Published in Deccan Chronicle
Monday, Aug 01, 2011 Last Update: 12:13 AM IST
Magic of full moon
• July 31, 2011
• By Chitra Ramaswamy
Bonhomie and mirth prevail and there is colour everywhere. Music and laughter rent asunder the Sri Lankan air. Tableaux decked in a riot of colours, holding aloft statuettes of the Buddha, rhythmically snail their way along the alleys and streets to the beating of drums and soul-wrenching music. Cycles, draped in a rich array of sparkling artificial flowers, are ridden by youngsters who delicately balance themselves in slow motion to keep pace with the procession.
Pandals of various sizes, colours and shapes decorated with streamers and ripe bananas are pitched up every few kilometres. Men and women of all ages wave out to passersby, inviting them to partake of a cup of drink or a small meal of rice and curry. The dagobas or temples reverberate with Bathi Gee Cart or carol singing, spreading the message of peace. It is the month of June and the occasion for celebration is Poson Poya, the full moon day of the month.
With the adoption of the lunar calendar, Buddhists hold in veneration the full moon. Every full moon day, termed Poya in Sinhalese, is declared a national holiday and is a day of religious observance. Poya is derived from Pali and Sanskrit from the term uposatha, from upa and vas, meaning ‘to fast’. The day is marked with festive fervour, gaiety, sharing, caring and a display of genuine generosity, regardless of caste, creed, class and community.
Though every full moon day is a holy day, for Sri Lankan Buddhists some are more significant than others. The full moon days of May (Vesak), June (Poson), August (Esala) and December (Unduvap) are observed with greater pomp and pageantry. Poson, (June), the so-called “flowerless” (pu-sun-poson) month is observed with enthusiasm and religious fervour for it was on this day that Ashoka’s son Arahat Mahinda reached the island and appeared on the Mihintala rock. Poson celebrates the occasion of Mahinda’s meeting with the King of Lanka Devanampiya Thissa who was on a deer-hunting expedition. It was the period when Buddhism was formally established in Sri Lanka, making it an epoch-crafting event, a turning point in the history of the island country. Since then Mihintalawa has been declared a sanctuary portraying Sri Lanka’s nature-friendly attitude. Mahinda brought more than a new religion to Lanka; he established the beginnings of a Sinhala culture that reached glorious heights with its transformed social attitudes.
A whiff of fresh air blew life into the development of art and architecture, giving rise to gargantuan structures with aesthetic beauty, especially in the white-domed Dagobas of Buddhism.
Though the main activities of Poson are centred at Mihintala and Anuradhapura, celebrations are rampant throughout the island. The occasion reaffirms yet again, devotion and concern for life of all earthly beings. Processions referred to as Mihundu Peraheras and carnivals, break the monotony of routine and life seems to regain its colour with entertainment activities lined up for the day. Staunch Buddhists observe the day by waking up early in the morning and following a bath, are attired in white, ready to visit the dagoba of their choice. They spend the entire day in meditation, listening to sermons and participating in religious discussions.
If the streets of Sri Lanka are pulsating with festivities, celebrations assume a quiet, meditative tone in the dagobas where devotees attired in white, sit in silent prayer, taking breaks for meals on the temple premises itself.
Full moon days demand strict abstinence from alcohol, beef, gambling and cinema in Sri Lanka, reveals our guide, Gamini. He adds, “Even tourists are not allowed these things on poya days; even our hotels do not serve alcohol to the guests and anyone found flouting these rules is punishable by law.”
HOW TO REACH: Colombo is the international gateway for direct flights from Europe, Asia, Australia and the Middle East. There are several flights available between Colombo and Chennai, Trichy, Thiruvananthapuram and Mumbai.
travel tip: You must have a passport with you all the time; it is the most basic travel document. Ensure that it will be valid for the entire period you intend to remain overseas.
The writer is a travel enthusiast