Saturday, June 10, 2017

Poson Season – Tradition and Modernity – Have we truly lost the plot?

Mercifully the Dansalas are in full swing at this time of the year, especially in the vicinity of the religious areas where this Festival is particularly important. So whether it is at Mihintalaya Temple and premises, where the Bo Sapling, Mihindu Maharahathanan introducing Buddhism to Sri Lanka is venerated, or Anudradhapura where the Sri Maha Bodhi is venerated orThanthirimale where Sangamitta Maharahathanan’s visit is remembered, these places are teeming with pilgrims at this time of year, and with it a carnival atmosphere.

Added to this the Watadage in Medirigiriya, a historic and archeological site of note, has its ONLY annual religious festival in these premises over Poson Poya. Even the annual Dansala by the Parakrama Samudraya in Polonnaruwa is performed in a big way feeding thousands of pilgrims without any charge for two to three consecutive days, becoming part of our tradition. Not to be outdone, the Annual Poson Maha Bath Dansala in Melsiripura feeds over 200,000 people during the season, as is a permanent fixture from morning to late at night NON STOP and they collect funds for this all year round, with just the bank balance being in the region of Rs75M to ensure each year all steps are taken to ensure they go smoothly in a disciplined manner.

While I know there is reference to the Dansalas being a unique aspect our Sri Lankan Buddhist Culture, the extent to which we go about it is still not appreciated Internationally, or with foreign visitors to this Country.  The Poson ones are famous in the North Central Province and Vesak Dansala held throughout the Country. Even on Esala Poya, people organize Dansalas in small villages as part of a community effort to be selfless or with ulterior motives.

Of course there is no end to the type of Dansala that one does, with Bath Dansalas being the traditional ones to feed the weary traveller/pilgrim on their journey to these religious sites and temples, they have spread into Fried Rice Dansalas, Ice Cream Dansalas, Sow, Beli Mal, Iced Coffee, Orange Juice, Soup, Noodles to name just a few variations.

Those who arrange these each year, collect funds from businesses and wealthy individuals who are asked to contribute, but with NO accounting, we don’t know if many actually make money on the side by organizing them and pocketing some of the proceeds as their share for their effort, negating the very concept. It is almost impossible to regulate the donations with how the funds are spent, and so many a confidence trickster is at work in some instances.

Usually those performed in the main areas of religious worship and pilgrim’s rests are more regulated to prevent any major embezzlement.
It must be remembered that due to this tradition, it is now open season, where people don’t even cook on Poson Days and make it a point to go to Dansalas to satiate their appetites for all the meals and liquid refreshments available. Some people get together into a tractor trailer and go from one to the other, eat and drink not as pilgrims but merely to take advantage of the generosity of others. These are NOT necessarily people in need or want, but do this out of a sense of camaraderie and social interactions which one remembers years later, of the exploits of Dansal Trips. In some cases people ask for packets to take with them, usually frowned upon, but often successful, so they can take it home for another meal, taken for a sick relative, but in reality, just being greedy.

The social changes in 30 years have seen people rarely wearing white anymore, even fewer observing Sil on Poson, and with the proliferation of motorbikes, large numbers travel from one place to another on a bike which is easier than using a bus with pilgrims as in the past, that restricts their freedoms, and entails hanging around and walking long distances to where the buses are parked.

One inevitable consequence of families and couples traveling by Motorbike is that the women also now wear pants NOT dress/lama sari or white saris. A whole new style of dressing bordering on what one wears for carnivals has taken over the solemnity of the Poson at the Temple.

Worse, the loud speaker system has taken over where the blaring of the sound at high volume seems to be the order of the day, with popular songs which have nothing to do with religion playing in the temple premises. Heaven and Earth will split open at these sights, and I ask how can anyone go to any of the aforementioned temples to pray or observe Sil on Poson if it is a carnival without any other explanation for it.

The commercialization of Poson where any place where people are gathered becomes simply a place full of temporary shops selling almost anything your care to want is now part and parcel of Poson. Some vendors make so much money from sales that Temples such as Mihitale Raja Maha Vihare has got wind of that and opened up the whole temple premises to shops charging high fees, to help with the Temple financial needs of the year. This further restricts the picnic space for pilgrims to rest their weary legs under a tree on a mat, making the whole exercise more of penance than of privilege and purity!

If personal opinion is sought, I don’t like the current trend of it being a loud marketplace, with the religious site a hostage to people’s needs and greed rather for religious observation. Even the traditional flower shops for offerings are no where to be seen and flowers so overpriced when they are found that it is also an opportunity for huge financial gain from a captive, docile, public.

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