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When religious devotion dwarfs health concerns - EDITORIAL

3 December 2021 03:26 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Pilgrimage to the holy mountain Adam’s Peak (Sri Pada) is expected to commence on December 18 (Saturday). And the good news is that the authorities are expecting restrictions to be relaxed as much as possible when the season begins. 


A pilgrimage of the nature of climbing Adam’s Peak calls for support and encouragement for devotees. But Covid regulations put a stop to all that and discouraged travel to the summit of the mountain last year. But pilgrims defied state warning notices and embarked on the trek last year. Restrictions being imposed upon pilgrims was the scenario for the past two years. 


But when the officials organising the pilgrimage gathered on Wednesday (December 1) to discuss the nitty-gritty associated with the season what came to be highlighted was the need to allow participation in keeping with instructions issued by the health authorities. 


It’s a known fact that devotees help and encourage each other during the climb to the top and restrictions- despite being a must- would eat into some of the healthy camaraderie that otherwise exists both during the ascending and descending parts of the journey. Apart from the participation of pilgrims devotees are wondering whether the support services- which were not available last year- would be set up along the way this time around. 


For the record, last season, pilgrims defied a warning by the Nuwara Eliya District Covid -19 Eradication Unit to refrain from making the journey to the mountain. It is with this background that the season begins on the coming poya day. There are also concerns about hygiene because pilgrims are known to throw litter and pollute the place. These are times when the surrounding areas of the path to the mountain must be kept spick and span because of the pandemic. 


For the last couple of years the Sri Lanka Air Force was engaged in a cleaning process of the path that leads to the mountain. Sri Lankan travellers are not known to behave in an environment friendly manner when stepping into places like the paths that lead to Adam’s Peak. This behaviour by them questions the levels of mental discipline they’ve acquired despite devoting so much time each year to travel to the 7359 foot mountain which holds a revered monument. Adam’s Peak is precious for Buddhists, Christians, Muslims and Hindus which the devotees of all these religions having their own version of whose foot imprint lies at the highest point of the mountain. The Buddhists affirm that it is of Gautama Buddha, the Hindus believe that it is of Lord Shiva while the Muslims and the Christians state that it is of Adam; some Christian accounts stating that it is of St. Thomas’. 


Being a Buddhist dominant country the season for ‘Sripada’ will begin with a procession associated with a temple. Devotees participating in the procession will carry a statue of Deity Sumana Saman and the relics of the Gautama Buddha from the Galpoththawala Rajamaha Viharaya in Palmadulla all the way to the summit of the mountain. 
Devotees utilising four routes are expected to join in the pilgrimage. These routes start from four different towns; Hatton, Balangoda, Ratnapura and Kuruwita. As with past years all four processions are expected to meet at Heramitipana before completing the last lap of the journey. 


This pilgrim season will commence under slightly less severe restrictions compared to the past two years. Already the 2021/2022 season has received the blessings of the Chief Sanganayake of Ratnapura Dissawe Ven. Begamuwe Dhammadinna Thera, Nuwara Eliya District Secretary Nandana Galaboda, Senior Government officials, Divisional Secretaries, heads of Local Governments and officials from the private sector.   


There are concerns before the scheduled start to the pilgrimage because schoolchildren also have the habit of making the trek. In January this year some members of a rugby team that did the journey to Adam’s Peak tested positive for Covid. But the thinking here in Sri Lanka is that extreme religious devotion can dwarf health concerns before an event as big as climbing Adam’s Peak. Let there be protection for devotees making the journey during these challenging times caused by the pandemic.  


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