CITADEL IN THE SKY
From patricide to a palace. From intrigue to ignominy. From paintings to poems. From pleasure gardens to a playboy king. Sigiriya has it all. Archaeology, history, controversy and folklore are entwined and enmeshed in the unfolding of the story of Sigiriya. Sigiriya or ‘Sinhagiri‘ – ‘Lion Rock’ derives its name from the huge rock carved lion located on a small plateau on the Northern side of the rock. Over the decades the top part of this lion has fallen apart and today only the two mammoth front paws are visible forming an entrance between them. The rock itself is the remains of hardened lava which would have pushed through the ground surface causing a volcanic eruption. According to geologists this could have happened over two billion years ago. Around Sigiriya there still can be seen numerous granite boulders which are also remains of the lava that formed Sigiriya. With the recent passing away of Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh it may interest readers to know that one of the most famous lava created rocks is in Edinburgh , capital of Scotland. On top of this rock lies the magnificent Edinburgh Castle, built in 1103 In 1831 a British Army Major, Jonathan Forbes while riding on horseback through the country stumbled on Sigiriya which was amongst the jungles and scrub land of the Matale District. And for the first time the Western world, in particular Britain, under whom Ceylon (as it was then known ) was a colony, came to know about Sigiriya. In the 1890’s the first extensive archeological excavation on Sigiriya was done by the Archeological Commissioner, H.C.P. Bell who was appointed by the British Governor, Sir Arthur Gordon. Later on in 1982, full scale archeological excavations to restore Sigiriya began through the Sri Lankan Government funded Cultural Triangle Programme. It was in that year that Sigiriya was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site lists. Also inscribed were The Ancient City of Polonnaruwa and the Sacred City of Anuradhapura. These three sites were the first in Sri Lanka to gain this distinction. However within the pages our own ancient chronical the ‘Culavamsa’, the story of Sigiriya can be traced. Actually the story of Sigiriya commences with the reign of King Dhatusena. Having defeated the Pandyan invaders he was crowned King of Sri Lanka in 549 CE and ruled from Anuradhapura. Despite his fame for developing agriculture and thereby meeting the needs of the people by constructing 18 irrigation tanks, he also performed his kingly duties as a devout Buddhist by erecting the now famous 43 ft tall Avukana statue of Lord Buddha.
Yet, King Dhatusena had a streak of cruelty. Migara the chief of the King’s army was married to King Dhatusena’s favourite daughter. While his mother was King Dhatusena’s sister. In all probability it was due to this family connection that Migara was made the Chief of the Army ( Senapathi ). However for reasons unknown, Migara was extremely cruel to his wife. Being unable to apprehend Migara, King Dhatusena vented his fury on Migara’s mother, his own sister, and ordered her to be burned alive.
From that point onwards, the story of Sigiriya unfolds like a Shakespearian tragedy. Migara’s heart and mind burned within him to take revenge on King Dhatusena. Avenging his mother’s cruel death became a maniacal obsession. And so he planned and plotted and found a ready, willing and able person whom he could inspire and instigate to fulfill this overriding obsession. This person was none other than King Dhatusena’s eldest son, Kasyapa. However Kasyapa though being the eldest son had no right to the throne since his mother was a Non- Royal concubine. Kasyapa knew it. He resented it.
Thus was planned between Migara the Chief of the Army and Kasyapa the King’s son a Royal coup. Fast Forward to 1962- A ‘Royal’ coup also involving a high ranking Army Officer. That was a failed coup. But that as they say is another story! Let’s move on. Migara who had won the fullest confidence of Kasyapa and knew very well how to exploit it arrested King Dhatusena and de-throned him. He then had Kasyapa enthroned as King. This was in 473 CE. The first step in this coup had been completed.
Now for the second. He convinced King Kasyapa that Dhatusena had large amounts of treasure, specially gold hidden in some secret place. Dhatusena was then confronted by the new king Kasyapa, who demanded to know where the hidden treasure was. Dhatusena took his captors to the borders of the Kalawewa which was one of the largest irrigation tanks he had built and taking some water from the tank in his hands, exclaimed that this was the only treasure he had. Infuriated and exasperated King Kasyapa ordered Migara to entomb his father alive into a wall.
According to an alternate story Dhatusena was buried alive on the bund of the Kalawewa. Whichever way the murder took place, Migara had avenged his mother’s murder. Meanwhile Moggallana, the rightful heir to the throne fled to India as he feared that he too would be killed. But the dastardly act of King Kasyapa incurred the ignominy of the people and the venerable monks. Patricide was something that could never have been condoned. It was against the teaching of Lord Buddha. King Kasyapa was a troubled man. The people were against him. The venerable monks were against him. His step-brother brother Mogallana was against him and was collecting an army of invasion. And to add to his misery he was constantly and contemptuously referred to as ” Pithru Ghatathaka Kasyapa.” ( Kasyapa –the paricide ) Abandoning Anuradhapura as his capital he moved to Sigiriya which was once a Buddhist monastery.. Here he built his fortress and his palace which has been called the eighth Wonder of the World. King Kasyapa felt well secured. He had left behind his fears and apprehensions. He now wanted to live in luxury. He lavished his wealth to make into reality his vision of creating a city similar to the mythological ‘Alakamanda’ –the ‘City of the Gods’ which was ruled by Kuvera, the god of plenty and prosperity.
Rising 200 meters from ground level the summit provides a 360 degree panoramic view of the adjacent jungles. Here was a unique harmony between nature and human imagination. It was also of strategic importance because any enemy army moving in, can be detected and defensive measures taken.
As any of today’s visitors enter through the Western gate what greets the eye are the royal gardens, interspersed with pools and fountains. These gardens were meant to be a type of pleasure park for the exclusive use of the royal family to relax. They extend for a few hundred meters from the base of the rock. And now begins the climb to the summit, which is not for the faint hearted as we shall see later. The massive brick stairways leads in a zig- zag to the Mirror Wall. Let us pause here for a while. According to one source the Mirror Wall was made from a special plaster comprising fine lime, egg white and honey. It was then buffed with bee’s wax to give a brilliant luster. In King Kasyapa’s time it was so well polished that the King could clearly see his refection as he walked by. Was it a sign of his vanity ? After all here was his palace which he believed to be similar to ‘The City of Gods’. And as the King was he not like Kuvera? If indeed it was his vanity he felt justified. Passing the Mirror Wall is a platform. No matter how intrepid you are it is better to pause awhile and take some deep breaths. More challenges lie ahead. There is a narrow metal staircase which leads to the frescoes. It is best to stop here and admire these semi-naked doe-eyed beautiful women. They are like heavenly nymphs (apsaras). There is much conjecture as to whom they depicted. Were they the King’s many wives, or members of the play-boy King’s Royal harem ? It is claimed that he had over 500 damsels selected for their sensuous beauty.
Having passed these damsels perhaps with some regret, one comes to the most difficult part of the climb. There is a narrow steel stairway on the exposed side of the rock. It is best not to look down below on the lush green scrubland. You may get a bout of acrophobia! And so we come to the summit and you can breathe a great sigh of relief not only for overcoming the challenge of climbing but also gazing at the magnificent landscape that stretches as far as eye can see.
This terraced summit is approximately 1.6 ha in extent. Here can be seen a number of water tanks, baths and the remains of the Royal Palace. There is also a stone slab like a seat which may have been the remains of a throne. There is also a 27 m x 21 m rock hewn water tank which was a water storage tank. The hydraulic systems, the landscaping, the terraces, all of these indicate unique creative skills and technologies. Sigiriya is said to be one of the finest examples of urban planning of the first millennium.
But we now need to get back to the Mirror Wall for there is a story to relate. On this Mirror Wall there can be seen graffiti in the form of poems written in Sinhala, Sanskrit and Tamil. According to historians and archeologists these graffiti were written long after Sigiriya was abandoned and converted once more into a Buddhist monastery. And then the question arises as to why these monks allowed visitors to enter and write poems on the Mirror Wall , many of which were love poems ? For example –
“Wet, cool dew drops Fragrant with perfume from flowers, Came the gentle breeze, jasmine and water lily Dance in the spring sunshine. Side- long glances of the golden hued ladies stab into my thoughts. Heaven itself cannot take my mind, As it has been captivated by one lass Among the five hundred I have seen.”
It must be noted that these graffiti is of great interest to scholars as it reveals the development of the Sinhala language and script.
But the saga of Sigiriya does not end. Once more the cold steel hand of intrigue and betrayal appears. And this time too it is Migara’s hand. And once more it is anger. And once more it is revenge. This time the victim is King Kasyapa. Annoyed that King Kasyapa did not permit him to conduct a large religious festival Migara secretly switched his loyalty from King Kasyapa to his half brother Moggallana who was in India waiting for an opportunity to return to Sri Lanka and regain the crown that was rightfully his.
Migara’s secret changing of loyalty was Moggallana’s cue to return. On hearing of this new but not unexpected threat King Kasyapa riding his Royal elephant and confident of his army, led by Migara, went into battle. This, despite his soothsayers warning him that it was not the auspicious time for war. At some point, his elephant sensing a swamp close at hand turned to get on to firmer ground. To Migara this was an opportunity sent by the gods. He ordered the army to retreat.
The army fled. King Kasyapa was now alone and abandoned . He knew that his end was near. Rather than being killed in battle he drew out his dagger placed it on his neck and slit his throat. It was in the year 495 CE. He had ruled for 18 years. Moggallana the victorious was not unmindful of his duties. He still respected his half brother and accorded him a Royal cremation. It is believed that the place was at Pidururangala. It is a few km away from Sigiriya and is also like Sigiriya formed by volcanic activity.
Ramazan spirit endures amid pandemic
This will be a sombre Ramazan, indeed, with the country under a lockdown. But the spirit of Ramazan lives on in all Muslims. Ramadan, also referred to as Ramazan, Ramzan, or Ramadhan, in some countries, is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and Muslims the world over dedicate this holy month for fasting, prayer, reflection and community.
Although most non-Muslims associate Ramazan, solely with fasting, it is believed to bring Muslims closer to God and inculcate in them qualities such as patience, spirituality, and humility. Those of the Islamic faith believe that fasting redirects one away from worldly activities, cleanses the inner soul and free it from harm. It also teaches self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate and encourage actions of generosity and charity. It is a time of self-examination and increased religious devotion.
Ramazan is a commemoration of Prophet Muhammad’s first revelation, and the annual observance of Ramazan is regarded as one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The Five Pillars are basic acts, considered mandatory by Muslims, namely Muslim life, prayer, concern for the needy, self-purification, and the pilgrimage. Prophet Muhammad’s first revelation is believed to have taken place in 610 AD, in a cave called Hira, located near Mecca, where Muhammad was visited by the angel Jibrīl, who revealed to him the beginnings of what would later become the Qur’an. The visitation occurred on Ramazan.
Ramazan lasts from one sighting of the crescent moon to the next and the local religious authority is tasked with announcing the date. The Colombo Grand Mosque announced on Wednesday (12) that Sri Lankan Muslims will celebrate Ramazan on Friday (14). Because the Muslims follow a lunar calendar, the start of Ramazan moves backwards by about 11 days, each year, in the Gregorian calendar. Fasting from dawn to sunset is considered fard (obligatory) for all adult Muslims who are not acutely, or chronically, ill, travelling, elderly, breastfeeding, diabetic, or menstruating.
During this month, Muslims refrain not only from partaking of meals, but also tobacco products, sexual relations, and sinful behaviour, devoting themselves to prayer or salat and recitation of the Quran. The pre-dawn meal is referred to as suhur, and the nightly feast that breaks fast is referred to as iftar. During Ramazan, Muslims wake up well before dawn to eat the pre-dawn meal. This is considered the most important meal, during Ramazan, since it has to sustain one until sunset. This means eating lots of high-protein food and drinking as much water as possible, right up until dawn, after which one cannot eat or drink anything. The day of fasting ends at sunset, the exact minute of which is signalled by the fourth call to prayer, at dusk.
It is believed that spiritual rewards, or thawab, of fasting multiply during Ramazan. Muslims do not Fast on Eid, but Sri Lankan Muslims believe that observing the six days of optional fasting, that follows Eid, multiplies spiritual rewards.
Eid-Ul-Fitr is the Festival of Breaking the Fast, also simply referred to as Eid, and marks the end of the month-long dawn-to-sunset fasting of Ramadan, as well as the return to a more natural disposition of eating, drinking, and marital intimacy. In Sri Lanka, this Festival of Breaking the Fast is also referred to, colloquially, as Ramazan. Eid begins at sunset, on the night of the first sighting of the crescent moon. Muslims hand out money, to the poor and needy, as an obligatory act of charity, before performing the Eid prayer.
Globally, the Eid prayer is generally performed in open areas, like fields, community centres, or mosques in congregation. In Sri Lanka, the prayer is performed annually in Galle Face Green and mosques. The Eid prayer is followed by the sermon and then a supplication asking for Allah’s forgiveness, mercy, peace and blessings for all living beings across the world. The sermon encourages Muslims to engage in the rituals of Eid, such as zakat, almsgiving to other fellow Muslims. After the prayers, Muslims visit relatives, friends, and acquaintances, or hold large communal celebrations.
After prayer, Muslims celebrate Eid, with food being the central theme. Sri Lankans celebrate Ramazan with watalappam, falooda, samosa, gulab jamun and other national and regional dishes. The festivals were said to have initiated in Medina, after the migration of Muhammad from Mecca.
This year, as well as last year, Sri Lankan Muslims will have to forgo the custom of communal prayers, and celebrations, due to the ongoing pandemic, and will have to settle for private prayers and celebrations of Ramazan during this period of curfew. While these preventive measures are in place, during this year’s Ramazan, the principles of this holy month remain the same. Devout Muslims all over the world, will still be honouring this pillar of Islam, albeit from the security of their homes.
Dip Corps Plum Job? I don’t think so!
I was reading an article in the papers the other day saying that the Attorney General (soon to retire) had turned down a “plum job” (interesting and archaic term) by refusing to go as the High commissioner to Canada. In the days when terminology such as “plum job” was used indeed any member of the Diplomatic Corps was considered elite. They usually came from people who had got degrees with a class and preferably a 1st class, and I believe they had to get through a tough civil service exam as well. Before they reached the top post of High Commissioner (if they came from the service) they had to spend many years learning the ropes. A few High Commissioners were appointed from among civil service retirees in other fields and if so, their role was largely ceremonial with the other staff in the embassy handling the actual policy matters.
Ever since the advent of “Kukul Charlie” to Scandinavia as H/C, during the R. Premadasa regime, this worthy actually had a mini chicken farm in the premises of the embassy, and slightly before that the actions of A.C.S. Hameed as the minister of foreign affairs during the J.R.J. regime.The Dip: Co: has degenerated into a mess. Most of the staffers are political appointees and even the progeny of Ministers and MP draw salaries from the embassy, to fund their overseas studies. Everybody seems to be running his or her own little racket to supplement his or her foreign currency incomes. Many of them don’t even come back when their terms are over. The Ambassador’s main role seems to be a taxi driver or to use modern terminology Uber driver for vising VIP’s and their assorted relatives.
Is it a wonder that the incumbent Attorney General chose to decline an offer of this sort? An offer that would have consigned him to oblivion (as seems to be what happens to all able-bodied, intelligent, and capable people in the Pearl) and to top it off, dealing with the freezing conditions of the Canadian winter. This is a blatant attempt to sideline a capable professional who is perceived as a threat to the government as he seems a bit of a maverick and his penchant to toe the line cannot be guaranteed. Now, instead of appreciating constructive criticism and the actions of a professional guided by his knowledge and ethics, the increasingly military regime wants order followers. Extensions of terms come very easily to those characterless wimps who fill and overflow the ranks of government employees! In this case, a “kick upstairs” seems to be what the powers that be require. I guess the inherent and ever-present guiding light of jealousy among his peers, keeps organisations such as the bar association from protesting these actions? I am sure they will find an excuse all covered in legalize. I fear Mr. Livera will have to carve his own path through the morass of muck that is the Pearl at present.
What demoralises me further is that editors of newspapers and even so-called “journalists” write and publish such articles when they are well aware of the true reasons and facts. Then again, I have read articles quoting government financial “geniuses” saying that printing money will not be detrimental to the economy and even some ministers saying that devaluation of the rupee simply means more money coming in from Middle Eastern remittances and a better lifestyle for the beneficiaries! I was even sent a link by a friend to a published article saying Sri Lanka has done a better job than New Zealand to maintain a low Covid death rate. Of course, the link came with the words “Ammata Siri” from a friend of mine!
On the subject of Covid, I am told the predictions for the Pearl based on statistics put out by American Universities, are dire. Now, I know that those ruling the country firmly believe that Sri Lanka is the centre of the universe and anything said by anyone other than themselves is utter rubbish. BUT I see an opportunity here … this is the time to form a “war cabinet” to overcome this catastrophe. Kick out all the idiots who are simply drawing huge salaries, and gadding about in flash new duty-free vehicles. Send them to their electorates and tell them to stay there, travel by bus, mix with the populace, and do their JOBS. Cut their salaries by 75% and use that money to give benefits to those affected by the virus and resultant recession. Form a Cabinet of 20 (maximum) and concentrate on saving our country and her people so that we can live to fight another day.
I have heard rumblings of discontent among the ruling clan. The big cheese is apparently being hampered by the blue cheese (old cheese) and his direct decedents. Be that as it may there certainly are around 70% of those currently in government who can be sent home to their electorates. There are a handful of those in Opposition who may be able to do a good job in these circumstances if included in this war cabinet. There certainly is a foreign minister in waiting, who doesn’t even have a parliamentary seat at present. The current sitting of parliament is said to cost an astronomical figure per sitting. Close it down and have cabinet meetings at Temple trees or TT as is the current local parlance. Another huge saving that can be distributed among those daily paid labourers who have no way to feed their families at present. Use the Parliamentary cooking facilities to make lunch packets for the needy.
There are opportunities even among this present and perceived chaos. All it takes is the will of a strong leader who is prepared to think outside the box. The current president certainly has the powers, but does he have the will? The country certainly thought he had done when they gave him that massive majority!
Vaccine need and experts vs political power
Manna from the skies and the drop of water to a man dying of thirst is for most now a jab in the upper arm which will hopefully keep at bay the dreaded omnipotent, omnipresent Covid 19 virus. It seems to be getting more virulent especially in poorer countries. But countries with massive daily numbers of those ill with C19 and large numbers dead, are fast returning to near normal e.g. USA. A young man who hibernated for the last fourteen months is away on holiday in the Big Apple – a separate State from his. And take it from Cassandra whose age, experience and potent gut feeling qualify her to judge situations, the improvement is due to President Biden’s leadership against that of Trump. Kudos go to Biden mostly for his selection of experts in relevant fields heading various government departments; selected solely on merit and matching the need; not considering relatives, sycophants, ethnic origin of the selected Americans. And he is totally receptive to expert advice. Judge his Secretary of State – Antony Blinken – a polar difference from big brash Mike Pompeo, in the mould of Trump. See how Dr Antony Fauci speaks now to the American media as shown us by CNN. He is confident; knows he is respected and trusted as Chief Medical Advisor to the President and also Director of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases while with Trump he nearly had his head cut off for making statements about the pandemic contrary to what Trump wanted to hear. In this context why Dr Anil Jasinha was transferred as Secretary, Environmental Ministry, is still a mystery, since we Ordinaries do not believe it was a promotion. He did magnificently well, with the Army Commander and others in minimising the damage of the first C19 wave.
Many in Colombo are due for the second dose of AstraZeneca vaccine. When will it be given? We were lulled to complacency being told some time ago that the second dose was safely stored in time for vaccination three months after the first. Now we find the medical department’s cupboards are as bare as Mother Hubbard’s as regards the A-Z vaccine and there’s begging going on for the WHO to shower enough of this vaccine on poor Siri Lanka. Threatened is a cocktail of merrily mixed AstraZeneca with Sputnik or the Chinese vaccine. We all shout: No thank you!
We do sympathize with the government battered on all sides and reduced to begging. We appreciate what is being done, but go mad when we hear statements like “Development must go on” when development is a speedway to Ratnapura and purchase of helicopters.
Many approve of the move to lockdown regions and Grama Sevaka divisions and now even provinces since locking down the entire country is really too drastic a measure even though it will reduce mass infection.
Wise experts give of their expertise all the time.
The major issue that confronts the government at present is imminently losing the battle of the Covid 19 pandemic. Next, of course, is the mess of the second vaccine for which blame lies on the government. Then the fast-declining economy and solutions thereof, one solution being import of tourists and asylum given to those fleeing India. For this obvious blunder, blame is squarely on offshoots of the government like hoteliers, travel agents and leading the lot, Udayanga W with his Covid barrier-breaking influx of ‘ballooned’ tourists from Ukraine, one of the worst affected countries. The ‘balloons’ burst no sooner they landed in Paradise and were taken traipsing around Resplendent Sri Lanka.
Another disturbing situ inaugurated by the Prez himself is the fertiliser issue – his overnight banning of chemical fertilisers, to save farming community from kidney disease and win laurels as first country to ban such. Misfiring. Tests have shown the use of these fertilisers is not the cause of KDC. More damning: the sudden ban with no substitute organic fertiliser in large quantity will badly affect our primary cash crop and from the next Yala harvest itself our stomachs will rumble with hunger pangs and the poorer will surely starve. Nothing must be done with the sweep of the pen or the gush of words of command.
And here is Cassandra’s bone which she picks with the government. Experts abound in this country of intelligent people. They are not, apparently, consulted before decisions are made. As Prof, Rohan Rajapakse writes in his article Ban on agrochemical: where are we heading? in The Island of 11 May: “Three eminent scientists, namely Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha, Prof O A Ileyperuma and Prof C S Weeraratne have effectively dealt with the repercussions of the ban on chemical fertilizers.” (He gives their credentials in full). Prof Rajapakse goes on in his article to the sphere of pesticides and warns about that too.
No politician or army high-up nor even the Prez knows it all. So experts must be hearkened to, to serve the country and save its people.
Have you noticed as Cass has that the Minister of Sports and Youth is seen at very many meetings and exhibits involvement in fisheries, the environment, even the economy; far extended from his sphere of sports and youth. Latest sighting (Tuesday May 11) was him on TV news inspecting the marvelous hospital constructed in a couple of days by hard working, skilled young men. It will be manned mostly by young girls, nursing Covid 19 patients, at risk to themselves. So, Cass praises this young minister for being so interested in the welfare and well-being of the Ordinaries – we the people of Free Sri Lanka. A sports writer in the gossipy column on the last page of The Island of 12 May, gave him a paragraph, not complimentary like Cass’ paragraph (this). Also, we do not approve at all of exercise equipment being set up in villages. The villager has enough exercise in his farming and his spouse in house and garden work. Such centres, said to be open air, will only attract gawkers in their numbers, and laughter. Of course, someone will make money.
Dire danger of military in power
The youth of Myanmar are demonstrating to the entire world what the consequences are of military men ruling countries. Pro-democracy leader Daw Suu Kyi was given one term of half governing the country as Counsellor; the second time she and her National League for Democracy won a landslide victory. She worked with the army leaders and going along with them – a la the Rohingya – was derided as a Nobel Peace Laureate.
The November 8, 2020 elections gave her Party a bigger majority. Then power was snatched off her and she was held hostage god knows where. (She suffered long years of strict house confinement after her first victory.)
The youth of the country rose up for democracy and for Suu Kyi being released. Listening to excerpts of conversations with two fighters for democracy – male and female – on BBC, Cass was overwhelmed with a fifty-fifty, long lasting spurt of emotion: sorrow and admiration for these young uns. Bless them and may they win the battle for a right of every human being – freedom from oppression and dictatorship. But these kids are being shot at with live bullets and more than fifty (if remembered correctly) are dead. Why-oh-why are base men so greedy for power?
The young of Hong Kong also fought unrelentingly but they were imprisoned and not killed deliberately. Their battle is against the growing power of China where a dictator resembling a military man rules supreme.
A bright spot
In media, whether print or visual, we long for news with optimistic effect to drive away, even temporarily, the doom and gloom that envelops us. Cass had her descending-to-depression spirits uplifted by watching a video clip of the Queen declaring the new Parliamentary sessions ‘open’.
Here was the mid-90s Sovereign walking steadily with her eldest son beside her and reading her speech about what ‘her government’ and ‘her ministers’ would do for the country in a steady voice with steady hands holding the script.
Top on this list was fast recovery from the pandemic followed by environmental, health and educational betterment. She hid signs of emotion that would have battered her because for almost seven decades she came in with her beloved Philip by her side at this ceremony.
Cass took courage from this marvelous woman.
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