Grim determination to celebrate the thrice-blessed day with religious observances Lantern and decor vendors surprised at sudden pick up in sales In some areas, people of all faiths come together to hold dansal Though security considerations in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks have led to the cancellation of many public events during [...]


After Easter Sunday terror attacks, Vesak radiates waves of resilience


  • Grim determination to celebrate the thrice-blessed day with religious observances
  • Lantern and decor vendors surprised at sudden pick up in sales
  • In some areas, people of all faiths come together to hold dansal

Although Vesak is being celebrated on a low key, Buddhist flags, colourful pandols and lanterns were seen in and around Colombo. Pix by Sameera Weerasekera

Though security considerations in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks have led to the cancellation of many public events during this year’s Vesak celebrations, they have not stopped the people from marking the most significant date on the Buddhist calendar in their own way.

Kithsiri Rajapaksa

There will be no major “Vesak Zones” this year owing to security concerns. There are hardly any pandals or large scale Vesak lanterns, while many dansal have also been called off owing to security concerns, as such places attract large crowds. Some temples have even taken the unprecedented step of not holding sil programmes during this year’s Vesak Poya.

Nevertheless, there appears to be a grim determination to celebrate Vesak in other ways.

In many parts of the country this week, people enthusiastically decorated roads with Buddhist flags, colourful lights and Vesak lanterns. The same was done in their homes and business establishments. People who cannot observe sil at the temple have opted to do so in their own homes. Steps are also being taken to donate money already collected to hold dansal to the poor or to victims of the terrorist attacks.

“I feel that, as Buddhists, we have a duty to celebrate Vesak this year even more than we have done during previous years,” said Bambalapitiya resident Chandi Ratnatunga (36), who was looking to buy Vesak lanterns at a roadside stall in Colombo on Friday. “I hope it will also bring blessings on our country at this difficult time.”

M.D. Karunaratne (68) from Bandaragama had even come with some old Vesak lanterns to a stall to try and see if they too can be fixed as he purchased new lanterns for his daughter’s office. “This is the most significant day for all Buddhists. We need to mark it in any way we can, no matter what,” he insisted.


Many vendors who sold Vesak decorations told the Sunday Times they were surprised at the number of people who were coming to buy Vesak decorations this year. “We start making lanterns more than one and a half months before Vesak. We actually cut down on the number of lanterns we made this year as we feared people won’t come due to the situation in the country. But business has definitely picked up over the past few days,” said S.A. Gunawathi (60) who has been selling Vesak decorations for over a decade.

Reports from various towns said there were far more Buddhist flags adorning the streets than during Vesak in previous years. Even people of other faiths joined in decorating their areas as communities joined together to celebrate Vesak.

In Galle and Hambantota, main roads and most byroads were fully decorated with Buddhist flags and other decorations.

In Matara, the pandal that is annually erected on Hakmana Road was also erected this year while devotees observed sil at the Matara Bodhi under tight security. The local Young Men’s Buddhist Association (YMBA) meanwhile, has initiated a programme to channel funds collected to hold dansal in their areas to have school uniforms tailored for needy children who have lost a parent.

In the sacred cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, there was more emphasis this year on holding religious observances.

While the past week has seen violent attacks against Muslims by mobs in certain parts of the country, there are still heartening signs of unity among different communities.

In Maradana, the dansala that had been held annually for 26 years was due to be declared open last evening by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. United National Party Municipal Councillor Kithsiri Rajapaksa, the main organiser of the dansala, told the Sunday Times that it had always been organised with the participation of all communities in the area. “Maradana is a predominantly Muslim majority area and we have lived in harmony all these years. This remains the same even now. The Muslim community also helped in putting up Vesak decorations in the area,” he revealed.

Hatred will not cease by hatred,  say politicos quoting Buddha’s teachingsPresident Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya and Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa extended Vesak greetings.
Excerpts from their messages:President Maitripala Sirisena :For a society to blossom without fear, danger and mistrust, Buddha has preached that, hatred will not cease by hatred, but kindness will. It is time we became strong enough to truly, meaningfully and honestly relate to this eternal truth.Prime Minister
Ranil Wickremesinghe:“The Enlightened One taught us the path to liberation of the mind. It is relevant to each person individually and the public collectively. Let us abstain from lust, hate and violence, and practice the four foundations of mindfulness. This will open the way for reconciliation, peace and unity in our land.”Speaker Karu JayasuriyaThere are no better words than, hatred will not cease by hatred, but kindness will, as preached by Lord Buddha. Sri Lankan Buddhists have not lost their faith or belief as they mark the Vesak festival with memories of terrorist attacks led by extremist groups who have distanced themselves from noble teachings.

Opposition Leader
Mahinda Rajapaksa

In today’s reality the Buddha’s message is even more relevant than it was two and half millennia ago. Buddhism advocates peace and non- violence as its universal and core message. The spirit of tolerance and understanding has been one of the most cherished values of Buddhist culture and civilization.

Vesak dansal numbers sink to historic low

The number of dansal during this year’s Vesak Poya Day has hit a historic low, with just 94 applying for registration throughout the country as of last Friday (May 17), the Public Health Inspectors’ (PHI) Union said. Nearly 6,000 dansals were registered last year, the union secretary, Mahendra Balasooriya, told the Sunday Times.

There were some 150 dansal in the Colombo district alone last year. Only six dansals had been registered this year, he said.

Mr Balasooriya also said most of the dansal that registered were small scale, handing out soft drinks, ice cream, chickpeas and belimal drinks. “There aren’t many large scale dansals [providong meals] that are held over several days. This is due to security concerns.”

He however, said the union expects some last minute applications to register during the weekend. “We think some may apply to register after observing that other dansals are taking place. We have some 1,500 PHIs on standby to attend to these matters,” he added.

Organisers have been advised to liaise with police in their areas regarding security before registering, Mr Balasooriya further said.

Police Spokesman Superintendent of Police (SP) Ruwan Gunasekara though, said only those holding large scale dansals need approval.

“If they are installing speakers for the dansal for example, they need to obtain a permit from the police. We also need to assess if the location of the dansal will result in traffic [congestion] in the area. Additional police will also be deployed for security depending on the situation,” he said, emphasizing that the police have no intention of discouraging people from hosting dansal.

Religious leaders share their thoughts for Vesak

The Malwatta Mahanayake the Most VenerableThibbatuwawe Sri Sumangala Thera, the Asgiri Mahanayake the Most Venerable Warakagoda Sri Gnararatana Thera and Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith issued Vesak messages.


Malwatta Mahanayaka the Most
venerable Thibbatuwawe Sri Sumangala Thera:

Celebrate Vesak festival by attending religious ceremonies peacefully, safely and intelligently considering the prevailing sad situation.

Asgiri Mahanayaka the Most Venerable Warakagoda Sri Gnararatana Thera:

Following the Buddha’s preaching, every Buddhist should act patiently and remain calm. Usually every Sri Lankan marks Vesak irrespective of their religion, but due to the prevailing insecure situation the festival will not be as grand as previous celebrations.”

Colombo’s Archbishop Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith:

We celebrate Vesak this year at a moment in time where out religious existence is being questioned. Terrorists who made hatred their religions have become a huge challenge to the religions that have made love and compassion their basis. But all the religions we worship teach us as a fundamental truth that only love and compassion can defeat hatred and violence. Let us strive to make love and compassion the centre of our spiritual being. Let us extinguish the flames of violence, and spread the message of love and compassion. Through this, let us strive towards a spiritual life.


State festival: Low key activities  for subdued Vesak PoyaUnlike in the past 10 years, Vesak Poya Day related actives are low key this year, although minority communities have been seen joining to make decorations and walking in multi-religious peraheras.The national Vesak Week runs from May 15 to May 21, but the celebrations were scaled down owing to security fears following the Easter Sunday killings by Islamic extremist suicide bombers..   Official commemorations began on Friday at the Telwatta Thotagamu Purana Ranpath Rajamaha Viharaya in Hikkaduwa under the patronage of President Maithripala Sirisena. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was due to attend Vesak Poya religious observances at the same temple yesterday.The festival was curtailed from five days to two after the Mahanayaka Theras in a joint appeal, urged the more emphasis on religious activities.The festival is being held under the theme “Akusal Durukota Kusal Vadamu” (Let us discard evil deeds and cultivate good deeds).Assistant commissioner (development) at the Department of Buddhist Affairs, R.M.N.K.S. Kanchana, said some events were cancelled.A Vesak zone in Hikkaduwa will not be held.“The focus will be on developing the spiritual aspect of Buddhists in light of recent events,” Mr Kanchana said.   The government has also advised the public not to engage in Vesak related activities that attract large crowds, including large pandals and dansals.

Temples have been advised to form security committees and consult police and the armed forces. Devotees have been urged to avoid carrying bags to temples.

Highland town in Vesak mood
Nuwara Eliya is joining many other cities in Sri Lanka with the residents making a collective effort to commemorate Vesak Poya Day, although religious activities such as observance of ‘Seela’ and alms givings, are on a much smaller scale.
But while, the ‘dansal’ have been called off in the wake of the Easter Sunday suicide attacks on Catholic churches, organizers have taken to decorating Nuwara Eliya and surrounding areas with Buddhist flags.

An effort is also being made to donate funds already collected for ‘dansal’ to the hundreds of innocent victims of the suicide attacks. Vendors who sell fabric for sewing Buddhist flags say sales have been three times higher than normal. One shop alone had sold 5,000 metres of fabric.

Private bus owners operating on the Meepilimana-Nuwara Eliya route have offered free transport on Vesak Poya Day.
Pic by Shelton Hettiaarachi

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