The turquoise sea, and golden beaches of Udappu: Beckoning with love | Sunday Observer

The turquoise sea, and golden beaches of Udappu: Beckoning with love

Beach-scene fishing
Beach-scene fishing

Aside from the plantation workers of the central hill country and others of Indian origin, belonging to various categories and professions, scattered throughout the country, a large concentration of Indian origin Tamils with their unique cultures and traditions live in the coastal village of Udappu, in the North Western Province. They have patronized this village for over 350 years, enjoying all political, civic and social rights. They are a part and parcel of the village life blending well with the other communities in the Province. Throughout their history they are not known to have made demands or requests for any special privileges or considerations.

The village is situated 105 km north of Colombo and 16 km from the coastal town of Chilaw. A majority of the villagers are Hindus with fishing as their main profession in a sea coast extending 17 km.

The village maintains its own road transport services to the nearby town of Chilaw and to some distant places, while state transport services also operate. They have their artistic Hindu temples, unique rituals, including fire walking, and religious festivals. The Sri Parsarathy Draupadi Amman Temple with two Sanctum Sanctorum – one for God Parahsarathy and the other for Goddess Draupadi- with intricate sculptures in the front Gopuram Tower, is the main temple. It attracts a large number of devotees from all parts of the country during the festive season and the fire-walking is an owe-inspiring event in which men, women and children take part.

The locals metaphorically refer to it in Tamil as Thee Mithippagiya Poomithippu meaning ‘ the walk on flower-bed although called fire-walking’. The atmosphere inside and in the vicinity of the temple is sacred and most elevating. There are two other temples, the Veerapadra Kali Amman Temple and the Iyyanar temple. In the month of Avani, according to the Thamil calendar, (the latter half of July and the first part of August in the English calendar), an 18-day festival is conducted, commencing with the Divajarohanam (flag hoisting) and ending with fire-walking in front of Udappu’s Draupadi Amman Temple.

The 18-day period is spent in prayer and fasting, with a priest reciting the Mahabaratha epic to remind everyone of the story of Draupadi, the five Pandava brothers’ common wife, whose chaste and virtuous ways enabled her to recover the kingdom they had been deprived of by the wicked King Duryodhana.

According to folklore, 18 Tamil families from the South Indian coastal town of Rameswaram set out across the Palk Bay in seven large boats in the mid seventeenth century – in or about 1650 – to escape the wrath of the Prince who wanted to take a beautiful girl from their community as his mistress, which they declined. On their way, mid sea, the girl wished to sacrifice her life to the “mother ocean” in order to safeguard the others, which she did, and she is being worshiped by their descendants to this day, as their guardian angel, according to folklore.

The eighteen families, on reaching Sri Lankan shores, strayed from place to place along the North Western coast trying to find a suitable location to settle down. They lived in Mannar, Kalpitiya and Puttalam alternately for some years and finally found Udappu, with its wide expanse of land, sea and good drinking water as a suitable location to settle down permanently, as per folklore. With the unending expanse of the turquoise sea, the golden beaches, lagoons and water bodies, it is certainly an ideal village for living and to make a living. On the way to the village one comes across lush vegetation, paddy-fields and extensive coconut-palm groves which are exhilarating.

Initially, they embarked on tobacco cultivation, but later changed over to fishing because of its immediate benefits, and also the much higher income. Of late, the well-to-do among the villagers are engaging in the very profitable prawn-farming project.

It is now a full-fledged fishing village, with about 1,500 mechanized boats and a few traditional smaller fishing boats. Here, all men are on an equal plane, regardless of class, status or wealth. They have their folklore, music and songs. Above all, they look cheerful.

The Andimunai sand dunes, a popular tourist attraction and a world heritage site is on the east of the village, while the environmentally significant Mundel lagoon is on the south. The village has a rural hospital with two doctors, nurses and labourers and a Tamil Maha Vidyalayam attended by about 900 students

The total number of inhabitants in the village at present is approximately, 25,000 with a vote bank of about 7,000 which has helped them to elect their representatives as the Chairman of the Arachchikattuwa Pradeshiya Sabha (PS) on three successive occasions, and also in other local government bodies encompassing the village before the PS came into existence.

The general notion is that Udappu is one of the North-Western coastal fishing villages that engaged in smuggling, there is no police record of any such major operations in the village although there may have been some smuggling on a minor scale.

But, with police stations and police posts in close vicinity no such operations are now possible, the villagers say. But, human smuggling in fishing boats to countries like Australia and Italy have taken place and over one thousand youth went to those countries seeking asylum, they admitted. Some of them have been deported, while the others are still in those countries, they said.

Remittances sent by them have helped to enhance the economy of their families, they said.

In the six-month off season beginning mid April to mid October, when the sea is rough and fishing is impossible, they go to Northern fishing villages, such as, Mullaitivu, Nayaru, Pesalai and Mannar, but, they do not have any close or a sustaining relationship with the Northern fishermen, the fisher folk in the village said, adding that they have always maintained a friendly and lasting relationship with the other local communities, maintaining a cautiously arm’s length distance with anybody involved in extremist activities.

It was unfortunate that during the peak of the ethnic conflict, concealed fire arms were recovered from their village which was the consequence of hospitality and accommodation they provided to some of the people from the North who, unknown to them, were clandestinely engaged in extremist activities. The arms were recovered and the men taken into custody, they said. 

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