Sri Lanka's political destiny of planets and men
@LBO / 17 February 2007
February, 17 (LBO) – Sri Lanka's is supposedly a vibrant democracy with its political destiny decided by a population that got universal suffrage in 1931, but the island's leaders seem to believe their future is controlled by sublime forces of the occult.
Sri Lanka's former foreign minister Mangala Samaraweera newly-sacked from the government, is said to have a 'powerful' horoscope or astrological chart, which may have played a part in his estrangement with his Sri Lanka Freedom party leader and Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
"What can I do if I have a powerful horoscope?" Samaraweera asked a packed news conference attended by more than a 100 media persons this week.
In a letter written to Rajapakse, Samaraweera said he did not believe in astrology.
"I am well aware that you are a great believer in astrology, talismans and the occult," Samaraweera wrote.
"It seems that several others, who know of this as well, have been insinuating that I am a grave threat to you as I too have a strong horoscope. I am completely unaware of what my horoscope states and do not have any faith in it.
"I wonder if the lies spread by these conspirators to gain your trust have also been instrumental in me being dismissed last week."
Under the system of astrology as practised in Sri Lanka, the destiny of a person may be decided by the movement of planets, starting from their position in a 'birth chart' constructed when a baby is born.
The planet Jupiter for example can bring power, while Saturn can bring misfortune.
All major events in a person's life, dealings at top business conglomerates well as political events are scheduled at an auspicious time calculated by astrologers who interpret the complex interplay of planets with each other.
The recent appointment of opposition members into Sri Lanka's jumbo cabinet was delayed by several days while would-be ministers waited for a 'good time' to take oaths.
In November 2003, the then President Chandrika Kumaratunga grabbed three ministries from Prime Minister Ranil Wikremesinghe's United National Party led government, leading to a crisis.
Political insiders say Wickremesinghe suddenly made a deal-breaking demand in the ensuing talks to return the portfolios and insisted on the return of the Defence Ministry, instead of a compromise deputy minister position, on the advice of astrologers.
The talks collapsed and he soon lost power.
Wickremesinghe is now believed to be under a 'bad' time and has been advised to keep out of the country as much as possible, party insiders say, forcing him to flit in and out of the country like a jack-in-the-box.
When Sri Lanka's population was burning with 19.3 percent inflation last December, Wickremesinghe was on safari in Tanzania, with no words of protest or comfort to his constituents even to remind them that they were in his mind.
The following month he was off to Nepal, to fiddle with that country's peace process, earning him the nickname of Nero from some sections of the country's irate independent media that gets little support from his party in the face of overt and covert pressure from the authorities.
At home, his time was indeed bad, with 18 of his most vocal parliamentarians jumping ship to join President Rajapaksa, after failing to oust their leader or change his somnolent style of leadership of limiting political action only to election time, and which grabs defeat from the brink of victory time and time again.
When Rajapakse started his presidential bid, a watercraft was launched at a ceremony near a riverbank, as part of a series of rites to ensure his victory.
His critics gleefully predicted a defeat saying the craft had moved in a 'wrong' direction, which was a bad omen.
But he won the election anyway.
Sri Lanka's recent political history is also littered with the supernatural. Former President Premadasa was accused by his opponents of oiling seats with magic oil given by an Indian 'Malayali' occultist.
His opponents also spread scare stories to frighten parents with young daughters that hidden forces were seeking 100 'virgins', after a secret ceremony involving seven virgins and a milk bath had gone awry because one of the girls was not really a virgin.
Plus ca change
The country's ancient history is also dotted with colourful stories of the occult.
Samaraweera's feelings about being victimized by astrologers must have been shared by a Sri Lankan princess called Unmada Chitra, the daughter of King Panduvasdeva who ruled during the 5th century B.C.
Legend has it that she was called 'Unmada' or 'mad' Chitra because her good looks were enough to drive men crazy.
Astrologers predicted that according to her horoscope, her son would kill his ten maternal uncles and become the sole ruler of the country. Her brothers imprisoned Princess Chitra in a tower.
But she had managed to bear a son, have him taken to safety and substitute a baby girl in his place.
Though his uncles found out the truth and tried to destroy him later, he grew up to fight them and become king anyway.
The latest story doing the rounds in Colombo is that a political bigwig had had himself buried in sand up to the neck, and sacrificed seven goats at midnight to ward off impending back luck.