Sri Lanka’s diverse ethnic composition undoubtedly enhances the country’s cultural landscape. Within the larger religious ethnic make-up there are subgroups each with its own characteristic splendour.
The formation of Sri Lanka Bharatha Cultural Fellowship fifteen years ago surpassed all its original goals to now emerge as an outstanding cultural entity drawing from its widely spread community, an enriched socio-cultural contribution to the rest of the nation.
The ancient past history of the Bharatha Community in Sri Lanka, according to some historians goes back to the Polonnaruwa era. Yet, in India they claim that their early ancestors lived for over 2,000 years first in the North, but driven to the very edge of the South Eastern coast. For centuries they were involved in fishing, deep sea navigation (sail boats) and above all in pearl harvesting that took their precious wares to the Middle East and Europe.
With the arrival of the Arab traders there came a challenge to their ethnic identity. By then, the Portuguese had also established a powerful presence in Cochin and Goa.
The formation of Sri Lanka Bharatha Cultural Fellowship fifteen years ago surpassed all its original goals to now emerge as an outstanding cultural entity
When the Bharatha leaders sought the Portuguese protection, it was forthcoming but with a condition. They were obliged to embrace the Roman Catholic faith. The leaders agreed and the missionaries came to the South Eastern coast to baptize vast numbers of Bharathas settled in twenty important villages of the coastal area. Soon the key elements of their Hindu heritage were incorporated into the new religious practices, one being a deep devotion to Mother Mary – Mariya Amma. It was St. Francis Xavier, a Spanish Missionary who strengthened their religiosity. They became die-hard Catholics.
Undoubtedly, their proximity to the Northern coastal areas of Ceylon enabled the Bharathas to establish settlements, particularly in the Mannar and Puttalam regions which coastal sea-bed offered enormous opportunities for pearl harvesting.
The transmigration from Hinduism to Catholicism was made much pronounced with the adoption of Portuguese surnames such as Fernando, Pereira, Peiris, Silva, D’Almeida, Fernandez etc. The children of the community gained a special privilege by gaining basic and higher education in South India’s Jesuit schools and colleges.
With the arrival of the British in India and Ceylon, the doors opened wide for the well qualified Bharathas to come to the Island to benefit from the administrative and commercial opportunities and to settle in Colombo as well as in other major cities. Their deep-rooted Catholic faith kept the community well bonded through church activities especially at St. Philip Neri Church in Pettah which became their focal point and with the annual celebrations of Our Lady of Snows. Bharathas always maintained a cordial relationship with the Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim brethren.
Undoubtedly, their proximity to the Northern coastal areas of Ceylon enabled the Bharathas to establish settlements, particularly in the Mannar and Puttalam regions which coastal sea-bed offered enormous opportunities for pearl harvesting
Despite the adversities of the Sinhala only enactment and the subsequent nationalizations of trades such as the dry fish business in which Bharathas played a dominant role their resilience and tenacity made them come bouncing back to the fore.
It is in this background that the emergence of the innovative Bharatha Cultural Fellowship(BCF) should be viewed. In the past 15 years of its existence the organization has created the opportunity for its seniors, ladies, youth and children to work in different groups to carry forward their goals in engaging in social development, education and in cultural enhancement.
Thus, the main focus of the organization is to give the members of the community a distinct identity, unity and fellowship. Flowing from these objectives comes the desire to help others by organizing health clinics, awarding of scholarships to students in need, provide dry rations and financial assistance to the poor.
Choral singing is yet another area where the Bharatha youth come forward regularly to present concerts. Events such as the sports festival help these youngsters show their athletic prowess. It should be noted that the Bharathas historically have excelled in Western music and in team sports.
To build funds for such activities the “Fellowship” organizes annually glamorous “Sing-along” events that also help to enhance solidarity and friendship among themselves.
It is the ardent desire of the leaders of the Bharatha Cultural Fellowship to strengthen wide spread communal harmony, build interfaith unity and the overall Sri Lankan identity especially in these times of much prevalent disharmony and discord.
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