Sunday, April 24, 2011

Navy-operated boat trips to Adam's Bridge

The Sri Lanka Navy has initiated a novel project to let the public experience a journey to the renowned Adam's Bridge in Thalaimannar. Inaugurated on April 10, as a part of this project they operate boat tours for the public to the bridge.

If the sea is calm and if there is no rain, departure from the old pier at Thalaimannar to the sand banks will be operated from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. everyday. The journey is 15 km from the mainland to the bridge. After landing at the sand bank, people can explore the area.
"Visitors are not expected to bring anything specifically for the trip. We provide everything including food and water. Only thing is that they should not litter on the sand bank," a Navy official who is in charge of the tour said.
Adam's Bridge or Rama's Bridge is a chain of limestone shoals between Pamban Island, off the South Western coast of Tamil Nadu, and Mannar Island. There are many legends related to this bridge. A famous story in the ancient Sanskrit script, Ramayana identifies the bridge as a construction by the Vanara army of Rama, which he used to reach Lanka and rescue his wife Sita from Ravana, the Raksha king who ruled Lanka at the time. The believers of this chronicle named this bridge as 'Rama's Bridge'. According to the geologists, this stretch of sand banks was a former land connection between India and Sri Lanka. The bridge is 30 km long and it is believed that this had been a continuous stretch during the olden days. However, sea erosion has separated the sea bank into 18 fractions.
The Sri Lankan Navy governs nine of them and the other nine belong to the Indian Navy. Adam's Bridge, which separates the Gulf of Mannar from the Palk Straits, consist of some dry sea banks. The sea around the banks is very shallow. It is said that during the bygone days people reached India by foot through this bridge.

here devotees worship daily: Thiruketheeswaram Kovil

The harsh rays of the burning sun reached every inch of the Kovil premises. It was three in the evening and the place was deserted except for Murali, the boy who was clearing the yard and us. The daily pooja was at five and we had plenty of time to walk around the place.
Thiruketheeswaram Kovil, one of the five main Hindu temples of the country dedicated to God Siva, is an ancient Hindu Kovil situated in Manthei. It is about seven miles to the North from Mannar Town.
As the legend unfolds Kethu Bhagavan worshipped Lord Siva at this temple, and that is how the temple got its name Thiruketheeswaram.
This Kovil is one of the main places of worship sights in Mannar. Many Hindus and non-Hindus from all over the country visit this place nearly every day. “We never had to do the evening pooja without devotees. All around the year people visit this Kovil,” said Swami Nithyanandan. “The place is blessed with people,” he added.
The history of the temple goes back to the era of Chola. It is believed to be built in 600 B.C. Another story related to the Kovil says that the father-in-law of Ravana, the king of Lanka, built Thiruketheeswaram. Ravana himself had been a devotee of Koneswaram Temple, Trincomalee. Rama, who built the Sivan Temple at Rameshwaram, on his way back to Ayodhya from Lanka, is reputed to have worshipped Lord Siva at the Thiruketheeswaram as well.
The Thiruketheeswaram Temple
The Assistant Archaeology Commissioner, S. Sanmuganathan, in his research paper ‘Excavations at Thiruketheeswaram’ states that ,”The ancient Saiva shrine of Mahathiththa called Thiruketheeswaram is referred to in Tamil devotional hymns dating from 7th century A.D.” However, the invasion of the Portuguese Catholic colonists in 1505 brought the darkest period of the Kovil. They destroyed the buildings and took most of the valuable items in it.
The materials found from the Kovil and from the nearby Buddhist temples were used to build the Fort of Mannar. One of the most popular Tamil civil servants, Sir Kanthiah Vaithianathan explains this tragedy plainly in his report named ‘Thiruketheeswaram temple and the port of Manthota’, “To the Portuguese who had set about to plunder the rich Hindu Temples of the Deccan, Thiruketheeswaram was even an easier pray than Kanya Kumari, which they succeeded in plundering.
The conversation of the people of Mannar Island was preceded by the plunder of Thiruketheeswaram, whose very stones were subsequently used in the construction of the Mannar Fort.
The feeble effort made by the king of Jaffna to avenge the crime on Thiruketheeswaram was magnified into a massacre.” He also added in this report that the good and the bad times of the Kovil were directly related to the political condition of the country.
The Kovil prospered during the period of Cholas and Pandyans. Even Parakramabahu the Great had been having a soft corner for the Kovil. It is evident from the ruins found from the site that the Kovil was once built according to Pandyan architectural style. The exact location of the destroyed temple was located more or less after 400 years in 1894.
In the 20th century most of the restorations of the Kovil was completed. In June 1903, a small temple was reconstructed and the central shrine was reconstructed and re-consecrated in 1921.

A statue of a rat
The Kovil has gone through several facelifts and additions until 1970’s and the tank near the Kovil, Palavi tank, was rebuilt in 1949. The Palavi tank is prospered by the river Palavi, which had been the outlet of Matale waters via Malwattu Oya and other natural waterways of the extensive basin.
Presently the devotees are advised to bathe from this tank without using the main pipeline, since the water supply to the Kovil is only twice a day for two hours. At present, the Thiruketheeswaram restoration committee does the management of the Kovil. The main priest of the Kovil is Swami Shiva Kumar who had served the temple for 35 years. He had seen vicissitudes of the temple since 1976. For him, the most haunting time at the Kovil is the period of the recent war.
“The Kovil was closed for 12 long years. We fled from the place to secure our selves. No one was here during that period,” he said. The temple was reopened in 2002 during the ceasefire agreement of the two parties.
Though the Kovil was untouched during the war, around 24 ‘madams’ or rest houses, situated around the place for the use of the devotees, were destroyed.
“Two parties had fired each other by covering themselves from these buildings. Only a few walls remained intact,” said one of the caretakers of the Kovil who had come here in 2002. When asked about his experience of the war he said with a smile, “After I arrived there were no face to face gun fires. All came from above,” Though it sounded a tragedy the way it was replied brought us a good laugh.
Wooden cart under construction
Destroyed rest house of the Kovil
Now the Kovil has a new rest house and used by the devotees who come from faraway places. “Even yesterday there were people from Kottawa and Rajagiriya,” he added.
The festival of the Thiruketheeswaram Kovil is held annually in May. This year it starts on May 8, and finishes on Vesak Poya day. A huge wood cart decorated by excellent carvings, and which was restored recently is used for the procession. Along with that a statue of a rat, bull and a peacock will be paraded.
Inside the main temple, there are shrines of Nadarajar, Vineyakar, Somaskander, Maha Vishnu, and a Maha Lakshmi Shrine along with the Maha lingam. The main entrance of the Kovil is decorated with a tree storied Raja Gopuram.
The area where the Maha Mandapam is situated was decorated from magnificent stone carvings.
In addition, there were two decorated outlets from the main shrine in the shape of a dragonhead, to remove water or milk from the inside chamber.
There were few peacocks roaming around the premises, which doubled the beauty of the place.

Pix: Janani Amarasekara

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Breathtaking musical evening by the differently abled

After each and every item on the agenda, they returned to the dressing room amidst loud cheers from the audience. Their innocent smiles and adoring expressions stole the hearts of the spectators. They were simple and humble and were encouraged by every little appreciation. They enjoyed every minute on the stage.

They smiled and guided each other while the performance is going on. They wanted to show their best in front of those kind men and women.
The differently abled branch of the Sri Lanka Girl Guides’ Association organized the magical event ‘you are very special’, a concert by the differently abled girl guides and little friends.
These little blooming buds enlightened the Grand Ballroom of Galle Face Hotel on April 5, 2011.
The concert aimed at collecting funds for the International Indoor camp for differently abled Girl Guides and little friends, which is scheduled to be held in August this year.
Out of the 256 Girl Guides and little friends attached to this branch, many performed at this concert.
Before the concert began, I met some of the performers back stage. Nadeeka Jeewanthi Samarakoon, an excited young girl with autism was very keen to share her views.
“I’m an assistant dancing teacher at Ladies College,” she said. She is presently a student of dancing teacher Miranda Hemalatha.
Her first dancing teacher had been Daya Nellampitiya. “I was a guide when I was at Chitra Lane and it helped me a lot to shape my future,” she explained.
Dhanangi Fernando, another guide with autism, is a Grade 10 student of Lyceum College. paththare dannayi yanne. Kiyanna meyata oya gana (Tell her something about you, for the newspaper),” said Nadeeka to her highly excited friend Dhanangi, who refused to talk.
The guides and little friends from Nuffield School for the Hearing impaired and sight impaired, Kaithady Jaffna travelled all night to participate at this concert.
There were six little friends, three guides, and four teachers in the team. All the children who participated were hearing-impaired. However, they performed a dance item by following signals of their teachers.
The tragedy is that though we tapped our feet to the music, they did not hear anything. “It was a hard task to practice these little ones, still they enjoyed a lot,” said the teacher-in-charge Malini Prince Devarathnam.
The event started when the western band of the differently abled guides welcomed the chairperson of the Sunera Foundation, Sunethra Bandaranaike to the ballroom. After a little presentation, the items began.
The first item a, Pooja Dance by the Guides of the Supem Uyana Home, Gonapinuwala, signalled the audience of a breathtaking evening. Well-practised performers never paused to think about the next step. The beautiful song by the Guides of the Ratmalana Blind School was one of the special ones in the programme line up. The teacher who played the organ was also visually impaired. However, the voices and the music were superb.
The evening passed by in a flash. These differently abled Guides and little friends do not need sympathy, they need understanding.

Bak Maha Ulela for orphans: Anula, Lyceum Girl Guides to the fore

Love and protection of a aparent is necessary for a child. Once a baby is born, he/she becomes the sensor of the family.

The Girl Guide Captains of Anula Vidyalaya, Nugegoda, Lyceum International and Senior Guides of Anula Vidyalaya with their Principal Kalyani Gunasekera at the Orphanage.
Then the infant gets enough attention and care to grow as a healthy youngster. However, some children miss the warmth of parents from childhood due to unforeseen circumstances, they end up being orphans.
However with the help of some kind-hearted people, some of them get to live in orphanages, and only God knows what happens to the others.
There are many orphanages for children around the country. Most of them are well maintained and function for the betterment of children, with the help of the public.
The Girls' Orphanage in Delkanda is also one such home dedicated specially for orphaned girls.
There are about 150 girls from the ages 2-17 at this place. Unlike boys, girls need a lot of awareness and protection.
Girls need parental care most and in order to fulfil their desires, the senior Girl Guides of Anula Vidyalaya, Nugegoda organised a Bak Maha Ulela for them on April 10, at the Orphanage. Principal of Anula Vidyalaya, Kalyani Gunasekara, Senior Guide Captain Dr. Vajira Wanigasekara, two Guide Captains of the school B.S. Tennakoon and Avanthi Thalewela and Guide Captain of Lyceum International Mala Wijeypala were also present on the occasion.
It was a day filled with fun and frolic for the girls. There were many games organised for them; hurdle race, paper dance, fancy dress parade, and locating the hidden guest were some of them.
Tug-o-War between senior guides and the girls was also an event, which raised the level of adrenalin of both the teams.
Going on par with a traditional 'Avurudu Ulela,' items such as breaking the pot and 'keeping an eye' on the blind elephant were also included in the agenda.
During the events, girls from Anula Vidyalaya and children from the orphanage entertained spectators by performing magnificent items.
Just before the conclusion, there were a few items of dance and music which were entertaining and helped everyone to relax. The orphan girls enjoyed themselves very much as it was a day different from their normal schedule.

Nawagamuwa Devalaya - Dedicated to goddess Pattini

Nawagamuwa Devalaya

It was the day of the ICC Cricket world cup finals. Sri Lanka was yet to play the biggest match of the season. With the intention of coming back before the commencement of the match, we started our journey from Colombo to the famous Nawagamuwa Devalaya around 9 a.m. Situated at the 13th mile post of Colombo-Rathnapura Road, 4km from Kaduwela Junction, it is one of the most visited devalayas of the country.
Nawagamuwa Devalaya is a shrine dedicated to Goddess Pattini. Buddhists as well as non-Buddhists offer poojas to the deity with the intention of getting blessings for children and pregnant mothers. On the day we visited, the place was full of devotees despite the match. History of this devalaya goes back to the Anuradhapura era. As the legend unfolds King Gajaba 1 (A.D. 114 - 136) came from India with 12,000 men as prisoners, bringing with him a Pattini anklet, he landed at a place close to devalaya. Devalaya was built enshrining the anklet.
“Other version of this legend is that Goddess Pattini arrived at this place from India with 12,000 devotees belonging to 16 castes. The men and women settled down in adjacent villages to serve the goddess,” said Nawagamuwe Podi Hamuduruvo Atigala Kunnarathana Thera.
Moonstone with floral decor
“The well, which is believed to be the one that the Goddess Pattini used to bathe, can be found near the devalaya,” said the Thera. “The oldest building of the premises is the Pattini Devalaya. Viharageya and the other artefacts had been built later to accommodate the large number of devotees arrived at the place,” he added.
The temple, which is attached to the devalaya is Sri Sugathabimbaramaya. The first historical mention of the Nawagamuwa Pattini Devale is found during the Kotte period, in the ‘Godagama Sannasa’, it is said that King Buwanekabahu V (A.D. 1521 - 1580), a gift of oil is made for the Nawagamuwa Pattini Kovil Perahera.
This area was historically important even during the period of King Sitawaka. It is renowned that King Mayadunne (A.D. 1521 - 1580) had stopped at the Nawagamuwa Pattini Devale to make a vow before he went to war with the Portuguese in the Colombo Fort. According to the reports of the Portuguese, in 1550, the King of Portuguese sent 600 troops to help King Buwanekabahu V. They fought with King Mayadunne at Nawagamuwa. It is also recorded that in 1576, the Portuguese army destroyed Nawagamuwa Devale and established an army camp there.
The devalaya was rebuilt by King Mayadunne only to be destroyed again by the Captain of the Colombo Fort, leaving a pile of ruins. According to the Department of Archaeology some building materials, Dutch coins, and iron implements have been found during an excavation around the devalaya.
Dagoba of the templeBodhisatva Statue
The Viharageya, which is believed to have been built in 19th century, is a beautiful building with paintings belonging to the Kandy era. It has four stone entrances and three Bodhisattva Statues. The inner part of the Viharageya has a long reclining Buddha Statue and a statue of God Vishnu. That ceiling is decorated with magnificent floral paintings. The door, which opens to the inner hall, is decorated with paintings of a flower and a picture of a worshipping ‘vamana’.
The stone pillars in front of the building are believed to be from a temple, which has been destroyed during the Portuguese period. The whole building is built on a stone foundation. The moonstone at the entrance, which belongs to the post Kandy period is rather different from what we see in other places. Instead of a liyawela this one has six petal flowers and tuskers.
There are also two doratupala figures and remains of a Makara Thorana. “The oldest shrine of the devalaya premises is the Galkanu Devalaya,” said Podi Hamuduruwo. This shrine is built of four stone posts. The remains of the original stone posts are still visible. Some people believe these as rubbles of the first Pattini Devalaya. However, this was rebuilt during the Katuwawala Sri Sumanathissa Thera, one of the Chief Priests of the Sri Sugathabimbaramaya.
The Maha Pattini Devalaya, the main shrine of the area, has been built during the 19th century. A gilded statue of the Goddess Pattini is enshrined in it. There are five other shrines stands in a row in front of the Maha Devalaya. Out of these Dedimunda, Kataragama and Vishnu Devalayas belongs to the 19th century, however others are built recently. During a recent research conducted by the Department of Archaeology, Viharage, Sangavasaya (the Monks abode), Galkanu Devalaya, Maha Pattini Devale, along with these three ancient shrines has declared as archaeologically important sites.
Ancient Devala
Old avasaya ge
In addition to that, a grove of Naa-tree, which is believed to be more than 100 years old, is also one of the protected sites. “The legend says that there is a white king cobra in this grove,” said Podi Hamuduruvo. “I have never seen him, but there are people who had spotted him,” he added. The procession of the devalaya is also unique. Unlike other shrines, Bulls are used for the procession instead of elephants. This is known as ‘Gon Pita Perehera’. “The jewels of Vishnu and Kataragama are taken on bulls back during the Perehera,” explained Podi Hamuduruwo.
Stories related to the devalaya are also interesting as much as its history. The most popular out of those is that once a Jak fruit has grown out of the wooden entrance of the devalaya. A villager who had come into the devalaya premises in search of his cow had spotted this well grown Jak fruit. The hungry villager had offered a portion to Goddess Pattini and had eaten the rest. Hearing this story the angry kapurala of the devalaya had cursed the villager. “However, it is said that the Kapurala himself had died from that curse,” explained the thera. “This devalaya is a place full of miracles. Unlike today, our ancestors believed that the deity punished the drunk devotees and never allowed to pass the devalaya with loose hair,” added the Thera.

Pix: Janani Amarasekara


Saturday, April 9, 2011

Dawn of the Sinhala and Tamil New Year

When the Sun transits from Meena Rashi to Mesha Rashi in the celestial sphere, we celebrate the dawn of the Sinhala and Hindu New year. The month of ‘Bak’, as we call it in Sinhala, is considered as the month of celebration.

We spoke to the former Dean of the Faculty of Arts, University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Professor Tissa Kariyawasam about special rituals and customs practised in different areas of the country. He also shared his views about the way; the New Year is practised today.

Rituals of the Sinhala and Hindu New year begin with the sighting of the Moon. There are two days dedicated for this ritual; one is for the old year and the other is for the New Year. The next ritual is bathing for the old year. People refrain from having a bath after this day until the auspicious time for the anointment of oil and bathing for the New Year arrives.

The time between the old year and the New Year is known as the Nonagathe or the Punya Kalaya. People attend religious activities during this time. However, during this period they refrain from doing other activities such as cooking, eating and studying.

When the New Year dawns, the sound of crackers and the cuckoo bird announces the good news. Then the woman of the house lights the hearth at the auspicious time and prepares the first meal of the New Year. This meal is eaten at the auspicious time given to partake the meal. At that time the rituals of commencement of work and the first transaction are also performed.

However, these rituals slightly differ in various parts of the country. Though, Buddhists attend temples during the Punya Kalaya is the normal practice, in some parts of the country people worship their regional gods. "In ancient agricultural societies, people worshipped many regional gods who were believed to be the in-charge of the area," said Prof. Kariyawasam. "Hurulu Deviyo is worshipped in Anuradhapura. Kalu Bandara deyiyo and Mangara Deviyo are also some of the regional gods," he said. People worshipped these gods during Punya Kalaya.

The goddess of Chastity, Paththini Deviyo is the main figure among the people of Horana. Some rituals such as peli yama, ang keliya, are duties practised especially for her. These usually start at the end of January and end during Avurudu time.

In areas such as Kalutara and Ratnapura most of the rituals were also connected with the Paththini deity. There was a person named Paththini hami in these villages. He was one of the farmers in that area, who owned the Devala and jewellery from the goddess known as Paththini Salamba.

There were several Kapu Raalas who worked for him. Just before the Sinhala and Hindu New Year, Paththini hami paid a visit to every household to collect the first portion from their harvest. This portion was known as Pin Vee. Then he offered this share to the goddess.

"A similar tradition was carried out in Kandy

as well. Here, the Diyawadana Nilame of the Dalada Maligawa collected the amount of paddy, which belongs to the Maligawa," said Prof. Kariyawasam.

Farmers of Anuradhapura did their duties to God Kalu Bandara and God Minneri during the Punya Kala. Kalu Banadara Deviyo is believed to be one of the gods who volunteered to protect Sri Maha Bodhi. People from Padukka were famous for their Gammadu tradition.

They started singing hymns to Goddess Paththini during the first week of April. In addition to these, another custom practised by the villagers in the North Western Province is that once the cleaning is done, the ash from the hearth is placed in a winnowing fan (kulla) and kept outside the house until the dawn of the New Year.

These villagers believe in a mythical character called alu bokka who is 'supposed to' take all the bad and evil spirits away from the household, before the New Year dawns.

"In the modern world, people do not practise these customs," said Prof. Tissa Kariyawasam. "It is an ancient custom to visit parents and relatives during the New Year. Unlike other Asian countries, Sri Lankans now celebrate the Avurudu as if it is a fashion," he said. It is important to keep to traditions of the New Year. This is an event that has been celebrated for many years. Even Robert Knox mentions about celebrating the New Year in his book 'A Historical Relation to Ceylon'. Let us preserve these customs and help them prevail for many more years.

Sinhala and Hindu News Year: Traditional customs

With the month of April comes the sweet scent of erabudu blossoms and the haunting melody of the koel reminding us that once again it is time to celebrate the
Sinhala and Hindu New year. It is the time to bid farewell to the old year and usher in the New Year. All the customs and rituals connected with this traditional celebration are centred around auspicious times set by astrologers. In the olden days, the astrologer of the village who is known as the 'Nekath Raala' distributed a paper, which indicated the relevant auspicious times.
This was popularly known as the 'Avurudu Seettuwa'. During the early days, these Nekath or auspicious times changed according to the area and the families of astrologers. It was only after 1970 that everyone agreed upon a common set of auspicious times for the avurudu rituals, explained the former Dean of the Faculty of Arts, University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Professor Tissa Kariyawasam.
The New Year is a family celebration tied with traditions of visiting parents, making peace and starting everything anew. During this time, town dwellers who have their roots in the village take time off to visit their parents and relatives. Before the New Year, they pay off all loans as it was the time to heal, and make amends. This practice was known as the davurudu kireema.
Nonagathaya or the Punya kaalaya
"It is a misconception that there are no nekath during the nonagathaya period," says Prof. Kariyawasam. "There are auspicious times (nekath) around the clock; they can be good or bad. Good nekath will give us good results and bad ones will give negative results accordingly," he added. "This period is a transitional period between the old and the New Year. People refrain from doing anything until the Sun moves to a new astrological position. Therefore, before the nonagathe period, people clean the fireplaces, remove the ash, clean the kitchen; buy new pots and pans, eat the last meal of the old year and get ready to welcome the New Year. They use this time to engage in religious activities hoping to receive blessings for the New Year. Many of us visit the temple with flowers, joss sticks, oil, and wicks, don't we? Hindus also visit the Kovil during this period. This is considered as a neutral period or rather a relaxing period before the dawn of New Year.
Sighting of the new moon
This is the first New Year ritual we have in the Almanac (Panchanga litha). There are two auspicious times to see the moon; one is for the Old Year and another for the New Solar Year. Once you see the moon for the old year, it is advised to refrain from looking at it until the New Year.
Our ancestors believed that the sighting of the new moon is a good omen. "This ritual is mentioned in one of the graffiti's on the Sigiriya Mirror wall as well," said Prof. Kariyawasam. According to him, there the moon is referred as nava bhaga sanda (new lucky moon).
The graffiti writer had asked those women on the frescos, why they would not talk to him despite him being a person who sighted the new moon.
Lighting the hearth
When the sound of firecrackers fills the air we know that the New Year has dawned. The auspicious time to light the hearth is usually set soon after the dawn of the New Year. Many make a new hearth to carry out this ritual.The chief female occupant of the house worships the pot thrice before lighting the hearth. Then she boils the milk and prepares milk rice (kiribath). However, in some households, the ritual of boiling a pot of milk is not practised. For this ritual the members of the family dress in the auspicious colour or colours, which are also prescribed according to the day the New Year falls on.
The days are governed by planets. According to astrology these planets have their favourite colours and trees, explained Prof. Kariyawasam. "As an example, Tuesday is the day of planet Mars and its colour is red," he added.
The next ritual is one of the favourite among children - commencement of work, first transaction and consumption of the first meal. Sinhalese families eat kiribath with sweetmeats and other accompaniments while Hindu's eat sweet rice called Sakkara Pongal during the auspicious time.
Then comes the time for the ritual of the first transaction. In the olden days, the first transaction was done with the well. The chief female occupant of the house dropped a coin wrapped in a piece of clean cloth into the well and filled a bottle from the first bucket drawn from the well.
Then this bottle was kept in the house and the level of water in the bottle was monitored throughout the year. It was believed the level of water indicates the prosperity of the house. "If the water level has gone down, it was believed to be a sign of a bad period the family suffered," said Prof. Kariyawasam.
"During the first few months after the dawn of the New Year, housewives checked this bottle from time to time to get an idea about the good and the bad periods of their family. It gave them some kind of a satisfaction," he added. As a part of this ritual, the younger people worship the elders with a sheaf of beetle leaves and then the elders give them some money.
At this time, they are given a coin to offer to god and some money for their use, Hindu's call this ritual Kai Vishesham,which is exchanging money between the family members.
The head of the family will start this custom by exchanging money and blessing them with good luck.
The next part of the ritual is commencement of work. In some areas, elders who are involved in agriculture would use their equipment in a symbolic manner. They would chop a branch or make a cut on a jak tree with the knife usually used by an elder and cut a sod of soil. It was customary to plant a sapling. During this nekatha, children in the house are encouraged to study, with the intention of having a good year for studies. Some families invite someone successful and of some standing in society for the first meal of the year. They believed that doing the first transaction with a person of that calibre would bring them good luck. After completing these rituals, nowadays people exchange plates of sweetmeats among the neighbours.
"This is not a customary ritual practised during the olden days. Why should we give sweetmeats that they have already made?" he questioned. However, sweetmeats and bananas are taken when visiting friends and relatives during the season.
Anointing oil
In ancient times, the oil anointing ceremony was held at temples and the chief incumbent of the temple applied coconut oil mixed with special liquid called Naanu and some medicinal herbs on the villagers' heads.
These days, mostly an elder of the family anoints oil at the auspicious time. They use herbal leaves to stand on and to anoint oil on head. Leaves such as margosa, banyan and kolon are used.
The oil anointing ceremony is usually held towards the latter part of the New Year celebration. The type of leaves are prescribed according to the day. It is usually the favourite tree of the planet of the day.
Leaving home for work
This is a ritual of the modern day, said Prof. Kariyawasam. During the good old days what we had was an agricultural society. Those farmers started their work just after partaking the first meal.
This was included in the recent past when people started working at offices, he added. Usually there is a colour to wear and a direction to look at when leaving home for work.

Aluth Avurudu Games

Sinhala and Hindu New Year:
Aluth Avurudu games
The dawn of the New Year is around the corner and most of you must be eagerly looking forward to it especially to have fun with your friends participating in the various games played during the season and also enjoy the tasty sweetmeats that are available in plenty. Like all the age-old rituals connected with the New Year there are also traditional games played at the Avurudu Ulela some of which are very different to the games we play at other times. Today we give you an insight into some of these games....
Pancha keliya, onchili pedeema, kalagedi sellama, olinda keliya and porapol geheema are some of the games played during the New Year. These games bring fun and joy to our lives and at the same time, teach us a valuable lesson about team spirit.
Oththe-iratte is believed to be one of the oldest games played during the New Year. Both men and women play games such as kawadi for stakes. The scoring by means of runners is done on a chart drawn up on a plank or on cardboard.
Pancha is another popular indoor game played during the New Year season. Pancha is played with five small seashells, a coconut shell, and a chart. Players are divided into two groups. At events organised during the New Year, traditional competitive games like climbing the greased pole, pillow fighting (Kotta Pora), raban contests, gudu and elle are also played by many people.
Porapol geheema is a game which involves two teams, each taking turns to throw a coconut until all the nuts on one side are broken. The winning nut will be kept in the temple. This game is very famous in the southern part of the country, especially in Matara and Devundara. During ancient times, only king coconuts were used, but nowadays with the demand and the price of the king coconuts, if needed coconuts are being used. The popular belief is that the origin of this game dates beyond the advent of Buddhism.
Ankeliya is another common game mostly preferred by teenage boys. It is a more elaborate exercise than porapol geheema and is essentially a community game where divisions called udupila and yatipila are made. Each contesting side has a forked sambur horn.
These horns are interlocked and attached to a strong tree, which is called the an-gaha (horn tree). A rope is then attached to the interlocked horns and both teams have to tug vigorously at the rope. The tugging has to continue until one of the horns is damaged.
Gudu Keliya is another game played mostly by the smaller children. A propelling stick about two and a half feet long and a smaller one about six inches in length called the kuttiya are used.
A small hole about three inches is dug on the ground. Across this hole, the kuttiya is placed. The player then inserts the longer stick beneath the kuttiya and pushes it forward as fast as he/she can.
The rival players are spread out in the field in order to catch the kuttiya while it is still in the air. If any of them succeed, the striker is out. Another famous fun activity played during the season is going on the swing or onchili pedeema. Adults prepare gaily-decorated swings on the branches of overhanging trees for the children. They sing onchili waram while they swing. Tug-o-war is another game played especially at Avurudu Ulelas.
This is played using a long and strong rope. Players divide into two groups to play this. The middle of the rope is marked and each team is asked to stand on either side of the rope and pull it until one team is dragged towards the opposite side. Olinda Keliya is another popular game played especially in villages during the season.
This game is played using Olinda seeds. Women mainly play this game. Players also sing Olinda kavi. It is believed that Olinda keliya originated in Bangladesh. The stool, which is used to play Olinda, has two columns with seven holes in a row. Seeds like madatiya, mee and kekuna are also used to play this game.
These traditional games are interesting to play. Most of them such as an keliya and porapol gaheema are connected to religion.
They enhance the team spirit of people and help make friends. Avurudu is the time to forgive and forget. It is the time to make friends. Make use of these traditional games to promote peace and harmony among everyone in your village and neighbourhood.

All Saints' Church

Colombo, the commercial capital of Sri Lanka is one of the busiest cities in the country. It is a vibrant metropolis with a mixture of modern life and colonial buildings and ruins. Unlike other areas of the country, this buzzing city has ruins, which belongs to several eras, such as pre-historic, Dutch, Portuguese and British. "There are ruins which belongs to the pre-historic era at Vaarana and Pilikuththuwa temples, and many old buildings around the heart of Colombo belongs to the eras of Dutch, Portuguese and British," said an officer from the Provincial Department of Archaeology (Western), A. E. L. Thilakawardene.
A suburb of Colombo, which is known as Hulftsdorp is a part of the postal area of Colombo 12. During the early days, this part was known as Hulftsdorp. This suburb of the metropolis was named Hulftsdorf to commemorate General Gerard Pieterszoon Hulft, the Dutch East India Company's Director of India and commander in chief of the company's forces in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and on the Coast of India, who was killed during an invasion of Colombo. The hill on which he had his headquarters was named 'Hulft's Dorp' during the Dutch occupation. It is said that an ancient route connecting Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte and Colombo Fort, crossed Hulftsdorf. Today, what is known as 'Wella Veediya' had been a retaining wall of that road. King Rajasinghe the first (1554-1593) emptied tanks around the fort during the invasion of the Portuguese fort in Colombo. He removed the water through a canal, which was later named as St. Sebastian Canal.On the top of Hulftsdorp is the building decorated using Roman and Greek architectural style, which was used by the Dutch as the High courts in 17th century.
A stained glass window
The tall spire
The British later renovated this. Nowadays this area is popular as the hub of legal activities in the country as well as the place where Sri Lanka's only Law College is situated. In addition, to that, this area is popular for many buildings, which belongs to the era of the Dutch and British.
On top of 'Wella Veediya' is All Saints' Church, the religious landmark we are going to focus on today. It is one of the most unnoticed landmarks of the area. Though it is hidden among legal offices and the other ancient buildings, this church has a history of 145 years. In 1815, there was a seminary at the place where All Saints' Church is situated now. The Public Works Department (PWD) built this Church in 1865 according to a plan made by J. F. Churchill, who served the country as a 'civil engineer' at that time.
"The consecration of this church was held on November 01, 1865 on All Saints Day. This was more a family church during colonial reign," said Fr. Felician Ranjith Perera, Parish Priest of All Saints' Church, Borella. "Two famous families of the time Obeyesekeres and Bandaranaikes were the trustees of the church," he added. According to Fr. Ranjith Perera, All Saints' Church was built under the Episcopal Ordinance.
Later in 1998, it was brought under the ordinance of Churches Ceylon.
In keeping with the Gothic architectural style, All Saints' Church is absolutely a work of art.
This church features some of the main characteristics of the Gothic style such as pointed arches, and the ribbed vault. Prior to the 20th century, Gothic churches generally were the landmark of towns in Europe.
Rising high above all the other structures and often built with one or two towers and tall spires, those churches stole the hearts of city dwellers. The same goes with the Saints' Church in Hulftsdorf. Its tall spire is visible from quite a distance.
The large stained glass window behind the alter depicts the nativity story of the Lord. In addition to that, there is another stained glass window towards the left hand side of the church.
"Almost all the furniture here, is nearly 145 years old," said Fr. Ranjith Perera. Furniture includes things like the decorated pulpit, pews, altar and brassware.
All the furniture is decorated with magnificent woodcarvings. Hanging fans with attached lampshades reminded me of flowers hanging from a roof. The baptismal font and the Eagle Bible holder were two important monuments found inside the church.
The trustees of this church, Mr. And Mrs. S.C. Obeyesekere had donated this eagle bible holder on 24 June 1889. Some memorial wall tablets fixed on the church walls are noteworthy monuments found here.
Almost all the wall tablets belonged to the period before the twentieth century. Out of the entire, most touching memorial wall tablet was the one, which had constructed in memory of an infant boy.
With a picture of a plant with roots on a side, it read 'In Memory of James Massy infant son of Paul and Hilda Pieris Born June 11, 1901 Died April 28, 1902.'
The Eagle Shaped Bible holder
The baptismal font
There were other wall tablets constructed by children in memory of their parents; in memory of Don Andries de Alwis died on April 7, 1858, John Henricus Perera died on March 11, 1873, and Cornelia Dias died on December 30, 1866 were some of them.
The first vicar of All Saint Church was Cannon Rev. S. W. Dias Bandaranaike and the co-founder was Johannes Louis Perera. Rev. S. W. Dias Bandaranaike served the church during the period 1865-1883.
In addition to him, during the first century of the church the following reverends had also rendered service to the church, R. A. Duthy, A. Dias Abeysinghe, H. E. Gunathilake, G. B. Ekanayake, and W. H. W. Jayasekere.
The following were the trustees of the church during the first century, D. G. Obeysekere, R. D. Senevirathne, J. C. T. Perera Bishop's Trustee, and Evelyn De Silva.
"Though All Saints Church has a history of more than 140 years, it is still not a historical monument gazetted under the Archaeology Act," said an officer from the provincial department of Archaeology (Western), A. E. L. Thilakawardene. However, the church is well maintained and in very good condition.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


“Hi Samudra” Nishani waved at one of her batchmates, Samudra, and waited for a belated wave back. Then she watched her walking slowly towards her along the pavement.
“Hello Nishani, where are you going?”
“Where else can I go at this time of the day? I am going to work. What about you?”
 “I’m going on a shopping spree,” Samudra sounded excited.

“That’s wonderful, wish I could join you,” Nishani said.
 “Oh! That is fine. We can go another time. By the way, are you going to cross the road?” “Yes, I need to”
“Then let’s cross,” Samudra grabbed Nishani’s hand and hastily ran to the other side.
 “What did you do just now?” yelled Nishani.
 “Why, you said you wanted to cross the road, so we crossed,” Samudra flashed a mischievous smile.
“Is that the way to cross the road? It is pure luck that we are still alive. The dumbest thing you can do is to cross the road at places other than pedestrian crossings,” Nishani was furious and with the outburst, she felt her face blazing
 “What is the big issue? We can cross at any point! It takes time to look for a pedestrian crossing,” argued Samudra.
“It does matter.

Those few minutes you spend to look for a crossing can save your life,”
 “Why is it so important to cross at a pedestrian crossing?” queried Samudra. “Listen! At a pedestrian crossing, drivers do anticipate pedestrians. They slow down and hardly even attempt to overtake. However, in other places they do not. Therefore, the probability of meeting with an accident is high at other places,” explained Nishani.
“What you just did is known as jaywalking,” she said.

“What is jaywalking? This is the first time I heard that term,” she mumbled.
“That is an informal word to explain the action of pedestrians, who cross the road from anywhere other than the pedestrian crossing.”
“Nice word though. How did it come into existence?” suddenly Samudra was curious.

“The part ‘jay’ refers to an inexperienced person and then the part walk. Now you know what it means,” smiled Nishani.
“It seems like jaywalking is a serious and common problem. I wonder how drivers feel about jaywalkers,” said Samudra thoughtfully.
 “You are in luck, I can see Tharindu walking towards us,” said Nishani.

“Hi ladies!” greeted Tharindu, another batchmate.
“You are right on time. Where’s your car?” Nishani asked, while eyeing the key he was meddling with.
“I parked over there,” he pointed towards the public car park. “Anyway, what is the big issue?”
 “We were talking about jaywalking. Do you have any thoughts about it?”
“My god! I have tons of experiences about jaywalkers. Basically, I hate jaywalkers” Nishani looked at Samudra. She blushed as she realised that she was at fault.

“They cross the road when we least expect them. Generally jaywalkers are female shoppers darting across the street from one store to another,” said Tharindu.
 “We agree,” murmured both girls.
“What do you think will happen if 100 pedestrians cross the road at 100 places?” questioned Tharindu, the girls just nodded and remained silent wondering what to expect next.

Tharindu continued talking, since the girls decided to remain silent. “If 100 pedestrians cross at 100 places, we won’t be able to drive at all. We will have to stop and wait until each jaywalker crosses the road. Sometimes they take their own time to move. I have seen people crossing while gossiping with each other. They fail to realise that there are drivers waiting till they get across,” he explained aggressively as if he was almost ready to slap one of the jaywalkers right at that moment.
 “Hmm... I realise the gravity of my mistake. I’m sorry Nishani,” Samudra murmured and Nishani nodded with a smile.

“By the way, how come you two big gossips are talking about jaywalkers all of a sudden?” Tharindu was genuinely surprised.

The girls looked at each other, and both yelled in unison “No. Nothing special at all,” and shared a good laugh. “Hey, I’m getting late,” cried Nishani while looking at her watch.

“I have some assignments to complete before our big boss arrives. See you!” she wormed her way through the crowd and disappeared.