Culture

Is human life a mere time-passing exercise?

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Human beings live on earth, without knowing where they came from to be born and where they would go after the end of life. This is the scenario for thousands of years that have gone by.

Human beings have been struggling to find some answer for this vexed question without much success so far.

Fact with regard to  human life

In view of sustained efforts to understand the “fact of human life” over many centuries, several explanations have been guessed or imagined and evolved.   As a result of such attempts to find answers, several religions have come up all over the world, resulting in sort of competition amongst the religions as to which answer and explanation is appropriate and which is not.

Some religions speak about rebirth after the end of one’s life until such time one would lead a pious life that would facilitate him to reach the feet of God, wherever He is and whatever He is.

Some other religions talk about hell and heaven at the end of human life. So many other explanations have been offered and theories are propounded like pre-ordained fate etc.

There are several mythological stories, ” establishing ”  that there is God ruling the world and about God’s incarnation to correct the world’s happenings from time to time and describing ” impossible conditions “such as a person having ten heads and another person living and passing away and then resurrecting and so on, which cannot be even visualized by the humans.

Individuals really do not understand clearly and convincingly and without an element of doubt as to why one would be born and the human body grows in size over the years and then finally perish in one way or the other.

The fact is highlighted at the end of one’s life that none is really “big or small” in the world, with death ending as an equalizer and clearly create an impression that whatever one has ” achieved in life and not achieved ” is in vacuum, without any significance,  whether the person was a  President or beggar.

Is it time passing exercise?

In any case, what is clear ultimately is that the human life process end up as a time-passing exercise,  with individuals getting themselves into the business of getting a living and striving all the time to prove themselves to others with so-called aspirations and achievements.

In such circumstances, many persons try to avoid the uncomfortable thought process relating to the origin and end of life,  as they move on blindly with the life process, with imaginary hope and aspirations.

With sort of helplessness, humans simply resign themselves to the confusion and lack of clarity about the purpose and otherwise of human life. Ultimately, some theories are accepted by some and some other theories are accepted by someone else, simply as a  matter of faith.

Now, what is the way out in such a condition for an endlessly thinking human being on this subject?

What Hindu religion says ?

Perhaps, leaving aside several stories and theories that have been said and repeated over the years , fundamentals of Hindu religious thought suggest a way of life that enables one to live with peace,  even with unsolved questions about the origin and end of human life.

The fundamentals of  Hindu religious thoughts ask humans to introspect about the question  “Who am I”, that ultimately would lead one to meditation exercise and make the individual conclude that whatever may be the origin and end of life, it cannot be and need not be probed beyond a level.

On the other hand, asking the question “Who am I” enables one to understand the fruitlessness of the  life process  and ” it’s vacuum”

In such circumstances, the Hindu religion advocates visiting temples  and  offering prayers, that would drive the mindset towards introspection on the inner self,  meditation and seeking peace in the mind, destroying ego

Hindu religion asks everyone to lead life actively with a sense of detachment,  with hatred or prejudice towards none.

This condition ultimately promotes peace and harmony in the mindset of individuals, that is what really matters.

Hindu thoughts do not ask individuals to lead  inactive life, withdrawing from the life process.  On the other hand,  it advocates active life with detachment.

One would never know or need to know about the origin and end of life, as such thought process will lead to nowhere.

Under the circumstances, achieving peace in the mind is all that to be desired in worldly life, even as one would continue the process of living active life.   Such peace in the inner self amounts to the realization of   “God within,”   which condition Hindu religion elegantly term as “Ananda”.

This should be the essence of the goal of human life, though it may be deemed to be a time-passing exercise.

Prime Minister Modi shows the way

Recently, Prime Minister Modi’s 99-year-old mother passed away. Mr. Modi cremated the mother’s body and then immediately went ahead with his official programme, even though the passing away of his dear mother must have caused deep grief in his mindset.

By this act, he exhibited his attitude of detachment and continued his work with dedication. This approach to the death of his mother reflects the true basics of Hindu philosophy, where the central advocacy is that one has to maintain detachment to the pleasures and pains of life,  even as one would continue to pursue active life and maintain the work culture.

Such an approach to life, as exhibited by Mr. Modi, would pave way to achieve inner peace, which really amounts to the realization of God.   

How living as a true Buddhist could avoid an environmental catastrophe

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“In my mind I see a group of chickens in a cage disputing over a few seeds of grain, unaware that in a few hours they will all be killed,” -Venerable Thích Nhất Hạnh

Zen Master late Thich Nhat Hanh was a global spiritual leader, poet, and peace activist, renowned for his powerful teachings and bestselling writings on mindfulness and peace. A gentle, humble monk, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called him “an Apostle of peace and nonviolence” when nominating him for the Nobel Peace Prize. Exiled from his native Vietnam for almost four decades, Thich Nhat Hanh has been a pioneer in bringing Buddhism and mindfulness to the West and establishing an engaged Buddhist community for the 21st Century -https://plumvillage.org/thich-nhat-hanh/biography/

Jo Confino writing in the Guardian many years ago said quote “Venerable Thích Nhất Hạnh teaches that the world cannot be changed outside of ourselves. The answer is for each one of us to transform the fear, anger, and despair which we cover-up with over-consumption. If we are filling our bodies and minds with toxins, it is no surprise that the world around us also becomes poisoned. He also argues that those who put their faith in technology alone to save the planet are bowing to a false god”

Confino goes on to say “Like many other spiritual leaders, he sees the genesis of our pain as coming from our dualistic mindset that sees our connection to God, or Buddha, or spirit as outside ourselves and accessible only after our death. As a result, we have developed a strong ego that sees itself as separate and threatened and needs to amass things like wealth to feel strong and protected. But none of these can fill the chasm created by our deep sense of separation”

Venerable Thích Nhất Hạnh believed that within every person are the seeds of love, compassion and understanding as well as the seeds of anger, hatred, and discrimination. Using a gardening metaphor, he said our experience of life depends on which seeds we choose to water. His words are very profound and yet, they are simple and very logical. They remind one of the words of a Buddhist Monk of repute in Sri Lanka, Venerable Galkande Dhammananda, the only Monk pupil of late Ven Walpola Rahula, who constantly refers to the mental wounds that all human beings carry and the chain of events that follow whenever such a wounded person thinks, talks and acts in a particular way. Practicing the tenants of Metta, Karuna, Muditha, and Upekka (loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy or empathy and equanimity) at all times, towards all living beings, is what Ven Dhammananda espouses at all times. This would be the seed of love, compassion and understanding that Ven Thich Nhat Hanh referred to above.

Venerable Thích Nhất Hạnh’s words “The energy we need is not fear or anger, but the energy of understanding and compassion. There is no need to blame or condemn. Those who are destroying themselves, societies and the planet aren’t doing it intentionally. Their pain and loneliness are overwhelming and they want to escape. They need to be helped, not punished. Only understanding and compassion on a collective level can liberate us” are identical to what Ven Dhammananda has been saying about the need to understand and do one’s utmost to heal the mental wounds of oneself and in others by extending Metta, Karuna, Muditha and Upekka to all others.

Buddhist Monks like Ven Thích Nhất Hạnh and Ven Dhammananda have expounded what Buddha taught about the oneness and interdependence of all living beings. The National Library of Medicine in an article titled Cosmic design from a Buddhist perspective says “one of the basic tenets of Buddhism is the concept of interdependence which says that all things exist only in relationship to others, and that nothing can have an independent and autonomous existence. The world is a vast flow of events that are linked together and participate in one another. Thus, there can be no First Cause, and no creation ex nihilo of the universe, as in the Big Bang theory. Since the universe has neither beginning nor end, the only universe compatible with Buddhism is a cyclic one. According to Buddhism, the exquisitely precise fine-tuning of the universe for the emergence of life and consciousness as expressed in the “anthropic principle” is not due to a Creative Principle, but to the interdependence of matter with flows of consciousness, the two having co-existed for all times”

Margaret Blaine, author, Buddhist teacher and a former mental health counselor, who lives in Eugene, Oregon, United States in a concise but an in-depth observation says “Buddhism teaches the principle of the oneness of life and its environment. That means as though our subjective self and our objective surroundings might appear to be two independent realities, they are in fact two dimensions of a single reality, each arising in relationship with the other. As Nichiren Daishonin, the founder of this form of Buddhism says, “Environment is like the shadow, and life, the body. Without the body, no shadow can exist, and without life, no environment. In the same way life is shaped by its environment.”

The Buddhist concept of interdependence which says that all things exist only in relationship to others, and that nothing can have an independent and autonomous existence is the key to the survival of everything one sees before their eyes and feels in their inner selves. This and Buddha’s words that “We don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children” is the context in which the those who are causing untold harm to the environment should consider why the broader view of what comprises the environment is important and why it should be saved and preserved.

Efficient and effective land and water resource management, the criticality of forest cover, development of renewable energy sources to replace fossil fuel generated energy to lower carbon dioxide and other harmful emissions, realization and acceptance of the universality of the value of all living beings, not just human beings, to sustain and maintain a safe and healthy environment are all vital elements that should be integral to thinking of people of Sri Lanka and of course the entire world.

The destruction of forests, the indifference to any value to life, both fauna and flora, the wanton destruction of wild life habitats are clear examples of people not realizing and recognizing what Margaret Blaine said about our subjective self and our objective surroundings in fact being two dimensions of a single reality, each arising in relationship with the other.

It is sad and unfortunate to note the reported decline in Sri Lanka’s forest cover down to 16% now, whereas Bhutan’s forest cover is in excess of 70%,(As reported in News 1st, Rain Forest Protectors of Sri Lanka movement has said that Sri Lanka’s forest cover that stood at 82 percent in 1881 has dropped drastically to 16 percent. The Conservator General of Sri Lanka has denied this reported decline in forest cover). However, whether it is 29% as reported in 2015, or 16%, it is best for the country if an assessment could be carried out by an independent body as the general belief amongst many is that there is degradation and exploitation of forest cover and opening up of land for “cultivation” and “development” purposes at the behest of politicians. What matters for the future generations is the truth. Hiding the truth is a sure way to bring forth the destruction of all living beings.

The Buddhist concepts outlined here are logical, common-sense concepts. They need not be Buddhist concepts, but simply common sense concepts. The Buddhist doctrine relating to greed and anger as clearly explained by Dalai Lama, “True happiness comes from having a sense of inner peace and contentment, which in turn must be achieved by cultivating altruism, love and compassion, and by eliminating anger, selfishness and greed” are clear pointers that accumulation of wealth, engaging in armed conflict and war, and lack of empathy and sympathy with and towards the less fortunate are, among other things, the drivers of ignorance, the root cause of unhappiness and suffering. Buddha’s fundamental message that he teaches only two things, suffering and end of suffering clearly applies to life in general but to the environment as well as it is the ignorance about the reality of interdependence of all living beings and that all things exist only because of others that causes human beings to destroy what in fact sustains them.

Whether Buddhism provides a way to save the environment or whether common sense provides the way, what influences negatively on it is political shortsightedness and ignorance.

In saying this, politicians are not solely identified as the cause as they are a product of a political system which only people create and which they only can continue with or change. Such a change can only come from the younger generation through a more informed, questioning, and challenging education system. If this generation is not exposed to rational thinking and objectivity, they will behave in the same manner as their forebearers and before they realize it, the environment would have become irreparable. What has been borrowed from them would be of no use to them when it is passed onto them. They will have nothing to pass onto their succeeding generations.

2022 – The Year We Misbehaved

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Ruwantissa Abeyratne

“Isn’t it really the first real world war we are living in, much more than the first and second world wars?” …Thomas Friedman

Prologue

With the above quote Pulitzer Prize winning author Thomas Friedman credibly claims that the two “world wars” in the twentieth century were not truly world wars as they did not affect the entire world but occurred in segments of the world, whereas Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – the major disturbance occurring in 2022 – gave rise to the truly  first world war.   Friedman goes on to say: “In this seemingly “global war on air” almost everyone can either watch the fight, participate in it in some way, or be affected economically by it, no matter where they live”.

Granted. A few good things happened in 2022. It was a year where democracies around the world strengthened, and some autocracies stumbled.  The countries in the West grew more united than ever before in their resolve to uphold a rules based international order. China’s economy went down and COVID raised its ugly head spoiling for the autocratic rule of the country its egotistical forward march. A bewildered Russia was thwarted in its use of force  in Ukraine. COVID receded around the rest of the world prompting the World Health Organization to declare, in September, that the end of the pandemic was in sight. Both in aviation and affairs of outer space progressive steps were made, where, for example  the 41st Session of the International Civil Aviation Organization adopted proactive resolutions for the future development of international civil aviation on the one hand, and the United States became the first space-faring nation to undertake  to cease its original intent   to test anti-satellite weapons and pledged  to encourage other major powers to follow its lead.

Regrettably these proactive trends were foreshadowed by a global trend of misbehavior during the year. 

Gross Global Misbehavior

On 22 February, Russia invaded Ukraine – a sovereign democratic nation which seemingly was minding its own business. Many would argue that this event was inconsistent with the fundamental rules enunciated in the foundation of international law contained in the United Nations Charter. Article 2.4 specifies that all Members of the United Nations must refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.  While this principle can be considered relevant  to Russia’s violent invasion of Ukraine on the one hand, Article 51 of the Charter can be invoked in defense of Ukraine which acted in self-defense.   Article 51 states that  nothing in the Charter must be deemed to impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council of the United Nations has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defense must  be immediately reported to the Security Council and will  not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.

Article 51 gives the Security Council the power to intervene and take “necessary action” – which is further expanded in Article 41- which empowers the Security Council to take non-military measures in the first instance and the intervention of the Security Council  and further expanded in Article 42 of the Charter which stipulates that.  should the Security Council consider that measures provided for in Article 41 would be inadequate or have proved to be inadequate, it may take such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security. Such action may include demonstrations, blockade, and other operations by air, sea, or land forces of Members of the United Nations.

However, the legislative impotence of these treaty provisions is made blatant  by the fact that such action as recognized in Articles 41 and  42 can be vetoed in limine by any permanent member of the Security Council (The 5 permanent members are China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States).So much for that.

Elsewhere, in the United Kingdom political turmoil was taken to unprecedented proportions when the country saw three prime ministers elected by the Conservative party in just two months.  The first instance involved scandal and misbehavior during the height of the COVID crisis; the second resignation of the short-lived Prime Minister was due to feckless insouciance in economic and financial policy which upended the markets, rendering the country gravely unstable.   

Tension between the two greatest powers – United States and China grew. The policy statement issued in October under the Biden administration focusing on  National Security Strategy said in diplomatically frank and open terms: “China harbors the intention and, increasingly, the capacity to reshape the international order in favor of one that tilts the global playing field to its benefit,” and the United States intends to “win the competition.” The policy statement was also impliedly alluding to Beijing’s militarization of the South China Sea, its somewhat uncanny support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, its many provocative and aggressive maneuvers and  efforts calculated to intimidate Taiwan, and its alleged theft of intellectual property in vast proportions.

Coming to the Middle East a far-right government which some claim to lead to an illiberal democracy was put in place in Israel which may cause justifiable trepidation in the international community in the context of the ongoing and intractable Israeli-Palestinian issue.  

One of the worst, and most egregious demonstrations of misbehavior occurred in Iran. “Morality Police” in Tehran proceeded to arrest Mahsa Amini – a twenty-two-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman visiting Iran’s capital city – on the charge of failure to cover her hair properly. She died in police custody. Mass protests erupted in September across the country, primarily led by women against this outrageous  killing. The signature cry of the protesters was “Women, life, freedom!” The political situation in Iran led to an  absurd claim by Iranian leaders who accused the United States and Israel of interference and misbehavior in engineering the protests.  This was  arguably with a view to shrouding the government’s political repression, corruption, and mismanagement of the economy. To make matters worse, the Government of Iran ordered the use of force against the protesters with a view to quelling the protests. It is reported that as many as 450 protesters had been killed on the streets by Iranian security forces by December.

Further East, on 24 December and in flagrant disregard and abuse of women’s’ human rights, the Taliban government ordered all foreign and domestic non-governmental groups in Afghanistan to suspend employing women, again with the tenuous accusation that some female employees didn’t wear the Islamic headscarf correctly. The ban was an unfortunate and regrettable follow up of an earlier move by the Taliban authorities to ban women from universities.

Epilogue

On a global level one of the worst examples of human misbehavior is the failure to stand together on the environmental front, where climate change is one of three major defining megatrends of our time (the other two being the looming and portentous threat of nuclear war and the exponential forward march of the technological revolution). At the 27th Conference of the Parties (COP/27) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which opened on 7 November 2022 in Egypt, The Secretary General of the United Nations  called the climate crisis the defining issue of our age. And the central challenge of our century.  He added that the world was on the highway to hell with the foot firmly on the accelerator and that it is unacceptable, outrageous, and self-defeating to put it on the back burner .  The Secretary General called for “a historic Pact between developed and emerging economies – a Climate Solidarity Pact.  A Pact in which all countries make an extra effort to reduce emissions this decade in line with the 1.5-degree goal.  A Pact in which wealthier countries and International Financial Institutions provide financial and technical assistance to help emerging economies speed their own renewable energy transition.   A Pact to end dependence on fossil fuels and the building of new coal plants – phasing out coal in OECD countries by 2030 and everywhere else by 2040” .

One of the greatest obstacles to combatting climate change at a global level is the lack of political will which can be put down to the irresponsible indifference of States.   As of September 2022 Only 38 countries had filed their National Adaption Plans .  COP/27 ended with the retention of the 1.5c goal (compared to pre industrial levels) and an agreement on a fund to compensate developing countries for losses and damage caused by the climate crisis. However, the conference failed to agree on concrete steps to wind down the use of fossil fuels.

With these goings on, we can only hope that the world will conduct itself more responsibly in 2023.

Christmas – The Feast of Light and Peace

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Someone once wondered why in every manger displayed at Christmas there was a bright light on while the rest of Bethlehem was in pitch darkness.  Christmas reminds me of when the three wise men followed a shining star that took them to the newborn.  Christmas is the story of light, as is Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights, and of giving;  So is Deepavali, the festival of lights for the Hindus.

To me, the most significant symbol of the nativity commemorating the birth of Jesus is the light displayed in the manger innovatively by the creators of Christian imagery. 

Light is life against death.  Light is hope that we have against darkness; against the evil and danger that lurks in the dark. Would the Christmas of light come to us this Christmas wherever we may be?

On 25 December each year the world celebrates the feast of Christmas, when Jesus – also called the Prince of Peace – was born.  It is said in Isiah 9.6 : and the world rejoiced and cried out, “Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given. And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace!”  In other words, the spirit of Christmas should essentially bestow peace on earth and goodwill to all humanity.  The spirit of Christmas is also “truth” as mentioned in the Holy Quran – that Jesus stood for the word of Allah, or truth: Islamicity.org records that “though Jesus is mentioned by name in twenty-five places in the Holy Quran he is also addressed with respect as: “Ibne Maryam” – son of Mary; as Masi (Heb) Messiah – translated as Christ; “Abd-ullah” servant of Allah; “Rasul -Ullah” – Messenger of Allah. He is spoken of as “the word of God”, as “the spirit of God”, as a “Sign of God”, and numerous other epithets of honour spread over fifteen different chapters. The Holy Quran honours this great Messenger of God, and over the past fourteen hundred years Muslims continue to hold Jesus as a symbol of truth”.

One interpretation of the words of the Old Testament and the Holy Quran is that Jesus – The Ruler of Israel – ruled through peace and truth.  This is so pertinent in the current context of the world – of fake news; disingenuity and self-service on the one hand and the brutal destruction of humans and cities on the other. The symbolism of Christmas, particularly in its original setting, brings to bear the real significance of the event as a harbinger of peace and happiness and the heralding of understanding and compassion particularly of those in power toward their fellow beings.

Once upon a time, in the lonely darkness of the mountain lived a little girl with her family, fearful of the secrets of the night which brought invaders who purveyed evil.  They were hiding from evil, with no food and shelter.  The cold winter chill was gnawing at their emaciated bodies and bones.  That night they came and took her away, far beyond this earth.  The snow was falling in thick flakes around her and the wind was howling, stopping every now and then as if to catch its breath.  She felt lonely and sad.  Some distance away, as if suspended in the sky was this white dove who invited the little girl on his back.

The dove rose
towards plumes of white cloud
searching the heavens
for children of God
On his way they  met a child
his face in smiles and eyes so wild
a mix of sadness and of joy
was stamped on the countenance of the boy
“Are you God’s child?” inquired the dove
“I am the child of eternal love”
“Pray why is’nt there peace on Earth?”
they inquired  with no mirth
“your world does not want peace, dove
nor do they want eternal love
the boundaries you have striven to make
do not admit of give and take
and only those who do suffer
from war and strife would prefer
that peace prevails for all mankind

The dove took the little girl far away from the darkness of the night, into the light.  The next morning the little girl was found dead at the foot of the mountain, ravaged by the evil visitation of the night.    

The purity of Christmas  gives  us solace from a world of inequity, corruption and evil. The symbolism of Christmas, particularly in its original setting, brings to bear the real significance of the event  as a harbinger of peace and happiness and the heralding of understanding and compassion particularly of those in power toward their fellow beings.  Christmas is  a time for introspection; of self examination for self worth.  It is a time that all of us should  demonstrably show our  capacity to shed differences and work toward the common human goal of peace.  The Christmas season calls us to nurture our boundless spirit of giving, particularly to those in distress. 

It is recorded that Jesus talked of famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places (Matt. 24:6-8).  This is part of human existence and an unfortunate reality.  In the case of the current pandemic, there is one word that will help the world and that is “restraint”.  Science advises us that we must restrain ourselves from succumbing to the temptation of celebratory gatherings at Christmas.  We must also restrain ourselves from flouting directives whether they be given by our employers in training sessions or by public authorities.  However, this is not enough.  There is one more word that is inextricably linked to our audacious hope of the return to global health: “responsibility”.

Christians believe that Jesus was born to redeem us from sin and the imperfections of social debauchery.  This is the message of Christmas.

We have cling to our audacity that the birth of the Prince of Peace will bring the World together in the New Year and from the ashes of a divided world will rise a united humanity with mutual respect and the abhorrence of self service among nations.   Emer de Vattel, in his 1758 treatise Droit de gens – The Law of Nations– enunciated this fundamental principle: “A nation then is a mistress of her own actions as long as they do not affect the proper and perfect right of any other nation – – so long as she is only internally bound, and does not lie under any external or perfect obligation. If she makes an ill use of her liberty, she is guilty of a breach of duty…”

Vattel’s statement meshes well with what President Obama said in his book  The Audacity of Hope where he says: “We will need to understand just how we got to this place, this land of warring factions and tribal hatreds. And we will need to remind ourselves, despite all our differences, just how much we share: common hopes, common dreams, a bond that will not break”. 

Let us hope the child of eternal love will keep a light on that shines bright,  bringing us hope in the coming year.

What was Christmas like fifty years ago in England and today?

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All I saw of snow before I landed in England some fifty years ago, was the scene of winter on a Christmas card. It was an experience I can never forget, of hands and ears frozen and people throwing snowballs for fun at each other, whilst building a snowman outside their homes and decorating the Christmas tree with fancy lights inside.

Christmas, as we know it today, resembles nothing of its past. A lot of what happened would shock us today. Binge eating and drinking, in many forms, rowdiness lubricated by alcohol on trains and the Underground on Christmas Eve, made travel a danger. Merrymaking would edge into making trouble. Today, there are cameras on trains and at stations and security is tight.

It was then mostly a family occasion. The gathering of family and friends the night before Christmas, for carols, mistletoe and mulled wine. Whilst on Christmas Day, 25 December, it was Christmas lunch, called “Dinner” with turkey and trimmings, served with cranberry sauce, mince pies and plum pudding for afters, shared with inner members of the family circle, with exchange gifts before the revelry.  

Christmas then and now, is a fusion of the pious and the pagan, the sacred and the profane. Most of its traditions are historical either borrowed or relatively recent.

According to the latest Census, in 2021 Britain is a minority Christian country, People of other faiths are now celebrating Christmas, more than the native population, which seems strange.

But besides the changing fashions of consumerism and the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, there remains something that has outlived, outlasted centuries of pagan culture and the real enchantment of the spirit of fellowship, the good tidings at Christmas time and the love of God to be one amongst us.

Some of the things people hardly talk about now is the increasingly secularised holiday, marked by a season of good cheer and festive fun, punctuated by long-forgotten English superstitions or traditions of mistletoe and wine, Santa and the reindeer, the late Queen Elizabeth’s Christmas Message, now King Charles III first Christmas TV Message and Pope Francis’“Urbi et Orbi” message to the world.

Understandably this year there is only hope of a subdued celebration with all the travel strike chaos and cost of living inconvenience.

Besides, divisions in life today and years past, go to the very heart of Christmas, to the gatherings at Midnight Mass, to the celebrations at the dining table with fun and frolic.

The shifting Christmas landscape

Times have changed in a big way in these fifty years. What would you do if you could get the time back that you spent shopping for gifts and for food for Christmas?

Back then, people thought it was weird to stop at one shop for everything you needed or wanted. You had the butcher for your meat and turkey, the bakery for your cakes, likewise, it was so-called specialist places where you did your shopping. You could do the “normal” thing and do your High Street shopping errands individually, going shop to shop.

There were no all-embracing Supermarkets for all your needs. Time was not at a premium then? What surprises most people today is; how much cheaper it was than going shop to shop, looking for bargains especially as Christmas presents, without today’s inflation.

What you now think might be a bargain at today’s Supermarket, could actually still be full of hidden costs. We then had value for money or at least thought we had, by shopping at Woolworth’s for value, now that choice has gone, disappeared with the passage of time? But we now have Prime Mart instead

What about other changes in these years?

Convenience and choice was lacking years ago. Today you can forget about the chore of meals and the joys of cooking your Christmas Family Dinner, with food delivered to your doorstep. Years ago we did not have the convenience of so-called “perfect selection” of measured portions of food, choice diets for vegans and vegetarians, and specialist counters for specialist health foods, less salt and less sugar diets. Today, we have “free from” food.

Today everything is wrapped up in measured units of calories and weight markings. This cuts out the stressful meal planning, as well as the wastage which makes it easier by selection of the meal type that is right for you. There is so much of choice today than in years past. Today, we have shelves stacked with varied variety. The choice is unbelievable. But, at the same time, there is a “cost factor”? Have we over the years become lazy?

What ways has Christmas changed?

The festive season may be packed with traditions, but Christmas is also an occasion which has changed with the times, but with religion focussed on the love of God for Man. It is down to world events, advances in people’s behaviour and perception, as well as technology or simply popular additions to the celebrations that never went away.

With the postal strike, people are resorting to sending “E-Cards” on the internet, instead.

With the rail strike people are staying at home instead of travelling.

With the Nurses and Ambulances on strike, we guess there would be less crowds at A&E?

With regard to the reflection of life in giving gifts, and toys, in particular, some companies are making toys more eco-friendly. Some companies are also cutting down on single-use plastic and boosting sustainability. Lego is a toy that is still very popular as a gift for children, but plant-based colours are now in use.

Parents are setting up cash Trust Funds for children this year, instead of gifting toys. Although Christmas will be very different for many this year, the spirit of Christmas will still linger on amidst the difficult times.

Sinhalese: A Nation Comfortable in Isolation – Part 2

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In part one historical and anthropological factors were discussed to understand their relevance for the present ethnic crisis in Sri Lanka and encourage racial-minded extremists to think differently to achieve ethnic harmony. The detrimental effects of deep-rooted mythical stories and self-centred political ideologies are discussed below.

Effects of Indo- Aryan Notion

A significant part of South India is populated by Ethno-linguistic groups of Dravidian origin, such as Telingu people of Andra-Pradesh and Telangana, Tamil of Tamil Nadu, Malayalam of Kerala, Kannadigas of Karnataka, etc. Also, Singapore and Malaysia have a sizable Tamil population outside India. The World Tamil population is well above 80 million. Further, many Dravidian people, including Tamils, were taken out for bonded labour by colonial authorities or migrated to many parts of the world during the colonial period. As such, the Dravidian population in India and the rest of the world could be more than 250 million. They are a recognised socio-economic and political power with a unique identity in India and many parts of the world today.

Though Sinhalese have been labelled as Aryans, no so-called Aryan Nations or Ethnicities have recognised Sinhalese as a nation that belongs to their racial group. Contrary to that, Sri Lankan Tamils are recognised, accepted, and supported by all Tamils in India and other parts of the world as members of their families.  The wider Dravidians family scattered in many parts of the world also accepts Sri Lankan Tamils as Dravidians.

Sinhalese are genetically different from Indo-Aryans but look much closer to Dravidians in South India. Nonetheless, Sinhalese are wilfully alienated from the much larger Tamil and other Dravidian racial groups due to mythical beliefs and artificial labelling as Indo- Aryans. Consequent to this hypocrisy, Sinhalese became a negligible, frustrated, and isolated minority among the Dravidian groups of South India and Dravidians in the rest of the world.

Sinhala Mentality

Throughout history, Sinhalese suffered the feeling of a minority in the Indian Sub-continent due to several Dravidian Nations with a large population at their doorstep, South India. Sinhalese always lived with the fear of South Indian invasions, especially from Tamil Nadu. Ordinary Sinhala citizens do not see a difference between Sri Lankan and Tamil Nadu Tamils and other Dravidian ethnicities from South India. Therefore, Sinhalese are accustomed to labelling anybody from South India as Tamil. For the 2500 years of recorded history, up to the European colonisation, ‘Sri Lankan History’ means nothing else but playing the defensive role against invaders of South Indian kingdoms. Even today, the above feelings and notions are deep-rooted in the minds of Sinhalese and scared of Tamil domination and aggression in other forms. This fear is reasonable from a historical perspective.

Original Sinhala kingdoms, Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, had the best land to cultivate staple food but were abandoned by Sinhalese due to intermittent invasions and colonisation of those regions by Tamil invaders from South India. After losing the Polonnaruwa kingdom, the Sinhalese were forced to cramp into the less fertile hill country and southern wet zoon, which are unsuitable for paddy cultivation. As such, the North and East Tamil Homeland has little validity. It has happened as a historical process after the falling of the Polonnaruwa Kingdom and subsequent invasions by South Indians and Europeans. Therefore, Sinhala Buddhists will never agree to forget the great population centre of the golden era of Sinhala Buddhist civilisation and accept the new concept of Tamil homeland in the North and East. That will antagonise the Sinhala –Buddhist community and widen the ethnic gap.

Co-existence

Ancient Sinhalese rulers had different strategies to face the threats from Southern Indian kingdoms. As much as possible, while maintaining the identity of Lanka as a separate country from India and the identity of Sinhalese as a unique nation, they kept the goodwill, socio-economic and political relationship with different South Indian kingdoms (Dravidian) as a national security strategy. Sinhala kings used to seek military assistance from Dravidian kings whenever there was an invasion by another Dravidian king in South India. They never depend on the large Aryan kingdoms of North India for that purpose.  Inter-marriages between Lankan and South Indian Royal Families were another critical strategy followed during those days to maintain regional solidarity. In several instances, Sinhalese have accepted South Indian Princes as claimants for the Sri Lankan/Sinhala throne through hereditary marriage relationships. Sinhala Kings of Pandiyan Origin (Prakramabahu the Great, Nissankamalla Etc.) have ruled the Sinhala country without dispute about their Dravidian origin. Sinhalese kings also supported some South Indian kings to get protection from their rival opponents of neighbouring kingdoms. Also, they had enrolled well-recognized dignitaries and experts from south Indian Kingdoms in the government administration and various development works, enhancing cooperation and understanding.

After the collapse of the Polonnaruwa kingdom, Sri Lanka became politically weak and unorganised and could not face any foreign g invasion. Vijaya Nagar kingdom was established in 1336 and became a powerful kingdom in South India. Up to the European invasion of the Indian Subcontinent, the Vijaya Nagar kingdom protected South India, including Sri Lanka, from Islamic Invasion. If not for the powerful Vijaya Nagar Kingdom In south India, Sri Lanka could have been subjected to Islamic invasion resulting in conversion to Islam. Intentionally or unintentionally, the Vijaya Nagar kingdom has played a vital role in safeguarding the Sinhala-Buddhist identity in Sri Lanka.

Hypocrisy

Sri Lankan Tamils are very proud of their nationality, language, culture, and religion. They believe they are a branch of the Dravidian family, the oldest civilisation globally and superior to Sinhalese. They are unique in observing cultural values at family and community levels and exhibit the national identity by conduct, behaviour, and appearance strongly and openly. Contrary to this, Sinhalese believe they are a group of Indo-Aryans, and Tamils are non-Aryans and rank below the level of Aryans in nobleness. Therefore, Sinhalese are superior to Tamil. Extremists of both communities use these Tamil and Sinhala hypocrisies to widen the gap, fuel the mistrust, keep the reins in their hands, and manipulate racialism to satisfy their agendas.

Isolation

 Conflicts, competition, friendship, love, and hate between Sinhalese and Tamils have been common throughout history. But it was intermittent and limited to Lanka and a few kingdoms of south India. The Sinhalese are a minority ethnic group in the Indian Sub-Continent, struggling with a significant Tamil Population in South India (next door) to survive as a separate nation with a distinct identity and a particular territory (Lanka Island). During the colonial period of Western powers, there were no invasions by southern Indians. But Tamils and other minority groups became more prominent than the Sinhala majority. After independence, Sinhalese are trying to regain lost opportunities during half a millennium-long colonisation period. But their strategies seem very much based on historical memories, without considering the social, political, and economic evolution that took place during the colonial period and the changes in the new world.

The master minders of the 1983 black July have branded the entire Sri Lankan Tamil community as terrorists fighting for a separate country or supporters of separatism. Also, in local and international media and government literature, the word ‘Tamil and Dravidian’ is synonymous, especially in the Sinhala language.  Most of the Dravidian ethnicities in India are not sympathisers of the Tamil course in general or the Sri Lankan Tamil in particular. But by using the words Dravidians and Tamils synonymously, an inference has been established that Dravidians are being harassed/discriminated against by the Sinhalese/Sinhala-dominated governments in Sri Lanka. Therefore, a substantial Dravidian population has become sympathisers for the Sri Lanka Tamil course, regardless of the validity of a separate Tamil country. Repercussions of the issue expanded beyond the boundaries of Sri Lanka and Tamil Nādu and got it internationalised, while Sinhalese are losing Tamil friends worldwide.

In addition, Sinhala patriots have recently started using the word ‘Sinhala- Buddhist’, creating a sub-ethnic group within the Sinhalese. If they used the word ‘Buddhist,’ it could have enlarged the frontier by enlisting the sympathy of the larger Buddhist population of the world, as the Tamis do. At least if they had used the word ‘Sinhalese,’ much of the Sri Lankan population (75%) could have been retained in the lobby. But using the word ‘Sinhala- Buddhist,’ Sinhala Frontier became small. While LTTE has strategically expanded their network to the Indian subcontinent and the rest of the world, Sinhala patriots are trying to be an isolated smaller group within Sri Lanka.

Under the above circumstances, Sri Lanka has miserably failed to prevent the dissemination of misinformation and prove that the demand for a separate country is unwarranted. Instead of putting the correct facts on the table and demonstrating the commitment and genuineness for co-existence, the Sinhala camp continues to deny the allegations put forward by separatists before the international Tamil sympathisers and justify the LTTE demands.

Under these circumstances, Tamil patriotism became highly relevant and acceptable to much of the world community, while Sinhalese’s sincere attempts and patriotism became unacceptable, isolated, and voiceless.

Swimming the Upstream

As discussed above, there are no tangible or visible social and cultural issues between the two communities to fall apart. Probably this conflict is due to the competition for limited economic opportunities. After the independence, both communities wished to exploit the available narrow economic base (small piece of cake) for the benefit of their communities instead of working together to widen the economic base (make the cake bigger). Against this backdrop, after the independence, a serious animosity with deep-rooted dislike has developed between Sinhala and Tamil communities, especially among political leaders. Gradually this has escalated into an armed conflict between Tamil Tigers, backed by some external forces, and the Sri Lankan government, supported by the Sinhala majority. The government militarily defeated this conflict in 2009. However, now socially and politically, this difference and hatred have become more severe.  It is a politically induced scenario staged by power-hungry politicians of both communities. Their weapons include the fabrication of news favourable for conflicts, misinformation, generalisation of isolated incidents, and exaggeration of sensitive information related to ethnic issues. That is to maintain an emotionally energised society ready to fight with the opposite community, keeping the said politicians in frontiers with reins in their hands.

By this time, most of the core ethnic issues have been resolved by the government legally and constitutionally (devolution of political power, acceptance of Tamil as a national language like Sinhala, development of infrastructure, and provision of welfare facilities without communal or regional discriminations, investment to reduce regional disparities, etc.). However, in general, Sinhalese people are not interested in providing equal opportunities to Tamils. Therefore, the administrative implementation phase of constitutional and legal provisions is prolonged, leading to dissatisfaction among ordinary Tamil people. Tamil politicians also have a very aloof attitude towards seriously implementing such legal and constitutional provisions to do justice to ordinary Tamils who have been suffering for more than three decades. They are happy to sustain a suffering Tamil community in Sri Lanka to justify grievances at the international forums and seek asylums for the well-to-do Tamils in advanced countries for a better standard of living. Therefore, most of the expressions of ethnic conflicts taken into the platform by Tamil politicians looked more like symbolic demands and picked isolated issues attractive to international forums than a representation of deep-rooted core structural issues of the ordinary Tamil people.

Way Forward

  • Sinhala Frontier

If Sinhalese maintains that they belong to Indo–the Aryan race and are entirely different from Tamils and other Dravidian groups and superior to them, the conflict will continue. It is detrimental to the co-existence with the large Tamil and Dravidian populations next door, South India. To ensure the sustainability of Sinhala Jathiya (Sinhala Nation), Sinhala Extremists must understand the world’s reality and investigate the ways and means for co-existence with the Tamils in Sri Lanka instead of suppressing them.  Sinhalese must stop pushing the Sri Lankan Tamils, world Tamils, world Dravidians, and their advocacy groups to a broader frontier of enemies. They must realise that world sympathy has been cultivated in favour of Sri Lankan Tamils and un-sympathy against Sinhalese. It may not be based on correct facts, but it can’t be changed or brought back history through an arrogant and adamant approach or counterarguments. Instead of harping on ancient Sinhala glory, solutions shall be sought based on the present demographic, social, political, and economic structures.

  • Tamil Frontier

Traditional Tami leadership and diaspora should be more concerned about the burning issues of the poor Tamils who live in Sri Lanka and co-exist with Sinhalese instead of harping on the hidden agenda of a separate Tamil country within the small island. Instead of widening the gap between the two communities, they must investigate how they can co-exist with Sinhalese in Sri Lanka. Tamil leaders’ priority must be rehabilitating the war-affected people and areas, correcting past mistakes and injustices, and assisting them in rejuvenating their lifestyle with the assistance of the government.

Next, they must use the devolved political power and the national political representation to benefit Tamils to the maximum possible extent and prove their commitment, integrity, genuineness, and ability for democratic governance. Then request for devolution of power further to fill gaps, if any.  They must understand that any rights lost by Tamils can be availed only by the Sri Lankan government. Also, they should not expect to regain the privileges enjoyed during the colonial period. Base-less concept of the North and East Tamil homeland, which leads to widening the gap between Tamils and Sinhalese, should be dropped from their demands. Entire Sri Lanka is the homeland for all citizens of Sri Lanka. The LTTE has distorted the unique Tamil Hindu culture of Sri Lanka, and the young generation of the Tamil Diaspora is further distorting it. If they do not change their minds to live with Sinhalese cordially, it is detrimental to the sustainability of the unique Tamil-Hindu culture of Sri Lanka.

  • Diaspora

The diaspora is using legally or illegally earned huge assets abroad to cultivate hatred among the young generation, who doesn’t know what has happened in history. Instead, they Should invest in the North and East of the country to generate more employment for their people and to remove the misunderstanding between the two communities. Cultivating hatred among young and future generations of both communities will close all avenues for reconciliation and co-exist forever. It may create another Palestinian- Israel situation on this earth.It is very pathetic, even 14 years after the war; the priority of the Tamil leaders and the international community is illusive accountability, not the issues of the war-affected people. Accountability will satisfy the hateful minds of a limited crowd but not the needs of ordinary Tamil who have suffered for about four decades. The lack of focus on the well-being of the affected people is an obvious indication of the deceitfulness of all parties involved in the accountability agenda. If they are genuine in this process while following the accountability mechanism, very high priority must be placed on the rejuvenation of the economy and lifestyle of the war-affected people on par with the rest of the country instead of allowing them to suffer for many more decades.

  • International Community

Accountability has no meaning if the parties involved /responsible for the action can’t correct/ compensate for the ill effects of their actions.  According to UNHCR s Operational Guidance on Accountability to the Affected People, “accountability to affected people is a commitment to the intentional and systematic inclusion of the expressed needs, concerns, capabilities, and views of persons of concern in their diversity; and being answerable our organisational decisions and staff actions in all protection, assistance, and solutions, intentions, and programs “. As such, without limiting to one party or aspect, the accountability should apply to all stakeholders, including the international partners and cover all aspects.  Accountability should not be narrowly defined as punishing a person or a group for satisfying the hidden agendas of some groups with vested interests.

After the Civil war, even hard-core Sinhala patriots started developing sympathy, compassion, and friendship toward Tamils. Ordinary Tamil people had shown interest in living in Sinhala areas with Sinhalese and rejuvenating their lifestyle and livelihood with the government’s support. The hard-core terrorist also accepted the rule of law in the country and integrated into civilian life after the rehabilitation.  Even traditional Tamil political leaders working for a hidden agenda of a separate Tamil country became more lenient towards the concept of one country. Though they did not participate in the government’s rehabilitation efforts, they kept neutrality without disturbing it.

As such, an environment conducive to a long-lasting solution emerged slowly after the war. However, the unwarranted involvement of UNHCR reversed the whole process at its inception. At present, their cause of action is counterproductive. It gives an unwarranted expectation and confidence for a separate Tamil country, which is the hidden agenda of traditional Tamil political leaders. Also, it cultivates hatred in the minds of the second and third generation of Tamil Diaspora based on a fabricated and unfounded allegation of the Tamil genocide, which will close all available avenues for reconciliation and co-existence forever.

Artificially sympathetic international community towards the Tamil course should understand the above realities and Sinhalese mentality. Undue pressure on the Sri Lanka government will increase the suspicion, hatred, and gap between the two communities resulting in more suffering for ordinary Tamils who live in Sri Lanka. The UNHCR and the UN should be able to put pressure on both the Government of Sri Lanka and the powerful, influential, and adamant Tamil Frontier for reconciliation and co-existence.

Conclusion  

Suppose Prince Vijaya’s legend’s embroidery is removed away. In that case, the core could be that a prince from Odessa or the Bengal region of the Indian subcontinent had invaded Lanka and unified it as one country and one nation in the 6th century BC. Over centuries it has evolved as Sinhala Nation (Sinhala Jathiya) and Sinhala Country (Sinhale). Since then, socio-economic immigrants from South India would have been assimilated into Sinhala Jathiya (Sinhala Nation).

Lanka being an island, its language, the ‘Sinhala’, may have evolved as a unique language as a mixture of local dialects, the language used by Vijaya and groups, and the Tamil language used by their spouses came from Madurai. Subsequently, it may have been enriched from North Indian languages due to the influence of Buddhism and eventually shaped as an Indo-Aryan language. Genetically Sinhalese are not Indo-Aryans. They are a mixture of Indo-Aryans, Dravidians and indigenous people and are genetically closer to Tamils.

Though the war has been concluded by defeating terrorists, the conflict has escalated more than before and is escalating further. Entire processes, including the Hippocratic attitudes of Sinhala/Tamils and their racialist pressure groups/advocacy groups, have caused irreparable damage to both Sinhala and Tamils and blocked the avenues for ethnic harmony.

In this rapidly changing world, the Sinhalese must change their thinking patterns, attitudes, approaches, and behaviours, as mentioned earlier, to ensure the sustainability of the Sinhala nation, which they fought for more than 2500 years. The priority of the Sri Lankan government should be ethnic harmony, national integration, and building Sri Lanka as a nation while enjoying the rights and identities of different ethnic and religious groups. The diaspora and international forces should genuinely cooperate with the government in its efforts for national integration and nation-building for the best interest of Tamils living in Sri Lanka. I am concluding this article with the following remarks.

“Sinhala people are fond of Tamil Films, Tamil dances, Tamil Songs, Tamil music, Tamil foods, Tamil costumes, Tamil professionals, Tamil workers and Tamil girls, but they don’t like the Tamils. The Tamil people live, eat, sleep, work together with Sinhalese, and depend on them for livelihood, but hate the Sinhalese.”

References:

  1. Mahawamsa
  2. Cultural Survival Quarterly Magazine – December 1988; Conflict and Confusion in Sri Lanka
  3. Yes, the Sinhalese have their origin in Bengal Odisha. By Adriya Roy Couwdhury
  4. Sinhala People- Wikipedia
  5. Genetic Affinities of Sri Lankan Population- by Gautam Kumar Kshatriya

Sinhalese: A Nation Comfortable in Isolation – Part 1

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According to Mahawamsa, the primary historical chronicle of Sri Lanka, the Sinhala race has a lion ancestry. Suppadevi, the daughter of King Vanga Desha, was kidnapped by a lion, and they lived in a cave in a forest of the Lala region and gave birth to 2 children (Singha Sewalee and Singha Bahu). When Singha Bahu was grown, he escaped from the lion and came to the ancestral kingdom with his mother and sister. Later he moved to his birth area and established a new kingdom called ‘Sinha Pura’ and was crowned and named ’King Sinha Bahu’’. Prince Wijaya was the son of King Sinha Bahu.  Due to the notorious behaviour, Prince Vijaya and his followers embarked on a ship and were exiled by king Sinha Bahu. After some time, they landed in Thamraparni (Mannar), in Lanka. According to the above chronicle, the Lord Buddha passed away in North India on the day Prince Vijaya landed in Lanka.

Subsequently, Prince Vijaya married kuveni, the then-reigning Queen of the country. She belongs to the Yakkas Clan/ tribe, apparently the dominant clan of the day in Lanka. With the assistance of kuveni, Vijaya defeated the Yakkas’ power and became the first whole Island king of Lanka. Other clans/tribes could have assimilated with the Vijaya’s Kingdom. According to Mahawamsa, Sinhala Nation (Sinhala Jathiya) is descending from King Vijaya and his followers. Based on this story and human classification done by western scientists in the 18th century, another notion has been developed to say that Sinhalese are of Indo-Aryan origin, assuming that Vijaya is from Indo- Aryan origin and Sinhalese are decedents of them.  According to this Human race classification, Dravidians were considered a different ethnolinguistic group outside the Indo-Aryan family. This notion has created many negative impacts on Sinhalese in the recent past, mainly causing artificial segregation from South Indian Geopolitical reality, significantly distancing from Tamils and the wider ethnolinguistic group of Dravidians, which will be discussed later.

If the above story developed by Lankan chronicles and subsequent additions by western human race classifications is substantially true, the following are the possible realities, inferences, and occurrences.

(a)The ‘Lion’ in this story could not be an animal, but a beastly outlaw called ‘Lion’ like Robin Hood or Uthuwankande Saradial, who used to rob traders and live in the jungle.

(b)  The departure/expulsion of Vijaya should have happened from Bengal, Orissa, or any other coastal area in India as a ship has been used.

(c) If the Ship was floating/sailing without a definite idea of the exact destination, considering the wind direction and the proximity, the ship should have been standard in Andrapradesh, Tamil Nadu, or any other place of mainland India.

(d) If the ship had been further floated towards Lanka, it should have standard /sailed into Trincomalee, Kirinda, Hambantota, Godawaya, Galle, Beruwala, or any other place along the East or South coast, considering the wind direction and the proximity.

(e)  Getting stranded in Thamraparni (Mannar) by going around Lanka Island towards the north, against the wind direction of these months, is the least possibility.

(f) Instead of anchoring/getting stranded at any of the convenient ports/coasts mentioned above, they would have planned to reach Thamraparni port (Mannar) because it was the Capital Region of Queen Kuveni, the queen of the relatively powerful Yakkas Kingdom of the day.

(g) The most probable scenario is that King Sinhabahu could have planned to invade Lanka, which was then politically disorganised. He could have sent an army headed by his mischievous sun Vijaya for this planned errand.

(h)Considering the wind direction from the Bay of Bengal, Vijaya’s army would have departed in the First Inter Monsoon (March-April) to reach the southern sea of Lanka and use the very early part of Southwest Monsoon sail to Thambapanni on Vesak Full Moon Day.

(i) It is widely accepted that one Mural at Ajantha Caves elaborates on Prince Vijaya’s arrival in Lanka. If that is the case, said mural doesn’t give any impression of sending into exile or a miserable stranding in Thamraparni.  It looks like a well-armed and well-organized march comprising ‘Chathrangani Sena’ [Eth (elephants), Us (horses), Riya (carts), Pabala (pedestrian)]. It gives an impression of a well-planned invasion.

(j) By examining various stories in Mahawamsa, including the perception of 3 visits of Lord Buddha to Lanka, it can be assumed that Lanka had been ruled during this period by several clans/tribes of Yakkas, Nagas, Rakshas, etc. After defeating Yakkas, Vijaya may have unified the whole of Lanka and become ‘All Island King’.

(k) In honour of Prince Vijaya’s parents and grandparents, the new kingdom would have been named ‘Sinha-Desha’ (land of the Singha Clan). It is logical to assume that way, as his father’s new kingdom was also called “Sinha Pura.”

(l)The name Sinha -Desha may have changed from time to time according to various writers as Sinhala- Desha, Sihala- Desha, Sinhala- Deepa, Hela Diva, Helaya, etc. and colloquially as ‘Sinhale’ or ‘Helaya’. Also, it is essential to note that before the British period, it was called ‘Sinhale,’ and the chieftain of the county handed over a country called ‘Sinhale’ to the British.

(m) People who lived in ‘Sinhale’ could have been known as ‘Sinhala people’ or ‘Sinhalayo,’ and the language they spoke could have been called ‘Sinhala’ language or ‘Hela Basa’, which is like France, French people and French language or Germany, German people, and German language.

(n) Mahawamasa gives the impression that Vijaya and his followers are a Sinhala people who came from Singapura and accidentally landed in Lanka and settled down here and formed a new regime and a new nation called Sinhala. This is like the case of English people going from England and settling in Australia or New Zeeland. If the story is so, Singapura, the motherland of Sinhalese, should have been a vast Sinhala state in modern India, like the English people in England. But even a single native Sinhala person cannot be found anywhere in India today. As there is a significant Tamil population in India (Tamil Nadu), it can assume that the Tamils of Lanka have come from nearby Tamil Nadu in India. Since there is no native Sinhalese anywhere in India, it is impossible to believe that Sinhalese are a group of migrants from India. It seems like a mythical story.

(o) According to Mahawamsa, Load Buddha had three visits to Lanka, and the first visit was nine months after the attainment of Buddhahood. The Lord Buddha may have placed a high priority on Lanka as it was a human settlement with a rich culture, like the Buddhist Region in India.

(p)According to Mahawamsa and contemporary Indian Epics, Lanka was occupied by tribal groups or clans called ‘Yakkas, Nagas, Devas, and Rakshas. They could be aborigines, immigrants, or a mixture of aborigines and immigrants from the Dravidian Ethnolinguistic cluster of South India, including Tamils. Probably, the Nagas could be the migrants of Tamil origin who came as traders or fishermen because the snake (Naga) is very much related to Tamil culture. The above tribal names would have come according to their jobs and religious traditions.

(q) Most probably, after the establishment of Vijaya’s kingdom, most ethnic groups, tribes, and clans would have accepted the new colonial ruler and gradually assimilated into one nation called “Sinhala,” including the Vijaya’s Royal Clan.

(r) Perhaps the Veddas, who remain still with a separate identity, maybe the decedents who did not wish to assimilate with the new Sinhala Nation formed by Vijaya. Similarly, some hardcore Tamils (Dravidians), who lived before Vijaya’s arrival, may have maintained a separate identity without assimilating into the new nation formed by Vijaya.

(s) There is no debate about the fact that Sri Lankan Tamils are of South Indian origin. There is no significant difference between Tamil Nadu Tamils and Sri Lankan Tamils. Their traditions, customs, language, and religion are similar, and the relationship between the two groups remains uninterrupted throughout history.

(t) If Sinhalese have come from Odessa or any other Sinhala state in India, they should have maintained a cultural and political relationship with that state like the Tamils do. Under this scenario, it is logical to assume that Sinhalese had not come from any other part of the world. Vijaya, the Indian invader, formed a new nation called ‘Sinhala’ by integrating or assimilating his followers and spouses with all community groups living in Lanka at that time. Since then, immigrants from the Indian sub-continent could have been assimilated with the leading ethnic group called ‘Sinhala.’ Sinhala Language may have evolved by mixing with native languages used by Yakkas, Nagas, Devas, and Rakshas with the languages used by Odessa and other Indian invaders, and subsequently Pali and Sanskrit, mainly for written language.

Concept of Aryans

(a) Accepting the human race Classification done by the modern western scholars/ scientists, who were interested in oriental studies in the 18th century, supports the assumption that Vijaya and his followers came from present Odessa/ Bengal and are also Indo-Aryans. Therefore, a notion has been built to say that Sinhalese, the decedents of Vijaya, are also Indo-Aryans. The Indo-Aryan concept was developed in the 18th Century. Therefore, the Aryan concept of Sinhalese may have developed since the 18th century.

(b) All scientific studies by Indian and other international scholars agree that there is a significant relationship between Sinhalese, Bengalis, and South Indian Tamils. Further, there is a significant genetic relationship between Sri Lankan Tamils and Sinhalese compared to other south Asian ethnicities. Also, a study by G.K. Kshatriya in 1995 assessing the ‘Genetic Affinities of the Sri Lankan population has found that a significant genetic contribution has come from South India, the Bengali, and Vedda populations. Also, according to these scientific studies, Odessa people are genetically closer to Dravidians than Aryans. According to the above analysis, Vijaya and the group could be a mixture of Aryans and Dravidians.

(c) Further, if Vijaya and his followers were Indo-Aryans, they may not have gone to Pandu King in Madurai (the Tamil country) to bring the queen and wives for the followers. In any case, even if we accept that Sinhalese are decedents of Vijaya of the Aryan race, by marriages mentioned above, their second generation, the ‘Sinhalese,’ should be a crossbreed of 50: 50 with Dravidians and Indo- Aryans. If Vijaya and their followers were crossbreeds of Dravidian and Indo- Aryans, the genetic contribution from Tamils to Sinhalese could be much higher than 50 per cent. According to various anthropological studies done by Indian and international scholars, it is rational to accept that Sinhalese are a cross bread of Vijaya and his group, Veddas and other Indigenous tribes, and Tamil and other South Indian immigrants.  As such, genetically, Sinhalese are much closer to Tamils than Indo-Aryans, while the genetic difference between Sinhala and Tamil could be negligible.

(d) According to the human physical features (body complexion etc.) and cultural and social behaviours, Sinhalese are closer to Dravidians, mainly Tamils, than North Indians. If Tamils and Sinhalese are in the same type of costumes, immediately, both look alike and are represented by the same hues of brown pigmentation varying degrees from very dark brown to light brown.  Even many Sinhala surnames and first names are Similar to Tamil names, i.e., Weerasinghe (Sinhala), Weerasingham(Tamil), Rajasinghe(Sinhala), Rajasingham (Tamil), Gooneratne (Sinhala), Gunaratnam (Tamil) and first names like Ranjani, Padmini, and Seetha. etc., are used commonly by Tamil as well as Sinhala women.

(e) The Sinhala language also may have evolved as a mixture of languages used by those communities and more significant influence from Indo –Aryan languages. Also, it is essential to note that the shape of the Sinhala script is different from the scripts of Indo-Aryan languages but much closer to the Tamil script because both are round shapes. Under this scenario, ‘Sinhala’ is a unique language and a nation that evolved within the Island of Lanka with a mixture of indigenous people and migrants from different parts of India (Indo-Aryans and Dravidians).

Tamil Population in Lanka

As discussed before, intermittent immigrants from South India may have assimilated to the Sinhala nation, which Vijaya established in the 6th BC. However, from the 3rd century BC to the 10th century AD, many Tamil invaders ruled the northern part of Lanka intermittently for short and long periods. Even after defeating those invaders, some of their followers would have remained under Tamil identity without assimilating into the Sinhala nation, as their numbers were significantly large and were economically and politically powerful. Further, in the 10th Century AD, the Cholas Emperor invaded Lanka, absorbed Lanka as a province of the large Cholas Empire, and ruled for 78 years. Many Tamils who came during this period as rulers, administrators, trades, and service providers may not have returned to India after defeating Cholas in 1070. Due to the superiority complex of colonial masters, they may not have assimilated with the Sinhala nation. During this period, Sinhalese could have been side-lined, discriminated against, and outcasted by ruling Cholas elites. Also, due to Cholas’s political and socio-economic domination over a long period, the Sinhalese people who lived in the northern part of the country may have converted to Hinduism and gotten used to the Tamil language.  If that were the case, present low-cast and untouchable Tamils would have been the outcasted Sinhalese who lived in the North before the Cholas invasion. Though some Sinhalese resent the Northern Tamils today, most could be originally Sinhalese.

Many Buddhist and Sinhala Archaeological ruins have been found in the North and East than in the present-day Sinhala Buddhist Settlements. One can hardly find archaeological evidence of Hindu Tamil Culture in the present-day Tamil settlements. No substantial archaeological remains are evidence of the Tamil homeland in the North or East before the 11th century, and those belong to Sinhala Buddhist culture. Those Archaeological sites may have been constructed by Sinhala Buddhists who lived in those areas but seems to be converted to Tamil Hinduism after the Cholas invasion. If those areas were original Tamil Hindu settlements, there was no reason for them to construct Buddhist temples and use Sinhala inscriptions related to Sinhala Buddhist culture. Another possibility is that the Tamils in the North and East could have been Buddhist but converted to Hinduism after the invasion by the Cholas.   In that case, Buddhist Archaeological sites in the North and east could be a heritage of Tamils who converted to Hinduism during the Chola Regime. In that case, those archaeological sites could be a heritage of the Tamils. But that possibility is doubtful as most inscriptions in those areas are in the ancient Sinhala language. The most probable scenario is that most Sinhala people who lived in the North and East would have migrated to safer places after the Cholas innovation. Those who could not afford to relocate and were willing to accept the new colonial masters may have remained and converted to Tamil Hinduism. In that case, archaeological ruins in those areas may be a heritage of Sinhala and Tamil communities. And there should not be competition for heritage and preserving is a responsibility for both.

To be continued

Patronizing The Culprits?

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Blaming some particular religion, caste or creed and patronizing hatred-based extremism is the worst kind of terrorism. Be it the Judaism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Hinduism or Islam or even Atheism, all philosophies guide their followers to a path leading to just one theme ‘love-humanity’. We see that the followers of all these philosophies have been doing a lot for the betterment of mankind since ever. Philanthropic approach towards life is the only approach all religious philosophies convey to their followers. Religious philosophies are never limited to the betterment of a specific group of people; all religions have an innate desire of flourishing and expanding and this desire could never be fulfilled unless the message they convey has universality in it; no doubt ‘love-humanity’ is the most universal message.

In Pakistan, a Muslim country, there is a 550-bed hospital in Lahore named Sir Ganga Ram Hospital. This hospital was established in 1921 by a Hindu Civil Engineer Sir Ganga Ram. At the time of its establishment, Sir Ganga Ram never intended to specify it just for the Hindu patients; because it was established for the patients, not for the Hindu patients only. Today hundreds of patients are being benefitted from it and majority of the patients treated here are the Muslims. Same is the case with the Gulab Devi Hospital in Lahore. This hospital was established in 1934 by Indian freedom fighter Lala Lajpat Rai in the memory of his mother, Gulab Devi, who died due to tuberculosis in 1927. Another hospital in Lahore is Jan Ki Devi Jamiat Singh which was established by a Sikh doctor Jamiat Singh 85 years back. Multan is a very historical city in the South Punjab region of Pakistan. Here Women’s Christian Hospital is providing marvelous services to the women from surrounding areas. This hospital was established in 1899 by the Church Missionary Society. Same is the example of Aligarh Muslim University India which was established in 1875 by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, a renowned Muslim educationist. Now-a-days this university is considered a public central university and regardless of their religious beliefs, thousands of students pass out of it every year.

The hatred-based extremism is always a mischievous act of a small number of notorious people who have their ulterior motives behind. Groups consisting of such people could be found in every society and every religious school of thought. If the government is serious, such groups are crushed at very initial stages but in case the government is non-serious rather supportive to them, things become horribly disastrous. We have the ever-worst example of the demolition of the Babri Mosque in Ajodhya, India. That was 6th December 1992 when some Hindu extremist groups under the supervision of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, Bajrang Dal, Shiv Sena and Bharatiya Janata Party, ransacked the historic Babri mosque. The situation after this incident turned into a riot-like scenario and ultimately resulted in the killing of thousands of innocent people mostly the Muslims. The most pathetic fact with reference to this incident is the partial rather prejudice silence of the government of India. Indian Court acquitted all accused-figures particularly those who were very active members of the BJP. In other words the Indian judiciary denied justice and failed to hold people responsible for criminally razing down the mosque and to take to task all those who were responsible for this cruel lawlessness.

The partiality demonstrated by the Indian courts paved future-way for targeting of other Muslim religious sites especially in Kashi and Mathura in the Uttar Pradesh State. For the investigation of this sad incident a Commission was also set-up which concluded that the demolition of the Babri Mosque was meticulously planned and the mobilization of the cadres of RSS, Bajrang Dal, BJP and Shiv Sena in Ajodhya was neither “spontaneous or voluntary” but “orchestrated and planned.” The case of Demolition of the Babri Mosque had been under trial for many years, from inquiry commission to the lower courts and then to the Supreme Court but nothing could come out of as the courts intentionally ignored the on-ground realities. As a result of this intentional ignorance 32 accused, including senior RSS & BJP leaders like Lal Krishna Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti were acquitted. In short justice was denied to more than 200 million Indian Muslims. In this way, the verdict by Indian court delivered victory to hate, intolerance and chauvinism and thus encouraged the Hindu extremists to be harsher, more narrow-minded and more prejudiced in their approach towards the minorities in India. This criminal biasedness of the Indian courts shamefully confirmed Indian judiciary connivance with Hindutva agenda.

Recently on November 22, Georgetown University USA published a report titled ‘Is a Genocide of Muslims underway in India?’  It was stated in the report that there are more than 200 million Muslims in India whom the Hindu extremists see as ‘an impediment of Hindu nationalist’s goal of remarking India as Hind-only nation.’ The said report was shared at different forums and it certainly gave rise to various questions. Unfortunately such reports never reach the US authorities; if such reports have reached them, they would certainly have shifted their kind ‘patronizing-hand’ from the tormenters to the crushed ones.

Views expressed are personal

Two Indian Saints with Similar Teachings and Different Ways

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Kanchi Paramacharya and Bhagawan Sri Ramana Maharshi are two great saints who lived in Tamil Nadu in India.

Kanchi Paramacharya was born in 1894 and remained as the Head of Kanchi Sankara Mutt in Kancheepuram in Tamil Nadu from 1907 to 1994 (around 87 years ). Bhagawan Sri Ramana Maharshi was born in 1879 and stayed in Thiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu from 1896 to 1950 ( 54 years ) as an ascetic.

There are still people living amongst us who have seen Kanchi Paramacharya and Bhagwan Sri Ramana Maharshi in person and heard them, now keeping memories fresh in their mind about these two great saints. .

Different ways :

Bhagawan left his place and reached Thiruvannamalai when he was a teenager and he had no guru ( teacher ) and Kanchi Paramacharya too was chosen as Head of Kanchi Sankara Mutt when he was a teenager , as his predecessor passed away without nominating his successor. Of course, Paramacharya has the traditional practices of Kanchi Mutt to follow, ,whereas Bhagawan has no such tradition to fall back upon.

While Bhagawan and Paramacharya were contemporaries for several years with Paramacharya staying in Kancheepuram and Bhagawan staying in Thiruvannamalai with distance between both the locations of around 200 kilometre, Paramacharya and Bhagawan never met in person. However, many disciples of Paramacharya have said that Paramacharya directed a number of devotees to visit Bhagawan in Thiruvannamalai and seek his blessings.

Paramacharya was the Head of Kanchi Mutt, with responsibility to administer the Mutt in all respects , conducting pujas and rituals as per the tradition of the Kanchi Sankara Mutt and delivering lectures to the devotees on Advaita philosophy and value systems in life. Kanchi Paramacharya travelled mostly on foot all over India and met a cross section of devotees spreading the Advaita philosophy and noble thoughts in simple language that even laymen can understand .

On the other hand, Bhagawan never left Thiruvannamalai and stayed there for 54 years.

Whereas Paramacharya followed the traditional practice of the Kanchi Mutt, Bhagawan developed a tradition. It is not clear whether Ramanashram in today’s style was intended to be organised by Bhagawan or the ashram developed slowly and steadily and inevitably on it’s own.

Another significant happening in Bhagawan’s life was that his respected mother joined him in Thiruvannmalai after the passing away of her husband. It is reported that some people objected to a widow ( Bhagawan’s mother) staying with him, as Bhagawan was an ascetic . Bhagawan brushed away such criticism with contempt and his mother stayed with him till her end. Bhagawan visited the Samadhi of his mother frequently to offer prayers.

However, as per the traditional practices of Kanchi Mutt , Paramacharya detached himself from his family totally and fully.

Similar teachings :

What is remarkable is that the fundamentals of the teachings of Paramacharya and Bhagawan are the same. Both Bhagawan and Paramacharya advocated prayers and meditation as a way of realization of God, which according to both the sages should be realized in the inner selves of men and women.

Further, the compassion and love for everyone around including animals was a unique attribute of both the sages. By such approach, obviously, the feeling of love and compassion in the mindset of individuals would promote peace of mind and promote a sense of detachment from worldly happenings in an appropriate way.

While the similarities of teachings of both these great saints can be extensively discussed , the fundamental aspects of the teachings is that everyone should direct his / her efforts to identify and realise the “bliss ” in inner self, which is often termed as “Ananda” in Sanskrit language

This basically reflects on the cardinal principle of Advaita philosophy that Jeevatma and Paramatma are the same and individuals should not seek to reach Paramatma elsewhere except in the inner self.

This approach succinctly reject the so called” rational” explanation sought to be given by some people about the origin and end of life and so called hell and heaven, which are sort of physical methods to explain away the concept of life and after life

Both the saints simply asked the devotees to realise the inner self , which means Jeevatma identifying with Paramatma and being one with it.

Obviously, when an individual elevates his mental thought process by sustained meditation to realise the Paramatma in inner self and emerge successful, that should be the end of the thought process. Trying to analyse the life process beyond this would be a futile and wasteful exercise that would lead to nowhere. This is the essence of Advaita philosophy, which both these great saints eloquently explained.

There is no doubt that these great saints will be remembered all the time in future , as their advocacies are universal and applicable to all human beings all over the world , wherever they may be.

Hijab: Choice or Rule – An Indian Viewpoint

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The Hijab: To wear, or not to wear, that is the question.

The question was answered by two Honourable Judges of the Supreme Court but, at the end of the day on October 13, there were two Opinions, but no Answer. As a result, Ms Aishat Shifa and Ms Tehrina Begum, born and raised in a small town called Kundapura, district Udupi, Karanataka, are unable to resume their studies in Government Pre-University College, Kundapura.

Both students were in the second year. Since the day they had joined the college in the previous year, they had worn the hijab — a scarf that covered the head and neck but left the face visible. The hijab was worn in addition to the prescribed uniform.

On February 3, 2022, they were stopped at the gate and told that they would have to remove the hijab before entering the college. They refused, they were denied entry, and that is where the matter stands eight months later.

Hijab is no different

A woman wearing the hijab causes no offence to anybody. It is not against public order, decency, morality or health. Irrespective of the religious significance, a woman wearing the hijab is not very different from women in India who cover their head with the pallu of their sari or a duppatta. Men wear turbans. Sikh men cover their heads with a pagari. Many states of India have distinctive headgear worn on special occasions (e.g. the Mysuru peta).

What is the central issue of the controversy? Amidst the screaming headlines, the cacophony on television, the flood of comments, trolls and memes in the social media and the lofty pronouncements of worthy leaders, the central issue has been lost. In my view, the issue boils down to one word: CHOICE.

Fascinating Fencing

There are two approaches to the question of ‘choice’ concerning wearing of the hijab. I may illustrate the two approaches by quoting from the opinions of the two honourable judges, Justice Hemant Gupta and Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia:

Justice Gupta: “The practice of wearing of hijab may be a ‘religious practice’ or an ‘essential religious practice’ or it may be social conduct for the women of Islamic faith…The religious belief cannot be carried to a secular school maintained out of state funds.”

Justice Dhulia: “Whether wearing hijab is an essential religious practice or not is not essential for the determination of this dispute. If the belief is sincere, and it harms no one else, there can be no justifiable reasons for banning hijab in a classroom.”

Justice Gupta: “… the decision of the state government mandating the College Development Committee to ensure the students wear the uniform as prescribed does not violate the freedom guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a), rather reinforces the right to equality under Article 14.”

Justice Dhulia: “Asking a pre-university schoolgirl to take off her hijab at her school gate is an invasion of her privacy and dignity. It is clearly violative of the Fundamental Right given to her under Articles 19(1)(a) and 21 of the Constitution.”

Justice Gupta: “Therefore, the Preambular goal of justice, liberty, equality or fraternity would be better served by removing any religious differences, inequalities, and treating students alike before they attain the age of adulthood.”

Justice Dhulia: “This is the time to foster in them sensitivity, empathy and understanding towards different religions, languages and cultures. This is the time when they should learn not to be alarmed by our diversity but to rejoice and celebrate this diversity.”

Justice Gupta: “If they choose not to attend classes due to the uniform that has been prescribed, it is a voluntary act of such students and cannot be said to be in violation of Article 29 by the state.”

Justice Dhulia: “If she wants to wear hijab even inside her classroom, she cannot be stopped, if it is worn as a matter of her choice, as it may be the only way her conservative family will permit her to go to school, and in those cases, her hijab is her ticket to education.”

Choice or Rule

Some commentators have complained that when there is a movement for shedding the hijab in conservative Iran, it is surprising that a section of the Muslim community should defend the right of girls to wear the hijab in classrooms in modern India. The criticism is completely misplaced. On a closer look, the controversy is the same in both Iran and India: it is about ‘choice’. It is like the controversy in America over the woman’s choice of abortion.

The controversy is between ‘Choice’ and ‘Rule’. ‘Choice’ represents freedom, dignity, privacy and diversity. ‘Rule’ is often a product of majoritarianism, intolerance and drive for uniformity.

 ‘Choice’ will yield to ‘Rule’ in certain situations that attract the grounds contained in Article 19(2) or Article 25(1) of the Constitution — public order, decency, morality and health — and in certain other provisions of Part III of the Constitution (fundamental rights). Absent such grounds, ‘Choice’ must prevail.

Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia upheld ‘Choice’ because the hijab may be the girls’ only ticket to education. Justice Hemant Gupta upheld the ‘Rule’ although the state showed no compelling necessity.

Let the larger Bench of the Supreme Court lay down the law. Meanwhile, each one of you must decide whether you stand with ‘Choice’ or ‘Rule’.