Analytics of a Wedding Photo

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Bennie Kirtisinghe married Manel Chitra Fernando on 8 June 1944 at the Dissanayake Waluwwa, Panadura. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

It was on a day like yesterday, 8 June 1944 Manel and Bennie, my parents got married in Panadura, at the Dissanayke Waluwa, home of Manel’s illustrious Great grandfather. Yesterday, was spent looking at this photo, thinking of my parents, reading old letters and trying to deconstruct this photo to savour a day long past. A day and events that are now mostly forgotten.

She was 22 and he was 26. He the lover of poetry quoted Shakespeare:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.”

Today, only the two flower girls – my aunt Nimal on the left and my cousin Punya are alive from this wedding retinue.  Bennie’s Best man, his lifelong friend Ariyapala — Prof. M.B. Ariyapala, the bridesmaid on the left Manel’s only sister Irangani,  the other bridesmaid Enid, Bennie’s cousin and the cute page boy Senaka are all gone. Faintly visible to the left is the Waluwa buggy cart and on the right Bennie’s car, a Renault.

Irangani at her wedding to Tudor Soysa. May1957. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva

Irangani at her wedding to Tudor Soysa. May1957. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva

Irangani, who was a very clever seamstress would have sewn the bridesmaids and flower girl dresses. She would have poured over English mail order catalogues and magazines to get ideas for designing the saree blouses. If I look closely, I can see her famous embroidered roses on the frills of the blouses which look more like a top portion of western bridesmaid dress.

Nimal, the flower girl says she can remember a long luncheon table with a white linen cloth where the plates were set surrounded by red and green croton leaves and being told sternly by an aunt not to touch the decorations. She also remembers a large marquee – “Magul Maduwa” set up in the garden. It had Areca nut – Puwak trees decorated with green vines,  red and green dyed reeds ( used in traditional weaving mats we call peduru) adorned with arum lilies and barberton daisies.

Cooks and caterers would have been cooking and making preparations at least two days before the event. The wedding eve is also a huge party for all bride’s relatives, and is celebrated with much gusto in Panadura. I remember well Irangani’s wedding eve in 1957 and as my thoughts turn a cavalcade of laughing relatives faces drift past in my mind.

Bennie wearing the national dress was strange to Manel’s family in Panadura and the even more westernised Anglican cousins in Moratuwa. Cousin Ranjani in a letter written in 1994, at their 50th wedding anniversary recalled how the bride looked radiant, young and sweet and the groom was smart in his national dress  — something that was “new” to them. Manel didn’t wear a veil as a bride as most brides did, and still do, irrespective of religion. Contrary to this, the bride and bridesmaids succumbed to the western tradition and carried bouquets of flowers. The flower girls wore half sarees or lama sarees — a long skirt and a blouse and wore garlands. So a mixture of imbibed Western bridal customs and some influence from neighbhouring India. Manel’s hair ornament on her centre parting was also not very common and her brothers and younger male cousins used to make fun of it saying it looked like “a crow crapped on her head!”

Ranjani Mendi's letter

In 1940 Bennie had asked for a favour from God Kataragama, at a shrine in the Southern jungles of then Ceylon. His wish was for a lovely woman for a wife. Bennie was in Kankesanturai (KKS), the northernmost part of Jaffna, nursing his brother Lionel recuperating from TB for almost two years.  In 1941, he was back at Siriniwasa, taking a break from his lonely existence in Kankesanturai. Two of his mild flirtations one with a young girl who used to ride on the bar of his bicycle and another with a Ms. Udagama had come to naught.  His friends like Tarzie Vittachi had been writing about how they chased girls in Colombo and he too very much longed for a girlfriend. So in 1941, Bennie was ripe for love.

Bennie emerged from the back garden at Siriniwasa to greet his sister-in-law Meta’s relatives from Panadura, who were on a pilgrimage to Kataragama. And there at the doorway to the sitting room he saw Manel. Stung by the cupid’s arrow, hin his mind this was the woman sent by God Kataragama. The door became his doorway of love.

Manel Kirtisinghe with cousin Seetha at Kataragama, Sri Lanka. Circa 1940s. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Manel Kirtisinghe with cousin Seetha at Kataragama, Sri Lanka. Circa 1941. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

The road to Kataragama from Tissamaharama was a dirt track that meandered through thick jungles in the 1940s and travel was on bullock carts. Manel, many years later, recalled how the elders travelled in bullock carts and the young followed on foot. On the return journey from Tissamaharam Bennie and Ariyapala travelled on the same bus to Hikkaduwa. “Bennie sat with Sepal ( Manel’s brother) on his lap, and we had a huge comb of bananas hanging in the bus that we helped ourselves to when we were hungry.” 

There was some concern that Bennie’s Mum, Pinto Hamy would veto a proposal. She scorned love and had arranged marriages for 4 of her sons. The fifth Vinnie stood up to her and married his lady love, but earned her wrath. Bennie, however,  had collected valuable Brownie points looking after the TB ridden Lionel. In Manel’s favour was her lineage from the Great grandfather Mudaliyar Wijesuriya Gunawardene Mahawaduge Andris Perera Abhaya Karunaratne Dissanayake

Ariyapala in a study for his PhD points out that the Pancha Tatntra advice which says “the wise give their daughters to those endowed with seven qualities: viz.caste or family character, protection, learning, wealth or power, beauty and health or youth.” Bennie fittingly qualified and Manel’s rather quiet and docile parents had no objections to the union. In fact they might have been overjoyed that their pretty daughter had attracted such a handsome man. However, life was to show that Bennie’s most enduring quality was his love for his relations and friends.

On his 50th wedding anniversary another lifelong friend of his, Godwin Witana, had sent the wedding invitation to Bennie and Manel’s wedding, back to them. A precious souvenir! For Bennie, this invitation and the letter from Cousin Ranjanii were the best golden wedding anniversary presents.

Manel & Bennie Kirtisinghe on holiday in Nuwara Eliya. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

Manel & Bennie Kirtisinghe on holiday at the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens, Kandy.  Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

Manel did turn out to be the winner, that Bennie predicted and among many other accomplishments she did get him to wear western clothes too. While memories are fragile and sometimes unreliable, the written word lives on. “I got my wife to sing the song she sang on our honeymoon,” wrote Bennie. after one anniversary. He was ever the romantic.

“The day hath passed into the land of dreams
O summer day beside the joyous sea!
O summerday so wonderful and white,
So full of gladness.”

– H.W. Longfellow/A summer day by the sea

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Fading Murals of Bihalpola Raja Maha Vihare

Information is pretty thin stuff, unless mixed with experience said the American author Clarence Day and so it was with the Bihalpola Raja Maha Vihare  located off the Kurunegala-Narammala-Madampe Rd, Sri Lanka. We had been warned that the climb to the top was tedious but I was glad that I huffed and puffed and dragged my aching, creaking joints to the higher level of the temple.  Much of the murals are fading and decaying but the grandeur and the colours of what is left of the frescoes in the relic chamber (Datu Mandiraya) of this temple was well worth the climb.  

Mural of possibly Sariputta or Mogallana Arahat thera.Bihalpola Raja Maha Vihare. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

Mural of possibly Sariputta or Mogallana Arahat thera.Bihalpola Raja Maha Vihare. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

Historically the temple roots go back to King Devanampiya Tissa (B.C. 89-77), who is supposed to be the first person to convert when Buddhism was introduced to Lanka by Emperor Asoka. An interesting fact I gleaned after returning was that Kingship was founded in Ceylon [Sri Lanka] by Asoka with the consecration of Devanampiya Tissa. This is a hypotheses put forward by Senarath Paravitana, our pioneering archeologist and epigraphist. The temple was later renovated by King Walagamba (89-77 BC) and the paintings are supposed to belong to the Kandyan period.

Mural of possibly Sariputta or Mogallana Arahat thera.Bihalpola Raja Maha Vihare. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

The opposing right side mural of possibly Sariputta or Mogallana Arahat thera.Bihalpola Raja Maha Vihare. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

Ananda Coomaraswamy in his classic work Mediaeval Sinhalese Art describes in detail how the natural pigments were prepared by Kandyan artists. White was derived from hydrous magnesite obtained from  a cave known as the makul gal lena in Vetekgama near Maturata. Red came from Cinnabar, which is not known to occur in Lanka and says it must have been imported. Yellow from gamboge (goraka)  from the gokata tree (Garcinia morella). Black  is lamp black and was made from grinding the juice from the jack fruit, Kekuna oil (oil from Canarium zeylanicum) and rosin (hal-dummala, from the hal tree Vateria acuminata) and then mixing it with shreds of cotton cloth and setting on fire this mixture in a clean earthen pot with a second pot inverted above it. The soot is deposited on the top pot and then collected. Blue was rarely seen it seems, but was obtained from the indigo plant. Green was known as pacca and was made by mixing blue and yellow. Shades of colours were obtained mixing red, black and blue with white to form pink, grey and light blue respectively.

Coomaraswamy comments that a characteristic feature was the outlining of all forms with a clear black line: this outline and the occasional use of small quantities of green or white in the detail of an ornament gives just the necessary softening required to harmonize the strong reds and yellows and reduce their extreme brilliancy. This can be seen in the executing of the above two murals.

A fire in 1997 has damaged number of paintings and a wooden Makara Thorana at the temple and treasure hunters have got away with the Sacred Footprint of the Buddha and some of the statues at the Viharaya. Maybe the statue in the middle in the photo below is a replacement as it doesn’t seem to blend in harmony with the other two statues in the relic chamber.

The inner relic chamber. Bihalpola Raja Maha Vihara, Kurunegala. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

The inner relic chamber. Bihalpola Raja Maha Vihara, Kurunegala. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

The Makara Thorana at the entrance  too looks as if it has also been redone.

The makara thorana at the entrance to the relic chamber. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

The makara thorana at the entrance to the relic chamber. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

However, the Jataka stories — stories of Buddha’s previous lives on the Vihara walls are fast fading. The stories are visually retold in long panels and there is a small strip that is just sufficient to give a short explanatory note of the Jataka story. The Vessantara Jataka on the panels on the outer wall of the relic chamber tells the story of one of Buddha’s past lives — about a compassionate prince, Vessantara, who gives away everything he owns, including his children, thereby displaying the virtue of perfect charity.

The first two panels from the Vessantara Jatakaya. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

The first two panels from the Vessantara Jatakaya. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

The first panel probably shows the people requesting the King Sanjaya to send Prince Vessantara away from the kingdom as he gave away the magical white elephant that brought rain to the kingdom to envoys from Kalinga, a neighbhouring village.The second panel shows Prince Vessantara’s wife Queen Madri in conversation with a bear breasted servant.

Panel with the magical white elephant being led away. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

Panel with the magical white elephant being led away. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

The panel with the magical white elephant adds to the panorama but here it is the observer that has to move to follow the story while the mural stays static.

Panels showing people carrying away items given away by Prince Vessantara. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

Panels showing people carrying away items given away by Prince Vessantara. Photo copyright Chulie de SilvThe upper level where the relic chamber is situated is reached by two narrow wooden staircases and there are trap doors that were probably there to protect the relics.

The air is cool and tranquil and the view is lush and green from the higher level where the main Stupa enshrining Buddha’s relics are located. Historical records attribute the bringing of the relics to  Brahmin Hambinarayana from Vaishali. At the lower ground zero level, the Chief Priest had displayed some relics in a transparent casket. They looked like minute bone fragments.

The stupa on the top level. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

The stupa on the top level. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

Next to the 3 storey relic chamber is a “Tampita Vihara” which is  a shrine room built on pillars.

The 3 story relic chamber is next to the Tampita Vihara. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

The 3 story relic chamber is next to the Tampita Vihara. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

We might not have known the importance of this temple but the people from the vicinity were all there on this full moon Poya day.

Young devotees walk up the stone steps to worship the Buddha Statue at the temple on the top. Bihalpola Raja Maha Vihara, Kurunegala. 6 Dec.2014. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

Young devotees walk up the stone steps to worship the Buddha Statue at the temple on the top. Bihalpola Raja Maha Vihara, Kurunegala. 6 Dec.2014. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

Many of Sri Lanka’s temples have decaying historic murals as this one.

The shrine room, Bihalpola Raja Maha Vihare. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

The shrine room, Bihalpola Raja Maha Vihare. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

As Ananda Coomaraswamy said: “The value of these paintings lies not merely in their beauty and charm as decorations, but in the fact that they are priceless historical documents that could npt be reproduced under modern conditions.”

The Good Son – Vinnie Kirtisinghe

“We’re all ghosts. We all carry, inside us, people who came before us.”
― Liam Callanan, The Cloud Atlas

He was my most obedient good son, but he did the most disobedient thing,” my grandmother Pinto Hamy  had lamented, talking of my Uncle Vinnie. Born on a day like today, 102 years ago on 20 Nov. 1912, Vinnie or Vincent as he was named at birth was my grandmother’s 5th son. He also grabbed the honour of being the first Kirtisinghe to be born in Siriniwasa, our seaside house in Hikkaduwa. Most of the time he was the quiet stay at home son, pottering around with radios and hardly caused any trouble to my grandma. So, what on earth did he do to earn his mother’s wrath?

Wedding photo of Vinnie &  Somi Kirtisinghe. circa 1943. Photographer unknown. Flower girl Malini and the Page boy Ranjith Ratnapala. This image reproduced from a copy by Chulie de Silva

Wedding photo of Vinnie & Somi Kirtisinghe. circa 1943. Photographer unknown. Flower girl Malini and the Page boy Ranjith Ratnapala. This image reproduced from a copy by Chulie de Silva

We might very well laugh but his crime then was to marry his sweetheart Somi Ratnapala, without Pinto Hamy’s consent. This would have been circa 1943, when Pinto Hamy ruled the roost and traditions and customs were more strictly observed. The opposition was because of caste differences, and my autocratic grandma who highly valued the scholarships of her sons, failed to recognize that here was her first graduate daughter-in-law.

The matriarch Pinto Hamy (aka as Lensi Nona) had arranged the marriages of her first four sons, so she could hardly see reason, when her favourite son, turned the tables on her. She didn’t attend the wedding, nor did she allow her other sons to do so. Despite fearing her wrath the quiet son, showed inner strength and toughness that Pinto Hamy herself was well-known for. He stuck to his guns and went ahead with the marriage and later visited her with the traditional gift of a saree. She had been polite and graciously accepted them at Siriniwasa. After lunch, when they were leaving she herself had given a gift to the daughter-in-law and the younger siblings had heaved a huge sigh of relief that all was now well. That however was short-lived when they learned that the mother-in-law had repacked the same saree and given it back to the daughter-in-law!

My grandmother Pinto Hamy with my late cousin Anoma. Photograph Dr. Ritchie Kirtisinghe. Circa 1947.

My grandmother Pinto Hamy with my late cousin Anoma. Photograph Dr. Ritchie Kirtisinghe. Circa 1947.

However, Pinto Hamy came around later to accept the daughter-in-law. certainly didn’t show my Grandma in good light, but good or bad we heard most of these stories from my garrulous father.

There are two other anecdotes that followed the passing away of my grand mother. The first is about my grandma’s special gold necklace, mostly worn by the women of her Karave caste that she had once said should go one day to Vinni’s wife. She didn’t give it to Aunt Somie during her lifetime, but after her death my uncle’s brothers gave her this gold necklace. So I suppose some wrongs were corrected here. The second story surfaced after the death of my mother, when I found my brother drowning his sorrows with a bottle of brandy – apparently he was following the footsteps of my Uncle Vinnie who had retired to the outhouse that stored firewood by the sea, to drown his sorrows.

Vinnie Mahappa circa 1940's -- a photo now resides on the top left corner in a collage of family photos compiled by my sister.

Vinnie Mahappa circa 1940’s — a photo now resides on the top left corner in a collage of family photos compiled by my sister.

Vinnie was a science graduate from the Colombo University and later took the Sinhala name of Vidyasara, yet he remained Vinnie to all who knew him. He had stayed with one of his older brothers in Kotte and had cycled to the University as a young man but at the slightest opportunity would rush back to the Hikkaduwa house as most of us do even now.

He had met Aunt Somi when he was a teacher at Ananda College, and she a teacher at Ananda Balika. It was my grandma’s brother P.de S. Kularatne who had helped cupid to fire an arrow by asking Uncle Vinnie to check the accounting books at the girls’ school. Kularatne’s English wife Hilda Kularatne was the Principal at Ananda Balika, but she was also the Principal at Sri Sumangala Girls’ School, Panadura. When Hilda Kularatne was away at Panadura, Somi Ratnapala had been the Acting Principal. In later years Uncle Vinnie became the Vice Principal at Ananda College and Aunt Somie the Principal of Ananda Balika.

At home, he was always the gentleman with a leaning towards classical music. However, I have heard many stories of a much more robust teacher of Physics at Ananda College with a penchant for story telling – most of them being tall tales of how he was a crocodile catcher in Gonapinuwela and many more. … He was popularly known as Kiththa. After his retirement from Ananda College, his cousin Dulcie De Silva nee Kularatne, Principal at Museus College coaxed him to join the staff as the Physics teacher. He was quite a hit there I hear. He has also to his credit compiled an English-Sinhala Glossary of Physics terms. I learned today that my copy of this, as well as my other glossaries were air lifted to Brisbane by my sister when she emigrated with a lot of the family photos. This for my sister was a way of hanging on to the happy memories of those childhood days.

Vinnie Kirtisinghe's car. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

Vinnie Kirtisinghe’s car. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

The couple lived happily and I think was the first working couple in the family. Every school holiday they would trek back to Hikkaduwa. At first my mother used to say with two fat maids who looked after their twin boys. The twins were our closest cousins and there were many escapades and fun catching fish in the small rock pools behind our house. Evening walks on the beach was when we’d get lessons on the clouds and cloud formations and by nightfall my uncle would be twiddling with the Siriniwasa radio—the one he had built. He is credited with first introducing radio to Hikkaduwa and in later years would talk about the crystal radio he had built with which he could listen to BBC radio broadcasts during WW2. This was a time when radio was unheard of in little villages like Hikkaduwa.

My nephews Matheesha, Suneth and nieces Anagi and Dinithi explore the old car. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva. M

My nephews Matheesha, Suneth and nieces Anagi and Dinithi explore the old car. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva. M

 

Suneth & Dinithi and Anagi with Matheesha in Vinnie Mahappa's car, now owned by Pradeep. 22 Aug 2008, Galle.

Suneth, Dinithi, Anagi & Matheesha examine Vinnie Mahappa’s car, now owned by Pradeep. 22 Aug 2008, Galle.

Most will remember his last car the Austin Cambridge. When he bought it he actually drove all the way to Panadura to show us his new car. Most of our holidays too ended at their Greenlands Lane house or joining my uncle and family on short pilgrimages.  My brother Pradeep was not around then but he more than made up for lost time, spending time chatting to him during his undergraduate days. After his passing away in 1994, Pradeep bought the Austin Cambridge and has lovingly restored it twice. The second time after it was found up a tree in Matara, post tsunami of 2004.
Poster - Bridge on the River Kwai, The_02

My own best memory of him is the time when we went to see the film Bridge on the River Kwai at the Savoy cinema. We were waiting in the lobby for the 3:30 pm matinee to finish and from inside the theatre strains of the Colonel Boogey March drifted. Vinnie Mahappa stood there in his white suit, and whistled in tune, eyes half closed, totally immersed in the music. I can never listen to this tune without a lump in my throat, tears in my eyes, and love in my heart for this gentle and loving uncle.

See also Dear Mr. Kirtisinghe — a lovely tribute to him from one of his pupils Sujata Gamage.

The Grandmother & the “Kabakuruththuwa”

Sri Lankan grandmother 3244 http://buff.ly/1uec9RT #photography #SriLanka by Shahidul Alam

Sri Lankan grandmother  by Shahidul Alam

One burnt saucepan, 20 pages of editing, half a dozen lumosity exercises later am bored. This is life after retirement. I should probably jump on the treadmill but it is easier to turn to FB and there she was — a portrait of a Sri Lankan grandmother  by the Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam

The years fall back as I gazed at this poised and composed lady as she sits against a wattle and daub wall. The specks of white must be flecks of sunshine behind her but that doesn’t seem to bring a smile to her face. There is a grim acceptance in her lined face. I notice the long nose and the earrings. It’s not difficult to imagine that she would have been pretty and had seen better days in her life. Like the Afghan girl, she had no name. So why was I smitten about this image out of the stream of photos Alam had been posting?

Her stance, her jacket with long sleeves, the pleats of her cloth at the waist, the ease with which she sat,  flooded me with memories of my great grandmother, grandmothers and grand aunts. They all wore the same type of the traditional jacket, called the “Kabakuruththuwa.” This they wore with a long cloth, called a Kambaya.  which is not like a sarong or lungi and underneath the jacket, a cotton home made bra that my grandma called the “bosthorokkey.” Not sure if this is corruption of a Portuguese or Dutch word. Both jackets, and home made bosthorkkey’s are hardly seen now as most village grandmothers now wear dresses or skirts and blouses that one can buy off the peg.

The Kabakuruthtuwa is the traditional jacket worn mostly by women of the “Karava clan  of Sri Lanka.

Portrait of Lily Nona, probably the last lady to wear a "Kabakuruththu" in  Hikkaduwa. 27 Aug. 2013.Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Portrait of Lily Nona, probably the last lady to wear a “Kabakuruththu” in
Hikkaduwa. 27 Aug. 2013.Photograph©Chulie de Silva

It is a uniquely designed jacket, cropped just below the waist with  no shoulder seams. The V neckline is edged with lace and the sleeves are set off the shoulder with long fitting cuffs. In the old days this lace would be hand woven “beeralu”  lace, also called renda or pillow lace, which my grandmother weaved at home. Introduced by the Portuguese, the making of this lace has been revived now as a cottage industry and the lace is being sold on Alibaba.com too. The more dressy versions of the Kabakuruththuwas often have pin tucks and  lace inserts. see: women making Beeralu lace and wearing jackets with the lace.

Lily’s and Alam’s grandmother’s jacket is held with safety pins like most everyday wear ones, but my great grandmother Annie Dissanayake, befitting the daughter-in-law of Mudaliyar Andris Perera Abhaya Karunaratne Dissanayake  wore garnet or ruby ones on her jackets. These were designed along the same lines as cuff links to hold the sides together. They used to call the gems “Rathu keta” meaning red stones.  In later life these fasteners of my great grand mother were turned into ear rings and gifted to her great-grand kids.

Dissanayake Waluwa family taken on my great grandmother Annie's 75th birthday. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

Dissanayake Waluwa family photo taken on my great grandmother Annie’s 75th birthday. She is in the middle with her 5 daughters, grandchildren and great grand children. The odd bod with the feet sticking out is yours truly! Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

My Mum never got into one, though I got a couple stitched — one in pink and one in white with lace and pin tucks and wore them with Malaysian batik sarongs when we lived in Penang. Now that I have reached the senior citizen’s position of being a grandma, I should get some Kabauruththu and a couple of kamabayas — after all they lend themselves beautifully to expanding waist lines. …

The Old Nupe Market, Matara

Central Turret, Nupe Market Matara, 31 May 2014. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Central Turret, Nupe Market Matara, 31 May 2014. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

“I always remembered it for its shingled roof,” said a friend who hails from Matara about the Market in Nupe. Yes, the red Sinhala Kandyan period flat tiles –peti-ulu are there in this airy T-shaped building located at Wilmot Balasuriya Mawatha in Matara.

This interesting heritage building of the Nupe Market certainly caught my attention and my imagination soared. Historians claim it was built by the Dutch in 1775, and is one of the oldest Dutch surviving buildings. The British also lay claim to it– so did the British remodel an old building?

Read more on my new website: The Old Nupe Market, Matara

7 Photos and stories within stories

“Shaken not stirred” was my first blog post in November 2007 — a result of getting copped in Bandarawela for photographing school children. It brought forth interesting advice from a very dear friend, writing as N.B.S. Silva ( this was his nom de plume and NBS stood for No Bull Shit Silva), who said if I had any sense I would take photos of old men and cattle.

I have taken his advice. 6 years later taking stock, I am reminded yet again how photos not only capture a transient moment but the untold stories behind the pixels. Then there are stories within stories, unseen actors of a landscape and fragments of conversations, tears, laughter and love embedded in a n image. This blog is an exercise to see if I can pick 7 all time favourite photos of mine. Not an easy task but the ones I have picked are significant ones which brings to my mind a bigger visual story of my wanderings in Sri Lanka.

An internally displaced mother carries her sleeping baby while attending a resettlement meeting in Jayapuram North, Sri Lanka. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

An internally displaced mother carries her sleeping baby while attending a resettlement meeting in Jayapuram North, Sri Lanka. 25 March 2010. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

On the tsunami affected but repaired coast road to Hikkaduwa 26 Dec.2008.Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Sri Lanka builds back better after tsunami. The tsunami affected but repaired coast road to Hikkaduwa 26 Dec.2008.Photograph© Chulie de Silva

The reclining Parinirvana statue of Buddha, Gal viharaya, Polonnauwa . AD 1153-86. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

For me the most beautiful Buddha statue in Sri Lanka. The reclining Parinirvana statue of Buddha, Gal viharaya, Polonnauwa . AD 1153-86. 12 March 2005. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

A man takes his morning bath at the Mahdangasweva tank. Mahadangasweva, Sri Lanka. 19 Oct 2007. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

All the beauty of rural Sri Lanka. A man takes his morning bath at the Mahadangasweva tank. Mahadangasweva, Sri Lanka. 19 Oct 2007. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Cattle sleep on the warm tarmcac of the A9 road at night and moves to the roadside in the morning. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Cattle moves to the roadside of the A9 in the morning after a nights sleep on the warm tarmac. 27 March 2010. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

14 yr old Konnes (14 yrs) the youngest of ten sons helps his farmer parents wto rear goats. North Sri Lanka. 14 Sep. 2008.Photograph© Chulie de Silva

14 yr old Konnes,  the youngest of ten sons helps his farmer parents to rear goats. North Sri Lanka. 14 Sep. 2008.Photograph© Chulie de Silva

After the sunset at Hikkaduwa. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

After the sunset at Hikkaduwa. Taken on a memorable reunion holiday with my elder son and wife. 20 Jan 2012. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Seenigama Devale and animistic rituals

Seenigama Devale at dusk. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Seenigama Devale at dusk. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

My father claims that he planted one of the coconut trees at this temple you can see on the old coast road to Galle, in a tiny hamlet called Seenigama. The little temple – a half a mile or so into the sea with a clump of coconut trees is a veritable treasure trove of stories. It wasn’t built on the sea. The temple was originally on the beach on a mound of sand built by villagers to venerate God Devol, who apparently was able to use his powers to change sand into sugar — local name  for sugar is “seeni,” and “gama” is village in Sinhala.

The sea ate the “seeni” beach and the temple is where it is now. The severe sea erosion was due to coral mining extensively carried out in this area. Kilns burning coral spewing pungent smoke was a common sight in this region when we used to pass this area.  Kilns were present till the 1970s, I think. The damage to the marine environment was so grave that even the Devol Deiyo the patron god of the fisher folk in this area couldn’t prevent the wrath of the sea in the tsunami of 2004.

Coast road to Hikkaduwa, still showing the erosion of the beach 30 Dec. 2008.Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Coast road to Hikkaduwa, still showing the erosion of the beach 30 Dec. 2008.Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Briefly Devol was a Prince from India who was put on a boat by his father and sent off to  Lanka or maybe he was thrown out of the palace. … Looks like this was a punishment route that many princes from the subcontinent were forced to take by their fathers. One legend has it that Devol’s father – a King had seven sons by seven queens in his harem , all born on the same day.  Unable to decide on who the Crown Prince will be he put all seven into boats and pushed them out to sea — an outbound exercise to select a survivor to inherit the crown? This I suppose was one of the first lot of boat -borne asylum seekers. Then the coast guards were a pantheon of island guarding gods and the  all powerful Goddess Pattini, put Devol’s skills to the test before allowing him to land.

Devol is worshiped as a dual purpose God. He can bless a person or as the Lord of vengeance from his seat of judgement decide on punishment to evil doers. Cursing with Devol is referred to as “grinding chillies at Seenigama Devale.” The curse is moulded on the anvil — stone chilli grinder provided by the chief of the temple the “Kapurala”. Chillies the hot burning ingredient that causes burns, irritation and pain when a paste of which is applied on the skin becomes the vehicle for the curse.

From left: Vishnu, Kataragama and Devol Deiyo/Gods at the shrine at the Welle Devale, Unawatuna. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

From left: Vishnu, Kataragama and Devol Deiyo/Gods at the shrine at the Welle Devale, Unawatuna. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Devol’s entry into Lanka was granted by Goddess Pattini , after she was given a boon to cure diseases by Devol. “On the strength of this he got himself a visa,” says Srilal Perera responding to my blog  “Shrine on the beach “Welle Devale, Unawatune”  written after a visit to Unawatuna. Srilal also pointed out that in the annual all night “Gam madu” rituals in the villages of Sri Lanka this episode is enacted.

Gammadu means literally a village shed and the Sinhala Drama evolved from these rituals “The drama is only a bi-product of activities seriously directed towards the sustenance of the entire life of the community, namely the propitiation of gods and demons, and the performance of magical rites which are calculated to prevent diseases, ward of evil, bring plentiful crops and confer in general prosperity in the village.”which included music, song or recited verses, costumes, drama and masks,” says Prof Ediriweera Sarachchandra in his scholarly work “The Folk Drama of Ceylon,”

This book (purchased for a princely sum of LKR 18/–, circa late 1970s) meticulously traces from the roots the rituals of folk religion and the fusion of village cults of exorcism with the culture emanating from Buddhism.

“Gam Madu,” “Pam madu” or “Puna Madu” are species of the same type of ritual with slight differences in each, says Sarachchandra adding that they are generally referred to as “Devol Madu.” All rituals are performed for general good luck and the expelling of evil.

Demons or Yakshas are portrayed as frightening creatures. A faded fresco at Welle Devale, Unawatuna, supposed to be of Agora. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Demons or Yakshas are portrayed as frightening creatures. A faded fresco of Siva-Vatuka with an elephant in his mouth at Welle Devale, Unawatuna.  Photograph© Chulie de Silva

So where did this evil enter the life of the Sinhalese villagers. Mostly from the belief that mysterious evil influences or evil powers of people and demons caused ill health, brought bad luck and caused hysteria and temporary insanity.

The prevailing concept Sarachchandra says is “vas, Vas or vas-dos,”  which affects people adversely preventing them from being healthy, successful in their undertakings etc. The malicious influence can come from people who have the ‘evil eye” (asvaha), evil mouth (katavaha); uttering envious words and lamenting over one’s good fortune (ando andiya) or from the entertaining of evil thoughts (hovaha). Evil influences can come from many demons — very colourful and too many to list here  but they can cause swoons, fits of insanity (murtu) and various types of hysteria.

Sarachchandra gives an interesting alliterative phrase used by “Demon priests” as “asvaha, katavaha, hovaha, ando andiya turtu murtu pinum peralum avalum vevlum. I can remember this phrase among the many recited by our Dhobi — the laundry man — who would come at my mother’s bidding to get rid of of the Asvaha (or evil eye) from us.

The ritual called the “Dehi kapanawa” (cutting the limes) was performed in the mornings and is a lesser routine, out of all the animistic rituals. It is mainly performed if you had been falling sick often and is supposed to have got the “evil eye.”. For me usually this was performed on the back verandah of Siriniwasa. The Dhobi would be dressed in white with a white turban and he had a big basin of limes. He would take a lime and hold it  in the grip of an areconut cutter called a giraya.

Antique Giraya at my alter. Giraya is the metal instrument on the far right shaped  with a woman's head and legs. 24 Feb. Sri Lanka. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Antique Giraya at my alter. Giraya is the metal instrument on the far right shaped with a woman’s head and legs. 24 Feb. Sri Lanka. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Many many moons ago, when I had my last ritual, the Dhobi would hold the lime over my head, chant various phrases, cut the lime into two equal parts with a swift click and drop the cut lime into a basin. In this role he had a much higher status as a magician who can bestow good health. How much “Asvaha ” you had was measured by the way the limes floated or ended in the bottom of the pail of water.

Did my life get better or did I feel good after that? I must get another ritual done to check if lady luck will return!!! This time I will be armed with my camera and follow the ritual closely. As for the demons, they are a fascinating lot and needs a separate blog to write about them. The demons are supposed to loiter at twilight or early morning in grave yards, cross roads, lonely roads etc.  We were not supposed to eat fried food and run around at twilight as the “yakka’s” (demons) would get hold of us or enter our bodies. This theory, we did challenge and I have survived to tell the tale. Maybe I should attend a Gam Maduwa and experience it first hand before writing more about it but first to read more about the different Yakkas and then to visit a temple of the all powerful Goddess Pattini and follow up on her cult.

The moon and my father’s bike

if you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon, in a perfectly useless manner, you have learned to live” said a FB post by my friend Joe Qian, quoting Lin Yutang. A power outage meant a move into the cool of the garden. And, here was an afternoon, albeit slipping in to an evening of inky darkness, with my avocado tree playfully trapping and twirling the soft breezes. A learning to live lesson?

Blue skies, white clouds my avocado tree and the redundant TV antennae of my neighbhours. Taken before the moonrise. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Blue skies, white clouds my avocado tree and my TV antennae keeping a watching brief. Taken before the moonrise. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

The chatter of my next door kids calling “Someone please give us lights,” quite the opposite of “Rain, rain go away,” had subsided. The suburban sounds muted, the moon seemed to have heard the call, as a long strip of soft moonlight fell across my garden. I watched the oddly disc shaped moon rise with a circular halo around it tinged golden.  When I held up the mobile camera on my shaky hand the moon came alive as a slippery dancing sliver.

Lying on the grass looking up at the moon, it looked as if it was in a might hurry sailing across the white clouds. The stars were pin dots. A balmy night, a romantic night, with a few flickering fireflies but I wasn’t getting up to get my camera. This was a night for savouring with your eyes and “mind wandering” — mine traversed to my father’s last bike — a tsunami survivor, that I had photographed last Saturday.

My father's bike at Siriniwasa, Hikkaduwa. 12 Oct. 2013. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

My father’s bike at Siriniwasa, Hikkaduwa. 12 Oct. 2013. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Lovingly repaired by my brother Pradeep, it now leans again the wooden staircase leading to the loft area on what in the “Siriniwasa”  house we called the “pita kamaraya” — the outside room to the left of the house. The loft room is now bare, but was once occupied by the young males in the family during vacation times when the house held as many as 60 relatives and friends!

The bike was photographed among the debris by a New York Times photographer who came to Sri Lanka to cover the 2004 Tsunami with the NYT reporter Celia Dugger. Soon after I received two sets of prints from Celia with a note, that I have misplaced now. This is a rephotographed copy of what the room looked like then.

My father's bike among the tsunami debris in the front room of Siriniwasa, Hikkaduwa. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

My father’s bike among the tsunami debris in the front room of Siriniwasa, Hikkaduwa.
Photograph©Chulie de Silva

The bike survived, most likely as this room opened to the road and wasn’t facing the sea.

Siriniwasa, after the tsunami. The bike was found inside the room with the two windows to the right. circa 28 Dec, 2004. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Siriniwasa, after the tsunami. The bike was found inside the room with the two windows to the right. circa 28 Dec, 2004. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

In the tales my father used to say, bikes were always there. He had told me about his flirtation with a 13 year old Burgher girl who used to ride on the bar of his bicycle, when he was in Kankesanthurai caring for his brother Haripriya who had TB.

My brother Pradeep says he used to ride on the bar of an earlier bike of my father’s. Pradeep must have been all of 6 years and he would sit on a cushion on the bar and the two of them would go to the family estate Malawenna, in the interior of Hikkaduwa. When it was an uphill climb, father would get down and push the bike but Pradeep would remain seated on the bar. There was one “Edanda” that they had to travel across. This “Edanda” is an elementary bridge and was made using two large coconut trees placed across the river. Then my father would get down and walk on one tree trunk while pushing the bike on the other.

Sometimes, they would stay the night in the estate, sleeping on a big four poster bed with a top canopy over which the mosquito net was draped. This had a provision for tucking in the mosquito net, so creepy crawlies like scorpions or even serpents couldn’t slither in. Pradeep still sleeps on that bed, but my father at one time had butchered the bed by cutting the 4 bedposts that held the canopy and using them as legs to build a table. The bedposts survived the tsunami, while the table top disappeared. Four poster beds are very much the rage now and Pradeep is musing about putting the posts back on the bed.

The route we used to go the estate in better times was by car/jeep. The vehicle would be left in a nearby house and we would yell to the boatman who would come and ferry us across. Re- Photograph by Chulie de Silva from an original probably by Dr. Bertie Kirtisinghe

The route we used to go the estate in better times was by car/jeep. The vehicle would be left in a nearby house and we would yell to the boatman who would come and ferry us across. Re- Photographed by Chulie de Silva from an original probably by Dr. Bertie Kirtisinghe

It was after such a bike visit to the estate that I received a letter in big childish Sinhala writing from Pradeep, which I think I have somewhere. He was giving me living in Liverpool the news — Next door Kumara Aiya brought home a woman — Kumara aiya ‘geniyek genawa” about our neighbhour getting married expressed in the very rural way of bringing home a wife. There were other interesting titbits of news — the toilet in the estate had no door and he didn’t like it!

Thatha had set his sights on a new bike and when he heard Odiris Silva (Pvt) Ltd was opening a shop at Hikkaduwa he had ordered the bike an “Avon,” probably made in India . It was purchased on the first day the shop opened a branch in Hikkaduwa in 1974 and he would happily cycle around, cycle clips holding his trousers in place and a beret or a cap shielding him from the sun. The question was why a ladies bike? The answer probably lies in what our front house neighbhour Lily told me on an earlier visit.

Portrait of Lily Nona, probably the last lady to wear a "Kabakuruththu" in  Hikkaduwa. 27 Aug. 2013.Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Portrait of Lily Nona, probably the last lady to wear a “Kabakuruththu” in
Hikkaduwa. 27 Aug. 2013.Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Lily Nona,  has lived opposite our house since 1965, when these houses were built by the government for fishermen. Lily had come to Hikkaduwa from Hegoda in Boosa, after her marriage on the 23 February 1946 to S.K. Dharmasena aka “Sudda.”

During a long conversation I had with her, she told me that her mother had told her that my paternal grandfather — my Seeya — K.H. Bastian used to come on his bicycle to visit his estate at Deepagodawatte, off Boosa. The tales she heard were about how Seeya used to bring sweets for the kids in the village and that he rode a lady’s bicycle. Most likely as he used to wear a long cloth and a jacket, which was the customary dress for men before the young turned to wearing trousers.

My paternal grandmother, Achchi, Pintohamy (Second from left) and grandfather, Seeya, K.H. Bastian de Silva standing behind her carrying Uncle Ritchie, in her father’s house in Ambalangoda. The photograph circa 1911 was taken when her brother Heron de Silva Kularatne (centre, back row) took oaths as a lawyer on his return from London. Standing next to him is his youngest brother Patrick de Silva Kularatne who also graduated from the University of London. His first job was as the Principal of Ananda College which he took up in 1918. He retired voluntarily in 1943. Later he shed his western clothes and went on to become one of Sri Lanka’s foremost educationists. Re-photogrpahed from a copy by Chulie de Silva

My paternal grandmother, Achchi, Pintohamy (Second from left) and grandfather, Seeya, K.H. Bastian de Silva standing behind her carrying Uncle Ritchie, in her father’s house in Ambalangoda. The photograph circa 1911 was taken when her brother Heron de Silva Kularatne (centre, back row) took oaths as a lawyer on his return from London. Standing next to him is his youngest brother Patrick de Silva Kularatne who also graduated from the University of London. His first job was as the Principal of Ananda College which he took up in 1918. He retired voluntarily in 1943. Later he shed his western clothes and went on to become one of Sri Lanka’s foremost educationists. Re-photogrpahed from a copy by Chulie de Silva

There was a momentous outcome from these visits. My Seeya had bought the land where he built “Siriniwasa” from Lily’s mother’s or father’s family. It was a partitioned land and the story is that Seeya bought 100 perches at LKR 110/- paying what was a huge sum of LKR 11,000 for the land, when the going rate was LKR 110/- for an acre. A perch is a land measurement that is still in use in Sri Lanka. 160 perches make up an acre. Sadly, the sea has gobbled up quite a bit of the  original 100 perches that was Siriniwasa land.

Seeya must have loved the sea, to build on the seashore, when most people avoided building houses near the sea, because of the high maintenance. Lily’s family had celebrated receiving their portion from the sale and related her mother’s recollections of the family buying sacks of rice.  This was a time when a “seruwa” [an old measure of rice, less than a kilo] was 8-9 cents; Samba rice seruwa was 14 cents; and a “hundu” [another old measure approx 1 cup] of lentils was 5 cents, says Lily.

Siriniwasa as it stands now. Still difficult to maintain, but restoration goes on. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Siriniwasa as it stands now. Still difficult to maintain, but restoration goes on. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

While my grandfather rode a ladies bicycle, his sister who had married a wealthy Ambalangoda businessman, drove a Morris Tourer I let my mind wander to a time in the past when my grandfather and grandmother would be sitting in the verandah having a friendly chat about their brood of seven sons. In drives the feisty sister — Rajapakse Aunt or Rajapakse Nanda– as she was referred to, dressed in a Kambaya ( the traditional long cloth worn as a wrapped around skirt) and the jacket Kabakuruthuwa like Lily’s.

Up jumps the grandfather saying “Here comes the she-devil,” and moves inside, leaving the two sisters-in-law to have a good gossip.  Unperturbed by the chauvinist brother, she would enjoy her visit, take a swig of brandy from the hip flask she kept inside the door, and fortified, drive back to Ambalangoda. I suppose there is another lesson to be learned there!

Thank you to my readers!

It’s been an amazing digital romp keeping this blog going the last six years or so. Through the thick and thin days, I’ve appreciated your feedback comments. Taking stock today I now have 225 posts, 734 comments and over 135,000 hits,

So this is to say a Big Thank you to all who have supported and encouraged me to write. I miss the comments and feedback which usually came with a good dollop of characteristic humour, I got from Mike Udabage.  Sadly he is not with us anymore, but I can still see his comments and smile.

The image of the school children that landed me in trouble. 10 Nov 2007. Photograph copyright Chulie de Silva

The image of the school children that landed me in trouble. 10 Nov 2007. Photograph copyright Chulie de Silva

I started this blog in 2007, November with the first post  Shaken not stirred and my first experience of being hauled into a Police Station and having a ride with Police escorts in a blue jeep. At least, I got off without having to spend a night at the Royal Boarding House.

Prior to this in 2006, on the second anniversary of the  Tsunami in 2004, I started the Hikkaduwa Chronicles . This was supposed to be a jumbled memoir of a family that has lived in Hikkaduwa for over a century. The original intention was to keep the two blogs separate – one on family history and one as a photoblog. But once our web aggregator Kottu took Hikkaduwa Chronicles off its list, and with limited time it made more sense to keep the Chuls Bits & Pics going as my main blog. Now, I reblog on to Hikkaduwa Chronicles, the relevant pieces, as I still have some readers who follow that.

The smiling eyes, one of my favourite photos. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

The smiling eyes, one of my favourite photos. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Gold winner on hits is:

Degas Little Dancer. The All time favourite blog with readers. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Degas Little Dancer. The All time favourite blog with readers. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

The next favourite is:

The 200 year old Sri Lankan house photo on the blog that gets second most hits. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

The 200 year old Sri Lankan house photo on the blog that gets second most hits. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

And the bronze goes to:

Birthplace of Martin Wickramasinghe. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Birthplace of Sri Lankan literary giant Martin Wickramasinghe. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

The posts on this blog that got more than 1000 hits are:

Degas’ Fourteen Year Old Little Dancer More stats 10,194
Age Old Charm of a 200 year old Sri Lanka House More stats 9,530
Martin Wickramasinghe’s house, Koggala, Sri Lanka More stats 4,437
Kandyan Dancers & Drummers More stats 3,183
Selling Bananas and Discussing Climate Change More stats 3,169
The Not So Hi! Ladies of Sri Lanka More stats 3,093
Goddess Tara Time to Come Home ? More stats 2,809
Tsunami 3 years on: Remembering Prasanna Kirtisinghe More stats 2,227
  Images of Jaffna More stats 2,201
Much ado about Hikka nudes More stats 1,893
Afghan Treasures Exhibition: a peep into a rich heritage More stats 1,860
Painful wakeup call@Lighthouse, Galle More stats 1,825
Colours of Dhaka More stats 1,231
Maugham, Miss Pretty Girl, Cabbages & Condoms More stats 1,162
Bomb in a Bra: Don’t Cry Baby, Don’t Cry More stats 1,137
Smiling Eyes More stats 1,075
The shrine on the beach “Welle Dewale,” Unawatuna More stats 1,043

For me it’s always interesting to see the WordPress summaries and receive comments from someone from a far away place. This interaction is what makes a blog more interesting, than even writing a book. It’s the icing on the cake.

In this melee of blog posts, I’ve found another Chulie — Chulie Davey whose parents lived in Colombo in the 50’s and we exchanged Dear Chulie emails sometime ago; Dale from US who was a visitor to my parents home in the 1970’s and sends me links on classical music pieces to listen to and to read my blogs again; Klaus from Germany who was a great support to the family in the post tsunami traumatic times; nephews and neices who have found me on the blog and asked “Are you my Chulie Nandi?” …. and many more. such interesting virtual encounters.  Happy too that a couple of stories have appeared in newspapers and magazines.

So, my friends,  thanks again, wherever you are and do stay, and keep reading. The following stats are reproduced here with many thanks to WordPress — 3 more months to go for this year and I am looking forward to more blogging. Focus will be more on local history and travel stories. Do click on the Follow link on the blog and as always look forward to hearing from you.

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