The night on which the full moon breaks out brilliantly in the month of May is a very important day for Buddhists in the island as well as for Buddhists around the world. The birth, the enlightenment, the passing away of the great teacher, the Lord Buddha is celebrated by the Buddhists around the world on this day. The two-day festival, named WESAK, starts when the bells begin pealing and the drums start booming in the temples located almost everywhere in the country. Devotees dressed in immaculate white clothing converge on all the Buddhist shrines around the country from early morning for religious observances. It’s a day of devotion and peace and harmony. Buddhists abstain from meat and alcohol on these two days. Therefore all slaughter houses, meat stalls and liquor shops and bars are closed during the two Wesak days. The nights become wonderlands with thousands of Wesak lanterns and illuminations at all temples, towns and Buddhist homes. Massive processions take place in some of the leading towns complete with traditional dancers, drummers and caparisoned elephants. A carnival atmosphere wafts over the entire country with much jollity ensuing quite spontaneously though not a part of the Wesak culture itself. Stalls mushrooming on the waysides offer food and refreshments gratis for the revelers, night and day, and you come eye-to-eye with huge servings fo traditional Sri Lankan hospitality on these two days. The fare of course just might not be to the taste of every palate! It’s really a time of year to be in any part of the island and you could join the islanders who celebrate the Wesak festival with no cultural or religious differences. The celebration is a great tribute to a teacher who preached to the world the concepts of peace and non-violence.
The tradition and custom of celebrating Pongal in Sri Lanka is similar to that observed by the Tamils in India. This festival is also known as the First Rice Festival among Sri Lankans or in the Tamil language as Thai Pongal and Ulavar Thirunaal. In Sri Lanka, Rice is both a staple food and an inheritance in which deities figure prominently. Thus, the harvest festival of Pongal is one of the most significant occasions for them.
On this day, the Sri Lanka Tamil farmer honors the Sun God Suriyapakaran. This happens when the sun enters the zodiac sign of Capricorn (Makara). The Thai Pongal festival is celebrated in mid-January, or the Tamil month of Thai, to coincide with the rice harvest.
Once, Lord Shiva asked his bull, Nandi, to go to earth and tell the people to have an oil bath daily and have food once a month. But, Nandi got it all mixed up and told the people to eat daily and bathe monthly. Shiva was annoyed and said, “Now that people need to eat more, you stay on earth and help them plough the fields more!” Thai Pongal is family-oriented and the day begins with the boiling of a clay pot of Pongol rice at sunrise in the front of the house as the family delightfully cries out, “Pongal! Pongal! auchu!” which means, “It’s boiling! It’s boiling!
“KOLAM” – TRADITIONAL HINDU ART OF HINDUS
From the time since Homo Sapiens were either cave dwellers or food gatherers, they were professional artists. Art was not something they learnt but an obsession that flowed hot in their veins. Men and women have never failed to exercise one art form or another when they fell upon a rock or some smooth rock face. But inevitable the tragedies kept mountain in human lives and man, finding no solution, threw himself down on his knees before a myriad number of gods. These unseen powers came to be the religions of today. Their artistic talents helped them to design murals they thought would please these ethereal powers and that was passed down from generation to generation. According to Hindu culture women play an important role in the home, the man being just a bread winner who leaves the running of the household, bringing up the children, interacting with neighbours etc to their womenfolk. When the women wake up in the morning before the others, and the household chores are over on special days she goes down on her knees in front of the home and designs beautiful and colourful works of art on the threshold. These colourful designs blend equally with the colorful lives of the inhabitants and when it’s done in an ordinary manner it sure brightness the lives of those humble folks. What more does one want than to wake up and step out to a world of bright colours with a bright sun sailing over the clouds and the sounds of sweet bird calls in the ears. The artwork is done with coloured, whole and powdered grains and also scraped coconut dipped in multiple colours. Extreme care is taken regarding the colour mixing and the final product which is finger art is really a treat to the eyes. This art form was earlier performed by maids who waited on deities at Hindu shrines and ladies who visited these shrines brought that art home and did it expecting the blessings of the gods to reach their homes. Make it a point to visit a traditional Hindu home and be confronted by the beauty of Kolam and be inspired and absorb the love of gods.