The tried and tested bevy of drummers lined up to do their Rajakariya, or feudal duties, this year at the Rajapaksa perehera have already started beating their drums vigorously, thumping out their signature drone ‘Make Mahinda Prime Minister’ to raise the pressure on President Maithripala Sirisena to do a double somersault on his avowed stance [...]


Drummers line up for rajapaksakariya at UPFA’s Election Perehera in August


The tried and tested bevy of drummers lined up to do their Rajakariya, or feudal duties, this year at the Rajapaksa perehera have already started beating their drums vigorously, thumping out their signature drone ‘Make Mahinda Prime Minister’ to raise the pressure on President Maithripala Sirisena to do a double somersault on his avowed stance and relent, even as he was pushed into a corner and forced to flip flop on his election pledge to the nation to bring the tainted members of the Rajapaksa regime to justice.

Instead, buckling under pressure, he had to meekly acquiesce in the grant of UPFA nominations to the unsavoury elements loitering on the sidewalks whom the state’s whip crackers failed to clear from the tawdry streets and keep off from the polls parade safely behind bars in the cordoned enclosures specially reserved for them. But such is their power and such the reach of their influence — it shows how a small oligarchy of corrupt individuals hell bent on regaining lost paradise, can hold a nation to ransom and stop the march of democracy in its stride. But now let’s turn to the pageant which maybe the last of its kind.

Whilst the pandamkarayas, or the flame bearers light their fire torches and line the street, the hevisi band of drummers step forth to herald the advent of the pageant’s caparisoned protagonist still being robed with the purple sash. But today the drummers have a different rhythm to beat, a different message to percuss. Now that the primary barrier had been stormed and broken down and the floodgate had been open for the whole troupe of saints to go marching in to the final paddock, the shepherd of the flock must first be chosen to lead them over the hill again.

Standing out from the hevisi drummers, is the instantly recognisable one with the twin set of drums, the getaberakaraya. His forte is his uncanny ability to beat both drums simultaneously never missing a beat. Well, almost never. Once he had committed a major error when he used to don a sham wig to hide his silver locks beneath and, though he went on bended knees near the Diyawanna Oya and pathetically beseeched forgiveness for his crass bias so graphically exposed sans shame, the spectators have neither forgotten nor forgiven the immense damage wreaked on the nation’s fabric.

But it is acknowledged by all that he is a getabera maestro par excellence who has performed in various pereheras at various times; and has unfailingly genuflected to whichever god he found enshrined at that time in the temple of mammon to better himself. Now here he is thumping out that President Sirisena must, according to age old customs and traditions as stated in the nation’s mother of all edicts, choose his prime minister from the members of the majority party and no other.

Many years of banging his own drum may have made him deaf to the voices of other opinion expressed on the matter which clearly state that the President is authorised to choose from the paddock’s membership, any member as prime minister who, in the President’s opinion is likely to command the confidence of the majority of the members in that exclusive club.

But no matter. No one of any intelligence or common sense pays any heed to this lay preacher now. Eternally grey above and frequently stuffed with grey between the ears beneath, the only quality that remains in him to evoke the wonder of the beholder is how such a small head can hold all the bursting bloated vanity of the man or how a spinal cord can possess so much flexibility to stoop to such unbecoming depths.

Only the down and out searching in the gutter for a dud five cent coin in the vain hope that it will buy life nourishing dough, used to tolerate him anywhere near them but now even that invite comes seldom so he is forced to gatecrash and drum for his host’s last supper before moving on to another act of betrayal.

The Peramuna Rala comes next atop a bedecked elephant. He was specially flown from the States ten years ago when the first perehera was held to get his advice on how to ride the polls pony the way Yankee Doodle did when he stuck a feather in his hat and called it macaroni. But today the only feathers he sees are not stuck in his cap but those that will feather his party’s raven nest and he declares, like a prophet of doom come to warn ‘the end is nigh, the end is nigh’, how the nation will be engulfed by a manmade disaster of the worst kind, a political tsunami no less where the masses will unfurl their wrath on Lankan shores in tidal waves repeatedly, if his leader is not granted the prime ministership, never mind what the rock edict says.

Below him, his mahout, a Dissawe from Wayambe, shouts ‘hear, hear’ and brandishes the henduwe and threatens to run amok in the paddock with the cattle prod, the paddock’s symbol of authority, if his leader is not appointed as Prime Minister.

The method of operation is clear: Opinions are put forward disguised as genuine legal rulings stating that the President is duty bound by the constitution to make the appointment and that he has no other choice constitutionally. If he fails to comply with the constitution, the people will be forced to resort to revolt to achieve their just aim. Hammered home long enough by this train of artful drummers in the pageant and the masses may come to wonder whether it is actually so: whether the President actually has the discretion he claims he has or whether he is constitutionally bound to appoint Mahinda as Prime Minister and no one else?

Drummed long enough, this diabolical misrepresentation of the constitution may take hold in the minds of those not versed in constitutional law and far too indifferent or too busy with their own pressing affairs to make a determined effort to seek the actual position themselves. What is happening is the stage is being insidiously set, the people are being subtly conditioned, and the president is being unfairly subjected to undue pressure that it should not surprise anyone if he finally succumbs to it at the end of the day and goes on TV a week later to tell the nation why.

Ah, the horanawa comes into the perehera frame now but where is the flutist. This Lankan Rasputin with the goatee comes swaggering in, elevated on walking stilts to increase his meagre height and flaunt his five star salon pedicured toes, blowing his flute from the depths of his lungs to make the President obey his declared orders which he has announced to all “my mothers and my fathers” at every ‘Bring back Mahinda’ rally to date.

His flute, like a slender footed 17th century wineglass having a tall conical bowl, is daintily held in his carefully manicured fingers, and gives full blast to all the pent up sound and fury of a blown up windbag. He has nothing much to flute about but to flute that President Sirisena must make Mahinda Rajapaksa prime minister and flutes it. No magic sleeps in his flute but a pit of filth awakes and oozes stench each time he flirts his flute. Not even six months ago the common verdict was that he does not play his flute well at all and that it positively turned off the audience from giving his leader the rousing triumphant cheer but that has not evidently dampened his spirits to play his flute whether or not anyone is listening or likes it.

The procession moves on. The raban dancers twirl their circular shaped drums, followed by the udekki dancers playing their small hour glass shaped percussion instruments bearing drum skins on both sides, singing and dancing simultaneously. Then comes the Pantheru dancers with one of the oldest instrument in music, a tambourine minus the drum skin, playing out the clinking sound which ancient myth holds was used by the gods to celebrate their battlefield triumphs over the demon Asuras. Sinhala kings of yore used to sound it to raise their victory cry in war but perhaps it is being sounded prematurely ere the poll results are out.

The Ves dancers follow next, but today they dance without the ministerial ves thattuwas which they have left at the other perehera across the lake. This is considered the highest form of Lankan dancing and takes years to perfect. In this political pageant, however, it mainly consists of singing hosanna to the leader and adopting various sycophantic postures, the lower the better.

Following behind this extravaganza of obsequiousness comes the Kariya Karawana Korale. He is the all-important toady in charge of every detail of the perehera. In fact there were even fears that he might not be able to participate in this perehera since his health, it is said, suffered an unexpected blow due to pressure of work. But no doubt being a Harvard man — if you can call a two weeks course that he had once attended at Harvard University a Harvard education, as he proudly claimed last week — must have seen him through and given him the mental tenacity vital for this demanding job.

And then comes the most important icon in the whole procession: the sole reason for this parade which has brought the nation’s traffic to a halt. The Diyawanna Oya Nilame — or not yet but already proclaimed by the entire procession of faithful; followers as such – is carried in a palanquin by a contingent of guards provided at the state’s expense. Though travel is by foot, the speeches and the miracles of Lanka are borne along with him in the cushy comfort of the dholawa, the palanquin. In his hand he clutches a metallic cylinder called the Lekam Mitiya, which, though it once held all the title deeds of the lands gifted and the concomitant duties of the donees, now contains all the files of the members of his tainted previous regime which, should the need arise to make the retinue fall in line, he can pull out at a moment’s notice.

Time was when he was monarch of all he surveyed and his travel mode was the flying carpet but though he had fallen a peg or two or three in the last few months, his ambitions had soared sky high in the opposite direction; and, like Icarus, had dared to take vertical flight to reach the sun. He sends out no message to be made the prime minister. That will be infra dig. There are many others in the line up to do it for him. As his purple satakaya pops out from his Randoli and waves in the wind to the canned cheers of organised crowds packing the pavement, there is no need to second guess what his wish will be on the final morn of August 18th when the vote counting ceremony will be concluded, signalling the end to the month-long hope fest and marking the beginning of life long despair.

Behind the Diyawanna Oya Nilame hopeful come the kavi maduwa, made of poets, singers, literary artists and teledrama actresses all called Kala Karuwo singing the praises of their lord and master to high heavens. Six months ago astrologers were given pride of place but today their starlight has dimmed and they are conspicuously visible only by their stark absence.

From the first torch bearer right down to the last of the Pradesha Sabha headmen who follow last, they all have one intonation to make, the same monotonous mantra to chant to invoke the powers that dwell in the political heavens to make ‘Mahinda, Prime Minister’. But, alas, in their exuberance thronging heaven’s gate, they miserably fail to fervently pray to the masses, the political weather gods of Lanka, not to let the rain of a UPFA defeat wash away their bespoke day dreams.

Mahinda’s scuffle with party drunk
It could happen to anyone, even to modern day royalty who choose to mingle with crowds at the risk of losing their cool, and on Tuesday it happened to Lanka’s former twice president, Mahinda Rajapaksa at Akuressa.

SLFP Athata Jayawewa: A man tries to grab MR's hand causing Rajapaksa to react

Arriving at a political rally, he alighted from his car to walk the short distance to the stage where party leaders awaited to accord him a royal welcome. As he made his way through the crowds, a party supporter tried to grab his hand. A scuffle ensued and TV cameras captured the moment when the former president flared back in anger. The TV clip, which has gone viral, shows the former president reacting with his left hand raised before being pushed back and stopped from falling to the ground by his own security.

While all this was taking place, the announcer on the stage was heralding Mahinda’s arrival as “our beloved king is coming, our beloved appachchi is coming, our beloved prime minister is coming, our beloved Mahinda Rajapaksa is coming, jayawewa, jayawewa,’ totally unaware perhaps that his beloved king and appachchi was at that very moment involved in an unseemly scuffle with a UPFA party drunk in the gallery below.

Explaining the incident, the former president’s spokesman stated that the man was a UPFA supporter and had been trying to get close to the former president to shake his hand. The man had been drunk, he said, and the incident was dismissed as the act of a drunkard.

But what cannot be brushed off so easily is the common charge levelled against UPFA that crowds are brought to UPFA meetings with the lure of a packet of rice and a bottle of arrack. Can anyone blame these drunks if they are in high spirits courtesy of UPFA organisers? Does this incident put the finger on the fact that perhaps a great many of the crowds UPFA boasts about maybe thoroughly sloshed right throughout the rallies and can make no head or tail of the stirring speeches those thirsty for power intoxicatedly air on stage?

There is a pithy Sinhala saying ‘thamange arrackku thamantama gahai’ or ‘getting hit by one’s own arrack’. Maybe this was another one of those instances where the old adage was spot on.

Furthermore the former president speaking of the incident which appeared to be like a left handed punch attack by him on a UPFA supporter said on Thursday, “A strong party supporter held onto my hand out of love for me. He appeared to be under the influence of liquor. He caught hold of my finger and held onto it strongly. So I pushed him away. What else could I do? He nearly broke my finger. I nearly wept tears from another place also.”

For his own personal safety, Mahinda Rajapaksa should keep a careful safe distance from the people he loves so much and who he says loves him so much and remember the wisdom of another Sinhala saying, ‘thadha sulang wassatai, thadha seneh dabaratai’ or strong winds spell rain: strong love brews trouble.

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