It is evident that a wave of superstition is engulfing Sri Lanka. Whether it is East or West, superstition has been a part of the lives of the people. While the westerners relied on crystal balls to foresee their future, we easterners paid homage to all kinds of deities to protect ourselves from evils. It is a popular joke among the Sri Lankans that when it comes to calculating the population of the country, we have to add 33 crore of gods to the 20 odd million!
It is interesting to find out the reasons behind this sudden wave of Sri Lankans going after these so-called god-men or invisible forces. What has made people to look for higher forces to remedy their worldly problems? Media carry numerous stories of exorcisms gone wrong or abuses carried out by fraudsters who appear as god-men. Recently almost one million people clogged into Katharagama Devalaya to witness God Katharagama, as predicted by an astrologer. But even after paying homage to God Katharagama with humongous fruit baskets with not less than Rs. 5, 000 notes on top of them, nobody claimed to have seen him.
Some say since the law and order of the country is in disarray and when the rule of law and good governance are treated as a farce, the people may have opted to look for higher forces for justice and protection. It is often seen in Sri Lanka, people crushing coconuts and grinding chillies to eliminate those who have done injustice to them. They do not go to the police or the judiciary. In fact, when it comes to certain things committed by the people in power, it is not unreasonable if one is compelled to believe only some god can save him or her.
The media are also partly responsible for spreading the seeds of superstition. It will indeed be interesting to find out how much of TV time and newspaper space is allocated for all kinds of exorcists, astrologers, kattadiyas and kapuralas. Sri Lanka may be the only country where an astrologer is on the board of directors of a major state-owned bank. He was recently at the receiving end of a lot of flack due to his wrong election predictions. It is ironical to see some of these god-men receiving direct and indirect state-patronage to dupe the unsuspecting ordinary citizens of this country.
It is evident that a rationalist movement, probably something similar to the one launched by Professor Abraham T. Kovoor and Professor Carlo Fonseka, is now necessary to tackle this superstition obsession plaguing the country. However it is unfortunate to see that some of the pioneering members of the 1970 rationalist movement in the country have more or less fallen prey to the very same superstitious beliefs they vigorously stood against, probably because of old age.
As Shakespeare said “It is not in the stars to hold our destiny, but in ourselves.” But at the same time, to have a balanced perspective it may be important to remember two lines of the poem “Aiyanayaka” by the celebrated Sinhalese poet Wimalaratne Kumaragama. This was based on the superstitious beliefs of the innocent villagers of a far away village where he served as a government official. He said;
“Wana athu kada gas debalaka dawateema
Ma nokeruwath nokalemi eya geraheema”.
The English meaning of these two lines could be, “Though I did not hang branches on a tree fork, I never ridiculed the practice.”