Aluth Avurudu celebration in Kebitigollewa – A celebration of humanity By Raj Gonsalkorale

Aluth Avurudu celebration in Kebitigollewa –
A celebration of humanity By Raj Gonsalkorale
(Photographs – Mahendra Amunugama)


Once unknown and unheard of, Kebithigollewa witnessed a very unfortunate and sad event not so long ago in 2006 when 68 people were killed when the bus they were travelling in was blown up by a claymore mine. Kebitigollewa was known as a border village caught up in the internecine war between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan security forces, and the villagers lost the innocence of their surroundings and a set back to their peaceful and laid back life.

In excerpts of an article written by Thilini Kahandawaarachchi, she describes that the laid back life although years have passed, to many Kebithigollewa remains a mere name of a village without a face. Kebithigollewa is about 50 KMs from Anuradhapura. As the car zooms along the empty road that stretches as far as the eye can see the view through the car window are acres and acres of paddy fields swishing by.

 
The Dance of the Cormorant

Almost going past a lake hidden by massive trees along the way, we hear the piercing call of a peacock and a villager grappling with her weekly load of washing at the steps to the tank inform us of the name of the tank– Ethakada wewa. A few yards away, a cormorant is in a dance with another bird, the cormorant swims with its head above the water, then lifts its hind wings up to dive and comes up and swims again…the other bird without a name dances around the cormorant, as if waiting to grab some food off the beak of the cormorant every time it breaks the surface of the water… a secret of nature to which I am not privy, it seems. It is then I realise that the cormorant can actually swim, fly and of course strut!

The sleepy hamlet

By the time we reach the town centre of Kebithigollewa, it seems to be taking a midday nap. The tiny shops selling everything from mobile phone connections to fashion clothing and food items are open but few people seem to be around. The women selling their harvest of boiled corn, bananas and an assortment of back garden crops gaze on…waiting for the next customer to patronise their humble huts.

 

Scaring away the crows

With agriculture being the main source of livelihood, the people in Kebithigollewa engage in chena cultivation as well as paddy farming. In order to protect their crops from wild boar and other animals, they spend the nights up in tree houses in their chenas.

Pumping up a stick man with hay and dressing the stick man in old clothes and a pot for his face, a scarecrow is brought to life to stand through the sun and the rain and to scare away the birds that come to eat away their harvest.

Going about their day to day life in the fields, the chenas and around the tanks, the smiling faces of these hard working people and their children walking back from school paint the picture of this agriculture based community in Kebithigollewa.

 This sleepy village set in such remote surroundings, wakes up on the 28th of April 2018 to showcase the traditions and gaiety of the Sinhala and Tamil New Year to their own folk, and very especially to their invited guests from another hamlet which has witnessed violence during the conflict. These invitees are from the Therankandal Tamil mixed school in Mallavi, near Mankulam. The school and the community in Mallavi had entertained the students, teachers and parents from Halmillawetiya School earlier in the year when they organised an event to celebrate Thaipongal.

These gatherings are part of a project which is the brainchild of Venerable Galkande Dhammananda, the head of the Walpola Rahula Institute of Sri Lanka. Termed the Rahula-Thangaraja Twin Schools project, named after the scholar Monk Venerable Walpola Rahula, and the benefactor who paved the way for Venerable  Rahula’s education, this project aims to bring children, teachers and parents from different ethnic backgrounds together for a better understanding of each other’s cultures and traditions.

Venerable Dhammananda believes that all Sri Lankans, irrespective of their station in life, their wealth, their education, and their ethnicity have mental wounds that needs healing in order to have better understanding of each other, and he says this is more so amongst those affected due to the three decade long conflict and such a healing process is needed if there is to be long lasting and meaningful peace amongst people. He opines that based on Buddha’s teaching of dependent origination (or Pattichcha Samuppada), mental wounds give rise to consequent thoughts and actions which carry the burden of those mental wounds, and understanding oneself and coming to terms with one’s own negative feelings towards others will not be possible without healing oneself. This then becomes a precursor to understanding others, their trials and tribulations.

This is the fundamental philosophical approach of the Twin Schools Project, and it was amply evident during the gatherings of students, teachers and parents, and members of the communities during Thaipongal and Aluth Avurudda (New Year), many barriers had been broken and humanity had become the common factor shared and enjoyed by all.  

Those who were privileged to be present on these occasions witnessed the participation of the Principals and teachers of both schools, along with students, in various games, in sports activities and in songs and dances. They witnessed and participated in the traditional customs associated with both events, they shared the delicious meals prepared by parents of the students, and they witnessed the remarkable talents of young students from both schools in their exposition of traditional dances. While communication between students and teachers was hampered by language differences, the cultural and sports events helped them to overcome this barrier and find common ground in being able to express themselves through these mediums.

A special feature of the Aluth Avurudu celebration was the participation of the Kaveri Kala Manram, a humanitarian organisation headed by Reverend Joshua Sivagnanam, a Christian Priest who is doing humanitarian work in overwhelmingly Hindu areas in the North and the East. Kaveri Kala Manram is based in Killinochchi and they have been increasingly active in breaking ethnic and religious barriers and begun assisting other communities, particularly in former border villages in other parts of the country that need humanitarian help. Kaveri Kala Manram receives a bulk of its funding from a charity organisation based in Sydney, Australia, called Vanni Hope. Kaveri Kala Manram generously gifted 50 Mango plants for both schools and their staff performed a wonderful traditional drumming event which was appreciated by the entire community present on this occasion.

The Aluth Avurudu celebration was therefore an event where there was meeting of minds, celebration of cultures and very importantly, a celebration of humanity by the small community in this remote village of Kebitigollewa. The organisers of the event led by one of the indefatigable teachers of Halmillawetiya School stated that this had been the first time the school and the community had witnessed a celebration of this nature and this magnitude.      

 

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