Enough is enough! Our leadership must have the courage to repress populism In recent times I have been reading a great deal about Sinhala Buddhist Culture and the threats to it. Kishani Jayasinghe’s operatic rendition of ‘Dhanno Budunge’ came in for a lot of flak from ultra-nationalists who saw in it a serious threat to [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka



Breaking coconuts: A practice that has nothing to do with Buddhism

Enough is enough! Our leadership must have the courage to repress populism

In recent times I have been reading a great deal about Sinhala Buddhist Culture and the threats to it. Kishani Jayasinghe’s operatic rendition of ‘Dhanno Budunge’ came in for a lot of flak from ultra-nationalists who saw in it a serious threat to Sinhala Buddhist culture.

I have given the brouhaha about Kishani’s singing some thought and come to the conclusion that the critics of it were ignorant people who knew very little about music or culture.

Critics of the ultra-nationalists who attacked Kishani might unkindly point out that much of Sinhala Buddhist culture prevalent today has little to commend it. Buddhism, as practised in this country, is nothing to be proud of. Most of the current practices are a travesty of Buddhism as preached by the Buddha. The tying of ‘Pirith Nooles’, the breaking of coconuts to cast ruin on opponents, the dabbling in charms to harm enemies, the faith in the occult, auspicious times and horoscopes, are all practices that the Buddha would have frowned on. They are a hodgepodge of superstitions and Hindu beliefs.

The most highly visible monks today are an utter disgrace to Buddhism. They are nothing but thugs masquerading as monks. But these are what an unbiased observer would see as the most visible examples, if not the face, of Sinhala Buddhist culture.  Part of the reason for this shameful state of affairs is that politicians including those at the top feel obliged to pander to them. Monks have ruled the roost for too long and are wielding more influence than is good for the country. No self-respecting MP today would be seen without a ‘pirith noole’, or fail to participate in a ‘Bodhi-pooja’ that is held.

An off-shoot of today’s Sinhala Buddhist culture is the re-naming of roads. Ultra-nationalists have no regard for history. There is no reason for us to be ashamed of our colonial past. It is a part of our history and we were not responsible for it. There is no reason to attempt to obliterate it. It is like trying to deny that a large number of our kings were Tamil. It is a wonder that Horton, Barnes and Ward Place are still there. But it is only a matter of time. The ultra-nationalists have not yet had the time to get around to them.

Once again it is our political leaders who have to take the blame. They have not had the courage to say ‘enough is enough’. They have never given thought to the consequence of road name changes. They result in much wasteful expenditure. Letterheads and name boards have to be changed. Maps have to be changed, and no one benefits from these changes. Citizens who have lived their lives down Havelock Road for instance now have to grit their teeth and accept an unpronounceable change. In many instances they ignore the name changes and continue using the old names. The tendency to make such name changes is a characteristic of a Banana Republic. Just go to Singapore which has overtaken us in every direction, including Governance, and you will find how carefully they have preserved the old colonial names of some of their roads.   An interesting question is who is responsible for these name changes? They would certainly not be at the request of those living down the roads in question. They would probably turn out to be some insignificant petty politicos and their willing sycophants. Should not these far-reaching changes be decided at a very high level of our political hierarchy?

I conclude with a plea that our political leadership should show more courage in repressing populism. With the confidence that there will be no major changes in the political landscape for another five years at least it could concentrate on doing the right thing in every instance, however minor it may seem.

Charitha P. de Silva
Via email

Sri Lanka needs to evolve, innovate and interpret; then will we have real freedom

I am glad that I waited a while to write about Kishani Jayasinghe’s rendition of ‘Dhanno Budunge’ on Independence Day this year.

Reading what has been written about this singer, I am deeply saddenend by what she has had to put up with – it is so unneccessary.

Kishani is an icon, who needs to be celebrated and saluted. Does anyone realise the time (many years), commitment and funding that goes into such a career? I think not. If they did, these philistines woud not make such malicious remarks out of ignorance and envy.

Where does this anger come from? Devika Brendon in her recent article ‘Deadlier than the male’ ( Island – 13.3.2016) gives us revealing insights.

As a painter, during my career I have received many bouquets and a few brickbats. During mid-career I started getting anonymous cowardly letters, the contents of which were totally untrue. These cowardly letters were meant to unsettle and hurt me. I might mention that no one bothered me as a teenager when I started my career.

Artists are people who are gifted but sometimes naïve. Having natural talent, Kishani however had to have her voice trained to reach its true potential. This is a difficult task requiring hours of practice and exercise to keep fit as stamina is what gives the artist the energy he/she needs. An artistic career is not for the faint-hearted.

Culture is something dynamic. It changes with time. Sri Lankan culture has many beautiful aspects to it. However just now there is a cultural lag. When a culture is in transition, problems and conflicts arise and that is what is happening now. Parts of our culture are not developed, they are in the Dark Ages.

Speaking for myself I am always happy for others who are a success in whatever field they are in. How hard they would have worked. I think of Vajira, Upeka and Thaji- world class dancers. Vajira has been dancing for 65 years.

In this world, the most profound emotion one can experience is the sense of the mystical. I am sure all of us have experienced it at some time but modern culture gives us no room for such things.

Who cannot stand in awe of a beautiful sunset, a melody well played and sung, a dancer in action, a painting of haunting beauty, a well written book? If this emotion is a stranger to some, then they have missed, the whole point of living, the art of living well.

Kishani and I are patriots who love our country. She will rise and shine even more in the future.

We have to be happy to have independence in our country. Independence means freedom. Yet Sri Lanka needs to evolve, innovate and interpret. Then we will have real freedom.

Marie Alles Fernando

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