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Your precious vote

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The day the general election results are out (6 August, 2020), will coincidentally be exactly one year since the Buddhasasana Karyasadhaka Mandalaya, an organization comprising erudite monks and Presidents or representatives of leading Buddhist societies with Venerable DiviyagahaYasassi as Chairpperson and Most Venerable Tirikunamale Ananda Mahanayaka Thera and Venerable Professor Agalakada Sirisumana Thera as Joint Secretaries, presented a memorandum to all leaders of Political Parties at the BMICH. The document itself was unique and historic because it had the signatures of the heads of all religions including the four Mahanayaka Theras, the Archbishop of Colombo, the Bishop of Colombo Diocese, All Ceylon Hindu Congress, and President, All Ceylon Jammiyathul Ulama.The memorandum was titled “Towards the dawn of a new political culture of integrity in Sri Lanka. All Heads of political parties or their representatives, several ministers and MPs and other VIPs were present. Gotabaya Rajapaksa was handed the memo when he came to the Vajiraramaya to meet the Mahanayaka Thera. He later mentioned in an official communique that he was supportive.

Innovative Move

What was the main reason for this never before attempted move? It was an expression of the deep and justified disapproval (actually disgust) with which the general public viewed many of the then MPs – lacking education and decency. Several had not even a pass in the GCE OL examination and very many were guilty of dishonesty and corruption. Most did not know how to behave in the Legislature and were totally incapable of judicious debate. The majority of these knew only how to heckle, hoot, and use indecent language Some had dubious backgrounds too; a few guilty of proven crimes. Hence the Buddhasasana Karyasadhaka Mandalaya took it upon itself to make the very necessary and urgent request.

The very next question before I go any further is: Was this memorandum given due consideration and were selection of nominees to contest the elections made taking into account the character, suitability and acceptability as true representatives of the people with loyalty to the country? . This would apply mostly to new persons who sought party nomination. Fortunately yes. The National Peoples Party (NPP) joining forces with the JVP presents some excellent candidates. In those who had been MPs, was their previous performance in Parliament or as State Ministers taken into account and the general opinion of the public?

A huge, loud, disgusted NO is the answer. It looks as if the parties have selected even those who were Members and Ministers of the previous Parliament whom everyone knew to be corrupt with bribe taking, enriching themselves stupendously, favouring their own relatives and sycophants, and not discharging their duties creditably. The only criterion when selecting contenders for the 2020 elections appears to have been whether the person could win a seat and give an overall majority to the Party. Thus the decadent who somehow or other have a following were given nomination. Sadly those with excellent character and educational and other qualifications will probably lose to the scum who are in the jousting for ballots. That is the voting publics crime.

Opinion backed up with statistics

I have got a message from one of those who helped to draft the memorandum I refer to. He has permitted me to say he was a senior public officer with high credentials and is now in robes having given up everything but having a deep concern for the welfare and well being of this country. I called him a VVIP; he replied: Never a VVIP, maybe a VIP on some occasions.

So please, as I will do, we must vote wisely. If possible let us make others know of the importance of their vote and to use it to stamp out as far as possible, corruption, nepotism, vice and injustice. The Ven Bhikkhu wrote: Please act according to your conscience. I, too, have avoidedpolitics throughout my life even as a layman. Evennow I avoid politics but there is aduty by our country and our people to create an environment for humangrowth. That is compassion.

He continues in his note to me:A general election is crucial because it enables the sovereignpeople to vote for a government they wish to have. In Buddhist texts we have theterm mahasammata, which means approved or accepted by the many. We now have a very civilized way of choosinga governmentand that is by casting one’s vote. Over 50 % of Sri Lanka’s population are females and I believe that almost 99% of them want to live peacefully in a decent environment. People have to understandthe value of their vote and hence, vote responsibly.

According to world indices Sri Lanka is placed 89th in corruption, 69th in Rule of Law, 71st in crime, 54th in healthy life expectancy, 130th in happiness, and 69th in qualityof life. If this country, with a majority Buddhist population, follows at least the five precepts, Sri Lanka should be within the first ten. For this to happen the country needs persons of integrity and honesty to be Members of Parliament and this is the chance in five years to send such persons to Parliament, and herald the Dawn of a new era.

Yes, we women are wiser and usually more reliable to choose correctly. Thus all Sri Lankans eligible to vote should exercise their franchise to select honest candidates with integrity. We may have party preference, but this time we must consider the choice of persons offered us and choose educated men/women of some standing. That is absolutely imperative. This is the final chance to be democratically governed. Both largest parties have split. In one, the offshoot has outgrown and outstripped its mother plant. It is said to be heading for a majority win.

The other large party, and older, which like its symbol the elephant was originally majestic, strong and dependable, unfortunately divided into two, solely due to hubris of leaders and deputies; personal considerations which mean selfishness overcoming party allegiance and loyal duty to the nation; and unwillingness to compromise. Both the party that gets into power and the opposition need good men who love this country and place the country before self and not vice versa. And we need a balanced parliament, with no party winning a two third majority or bribing the decadent to cross over to make up the two thirds. That too is imperative by voting the correct persons in.

It seems to be, we will all be holding our breath after voting and till results are announced (well over one day later). A huge consolation is the Elections Commissioner and the Commission are to be trusted. So let us fervently hope and even pray the elections proceed smooth, fair and unhindered and results declared ensuring the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka will remain thus intact, with straight standing men and women being the new MPS.

 



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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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