Showcasing a shared culture
By Vidushi Seneviratne
It was an opportunity for Kandy residents to take a walk down the “Corridor of Shared Culture” and see an eye-opening and thought provoking range of exhibits prepared by the students of Archaeology of the University of Peradeniya. Ranging from depictions of the evolution of man to the display of various Sri Lankan artefacts such as panels, beads, trinket boxes, jewellery and coins, the theme which ran through this unique exhibition was the sense of commonality shared by Sri Lanka and India, in almost all aspects of their past.

“Time evaporates in the corridor of shared culture…” were the words of Nirupama Rao, the High Commissioner for India in Sri Lanka writing on the sample “katapath pawura” or mirror wall in Sigiriya, which was a part of the numerous exhibits at the programme.

Her words more or less summed up the essence of the impressive event held in the World Heritage city of Kandy on Wednesday and Thursday last week. Titled the “Awareness Seminar and Exhibition on Cultural Connectivity Sri Lanka: Celebrating Diversity, Shared Cultures and Intangible Heritage,” it was aimed at the recognition and protection of our cultural heritage.
Held at the University of Peradeniya, the event was mainly focused on capacity building in the revitalization process of the Kandy Heritage City considering school children as the main stakeholders.

The programme was a joint effort of the UNESCO Regional Office and the Department of Archaeology of the University of Peradeniya.
Speaking at the inauguration of the seminar, Prof. K. Gunasekara, Vice Chancellor of the University of Peradeniya said “we are equal partners of a shared culture,” emphasising the fact that we should not focus our differences, but instead identify our similarities. Preeti Perera, representing the UNESCO New Delhi Regional office, claimed that culture was not something static, as it evolves continuously. “Disrespecting cultures is the cause of most problems,” he said, adding the famous quote “United we stand, divided we fall,” to endorse his point.

“The critical question is the level of our commitment to the ethical aspect of respecting other cultures. This is all about sensitivity towards cultural identities, plurality and diversity,” said Prof. Sudharshan Seneviratne of the Dept. of Archaeology, University of Peradeniya and Senior Adviser (Culture) Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Children and youth are the inheritors of the world and also whatever legacy the present generation bestows upon them, he added, their aspirations should be respected and greater confidence placed in their judgement, providing them the space they require for their expressions.

A few explanatory stalls made the exhibition even more impressive, with students giving live demonstrations of the meticulous procedures followed in ancient times, in order to create impressive products and crafts. “In order to preserve the ola leaf, a mixture containing kakuna nuts, dummala oil, kurakkan powder and gaguma powder has to be rubbed on the leaves in a traditional method referred to as kalu madinawa.

There is a specific art of writing on the ola-leaf, and the tool used to do this is the panhinda,” explained Shiromi Abeykoon(18), who follows a course on ola-leaf writing conducted by a graduate of Archaeology from the University of Peradeniya. The course is conducted in Aluvihare, Matale, the original place where the thripitaka was documented.

Another highlight at the exhibition was a stall on eye-glass making conducted by C.G. Gunasoma, an eighth generation member of a family of professional eye-glass makers. “Stones such as palingu, diya tharippu and amethyst brought from Ratnapura have to be cut and polished keeping to particular method which takes approximately ten days to complete,” he said, explaining this dying craft.

As an effort to create awareness on cultural diversity and shared cultures, the seminar and exhibition was a success. After all, as Ms. Rao told the audience, “We must not go into internal exile – we must open the universe a bit more…..”.

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