18th June 2000

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Protecting the gods' own village

At Ulpotha near Embogama in the Kurunegala district, Cultural Survival of Sri Lanka has created Sri Lanka's sole authentic Eco-Cultural Sanctuary, a working puranagama (ancient hamlet) where holistic principles are an integral part of everyday life. Vanniye aththo opposite the Kataragama Devale`

The Ulpotha Sanctuary, is an olagama, a puranagama whose traditional infrastructure (devale temple & irrigation system) has been restored entirely through private sector funding on a modest scale. Anyone may come and see for him- or herself the extent of Cultural Survival's remarkable success in terms of facilitating sustainable ecological development to promote the welfare of Sri Lankan villagers, - the real custodians of Sri Lanka's cultural and environmental heritage.

At the far South, settlers from various communities are encroaching upon a sizable extent of the Yala National Park near the Kataragama Mahadevale. Without any traditional organization or livelihood, they depend on environmentally-destructive activities like illicit gemming and tree-felling. But clearly the piecemeal destruction of Deviyange Kale (the God's own Forest) and desecration of the sacred Menik Ganga are neither in the interest of Sri Lanka, nor in the long-term interest of the settlers themselves.

Indeed, their sorry plight is symptomatic of a larger process that threatens to destroy what remains of Kataragama's and Sri Lanka's once - proud eco-cultural heritage.

This is where the Eco-Cultural Sanctuary concept makes perfect sense, for implementation in Kataragama, as a model showcase of the tremendous potential of the South, for culturally-appropriate, environmentally- sustainable development.

Cultural Survival is ready to design the concept and demonstrate how a sustainable devale-based culture can survive and prosper for centuries to come. Cultural Survival would call the sanctuary Deyangegama, 'the God's own village'.

A feature of the proposed Eco-Cultural Sanctuary at Kataragama of declaring the sacred left bank of the Menik Ganga to be an Eco-Cultural Sanctuary would involve a gradual restoration of traditional values and lifestyles.

Each of Sri Lanka's Sacred Cities encapsules aspects of the island nation's cultural and spiritual inheritance.

And Kataragama is exceptionally well-endowed with ancient wisdom and traditions that are as alive today as they were thousands of years ago when the Wanniya-aththo (inhabitants of the Wanni forest) and yakshas (arboreal spirits) alone knew the marvels of island Lanka.

These same ancient traditions find natural application in the sylvan setting of Kataragama, the home of Sri Lankan Buddhists,' Hindus', and Muslims' favourite divinity, angel, bodhisattva, and prophet.

And they all come to Kataragama to pay their respects to the friendly Power who graces Kataragama or Kathirkamam.

Some proposed features of an Eco-Cultural Sanctuary at Kataragama could include:

*Traditional laws & practices to take precedence over statutory laws.

*Showcase of cultural diversity: Sinhala, Tamil & Muslim live together while preserving their distinct identities and paramparas.

*Traditional wattle-and-daub style community centres to coordinate & implement local development strategies.

*Promotion of private investment in pilgrimage-related local cottage industries such as rosaries, vibhuti, and other pilgrims' accessories.

*Eco-tourism: eco-friendly traditional accommodation and meals and accommodation for traditional pilgrims wanting to experience the spirituality of Kataragama in a forest setting.

*The encouraging of local and foreign visitors wishing to engage in traditional studies to learn traditional arts including cooking and agriculture .

*Marketing of organically-grown garden produce, home-made and home-designed handicrafts.

*Promotion of indigenous health and nutrition practices.

*Protection and judicious use of medicinal forests.

*Certain restrictions on motor traffic within the Sanctuary Zone.

*A progressive ban on gemming and rock quarrying in a protected zone of the Menik Ganga.

*Progressive ban on electronic sound amplification in the cultural sanctuary.

*Non-violent conflict resolution through traditional practices like asana deka bana.

*Restrictions on culturally-inappropriate commercial activities (e.g. lottery marketing.)

*Suspensiom of construction of non-traditional (especially cement, i.e. permanent) buildings.

*Bank credit for families wishing to construct traditional-style dwellings or start up traditional cottage industries based in the Eco- Cultural Sanctuary.

*Fair compensation for families who preserve traditions of performing Rajakariya service.

*Manufacture of pilgrims' bag and clothing items for sale to pilgrims, (which eliminates the question of how to market items to people from all corners of Sri Lanka.)

*Occupational training for village youth in traditional principles of environmental stewardship.

*Authentic Kataragama-made organic incense manufactory.

*Appropriate marketing strategies for locally-made rosaries, lithographic prints, devotional booklets, etc. including a handicraft cooperative.

*Sale of buffalo curd and traditional goods at kiosks in the Kataragama town.

*Tutoring foreign students in aspects of Sri Lankan culture, language, lifestyle, cooking, folklore.

*Promotion of technology transfer through introduction of user-friendly (i.e. Sinhala and Tamil character-based display) multi-media computer technology.

*Training of village youth in traditional principles of environmental stewardship by publicly discussing the causes of environmental destruction.

*Cleaner Menik Ganga water resources through environmental education.

*Participation in 'Sister Rivers' programmes that link efforts to preserve riverine environments in different parts of the globe.

*A Village University to offer degree courses in eco-theory and practice, traditional arts and sciences (astrology, medicine, etc.) for local and foreign students.

*Provisions to ensure the sanctuary's integrity and continuity for generations to come.

* Legal provisions to recognize and protect indigenous intellectual property rights especially those pertaining directly to Kataragama.

*National and international recognition of Kataragama as a Zone of Peace.

Since 1989 the Cultural Survival Trust of Sri Lanka has also been actively promoting the concept of developing Kataragama as a Zone of Peace. That is, Kataragama's established identity as a multi-ethnic pilgrimage centre would be consciously leveraged to promote and strengthen ethnic harmony islandwide.

What is a Zone of Peace?

Any geographical site, from a simple shrine or meditation room to a national park or an entire community, may become a 'Zone of Peace,' - if there is a consensus among the people who use that site that it should be a sanctuary free from weapons, intimidation, terrorism, anger, coercion, bullying and abuse of all kinds, whether verbal or physical. And this is the essence of Kataragama's traditional atmosphere, inherent grace and mercy.

Like a plant nursery, a Zone of Peace may be regarded as a sheltered environment where peaceful thoughts and acts may grow strong enough to be carried forth to be transplanted into the surrounding social environment. As 'nurseries' of peace, or training grounds for new generations of peaceful, responsible citizens. Zones of Peace could play an important role in helping to revitalize Sri Lanka's traditional culture of peace.

Why create a Zone of Peace?

Zones of Peace have been an important part of Asia's and the world's cultural, spiritual and natural heritage since the earliest human ancestors first recognized the sanctity of the earth, especially at certain sacred sites. Kataragama is a prominent example in terms of its cultural, religious, mythological and historical importance.

Until relatively recent times, there was felt to be little need for Zones of Peace, eco-cultural sanctuaries, or formal codes of acceptable conduct at sacred sites or shrines. However, with the steady intrusion of secular, especially Western, values and with the unbridled growth of commercial activity reaching into every nook and cranny of society, including sacred shrines, a consensus is now emerging concerning the need to protect threatened cultural treasures, traditional communities, and associated forest habitats, as at Kataragama.

Each Zone of Peace or Eco-Cultural Sanctuary will incorporate features suited to that particular locality's environment and cultural history. Some features common to all would include:

A study of the nations's constitutional law with respect to provisions concerning the creation of sanctuaries. In certain instances, it may be necessary to create special statutory provisions. A code of conduct appropriate to the designated site which should be made public or gazzetted both within and without the designated sanctuary. Visitors to the sanctuary will be subject to the same code as residents. Peace education and non-violent conflict resolution which would be an ongoing feature of the public identity of the sanctuary and its resident population.

Weapons, ammunition, and firecrackers to be banned within the designated sanctuary. A sign or entrance marker with a logo at each site indicating that it is an Eco-Cultural Sanctuary.

Information on a nearby bulletin board or kiosk expaining the Sanctuary's purpose, boundaries, rules and regulations, and expected standard of conduct and its sponsoring agencies. The same logo should be used at each Eco-Cultural Sanctuary so the logo and concept become familiar to the public. Sri Lanka's greatest sustainable resource-is the the cultural heritage of its people and harnessing it fully to achieve long-term sustainable development would indeed be benificial to generations living and those yet to come

Courtesy - Cultural Survival

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