Thursday, July 17, 2008

Kataragama Security

So I'm back from Kataragama. This year's trip was decidedly different from last year's. Security was an issue last year, particularly as bad advice had caused me to not take i.d. last year, but this year it was a theme. Security was the reason we didn't walk this year. Apparently people are allowed to walk, but not in large groups, which is why Sewalanka was denied. So we drove to Okanda, did a puja and then drove around Yala to Kataragama and did another puja. "Puja" is the word used here for religious ceremony. Since the walking was my favorite part last year I was prepared to be disappointed this year.Okanda was crazy. We walked very early during the festival last year, so the shops and crowds were not at Okanda yet. Plus, because we were walking, the lights and talking stopped very early in the evening so we'd be ready for the walk, but this year I swear there were people who stayed up all night talking. So I didn't get such a great night's sleep.

It was fun to take photos of people cooking though. Cooking for more than 200 people, especially when considering how much Sri Lankans eat at each meal, is no easy task, let me tell you.Also, I should mention that we rode in the same car with Manju Sri, Sewalanka's resident monk, and Kruckle, Sewalanka's resident swami (actually Kruckle is what they call swami's here -- his name is not Kruckle and I'm not sure I'm spelling that correctly). This was great because we had experts with us most of the time to explain things and they both speak English, which is how they speak to each other. It is rather nice because the two of them are really good friends. This also rocked because we had a monk in our car, so we squeezed through a lot of the security checks without having to get out.

Anyway, we woke up early in the morning for our puja in Okanda. This year because there was such a crowd and our Kruckle is quite an important Kruckle in Sri Lanka, there were a lot of people at Okanda Temple. Thus, I couldn't see anything. As we were leaving Okanda a claymore bomb went off along the road we were traveling -- just ten minutes before we were at that spot. I never actually noticed the area, but this could be because quite a bit of slash and burn was happening and it was just difficult to see what was farming and what was bomb burn.

So the security between Okanda and Katargama was incredible. There were about 15 checkpoints and we were stopped at all of them. Even Manjusri had to show his i.d. once. He said he has carried his i.d. for four years and that was the first time anyone had ever asked to look at it. To his credit he feels they should check monks because, as he said, it is actually pretty easy to dress like a monk.

At Kataragama we were able to take a little nap before the puja. I have to say last year's puja was far better organized. We seemed to all be winging it this time around. It was nice that Mr. Aruna seemed to be concerned that we were involved and kept making sure we got flower offerings and lit a lantern, etc. But he was no where to be found when it was time to get your blessed string, so we didn't get one. Honestly, I'm over the fact that people push in front of you here. These are my coworkers and they can't even be considerate enough to wait their turn (this happened at all the meals too -- it is so frustrating!).
The Kataragama perahera was spectacular this year. Since we were there in the height of the festival, the perahera was in full swing with about 20 elephants and hundreds of kids and young adults dancing in costumes. I took about a million photos, which you can look at on Flickr, but here are some highlights.
I almost cried as we drove home through the surrounding area of Bandula Wildlife Sanctuary. For miles they had burned all the trees in a fifty foot buffer of the road on both sides. I guess this was for security, but you could just see what must have been really majestic banyan trees burning on the ground -- huge trunks cut down in the prime of their life. The smoke only made it spookier. It was a forest graveyard in the middle of the massacre. It was incredible and terribly depressing and sort of felt like a symbol of the entire three days.

The ride home was long. We stopped about every 15 minutes and then took a two-hour break so the men could bathe. I guess a few women went, but it would have been terribly uncomfortable for us, so we just stayed at the car. They couldn't figure out why we were so upset, but clearly sitting around for 2 hours while they had fun isn't a joy for us. Chairman's mother was just sitting around too, so it seems like they could have organized one car to go on ahead rather than making a few people sit around and do nothing.

Which just reminds me of why I'm leaving soon. One week and two days to go!

[Editor's note: I edited this entry on July 20, 2008 to delete a friend's name who requested this edit. So now my friends and I are just called "we" or "us" in this entry.]

1 comment:

Meghan said...

these photos are so beautiful!