WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka
Rituals and customs enriched ancient Lanka
by Florence Wickramage
Customs and rituals have been part and parcel of the Lankan society from ancient times. They have been handed down from generation to generation spanning over the 2,500 year old history of the country. Most of these customs and rituals are connected with the day to day lives of the people in the social and religious spheres. Even though Sri Lanka is on the threshold of the global village, with technological advances, traces of these traditional customs and rituals are still evident in certain parts of the country, faithfully observed by certain sections of our society.
A group of us journalists with some officials of the Upper Watershed Management Project visited a little village called Kalinapawela off Haldummulla last weekend. The village-folk live simple lives and in certain places we found wattle and daub huts dotted here and there with new dwelling places of concrete and brick. Some of the roads were tarred while some still had gravel tracks as roadways. Villagers used the Thawalama to carry home their provisions. These Thawalamas were cattle with home provisions strapped on to their backs slowly wending their way homewards accompanied by their owners, men as well as women.
In the same area stretching over thousands of hectares is a savannah forest, out of which an extent of about 60 hectares are the habitat of a herd of wild elephants. In the months of May, June and July these elephants use this corridor to go to Handapanagala where they mix up with other herds. The elephant corridor is bordered by several other villages - Kaltota, Diyabeduma, Welanvita, Kotabakma, Gampaha and Icepeella. We were informed that while some herds prefer to go to Handapanagala a particular herd consisting of 8 elephants make a regular visit through the corridor to the Rosebury estate. All these herds return to their home territory by September via the same route.
By the side of the road was a tiny cleared patch where two low small rock-stones were placed. By the side of the rocks was a tree with small slips of branches hanging on a low fork from the two branches of the tree. There were empty packets of joss-sticks, pieces of broken coconuts and signs of candle wax on the rock stones. I inquired from an elderly villager R.M.Gunapala (74) who joined us, what happens at this spot. He informed me that a ritual is performed by villagers to the sylvan deity when crossing this corridor entreating his protection on their journey.
He said that this area is called the Mangara adaviya, said to be guarded by Mangara Deviyo. A slip of branch is broken from a nearby tree and hung on the fork of the tree at the foot of the rock-stones. A vow is made lighting a candle or a clay lamp and the place incensed with joss-sticks. They pay obeisance to the tree symbolising the sylvan deity and proceed on their way. He vowed that this deity's protection of the villagers has been proved over and over again and no villager had ever been attacked by a wild elephant. I have observed on a visit to Wanathavillu in the Puttalam District the same ritual performed by villagers when they cross jungle land. But in this area the deity is called Aiyanayaka Deviyo and the area Aiyanayaka deviyange adaviya.
In predominantly Tamil areas as well as in up-country estates, a black stone or a black stone-statue of God Pullaiyar is placed at the foot of trees at certain places and venerated the same way. The God is also known as Gana Deviyo.
According to Hindu believers, Gana Deviyo had been commanded by god Shiva to stand by a roadside and it is this command that the Gana Deviyo is faithfully adhering to. Vows made to Gana Deviyo seeking his protection are followed by boiling of milk and offering it to the god seeking protection and grace from him.
There is a popular belief among villagers that the peaceful days of yore and a disciplined and religious society which existed in Lanka decades and generations ago was the result of adhering to these traditional customs, beliefs and rituals. This was confirmed by the elderly villagers we met during our tour to several villages in the Uva Sabaragamuwa province. " Our country was the granary of the east, there were bountiful harvests and we enjoyed a peaceful lifestyle in our villages. This was so because we observed traditional customs and rituals in whatever task we engaged in - be it tilling of our land, harvesting paddy, digging a well or even going through jungle land. This is not so today", a whimsical Gunapala told me when parting... with a sigh and a far away look in his eyes.
WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka