Stepping into the New Year | Sunday Observer

Stepping into the New Year

Much of the calls of the kohaa last week may have been radio and TV blurbs rather than the bird itself but still, the trill of this beloved and auspicious bird surely portends new things for the nation and its resplendent island home. The political tumult of the previous week was ended with celebratory goodwill and ceremony in last week’s Avurudu and Puthuvarusham festival.

Bitterly fought political battles at local level and in Parliament now give way to a new phase of governance as the traditional Sri Lankan New Year dawns. The biggest religio-cultural festival in the Sri Lankan calendar, the traditional New Year, marks the turn of the solar year in the classical Saka Era. We have now stepped forward into the Year of Saka 1940.

With over three-quarters of the nation celebrating family, community, good neighbourliness and re-commitment to good intentions, the remaining quarter is effusively swept up in the pervasive atmosphere islandwide of festive sparkle and solemnity. These next few days we will be wishing peace and good life as we greet each other whether at home, work places and even across counters and routine transactions.

The good intentions for the coming year are the necessary concomitant of the celebration of community. People re-commit themselves to mutually beneficial, common goals and projects. The coordination and collaboration needed for such collective endeavour is fuelled by good intentions.

Just the previous week, civil society leaders, community leaders, religious leaders and the bulk of the citizenry watched the melodrama and political cavorting of heated political confrontation and rivalry. The voices for unity were raised within the national legislature, within government and within political parties.

In response to these confrontations, the voices of reason on the one hand called for a return to serious issues of governance and development. And the politicians are now being challenged to return to the practice of intelligent co-operation and sustained focus of action.

May our political leaders step into the New Year in step with each other for the urgent accomplishment of their electoral mandate for peace-building, development and the meting out of justice.

Just as much as one of the key goals of current national governance is the building of harmonious ethnic co-existence, the New Year festivities last week signified precisely that: the commonality of culture, tradition and social aspirations that embrace our nation.

Avurudu/Puthuvarusham has been celebrated on this island perhaps as long as the Kohaa has sung its seasonal song of the blooming of nature. Our traditional agriculture system combines communal cultivation together with the communal management of irrigation and the environment. These basic foundations of society predate such social creations as ethnicities and nation-states.

As our post-colonial society develops, we are challenged to shed the evils of inter-ethnic rivalry and hatred. We are also challenged to rid our life practices of selfish corruption that so erodes our social and economic institutions.

From the southern tip of Sri Lanka to the terrain of central India, literally hundreds of millions of South Asians celebrate the Traditional New Year in April. The lighting of the hearth and the lamp, the meditative offering of flowers to the Divine are human rites that were observed last week across the entire ecological region of the southern Sub-continent, including Sri Lanka, that feature our common geography and culture.

Increasingly, the mass audiences of our news and entertainment media bring to our homes the festivities of the range of communities, large and small, that stretch across this entire region. Drawn together via media are people from our Ruhunu fisher communities, through the glamour of Colombo and Kandy, to the cyber cities of Chennai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad. Last week was a collective heave of the human spirit in this part of the world.

It is important that we cherish this vast communality that cuts across borders and ethnicities on the one hand and, on the other, cluster states and markets in common economic destinies in our globalizing world. Ethnic conciliation is an important theme in our current national endeavour. At the same time, the recovery of intensive inter-state interactions across the Palk Strait must herald the way for mutual beneficial economic, social and intellectual projects.

The auspicious moments are the same across this region. But will this simultaneity of social life build national political unity and cross-regional economic prosperity?

Our political leadership must navigate the ship of state with a new dexterity that takes us quickly to governmental goals. It is up to all of us, Sri Lankans, to bring to life our tradition and classical values that we commemorate in Avurudu/Puthuvarusham.

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