Bagpiper of Galle Face | Sunday Observer

Bagpiper of Galle Face

The lion flag is lowered
The lion flag is lowered

The sun sets over Galle Face without much adieu, just as it does elsewhere. But at the adjoining Galle Face Hotel overlooking the Indian Ocean, it sets with fanfare and rises in similar fashion. It’s a pity only a handful of people get to witness the ritual. What lends the sun the unexpected fanfare is a flagpole for Sri Lanka’s national flag which is hoisted at sunrise and then lowered at sunset.

It’s time to lower the flag. Bagpiper Kalinga Premeratne accompanied by a uniformed staffer begins a 50m slow march from atop the hotel’s famous terrace to the ocean front. The melody of evergreen Highland Cathedral resonates throughout the manicured gardens of the hotel steeped in history. Each lumbering step shortens his 3-minute voyage.

Meanwhile, the Lion Flag flutters in concert with heady wind from the ocean, almost as if it’s dancing to the tune of the lone bagpiper. A nation’s flag must be at full mast from sunrise to sunset, as dictated by the international flag code, a custom honoured worldwide. The time-honoured belief is that a national flag is meant to be only viewed during daylight, unless the flag flies during a time of patriotism when it’s allowed to fly non-stop. That too, is allowed only if there was proper lighting at night.

As the powerful melody leaves the bagpiper’s chanter, the constant chatter and buzzing come to a halt. It’s loud but stately and solemn. Side by side Kalinga and the staffer whose turn it is today approach the flagpost. The crashing waves and the tune of the song make the flag-lowering ceremony an endearing memory for guests.

Kalinga’s attachment to bagpipes dates back to 18 melodious years. He is among the island nation’s best Scottish bagpipers. When he auditioned for Galle Face Hotel, known as the grand old dame of hotels in South Asia, he was an instant celebrity. Staff and guests have come to love him, the bagpiper attire and his renditions of Highland Cathedral. Galle Face Hotel is among the few places where such pageantry is associated with a flag post ceremony, twice daily at sunrise and sunset. You may be fascinated by the tradition of bagpipers but know very little about it. Here is a crash course to the history of the Piob Mhor, or the Great Highland Bagpipes. Some historians speculate that the bagpipes were brought to Scotland during an invasion by the Roman legion.

However, the bagpipes really originate from ancient Egyptian times, possibly dating from 400 BC. Even though there are various types of bagpipes, the modern, timeless version was created by the Highlanders themselves. The British Empire saw to its widespread popularity. The bagpiper of Galle Face continues a tradition steeped in history, fittingly embracing two eras. The old honouring the new, bagpipe to the lion! You can’t miss it, at sunrise and sunset!