The Sunday Leader

A Dark Side To Vesak

How many hundreds of millions were spent on the Vesak celebrations this year? I know i sound like a wet blanket. Why can’t I just chillax and enjoy the party? Incidentally, do Sri Lankans party to forget everything else, or do we forget everything else when we party?
That question is purely academic, but the government knows the only important answer. Give us a party and we are ready to forget, and at least temporarily forgive, anything. High fuel prices? Borderline monetary policy mismanagement? Pending international condemnation? Rise in prices of everything from milk powder to cement? How do we solve these pressing economic problems? Simple, throw a party for Vesak. Have the loudspeakers sing the praises of the President. Have various philanthropers give free food to the masses and have them blinded by mesmerizing, colourful fairy lights.
Colombo was decked out to kill. The Beira was lit up by fairy lights consuming electricity in quantities probably enough to power North Korea for a couple of nights. People were out in force, enjoying themselves. Families were traveling from far off places in the backs of lorries and hand tractors to witness the spectacle. Dansals were sporting queues hundreds of meters long. Even Beyond Borders, that is me and my friends, had what we called an ‘inspiration dansal’; we distributed stickers with enlightening quotes promoting peace and tolerance, for what it was worth.
The complete front facade of the Museum was made into a surrealist pandol composed of light projections. Very postmodern and very, very expensive. How expensive? Sadly we will probably never know. It was sponsored by the milk board or the National Livestock and Development Board (NLDB) an entity already bleeding cash, suffering from acute mismanagement and misappropriation of funds.
So as Sri Lankans ‘shoo’ and ‘shaa’ at the beautiful bright lights and marvel at how far the country has come there is a greedy elite basking in the success of yet another PR event of massive proportions aimed at pulling the wool over the public’s eyes. Or maybe i don’t have a right to comment since i’m a Muslim, and have no understanding of the need to spend needless millions on a religious festival that is really about contemplation and inner peace.
Maybe such lulling is needed to calm the people. Imagine Sri Lanka was a small household, spending more than it earned and very much in debt to outside parties. But still with enough hope and potential to make it out of the doldrums, if they manage things carefully. Would it make sense for a family like this to throw massive birthday bash when their daughter turns sixteen? Not really, no.
Lack of transparency does not help. Everyone seems to think that the government sponsors these things by plucking money from trees, to use an old adage i heard occasionally in my childhood. But in reality it is the people who are footing the bill. Would everyone walking around shooting the breeze at the Beira this year been just as calm and relaxed if they knew that half that month’s paycheck was going to fund the festivities? I think not. Yet this is exactly what happens. Whenever the government spends, they spend the people’s money, and contrary to complacent observers here, they have no right to do whatever they please with it.
Maybe my idea that the recent Vesak extravagance only serves to emphasize the cronyism and institutional corruption prevalent in our state is manifesting in my brain because i just don’t know how to have a good time. Maybe i should just get out more instead. And yes, maybe the sus domesticus is aerially mobile. But maybe as Sri Lankans we should all start thinking about economics a little bit more and maybe that’s one clear way we can really make a difference and ensure that our newfound hope for the future isn’t wasted away, trickling into slush funds, white elephants and mass scale public bribes. Feedback:

7 Comments for “A Dark Side To Vesak”

  1. akila

    Dear writer,

    I don’t think you are the ideal person to criticize how people or the government celebrate the vesak. Unfortunately you are a Muslim and the whole world knows how Muslims slaughter innocent animals to celebrate their holy days.
    I think it’d be better if you could use your talents to educate your own kind that there’s nothing that they can gain by killing innocent animals.
    I don’t intend to be too racist. But it’s always good to know who you are before pointing finger at other people.

  2. ChandraJ

    You have made some excellent observations that I am sure many in the country would agree with. However, I would not cast the blame for this state of affairs entirely at the government of Sri Lanka. The larger share of blame goes to the leadership of the buddhist religious establishment in Sri Lanka. I have not seen a single comment (reported at online news sites) from leading buddhist priests that encourage buddhists to focus on observing Vesak without all the glitz. We seem to be getting very good at putting on great shows/parties for whatever reason. Sri Lanka appears to be heading towards earning the dubious title, “Worlds No.1 Party Island”. The politicians are only exploiting the situation.

  3. Sathyam

    Atleast they did not kill goats, cows and wash their homes with blood.

  4. jaliya


  5. Abu Arshad

    The dark side of the Jesus is he used to have Alcohol(wine).

  6. Peter Casie Chetty

    David Cameron’s former communications chief, Andy Coulson, has been detained on suspicion of committing perjury during the trial of former MSP Tommy Sheridan.

    The 44-year-old was detained in London by officers from Strathclyde Police.

    Mr Coulson gave evidence in December 2010 at Sheridan’s perjury trial at the High Court in Glasgow. It is understood he is now on his way to the Scottish city.

    Click to see related videos

    Sheridan was ultimately jailed for three years in January 2011 after being found guilty of perjury during his 2006 defamation action against the News of the World.

    He had been awarded £200,000 in damages after winning the civil case but a jury at the High Court in Glasgow found him guilty of lying about the now-defunct tabloid’s claims that he was an adulterer who visited a swingers’ club.

    Operation Rubicon detectives have been looking at whether certain witnesses lied to the court during Sheridan’s trial as part of a “full” investigation into phone hacking in Scotland.

    A Strathclyde Police spokesman said: “Officers from Strathclyde Police Operation Rubicon detained a 44-year-old man in London this morning under Section 14 of the Criminal Procedures Scotland Act on suspicion of committing perjury before the High Court in Glasgow. It would be inappropriate to comment any further at this time.”

    Mr Coulson, then employed by Downing Street as director of communications, told the trial in December 2010 that he had no knowledge of illegal activities by reporters while he was editor of the News of the World. He also claimed: “I don’t accept there was a culture of phone hacking at the News of the World.”

    Mr Coulson was arrested last year in relation to Scotland Yard’s long-running investigation into phone hacking at the News of the World. He was held in July on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications and corruption and had his bail extended earlier this month.

    Sheridan’s trial, which lasted almost 12 weeks, was one of the longest of its kind in Scottish legal history. The former Scottish Socialist Party leader represented himself after parting company with QC Maggie Scott. He was convicted of five out of six allegations in a single charge of perjury relating to his evidence during the civil action at the Court of Session in Edinburgh. He was released from jail in January after serving one year of his sentence and vowed to continue the fight to clear his name
    You people at the Sunday Leader should learn a lesson from this. If our Judiciary had had the balls. They should hang Fredrika Jansz to treason and perjury..

  7. gamarala

    How is it that thousands of beggars are seen daily in colombo and other towns amidst such munificence which appears only during vesak in the form of dhansalas and pandals.
    Could not the cost of dhansalas and pandals be used instead for releiving human misery of semi starvation – in accordance with buddhist principles?
    There are many “devout” and affluent buddhists whose desire is to become ‘basnayake nilames’ of temples in front of which beggars are found daily,or ascend the political ladder.
    If the government is hosting this waste of public funds,it is a crime against humanity.

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