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Thanthirimale Aloka Pooja Looking Back 14 Years

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The Chairman of Wijeya Newspapers, who successfully conducted the Lake House Aloka Pooja annually for several years quite, having decided to conduct an Aloka Pooja at another sacred city using the resources of Wijeya Newspapers, instructed a few senior officers of the company to explore such a possibility. On his instructions and on the advice of the Deputy Chairman, the Dimbulagala temple was considered as a probable location while the officers were also asked to check the feasibility of conducting an Aloka Pooja at Thanthirimale in the Anuradhapura district. The spadework began in July 2003 with the company officials first going to Dimbulagala and then with some difficulty managing to reach Thanthirimale where preliminary discussions were held with the temple authorities. On their return to Colombo and after expressing their views and sharing their experiences, the officers were told to prepare a plan of action to conduct this Pooja during Poson Poya in 2004.  

 
Although at the time, the Poson Poya festival was the main religious event in the Anuradhapura district, special religious observances were held every year at Thanthirimale on Uduwap Poya Day in December and on Duruthu Poya Day in January. In 2004 on Duruthu Poya Day a few officers attached to Wijeya Newspapers visited Thanthirimale to take part in religious observances and make the initial arrangements to conduct an Aloka Pooja there. And because of the lack of accommodation, they made arrangements to spend the night at Anuradhapura. The 42-kilometre trip to Thanthirimale from Anuradhapura took more than two hours on the dilapidated roads at that time.   
After the day’s religious observances were completed, the officials surveyed the temple area to check out the existing facilities available for the employees and the devotees who were expected to visit Thanthirimale during Poson. Though there was sufficient water in the several small lakes in the vicinity, for bathing and washing purposes, drinking water was scarce and the army water bowser that came to the temple each day was the only source of drinking water. Ground water and the water from the lakes, like in the whole of Anuradhapura, was acidic and not suitable for drinking. Toilet facilities were limited and it was decided to put up temporary sheds in close proximity to make up for the shortage.  

 
Whenever there is an Aloka Pooja, the crowds tend to increase, making the provision of minimum facilities a must. A diesel generator to supply power with another generator on standby to meet any eventuality was also taken into consideration. As the employees involved in this exercise would be volunteers they were expected to rough out to some extent while temporary arrangements were made to accommodate them for a few days, in addition to obtaining the services of a cook from the village to prepare their meals. By the way, it is this same cook who prepares meals for the company employees even now, though the numbers have increased.   


After months of careful preparation, the Aloka Pooja which was inaugurated on Poson Poya in 2004 -- during the height of the armed conflict -- continues to this day.  

 
In the early days, despite the presence of a large number of army and police personnel during the festival, a fear psychosis prevailed among the devotees. Over the years the terrorist threat increased to such an extent that an outside contractor had to be hired in 2007 to install the lighting because the safety of the employees was considered a priority resulting in the management and the staff only participating in the lighting-up ceremonies and returning to Colombo soon after, cutting short their stay at Thanthirimale.  

 
The Aloka Pooja lights up the temple and its surroundings, the Cheithiya, the precincts of the Ashtapalamahabodhiya and the main pathways with thousands of electric bulbs. It has also been the custom from the beginning for the Wijeya staff to donate material for school uniforms, books and stationery to the children of the Sangamitta Daham Pasala. With the passage of time, to add more colour to this annual pageant and to coax the children of the area to actively participate in this festival, they were invited to make Vesak lanterns with the raw materials supplied by the Company. It has become a practice today to give prizes to the children who turned out the best lanterns. Later TV stations joined in this annual event and the Rupavahini channel with its superior transmission facilities contributed much by providing live coverage of the proceedings throughout the day. Radio channels too have contributed in various ways to publicize the event.   


With the Aloka Pooja now counting 14 years and spread out over several days, the pilgrims visiting the site have increased by the thousands, for whom the temple on its own and with the help of donors has provided more and better facilities such as pilgrim’s rests, etc. The new Avasa Ge constructed recently can accommodate several Buddhist priests while a couple of years ago, Wijeya Newspapers Chairman donated a water filtering plant to the temple for the use of the monks and the devotees.

Several dansalas make their presence during the period of the Aloka Pooja while temporary eating places also cater to the needs of the pilgrims. During the festival religious ceremonies are held throughout the day with the Kavi Bana programme sponsored by Wijeya Newspapers turning out to be very popular. There have been several expositions of sacred relics down the years and the participation of the devotees at these events was noteworthy. This year the Aloka Pooja is scheduled to be conducted for three days with large numbers of devotees expected to be present. Now that the roads have been completely done up, visitors on their way to Mannar or Jaffna are often known to visit the temple to worship at this historic shrine.   


It is the wish of everyone that the Aloka Pooja will continue to attract devotees from all over country and help unite all communities by spreading the message of goodwill to all corners of our Mother Land.   


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