14 January 2014

This sacred moment

It is Tuesday.  The 14th day of January.  It’s Thai Pongal today.  It is a day celebrated by the Tamil community.  It is a day that non-Tamils look forward to just as non-Sinhalese and non-Tamils look forward to Aluth Avurudda, that pre-eminent of national festivals which takes place in the month of April.  For the same reasons.  Food.  Out of the ordinary food.

Thai Pongal is an end-of-harvest celebration and one doesn’t have to have ploughed, sowed, tended or harvest to celebrate.  It is celebrated because, literally, it is an ‘overflowing’ moment.

Tuesday also happens to be Milad Al Nabi or the birth anniversary of Prophet Muhammad.  It is not an occasion for festivity; rather it is a day for prayer and reflection.  Sober.  It is nevertheless a holiday for a collective in this case a faith-community. 

This Tuesday is followed by a Wednesday.  It is special for Buddhists and not on account of the day of week.  It is Duruthu Poya.  It marks several important moments in Buddhist history.  It is on a similar full moon day that the Buddha is said to have brought the Kassapa brothers on to the correct pathway that leads to enlightenment.  It is believed that the Buddha, again on a Duruthu Poya arrived in this island to bring about peace between the Yaksha and Naga clans and thereafter offered a lock of hair, Kesha Dhatu, now enshrined in Mahiyangana.  

Tomorrow is not Ash Wednesday, which is of significance to Christians. On the other hand, if Ash Wednesday is a moment to remind those of the faith of human mortality and set aside for repentance, any Wednesday could be Ash Wednesday. Any day too. 

And so, this island of many peoples and many faiths who live together in varying degrees of co-existence, respect, understanding as well as their respective undersides – separation, disrespect and misunderstanding – finds itself in a multiply holy moment.

We can, as we dwell on the tenets particular to our faiths, reflect also on how ‘other’ is described and what kind of engagement of ‘other’ is recommended by the founders of these faiths.  We will perhaps find more commonality than we usually acknowledge.   We might even find that tolerance does not rob religion of political space but enhances the space that exists without infringement of any kind.  In the end, it will be those who understand respect and are conversant with the deeper teachings that will make for a more wholesome and beneficial togetherness.

These days of celebration, festivity and reflection have come together.  Perhaps we should too.