20th June 1999
TV demi-god and the star 'crossed' leaders
By Rajpal Abeynayake
Ven Gangodawila Soma may be a bit cantankerous at times, but his recent statement that it is "ïmbecilic" (mandhabuddhika) to construct a Hindu Kovil to deflect an alleged curse on this island, bestowed on it by Lord Vishnu, has to be the best salvo ever fired by a Buddhist monk.
The curse apparently has been hurled on the island all the way from South India, and one wonders whether in this age of technology the curse was faxed sent by e-mail or by cellular telephone. But, it certainly had created a tempest in the corridors of power, and now, as Ven Soma says — there is an attempt to construct a kovil in Muthurajawela costing 60 million in order that the curse be deflected.
Even from a land of the super - superstitious where public toilets are constructed with a foundation laying tamasha at the auspicious hour, the attempt to construct a Hindu kovil in order to deflect a curse sounds like serious case of midsummer mediocrity. Ven. Soma has said that the biggest curse that has beset this land is that successive leaders were neither patriotic or virtuous. He would have done a little better had he said that we have had a line of heads of state, barring maybe a few, who were superstitious batty old owls.
But then there is something more that batty about proposing to spend millions over an alleged curse that has been sprung from the nether regions of India. Other countries, for instance, have nuclear threats and gas bomb threats; threats of invasion, and threats of nuclear fallout. Sri Lanka has a threat of a curse that is said to have been made by a statue in a temple in some remote corner of South India. We Sri Lankans are uniquely facing the geopolitics of the deity.
But any modern historian will have to record the fact that this country has been ruled by successive heads of state with one eye firmly focused on the stars.
One leader refused to hand over nomination papers for a Presidential election until the clock showed that it was the correct hour.
This leader kept the Commissioner of Elections and the countrywide TV audience waiting, kicking their heels until the neketh time arrived and she was ready to launch her heft into the electoral contest.
There were others before, who changed the name of the country, no less, because they thought the letter the name begins with was malefic.
Eventually , the malefic seemed to have stayed with this head of state, and he was blasted out of the scene before he had time to say "rahu.''
The nation has know of judges who don't ascend the bench until the malefic hour is past, and cricketers who visit the kovil the temple and the clairvoyant before setting off to blast the likes of Alan Donald, who of course set out to the bowl with receivers in their ears hooked to the coach's transmitter. Now, just imagine that particular technological gap!
Ven. Soma who calls a spade a spade more often that not has said the country has been accursed by the fact that there has been no leader with a vision and good values.
But, he probably doesn't know that some of these leaders think he is the curse, and one fine day, they might do something to get this particular malefic off the TV screen. Not that it hasn't been tried already; but Ven. Soma has really hit the nail on the head when he has taken on the 'god factor.'
Several social reformers who have set off before him to set Sri Lanka right, such as Anagharika Dharmapala have dwelt on reforming the social realm and on attacking basic socio political issues such as attitudes of servility and subservience. But, the phenomenal superstition of Sri Lankans strikes at the core of the Sri Lankan ethic. Others have the work ethic — here, we have the ethic of time. As long as everything was started at the auspicious time, all else is flexible, such as keeping other heads of state waiting hours or spending cool millions on a Kovil as an offering.
But Ven. Soma's striking at the core weakness of the Lankan mentality has placed him in a unique position. The man is on the tube. From that vantage point, once he has captured the imagination of his audience, he becomes a superstar, and like Michael Jackson, he becomes a god.
Attacking imaginary gods has to be done by a god, and Ven. Soma's achieving the status of TV demi-god and celebrity is the best thing that he has going for him. He is fortunately placed at the enviable intersection between hi-tech age and the age of the witch.
Those who have earmarked him for a witch - hunt have to contend with his immense star value, that has been generated from his hard talk on the TV. It's difficult to dislodge him; and therefore, in their hearts of hearts he must be the bigger curse for some of the leaders he is talking about; the cause of much more sleepless nights that the imaginary god who has supposedly visited us with a curse from South Indian terrain.
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