Our temple was empty! Except for a few elderly devotees loitering about aimlessly or seated perplexed than in silent meditation…..a few young priests busying about in an attempt to decorate and inject some festivity to an otherwise subdued surroundings … the two policemen at the half closed gate, the temple was empty on this day, which otherwise would have been jampacked to celebrate the day most sacred to all Buddhists.. the majority religion in the country!
But then, some churches are empty too! A friend’s father’s funeral in Handela had a restriction – less than 16 people could enter the church for security reasons! The number of devotees in Hindu temples suffers a significant reduction in seekers of divine intervention! May be mosques too! Who knows! Jane Doe cannot even enter a mosque heavily guarded by the Armed Forces these days despite the availability of “self protecting armour” in some!
Nearly half a century of life on earth and have never seen temples empty on a Vesak Day! Lived through each day of a 30 year bloody war with heinous crimes committed by LTTE including direct attacks on temples, yet never seen a temple empty!
Have people lost faith in religion or have they lost faith in the government? The latter seems true, if one is to take cognizance of the beautiful decorations in each Buddhist House, more enthusiasm than never before to defy those that decree terror and gloom to this land…a few heartening stories emerge of the common man on social media….Muslims breaking fast in temples whilst helping with decorations… my own neighbour, a gentle Muslim, sending over old banana trunks for us to light lamps along with his grand kids to assist ……absolute solidarity and co-operation down a private lane of a multi-cultural population, all abiding by the religious teachings of each faith, which let’s face it, common to all in most aspects!
Why then is Vesak so sad today in my temple and others in the vicinity? Would this day have been so gloomy, had the government extended patronage to all temples and encouraged activity on this day; activity personifying inter faith co-operation such as visits by Muslim clerics to temples today as a part of the sil programme- promoting interfaith communications, appeasing the wounded hearts and minds, the simmering rage by the lack of justice for Easter Sunday perpetrators apparently mollycoddled for the sake of a few votes. Crowd controlled yet effective programmes could have been initiated without exception in every temple, at the Provincial, District or village levels, organized by the local politicians each area, who should have raised their hand and taken responsibility for arrangements including security- after all, according to them, they live to serve the people! The village temple knows its people! The town church knows the regular parishioners! Couldn’t a vigilant public celebrated Vesak in a simple but more participatory manner in all temples, not a chosen few! Do we not have a single politician courageous and confident to take responsibility for their own constituents and encourage a more
"Sri Lanka has a resilient population. We have always bounced back! We are willing to bounce back! But effective leadership is necessary….. Guiding lights…Not dark cloud to block the sun! "
Instead, I am told on querying our village head priests, that they have been discouraged from having any Vesak programmes - by the government, no less! The mandate is a personal celebration in homes..the temples the guided meditation and bana programmes, the backbone of Vesak celebrations to be ignored. However, it is salutary to find that some temples had continued their programmes in tact, albeit with a lesser crowd participation.
The day of Vesak is not a surprise; does not depend on a sighting of the moon! The date is given in the calendar at the beginning of the year, paving way for the opportunity to organize events with meticulous care. Did not the Government and more importantly the Minister in Charge of Religious Affairs have an iota of imagination or efficiency to come up with effective programmes that eradicate the despondency that has set in this country and invite rays of hope and normalcy, at least now, nearly a month after calamity. We have a country where the highest political office confirms that 90% of the 150 terrorists in the country are captured and the education minister urges children back to school with assurances of normalcy, yet doubt and insecurity is instilled by the words and deeds to the contrary of the same government, such as today where religious activity in temples are discouraged. Can the public have any faith! Is this a classic example of the government being overcautious in light of the colossal blunders committed before or the easy way out of a mammoth effort to ensure stability, the extra work?
Sri Lanka has a resilient population. We have always bounced back! We are willing to bounce back! But effective leadership is necessary….. Guiding lights…Not dark cloud to block the sun! Epitomize our cultural and religious beliefs, promote and celebrate Metha on this day! Vesak is a festival that brings light and colour to the mind celebrated from days of yore with fervour! Do not associate it to a time of fear…time of darkness and relegate it to ‘insignificance’ with time!
Or is this “sad Vesak” an orchestrated strategy to eradicate the age old traditions and celebrations of religion, to create a society lacking of religious values, morals and traditions, which would suit the hidden agendas of a set hell bent of wiping off the true identity of Sri Lanka?