Changes envisaged or the 100 days: Which is paramount? What looms large at the moment appears to be the mismatch between the changes envisaged and the days available in  the 100 days to achieve them. What is paramount? The beneficial changes or the number of days? Are we to nitpick regarding the number of days [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka



Changes envisaged
or the 100 days:
Which is paramount?

What looms large at the moment appears to be the mismatch between the changes envisaged and the days available in  the 100 days to achieve them. What is paramount? The beneficial changes or the number of days?

Are we to nitpick regarding the number of days or concentrate on the beneficial changes? If the changes are paramount the people (not the detractors) have to tolerate the spillover i.e. exceeding the number of days.

Apparently the House appears to be in the mood to back up the beneficial moves. Why not postpone the decision to dissolve Parliament till the completion of this mission? This preponderant favourable  backing, may not be there in the future Parliament.

Why not the leaders consider concentrating on the beneficial changes which must  be implemented even if it takes a few months over the 100 days. There are legal forma-lities,Parliamentary action and other forms of action to be taken care of. The most important ingredient is the sincere effort.

The incumbent “seraphic” President with other well meaning leaders should suspend their political agenda and give priority to the 100 days programme and see to its logical fruition if the country is to get out of the rut it has fallen into.

via email


The fast rotting carrot dangled in front of pensioners

Absurd and ridiculous conditions have been introduced to deprive all senior citizens of the 15% interest promised in the 100-day programme. Instead of helping, a cruel and unjust blow has been inflicted on senior citizens

The clause that one had to have Rs. one million or less in all banks inclusively as at 31.01.2015 was not part of the 100-day programme. Not only have they deprived us of the 12% interest offered by the earlier government but they have made the senior citizens revert to receiving only 7-7.5 % interest. It is so unjust and unfair.

This insensitive and unfair burden imposed on us senior citizens will have serious consequences. The carrot used as bait to lure the senior citizens has turned out to be rotten and it stinks now.

Purge your conscience.
C. Jayatunge

It’s time to groom career Central Bankers as governors

Years ago, the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) selected a career Central Banker as its governor. This time and the previous time complete outsiders were appointed by the executive presidency.

The previous governor messed up the CBSL and the country’s economy. The present governor too has suddenly become potentially so with questions over a bond issue looming.

Had a career Central Banker been entrusted with this important task he or she would never have engaged in such controversial deals at least to secure a pension after retirement! Thus under ‘good governance’ the time has come to groom career Central Bankers of high calibre to be appointed as Central Bank Governors.



Learning languages: Points to ponder

This is with regard to ‘Why can’t we Lankans speak better English?’ in the ST Plus of February 22 by Dr. Suneth Rajawasan.

A language is a medium of communication. Its grammar, spelling, pronunciation/accent and literary implications are secondary. We have to look at it from a practical point of view in communicating. The texting language today is `Greek` to many old timers, but it carries the message. In IT language, hardware is different to metallic hardware and software cannot be compared with underwear. In `Microsoft Word` used widely in the world, centre is also spelt as center.

That many people in our country cannot pronounce the `F` sound is a fact. There are some who cannot pronounce the `A` and `H` sounds. They say `YAE ` for `YAPPLE` and `KALLO` for hello. Another common mispronunciation is `VARTER` for water and VARDEN for warden.
English as a language spread globally in the 19th century. English itself is derived from several dialects such as Greek and Latin. Englishmen themselves could not speak proper English; so well illustrated in the film `My Fair Lady`.

During the days of the British Empire when the sun never set for them, they mispronounced indigenous names in other countries. For example Mumbai was Bombay, Kolamba was Colombo and Ca(r)ndy became Kandy. They still find it difficult to pronounce and spell the name Spain the way it should be spelt and pronounced by Spaniards. There are some Anglicised locals who still believe that the Britishers are masters of their former colonies.

The spread of English language through the colonies made it a medium of communication for international relations and trade and its usage became important. Learning and teaching English is highly commercialized. Therefore there are many opportunities in Sri Lanka for those interested to develop their language skills.

In USA a study has revealed that 11 million people cannot read or write and 40 million people cannot write their name in English. It is an English speaking country. There are 1.5 billion people speaking Chinese and 1 billion people speaking Hindi compared with 0.8 billion speaking English in the world.

In addition to learning proper English, it would be advantageous for Lankans to learn Hindi and Chinese from a futuristic point of view.

Duncan Fernando
Via email


Sigiriya: Modern -day doodles and lessons from history!

“Where did you descend, in such a hurry. Having seen Sihigiri, not seeing the mirror-wall, have you seen anything?”
A doodle is a drawing or writing made while a person’s attention is otherwise occupied, and to commit an intentional tort, it follows that one must harm someone or something on purpose.

But here’s the debate, doodling or scribbling idly is the sole purpose of the Sigiriya Mirror Wall. In the wake of King Kassapa’s demise, the people who came to see Sigiriya engraved verses in Sinhala scripts of that time on Sigiriya Damsels and the Sigiriya Lion on the wall running below the Sigiriya frescoes. The articulations made in the verses are refined and the beauty of the women had been abundantly appreciated in a simple literal way, which one might call “historical doodle” since these fine words of art emerged from a euphoric state of mind by seeing the artistry and elegance of the rock fortress of Sigiriya.

“The five hundred damsels arrest the progress of him who is going to heaven. With their gentle smile and the fluttering of their eye-lids, the damsels stood here, enslaved me who had come to the summit of the cliff.”

Hence if a present-day writing on Sigiriya Mirror Wall is categorized as an intentional tort, it is possible to argue that the same judicial norms can be applied if one deducts the element of time from the writings of 7th to the 10th centuries AD.
But having said that, history is not something we ought to overlook, it assumes an essential part in our regular lives. We acquire knowledge from our past to accomplish more noteworthy impact over our future. History serves as a model not just of who and what we are to be, we realize what to champion and what to maintain a strategic distance from.

There’s really no argument to be made to justify the irresponsible acts which have caused irreversible damage to the rock fortress of Sigiriya, something which was declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1982. But the question remains, as selfish, impatient, and insecure human beings, we all make mistakes and we are constantly in need of forgiveness. Isn’t taking two years from someone’s life for a five second “modern-day mistake,” something that makes us think about our heritage a little differently?

May be in one of many alternate futures, archaeologists and historians will refer to the present-day doodling as something that ought to be safeguarded for a future era to witness. Why? Because history matters, but so does the quality of being humane.

“Came with hundreds of people to see Sigiriya. Since the others wrote poems, I did not!”
-Dilshan Aloka Sri Wijegunasekera
Via email


On Madhu: A response to Dr. Pinto

Making a distinction between ‘truth’ and ‘plausible account’

I am grateful to Dr. Pinto for his comments about my work on Joseph Vaz but he took exception to my idea that the shrine of our Lady of Madhu was originally a Pattini shrine. I did qualify my assertion by saying that it was a “distinct possibility reinforced by the fact that there were Pattini shrines for this goddess all over the Island” and that “the transmutation of Pattini into our Lady of Madhu would have been inevitable.” It is certainly true that there are no archeological sites to verify my hypothesis and that is why I state that mine is a “plausible account of what happened in history,” not a verifiable one or an “absolute claim.”

I know of many persons who would make assertions of the truth of a religious belief, and this includes both Buddhists and Christians, without the least concern with evidence. Indeed if we follow the logic of falsifiability it would be impossible to write much of what we call history because what we do often depends on intuition, guess work and in this case the remarkable consonance between the beliefs of two Virgin goddesses.Further, Dr. Pinto attributes to me five inferences that I would never make. Especially disconcerting is the hypothesis that he imagines I would have made, namely, that the Catholic Church “secretly destroyed” the Pattini shrine and substituted our Lady of Madhu. I abhor such inventions and I personally don’t believe that a Pattini shrine was destroyed by the Catholics. Most of the Pattini shrines then and later were flimsy structures that could easily have been converted to a Madhu shrine without any serious objection from the Buddhists who as Dr. Pinto rightly says were quite accepting of other beliefs. It is the case however, that the Portuguese troops under Thome de Souza destroyed the great shrine of Vishnu in Devundara in 1588. I think such actions of troops occurred on both sides of the cultural divide and there is little evidence that Buddhist monks and Catholic priests engaged in similar actions. In other words one could have a peaceable appropriation of an alien deity. In my own research in Kataragama in the 1960s and 1970s there were Catholics and Protestants who visited that famed shrine (along with Muslims) although I have no idea of actual numbers.

Which brings me to Dr. Pinto questioning my assertion that large numbers of Buddhists visited the Madhu shrine as if it were a Pattini shrine. I can only reaffirm my own take but will recognize that being a Buddhist of sorts I would have readily identified Buddhist pilgrims just as Dr. Pinto would have been sensitive to the Catholic presence. We wouldn’t be human if we did not make such selective reappraisals in the context of large numbers. I am surprised that Dr. Pinto could categorically affirm he got his numbers right without any statistical sampling whatsoever. Of course the statue of Madhu as we have it now may seem different from that of Pattini but you would be surprised at the multiple ways in which the goddess has been represented in current and earlier shrines and in ritual dramas where she is often draped in brightly coloured veils. It is certainly true that Our Lady of Madhu is represented with a child and Pattini is not. But I would think that it is the image of the Virgin that Buddhist pilgrims would be focused on given the flexibility of their religious belief, that Dr. Pinto himself recognizes, I can’t imagine that they would find that particular representation troubling.

This takes to me to my next point. The history of religions contains a history of syncretism and no known religion has been exempt from it, although the degree of borrowing varied from one religion to another. Read William Blake (and especially his prophetic poems and paintings) and you would be surprised how remote his Christianity is from any kind of Protestant Orthodoxy. So is it with Catholicism: the history of heresy in Catholicism will provide many examples of breakaway movements within the orthodox tradition, in spite of zealous campaigns against them by papal authorities.

Given Dr. Pinto’s concern with accuracy one would have thought he would give us unimpeachable dates for the Madhu shrine. Instead he says that the “first record of Madhu goes back to 1670s” when Catholics came there to avoid Dutch persecution. This is possible but it is vague assertion and not a firm date. Father Queyroz in his monumental work on the period of the early Kandyan kingdom in the late 16th century has a comprehensive list of 55 churches (pp. 714-19) of which 22 were Marian churches but does not mention Madhu. As for his omission of Madhu he, like many of us, could have made errors and might have missed Madhu. However, I very much appreciate that he does include Our Lady of Guadalupe because it was a local peasant who first had a vision of her in 1531 when she spoke to him in his native Aztec language Nahuatl. This is also how some Pattini shrines get generated, namely, out of a vision seen by a man or a woman that then motivates that person to build a little shrine in her honour and sometimes not even a shrine but a simple token of remembrance.

Dr. Pinto then goes on to assert that Obeyesekere’s views on Madhu and Pattini are contrary to Christian orthodoxy as expressed in the First Commandment and the Jewish Torah. Maybe I am wrong but I do not think that either of the aforesaid sources had reference to the Virgin Mary and her cult, or for that matter any cult of any goddess.

Finally, I must protest the attribution to me as “an expert of Asian deities.” I disclaim “expertism” in any shape or form, and I have in a recent article mentioned how horrified I am to have made mistakes and missed much information in my book on Pattini. So it is with the word “truth” that I believe has to be within quotes in the historical sciences.

In my academic writing I have pointed out what is often alluded to as “truth” is a debate between contending parties as it is the case in the present example between us two. Any claim to truth has to be provisional. Neither he nor I have sufficient evidential support for our two hypotheses and we must depend on intelligent guess-work based on whatever information we can muster. I guess there is nothing wrong with a responsible guess!

-Gananath Obeyesekere

Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.