For God's sake leave Kataragama Devale alone!
Colombo: The Island, 1 August 2001
The Island Editorial
Religion and politics, it is indisputable, do not readily mix. That the poor masses consider politicians demigods does not qualify them to interfere with religious matters.
But what is happening at Kataragama at present in the run up to the Basnayake Nilame election due shortly is a pointer that petty political potentates are playing politics with the holy shrine by trying to secure the election of the candidates of their choice. The election to this prestigious post is usually a political dog-fight with politicians and the moneybags at their disposal making every attempt to influence those few who have a right to vote.
The last few decades have seen an inordinate interest being evinced by politicians and their progeny in securing this post as well as its counterparts elsewhere for the social status that accrues to them. How adverse the outcome of the politicisation of the position of the Basnayake Nilame of the Kataragama Devale has been, is reflected in what the Acting Basnayake Nilame, Dickson Delabandara, has told The Island Sunday Edition: "Unfortunately the position of Basnayake Nilame has been politicised and commercialised ... and this..... has caused a great deal of damage to the Devale."
The Kataragama Devale is not alone in this predicament. The same is true of many other places of worship as well. There are certain Buddhist temples where even non Buddhists by virtue of their financial prowess have become Basnayake Nilames parading in Pereheras much to the consternation of the true believers.
Therefore the Kataragama Devale cannot be expected to be an exception. However, what is surprising is how the politicians and their financiers who prostrate before God Skandas shrine seeking blessings and protection dare run the risk of earning his wrath by resorting to unconscionable methods to win the election.
God Kataragama is known for his revengeful disposition. Seldom does a person who believes in him even utter something that is likely to offend the deity. But politicians are disporting themselves in skulduggery in defiance of God Skanda with impunity. Why is it that politicians can rush in unpunished where the devout fear to tread?
It is also intriguing that there is a popular belief that only a Sinhala-Buddhist can be the Basnayake Nilame of Kataragama. In Kataragama there is found a confluence of all faiths. Millions worship at this shrine irrespective of the religions they profess. There are Buddhists, Hindus, Catholics etc. among believers of God Kataragama. So how can one argue that only a Sinhala Buddhist should be the Basnayake Nilame of this multi religious shrine? Why shouldnt a Hindu or a Catholic be given a chance to hold this post? Why should this kind of discrimination be tolerated any longer? Perhaps this should be taken up by the human rights groups and public opinion whipped up against the on-going practice.
Meanwhile, the situation prevalent in Kataragama is appalling. It is a hotbed of nefarious activities. As has been reported, drug peddling and prostitution are rampant. During the festival the public are exploited by the inn keepers and Kataragama becomes a town of squalor. Epidemics like cholera are common and abject poverty has resulted in a plethora of social problems such as alcoholism and narcotics addiction. Thievery has almost become a pastime for many.
Since the time of the late President Ranasinghe Premadasa, whose Gam Udawa programme brought about a considerable development in the infrastructure in Kataragama, little has been done by other politicians who flock there in their numbers to invoke blessings. What must attract their attention is not the election in question but the crying needs of the people who live there and the devotees who have to undergo hardships.
It behoves politicians and the moneybags to render unto God Skanda what is Gods and to attend to mundane matters such as the aforesaid. And we say to these politicians: For Gods sake leave the Kataragama Devale alone.
© 2001 Upali Publications