9th April 2000
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Looking back at the grandeur that was

By Roshan Peiris 
As we stand on the threshold of a New Year, we walk down the corridors of time and take a look at the traditions of a past era. And what better place to start than at the National Museum, though it seems lonely and forlorn with most of the "galleries" closed for security reasons. It is a veritable treasure house of jewellery, clothes, tools and utensils used by our ancestors.

Knowlegeable Sujatha Amarawickreme, our guide-lecturer first showed us the enormous vatti, petti and packing boxes made of wevel (cane). The housewives of yore packed the rasa kavili - the traditional New Year kokis, kavun, mun kavun, asme etc. into these boxes for storage to be served to guests or to be taken when visiting relatives or friends. 

These packing boxes coming in different shades of brown, now discoloured with age give an insight to how housewives, sans ovens and refrigerators, preseved food in bygone days. The kitchen tools are there too ócoconut scrapers of different shapes and sizes of dark-hued wood and with designs, the kuraniya used to measure ingredients, the Handi-ana, a large, plated wooden spoon and of course water dippers of coconut shell to take water from storage barrels for cooking. Massive grain grinding stones with snouts and also simple grinders were a housewife's resources.

The clothes of olden days were fascinating, particularly the outsized jacket of brocade with elbow-length mutton sleeves worn by Sri Lanka's last King, Sri Wickrema Rajasinha. The Queen wore a less opulent silk printed jacket with gold buttons down the front, for occasions.

Intricately carved bracelets of silver and glass beads, gold chains and ear ornaments of semi-gold and silver embedded with rubies, pearls and hanging Indian kodu of gold, pendants of various sizes and shapes elaborately studded with rubies and pearls were worn on festive occasions by both men and women. A statue of Lord Buddha from Toluvila made of dolomite and painted white, is in the entrance hall of the Museum. The throne of Kandy's last king, the frame made of wood and covered with gold sheets and the be-jewelled crown remind us of a grandeur long past.

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