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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2589

Under the Sahadow of Lakegala : Their festivals and entertainments

Lakegala:Their festivals and entertainmentsLakegala:Their festivals and entertainmentsBy Sudath Gunasekara

This village celebrates two main annual festivals, the Sinhala New Year and the Vesak. New year is a cultural celebration and the Vesak is a religious festivity.

The Sinhala New Year

The Sinhala New Year is held in the month of April as it is done in all other parts of the Island. They follow the same auspicious times as given in the almanac but there are slight local variations in customs and practices. During the month of April the entire environment takes a festive mood. There is greenery all around and the trees and creepers are full of flowers as if they are also getting ready for the season of national festivities. The Eramudu tree with its flamboyant bunches of vibrant red flowers takes a special place during this season.

Houses are whitewashed with Makul obtained from the local sites, as there is no lime available in this village. Makul is a kind of earth that gives a little grayish colour than lime. The school is the only building found in the village where the walls are painted with distemper. New clothes are bought and new pots to cook the New Year meals are procured from the vendors who visit the village during the season. While the elders get reasy for the avurudu festival the little ones are more interested in crackers and games. Of the games the swing takes a very special place particularly among the women. The sound of crackers, more than any other thing, tells the world the approach of the New Year. Most of the items neede for the New Year are exchanged under barter system. I still remember how I got my crackers as a small boy in exchange for aricanut from our home garden. The vendor who stays the night at our place also does not forget to give me a free box of crackers as he leaves the house in the morning.

Just few days before the New Year these villagers also have a custom of collecting their game of jungle meat from the nearby forest. The sambur and the barking deer are the most common animals that fall prey to these hunting sprees. Visiting relations living in the neighboring villages like Laggala and Poddalgoda is also an important part of their custom during this period.

Unlike in the urban society, the villagers observe the New Year customs to the very letter as set by the village priest Things like weda alliima, lipa melaviima, ahara pisiima, anubhava kiriima, ganudenukiriima, hisa telgema, Gaman yama, nawasanda beliima and the nonagataya are strictly adhered to by these folk. During the nonagataya while the elders go to the temple the young and the adolescents indulge in games and sports. Walasalli gehiima, lunupeniima, chakgudu gehiima and keta gehiima are the popular male games whileeluwankema, panca demiima, olinda keliima and onchilla pediima are the monopoly of the women folk, particularly the young.

Unlike in town areas there is little or no customary exchange of new clothes in this village. Exchanging New Year food among the relatives occupies a special place here. It is mostly rice and curry accompanied by sweet meat. Kekulubath (rice cooked from red raw rice), fried country Mun (yellow and green) with venison and fried Ash plantains and sometimes dry fish cooked with red onion together with their leaves is a favorite New Year menu in this village. Among the main sweet meat are Kevum (oil cakes), Pusnambu (a kind of local cakes made of rice flour and trickle), Aggala, Aluwa, Welitalapa and Dohi. Oil cake in this village is usually fried in Mee tel instead of coconut oil. Of cause every one make it a point to take the first share to the temple before they visit their relations. Contrary to the practice of exchanging New Year food before the dawn of the year as it is commonly done in many other areas of the country, in this village, they do so, after the dawn of the New Year. They also make this an occasion to forget and forgive past petty misunderstandings. They do so by exchanging beetle. This is done either on their own or at the mediation of the village monk or the intervention of a respected village elder. Such occasions make a new start in their communal life. The unity, social cohesiveness and the sense of belonging together are displayed best during the New Year period.

Vesak

Vesak on the other hand is purely a religious festival. It is associated more with religious observances than social engagements and merry making. The Bo and Mee trees shed their old leaves and get adorned with new red tender leaves as if they are getting ready to celebrate the Buddha festival in the month of Vesak. The Araliya trees decorated with fully blossomed flowers along the village hedges and Na trees with their beautiful and extremely fragrant white flowers occasionally found here and there add colour to the religious atmosphere in the village.

It is interesting to note that unlike in other parts of the country no vesak lanterns are lit in this village. This is due to the heavy blowing prevailing here during this time of the year. However, in each house they erect a malpela decorated with young coconut fronds within which at least symbolically they light a lamp in the name of the Buddha. A papaw cut in to two halves filled with coconut oil provides the ‘pahana’ for this occasion. The full moon that rises over the eastern mountain range and then above the circular valley shining in the high heavens adequately compensate for the absence of such vesak lanterns. The moonlight that falls on the surrounding steepy mountain walls especially on the mirror wall like Lakegala reflects enough light to the village down below. The sounds of the temple drums and the bell echoing on the distant hills and reverberating in the valley below presents one of the rarest rural spectacles one could see any where on this earth.

The village temple on this day attracts practically every one in the village. Men and women, young and old, friends and adversaries all assemble here with flowers and perfumes in their hands to pay their homage to the Buddha in the Vihara and respect to the village monk who take care of the spiritual side of their life. Bana preaching and observing sill campaigns are also arranged to coincide with the occasion. Occasionally a monk from a distant temple is also invited for bana preaching. Besides the temple the Bo maluwa located at the center of the village also assumes a religious festive outlook during this time.

It is also cleaned, decorated and lit with lamps and flowers offered for the occasion. In my whole lifetime, as said before, I remember only one occasion when they organized an asanadeke bana preaching, when I was a small boy. Asanadeke bana is a form of bana preaching conducted by two monks from two elaborately decorated elevated preaching seats on special occasions. Such are the simple religious observances practiced in this village.

I give here few verses I wrote few years ago to describe the vesak atmosphere in this village.

Vesak mahe ipanelle suwanda denenawa
Ara malin mee gas tarangeta serasenwa
Ara male malpeti mata bamaru natanwa
Ape gamata vesak mahe siriya g enenawa

Kanda udin handa hami ebi balanawa
Hande eliya gamata weti gama dilihenawa
Lkegalath rantetiyak men babalanawa
Mage netata sada satuta eyin labenawa

Nagaswala malpipila suwanda galanawa
Siri siri ga bopath sipa sulanga hamanawa
Sanda eliye kiripatin gama newenawa
Viharaye gantaren gama pibidenawa

Buduguna betigii rawaya dasata negenawa
Veasak pahan ruwin okanda lamo natanawa
Denkutu horane nadaya sawana pinanawa
Sadu sadu viharayata perahera yanawa

Hamuduruwo dora weda sita pansil denawa
Api okkoma digawela Budun wandinawa
Buduhimi manda sinawakin apa sanasanawa
Game sameta sada suwaya eyin labenawa

Festivals of Harvesting.

Besides the above two festivals one can see many other forms of mionor celebrations and entertainments in this village. Usually with the northeast monsoon setting in November, life begins to come back to this part of the world. Because from May to end of October marks the dry spell accompanied by the southwesterly dry winds. As the rain sets in, streams begin to swell, springs become active and once again life comes back to the village surroundings. Greenery spreads all over both in the fields and the forests followed by flowers and fruits. Animals and birds freely roam and fly about the shrubs and meadows. In fact this marks the beginning of the period of plenty and prosperity around these environs. The new crops in the hen that were sawn in late Octobert and through November begin to appear by early January starting with vegetables to be followed by Badairingu, Kurakkan and pulsus like Mun and undu (black gram). In the home gardens, this marks the bearing period of all tree crops like Jak, Breadfruit, Banana and Mango.

Harvesting of Maha paddy fields starts by late May. With the harvesting in full swing, comely village dames mix freely among the men folk, playful boys and girls running about up and down in the harvested fields and myriads of andahera orchestrating from all over in the night, the whole village becomes a hive of intense activity. A festive mood reigns all over. The dim light of the lanterns in the threshing floors by night breaks the monotony of darkness in the night.

During the day, both men and women, young and old move briskly hither and thither reaping and collecting their harvest, The old get rejuvenated and the young get involved in romantic pursuits while the little ones run about playfully through the harvested fields, meadows, foot paths and glades in search of their dismay land. Do not this merit to be called the merriest time of the year one can see around this place?.

Other Forms of Entertainments

Being basically a subsistent peasant society their mode of entertainments are mostly limited to those activities associated with agriculture. Reciting of pelkavi, andahera at ploughing at threshing times are the commonest forms of music and singing among them. Beside the Daula, Beraya and the Tammettama at the temple and the Yakberaya found at the Kapuralas house the flute made out of jungle bamboo called bata and the toy drum turned out of bamboo by the boys are the only musical instruments one could see in this village. During my ten years of stay in the village I have seen only one instance when a Sokari netuma was staged in this village. It was held at the school premises and all the actors were males. My father played the role of Sokari. I still recollect how crude the movements of the players “dancing” around the compound looked like. The most striking item that kept the crowed entertained was comedian role-played by the paraya the faithful servant of the Guruhamy. Of cause the center of attraction was Sokari amma, the male mimicking a female.

- Asian Tribune -

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