Sri Lankan Buddhists celebrate the festival of Poson today. In the Buddhist calendar it is the next most important festival after Vesak. It was on a day such as this that Buddhism was introduced to this tiny Island Nation by Arahat Mahinda, the son of India’s Emperor Dharmashoka. This festival of great historical, religious and cultural significance also marks the conversion of King Devanampiyatissa to Buddhism some 2,300 years ago at Mihintale, where Arahat Mahinda initially delivered his sermons on the teachings of the Buddha. A story that is usually told and retold during Poson is that of Arahat Mahinda making his acquaintance with King Devanampiyatissa. The King, while on a hunting expedition at Mihintale is said to have spotted a deer and when on the verge of shooting it down with his bow and arrow, heard his name being called out and turning round saw Arahat Mahinda, who upbraided the king saying, ‘Tissa why are you attempting to harm these innocent animals’. Thereafter King Devanampiyatissa was converted to Buddhism, which later took root in Sri Lanka and spread to all parts of the country.
Meanwhile, in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday massacre and the subsequent Covid-19 onslaught with its related travel restrictions, health guidelines and lockdowns would, for the third consecutive year, prevent thousands of devotees from making their customary pilgrimage to Mihintale, the hallowed cradle of Buddhism.But despite the ongoing difficulties and hardships, the Poson festival coming a month after Vesak, gives us another opportunity to contemplate on the teachings of the Buddha.
Be that as it may, in another turn of events, the United Nations representative in Sri Lanka in a media report sounded more alarm bells with reference to the aftermath of the blazing inferno on the MV X-Press Pearl. He said the sinking of the container ship that caught fire while transporting chemicals has caused “significant damage to the planet” by releasing hazardous substances into the ecosystem.
The Singapore-flagged MV X-Press Pearl sank on Thursday, June 17 raising concerns about a possible environmental disaster. The UN said it was coordinating international efforts and helping Sri Lanka to assess the damage, in recovery efforts and help prevent such disasters in the future.
“An environmental emergency of this nature causes significant damage to the planet by the release of hazardous substances into the ecosystem,” UN resident coordinator in Sri Lanka, Hanaa Singer-Hamdy said in a statement late on Saturday. “This in turn threatens lives and livelihoods of the population in the coastal areas.”
A UN team of oil spill and chemical experts – provided by the European Union – has been sent to Sri Lanka, which is said to have already submitted an interim claim of US$40 million to the vessel’s owners, X-Press Feeders to cover part of the cost of fighting the fire, which broke out on May 20 when the vessel was anchored about 18 km northwest of Colombo and waiting to enter the port.
The Sri Lankan Navy believes the blaze was caused by the vessel’s chemical cargo, which included 25 tons of nitric acid; most of the cargo was destroyed in the fire. But debris including burned fiberglass and tons of plastic pellets have already polluted the nearby beaches and the Indian Ocean resulting in thousands of fishermen and their families sustained by it losing their sources of livelihood while the tourist industry too has been to a large extent left crippled.
Sadly though, so far neither any government official nor any government institution has claimed responsibility for the unprecedented man-made ecological and marine disaster, from which according to environmentalists, Sri Lanka would take years to recover. It would be surprising indeed if whoever, who had so badly let down our Motherland by permitting this stricken vessel to enter its territorial waters, has the courage to take the responsibility for a calamity of this magnitude. When all is said and done, the fact remains that it is not the decision makers who are called upon to pay the price, but the innocent people and our future generations -- though far removed from the seats of power -- who will finally end up suffering the consequences for someone else’s negligence.
Let us, on our part, do whatever is possible to bequeath to our future generations a Sri Lanka of which they could with Harry Belafonte proudly acclaim – ‘Oh, island in the sun; Willed to us by our fathers’ hands; All our days we will sing in praise; Of your forests, waters and your shining sand.’