A glimmer of peace on Mahasivarathri
The scorching heat does not deter us from treading the sun-warmed sand
(akin to burning coal) to enter the Kokkadicholai Thanthondri Eswaran Temple.
We give our burnt feet some rest before entering the temple, festooned
gaily in preparation for the evening's celebrations of Mahasivarathri.
People throng the kovil premises; happy, smiling faces all round. A
group of devotees sit in a corner, chanting bhajans and sthothras. It is
not often that they get to celebrate a festival of any kind with fanfare.
Here in war-ravaged, LTTE-controlled territory in Batticaloa, their lives
are full of uncertainty. Thus, they are also willing to seize the rare
moments like these when the guns have, even temporarily, fallen silent.
We are in Kokkadicholai, in the area known as 'Paluvankarai', meaning
the sunset region. It is LTTE-held territory, and one has to cross the
Batticaloa lagoon to reach the area. Just a ten minute ferry ride separates
the military and LTTE controlled areas in Batticaloa. The reality is that
war could break out any moment, as it has happened before. Yet, people
cling to these temporary moments of joy.
People have not had an opportunity for over a decade to celebrate Mahasivarathri
or any other festival in the proper sense, they tell us. But this year
seems different. They cling to the hope that peace would not elude them
again. And despite all the suffering, they see the temporary truce as a
glimmer of hope.
Just outside the kovil premises, a few LTTE cadres can be seen, clad
in civvies, yet carrying their weapons. They are engaged in conversation
with some of the devotees but as we came out, they disappeared swiftly.
Cut off from the 'other side' or the military controlled area, the Paluvankarai
people have suffered due to inadequate supplies. The restrictions on certain
items also meant that they did not have fertilizer to cultivate their fields.
The little money they made was by freshwater fishing, which was totally
The economic burdens apart, the devotees complained of the difficulties
faced due to restriction of movement. It was always an unofficial curfew
after 6 p.m when life virtually came to a standstill. The few shops they
have closed before dusk, and people went indoors fearing confrontations.
These people have vivid memories of the LTTE's pistol gangs, the shooting
of LTTE suspects that made an entire village weep. The continuous harassment
from both parties. And they lament the fact that they are caught in-between.
The managers of the kovil offered us special sweetmeats prepared for
the festival. Dressed in traditional garb, they tell us that life has taken
a new meaning now. No more travel restrictions, no more unofficial curfews
or handing over of identity cards every time they had to take a ferry ride
across the lagoon. It also means that Mahasivarathri, could actually be
celebrated in the night. " We feel as if we are part of the civilization,
part of the rest of the country only now after so many years," said one
These are special days, says one manager of the temple, smiling. "We
just wish more Sinhalese would visit us, share their gift of friendship
with us as we did before," he said, recalling the days when the Sinhalese
traders were active in Batticaloa.
At parting, they tell us that God Shiva has bestowed upon them a rare
gift on a very significant day to them- a friendly visit by the Sinhalese
to see their untold suffering. They would pray to the Buddha and God Shiva
and wish that this blessing of friendship would continue. They pinned much
hope on the Sinhala arasangam (government) to ensure lasting peace.
Jumbos play ball
It was elephant sports down Weligama way recently, when the southern coast
took on a festive air for the first all-Sri Lanka Elephant Polo Tournament
opposite the idyllic island of Taprobane.
The teams which competed following a day's practice were the Sri Lanka
Navy, the Sri Lanka Police, the Diplomatic Corps and the Taprobane Elephant
In the first round, the Sri Lanka Navy beat the Taprobane Island Elephant
Polo Club and the Police beat the Diplomats. The following day, the Navy
and Police played in the first ever all Sri Lanka final and in a very exciting
set of chukkas the Police managed to fend off a very spirited Navy team
by 5 goals to 2, laying claim to the cup. In the plate tournament the Taprobane
Elephant home team beat the Diplomats. There was also an exhibition match
between the Navy and the current Sri Lanka champions, who have recently
won the World Championship in Nepal and also the Anantara Gold Cup in Thailand.
Elephant polo was introduced in Sri Lanka by Geoffrey Dobbs, the owner
of Taprobane Island (Count de Mauny's island) in February 2001, following
his participation in the World Championships in Nepal. "It is now firmly
established as a sport in Sri Lanka," says Geoffrey. "We hope it will encourage
a new kind of tourism and will also focus attention on the plight of the
Preparations are already underway for next year's tournaments and Geoffrey
hopes to fund a training programme for mahouts and elephants.
"Most domestic elephants in Sri Lanka are used for religious festivals.
They are used to being led and not ridden. We need to train mahouts and
elephants to understand the rules of Elephant Polo. Elephants are extremely
intelligent animals and adapt quickly. It was very noticeable as the tournament
progressed how quickly they were adapting and learning to play ball."
Further information on Elephant Polo can be obtained from Geoffrey Dobbs
on 09-226264 or email- email@example.com