Non-Buddhists set up dansal in the spirit of giving

By Himal Kotelawala and Palitha Ariyawansa in Badulla, Pic by Hiran Priyankara Jayasinghe

Apart from the glitter of the pandals and Vesak lanterns, another popular and highly venerated aspect of Vesak is the act of giving, or daana, which take the form of the popular dansala or free food stall, during the Vesak season.

This Vesak season was no exception and saw dansal springing up in the city, with hundreds of people lining up to partake of the free meals, all in the spirit of giving and sharing.

The kerosene dansala at Rideemaaliyadda.
A dansala at Puttalam.

P. K. Sridharan, a businessman based in Colombo, celebrated Vesak by organising a rice dansela at Hyde Park Corner for the 35th year running. This year’s menu was ghee rice served with seeni sambol, soya meat and dhal.

“We’re expecting a massive crowd, as usual. I do this as a gesture of goodwill. A lot of my friends helped me with the dansala,” he said.

A total of over Rs. 450,000 was spent to make the two-day dansela a success, and despite the current financial difficulties faced by a lot of people, Mr. Sridharan somehow managed to put it together.
“Even though there were difficulties, I personally contributed to this endeavour,” he said.

Just over a kilometre away, a group composed largely of Muslims and Tamils had organised another rice dansala – not something the dansel going public get to see everyday. M. Rizwan, a three-wheeler driver who was organizing the programme told the Sunday Times that he and his friends have been organising this dansala for the last five years.

“We consider this a fun thing to do. Also, we consider it a privilege to give to people, to give them a meal on our account,” he said with enthusiasm. Rizwan and his mates had teamed up and paid visits to several top companies and business organizations in the neigbhourhood to raise funds for their dansala, which, incidentally, saw a large gathering eagerly awaiting its ceremonial opening when the Sunday Times visited the place.

Rizwan too, admitted that it was not easy what with financial problems, but said he and his friends were determined to continue the practice. Meanwhile, Jude Rienzie, a Christian, from the 181 Watta in Dematagoda had got together with a group of his friends and set up a dansala for the thousands of people walking down Baseline Road to witness the Borella pandal.

Organised for the third consecutive year, Rienzie’s dansala was put together after raising funds in the 181 Watta area in addition to contributions from friends. The organisers, who last year served coffee, opted to give rice this year. They had also gone the extra mile by hiring professional cooks for the job.
As a Christian, why did he feel the need to do something like this for Vesak, he was asked.

“We have no racial or religious differences. We’re very happy to do this,” he said, with a genuine grin on his face. Another, highly unusual act of philanthropy was reported from Rideemaaliyadda, Mahiyangana on Vesak Day.

Tissa Hewawasam, the owner of the aptly named Saadharana Stores, or Fair Stores, decided to give away 250 litres of kerosene to the villagers of Rideemaaliyadda as an act of generosity on the day Lord Buddha was born, attained enlightenment and parinibbana.

A very generous businessman, he had paid the electricity bills of several Buddhist temples in the area and has over five kilograms of bills to show as evidence.“I have to give back to the people from the profits they have given me,” he told the Sunday Times.

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