05/11/2009, 00.00

Buddhist feast of Vesak in Sri Lanka, as the war wages on

Melani Manel Perera
Two days of national holidays under the high patronage of the state. For President Rajapaksa Buddhism “prepares the path for a new Sri Lanka”. Buddhist faithful and Christian leaders criticise the celebrations: “they forget the victims and refugees of this war”. UN confirms that confirms that over the weekend 100 children were killed in the no fire zone.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Sri Lanka has come to a stand still to celebrate Vesak, the principal Buddhist Holiday, but the war wages on inflicting a growing number of victims.  On May 8th and 9th, liquor stores, gaming halls and butchers remained closed to observe fasting as required by the feast of Buddha Gôtama’s birth, the enlightenment and passing away.

As wanted by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Vesak is being celebrated under the patronage of the state and has become a national holiday.  Opening two days of celebration the in Colombo, the head of state said that “The Buddhist doctrine paves the way for a new Sri Lanka.”.

All of the main cities in the south of the Island celebrated the feat for he first time in over 30 years, there were celebrations even in the Jaffna Peninsula and Kilinochchi (see photo), in the far north, under Tamil Tiger rebel control until a few months ago.

Anglicans, Catholics and even Buddhists are critical of the emphasis placed by the government on the holiday.  AsiaNews sources, who prefer to remain anonymous, ask “the situation of the thousands of civilians trapped or victims of the war in the North make it impossible to celebrate the real meaning of the feast of Vesak”. For them Buddhism universal message of peace cannot be celebrated by “forgetting the thousands of dead and displaced”.

The Buddhist monks have also come under fire for having “betrayed the teachings of the religion” and of “contributing, together with the politicians, to the disappearance of Buddhist teachings from society”.

But May 8th and 9th was also marked by news of fresh victims in the no fire zone. Gordon Weiss, UN spokesperson in Colombo, confirms that this weekend alone more then 100 children were killed in clashes between the army and LTTE rebel forces.  “Such large scale killings of civilians – said Weiss – shows that the feared bloodbath has become a reality”.


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See also
Suicide bombing in Colombo, now the Buddhists fear attacks during Vesak
Vanni hospital hit: at least nine dead and dozens wounded
Tamil Tigers declare unilateral ceasefire. Colombo says no and continues the war
Sri Lanka sinks into war and economic crisis
Government plans "villages" for the 200,000 refugees of Vanni