Yearning for the true spirit of vesak

wesak

Ceylontoday, 2015-05-03 | By Nayanamali Herath

The swishing of Vesak lanterns dangling in pavement shops is the messenger that conveys the arrival of the holy day to city dwellers. Unfortunately, in today’s world, most people have no time in their packed schedules to cut a bamboo stick into 24 equal pieces, tie them and make an atapattama or vesak kuduwa on their own. Gone are the days when children gathered around their parents and even grandparents, painstakingly pasting the kudu with paappa. After all, spending Rs. 250 to buy a handmade lantern and hanging it in the veranda is much easier than struggling with bamboo sticks and wires.

But is this what we are supposed to do? Why are Vesak lanterns hung in the gardens of Buddhists during the Vesak season? Is it to distinguish Buddhist houses from others? As believed by many, Vesak lanterns have a deeper meaning than that. It is an offering of light to the Lord Buddha, who lit up the path to nibbana for all humans in the world. Sri Lanka, being a country with a primarily Buddhist culture, brings about much more from the tradition of making Vesak lanterns. Sharing, patience, co-operation as well as skills of hand can be moulded specially in small children. In addition, as the process consumes much time, Vesak spirit is in the air, weeks before the dawn of the holy day, bringing about meritorious thoughts in people. Disappointingly, the reign of money seems to have taken the religious festival too under its control.

Vesak cards, which owned the racks of ‘Vesak stalls’ once, have now been replaced by readymade lanterns. Lanterns with a wide range of sizes, colours and structures are now at arm’s reach. The commonest types are bamboo or cardboard lanterns, while the once famed Chinese lantern is not available in many places this season. Asanka de Silva, a vendor at a pavement shop of Vesak celebrative items said that the high cost of the imported Chinese lantern has resulted in lack of demand. Despite the fact that a market has been created for a religious celebration, the sellers’ story is not as beautiful as the lanterns they make.

“I have been having the shop for 15 years and since a few years ago we have been asked to get permission from the Municipal Council each year, before setting the stall up. The officers come to the place, measure the land and charge us an amount decided by the size of the stall. As the permitted size is limited, we can’t put up sufficient show cases for Vesak cards. Earlier we had been given carts by the authorities and the process was easier. A pavement vendor will remain a beggar forever, if no relief is provided at least in Vesak week.” stated M.G. Gihan, who works as a driver on other days. Further he added that they are making Vesak lanterns as the demand is high, yet it is tragic that the future generation will not know to make one on their own.

Shivanadan, a Tamil Buddhist engaged in the profession for 30 years however was pleased with the policy of permission, as the vendors are restricted from cutting nearby trees, loitering in the surroundings and other pollution. Yet he deplored that the authorities are not effective in issuing permission since much time and money has to be spent on it. “The same reason has caused a decrease in the number of stalls, which on the other hand has increased the sales in available stalls.”

Some sellers complained that even though they had applied for permission much earlier than the Vesak season, they were not approved of on time, causing them financial loss. They presented this failure as the reason behind the absence of many ‘Vesak stalls’ along the once crowded roads. Miserable occasions where packs of Vesak cards brought to sell, have been mistakenly discarded by the city cleaners also are behind the temporary shops filled with colourful ornaments. The owners of stalls were thankful to the permanent shops nearby for supplying electricity at a fair price and not harassing them.

Yearning for the
Many sellers are used to getting loans whilst arranging things for the stall. Since the earlier practised mobile shop (called a cart) is allowed no more, money has to be spent on wood and transport of wood for shelves, mechanics to weld the bars and build the stall other than on commercial items. At the same time, many vendors have given up selling Vesak cards as they have experienced a lessening in demand, supposedly with the popularity of digital greetings such as e-Vesak cards. A wide range of Vesak greetings is easily available on internet and can be sent to anyone at the expense of a mouse click. Text messages are even easier and more popular, although the senders miss the familiarity in addressing their beloved ones through their own wishes and cards.

In the meantime, the masks, which obviously have no relevance to Vesak Poya Day, have found their place in the stalls with no effort. According to Asanka, the sale of ‘ghost’ masks is high during the Vesak period than other days. School children are used to buying masks with animal faces on their way back from school often, as the masks are highly available during Vesak season. The custom of masks will make the future generation believe it as a cultural practice in the long run.
Janaka, a salesman in Malpiyali Bookshop, Maradana meanwhile suggested the fall of Vesak just after Sinhala and Tamil New Year this time, has caused a loss as people to undergo monetary stress these days. Adding to it, he suggests that the increase in the price of Vesak cards also has affected the customers, yet the increase in the price of Vesak lanterns has not ill-affected the demand.

The decay of human attitudes in celebrating Vesak with a commercial product is a matter to be sensibly understood. Whilst the ideal is to not use store-bought decorations for Vesak, one can only empathise the sacrifice and pain undergone by the seasonal vendors.

Many sellers are used to getting loans whilst arranging things for the stall. Since the earlier practised mobile shop (called a cart) is allowed no more, money has to be spent on wood and transport of wood for shelves, mechanics to weld the bars and build the stall other than on commercial items. At the same time, many vendors have given up selling Vesak cards as they have experienced a lessening in demand, supposedly with the popularity of digital greetings such as e-Vesak cards. A wide range of Vesak greetings is easily available on internet and can be sent to anyone at the expense of a mouse click. Text messages are even easier and more popular, although the senders miss the familiarity in addressing their beloved ones through their own wishes and cards.

In the meantime, the masks, which obviously have no relevance to Vesak Poya Day, have found their place in the stalls with no effort. According to Asanka, the sale of ‘ghost’ masks is high during the Vesak period than other days. School children are used to buying masks with animal faces on their way back from school often, as the masks are highly available during Vesak season. The custom of masks will make the future generation believe it as a cultural practice in the long run.
Janaka, a salesman in Malpiyali Bookshop, Maradana meanwhile suggested the fall of Vesak just after Sinhala and Tamil New Year this time, has caused a loss as people to undergo monetary stress these days. Adding to it, he suggests that the increase in the price of Vesak cards also has affected the customers, yet the increase in the price of Vesak lanterns has not ill-affected the demand.

The decay of human attitudes in celebrating Vesak with a commercial product is a matter to be sensibly understood. Whilst the ideal is to not use store-bought decorations for Vesak, one can only empathise the sacrifice and pain undergone by the seasonal vendors.