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Joseph Vaz the Apostle of Sri Lanka

APOSTLE: Blessed Joseph Vaz is the Apostle of Sri Lanka. He was proclaiming the Good News in this soil centuries ago and historical evidence is there to prove that he travelled through the remote villages in the district of Kurunegala. On his way preaching the Word of God, Fr. Vaz is said to have rested for a while at the forests area in Galgamuwa.

The river flowing down the country side and the huge trees gave him shelter. Under one of those trees he rested and the tree that he rested is yet to be seen at Galgamuwa where a beautiful Church dedicated to the Apostle of Sri Lanka is built.

Here is the Church, the statue of the Blessed Joseph Vaz along with Saint Francis Xavior who is also claimed to have come to Sri Lanka during one of his visits to India and the Asian continent.

by E. Weerapperuma

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Spontaneous expressions of Psalms

PSALMS: The meaning of the word "psalm" according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is a sacred song or poem. In French it is called "psoume", in Greek "psalmos". The singing of psalms in worship is termed "psalmody" and it is interesting to note that "psalm" also signifies the twanging of a harp.

The psalm were composed originally in the Hebrew language by different authors over a period of time. (quote, Good News Bible)

David the shepherd boy, later to be a king played on his harp and sang his own compositions but there are others such as the patriarch, Moses, Solomon a wise king, Asoph, the sons of Korah namely Heman and Ethan and a few Ezrahites.

The psalms were really collected and used by the Israelites when they worshipped the Lord. There are 150 of them, each with their own themes gathered in the Bible. Certain psalms convey emotional experiences of pleasure, exuberance, rejoicing, appealing and repetitive praises to glorify the Almighty God.

God's universal glory and greatness are portrayed in many psalms. For example Ps 8 says, "When I look at the sky which you have made, at the moon and the stars you set in their places..."

The loveliness of the world is also attributed to the Creator. Picturesque phrases such as "a fruitful watery dale where springs and showers abound", "the great sea-billows; heights of hills and depths of valleys, green grass, fields of flowers and quiet pools". "He spread to starry lights on high, the rain, snow and sunshine" and even "Jerusalem with its hills" are all characterised by beauty.

The term "Zion" comes often into these texts. It was initially the Jebusite stronghold captured by King David's forces. It also refers to the hill on which the Temple stood.

Other terms like the "Covenant Box" and "Shiloh are in Ps. 78 Shiloh was the central place of warship for the Israelites before the time of King David and the Covenant Box represented the majestic throne of the Lord Almighty. (quote - good News Bible) Certain psalms were for protection from the Lord God, Ps 7 is a Shiggaion from David when he had an enemy in Cush, a Benjomite. Ps. 16 is a Miktam of David's when he acknowledge his trust for deliverance".

The poignancy of words in Ps. 22 captured by David is according to the "Hind of the Dawn". These lines indicate the future passion of Jesus Christ at his crucifixion. When David gained victory over Saul, he wrote, "I will tell of all the wonderful things you have done". In Ps 60, he implored of the Lord when he fought against the philistines in Salt Valley. When he was in the desert of Judea he made a loud outcry, 'you are my God. I am thirsty in this water-less land.' (Ps 63)

Ps 78 reminds god's people of the mighty miracle in the plain of Zoan when the Almighty divided the sea, lead them by a cloud at night. He split rocks open in the desert and water gushed out. He gave them manna from heaven and quails to satisfy their hunger."

Ps.45 is a royal wedding song in which Mahalath extols the king's bride. The perfume of myrrh and aloes is on your clothes, your gown is of gold thread, your beauty will make the king desire you!" Alamoth composed a song (Ps. 46) in which he exclaims, "God is my refuge and strength." Ps. 70 is Asaph's memorial offering to the Lord for those who died when Jerusalem was invaded. David's thank offerings are in Ps 100 & 102 when he was cured of an affliction.

There are celebration psalms in which the creator is praised as one who resides on "the waters above the celestial dome. People sang cheerfully about their Creator who made the "birds and goats, trees, the alive oil and bread".

They rejoiced about "Joseph sold as a slave but the Egyptian king made him ruler over all the land". They celebrated over "prisoners suffering in chains", people "healed of diseases" and the believers "who sailed over the ocean in ships brought back safe to port". The final psalm (150) is dedicated entirely to God with celebratory praises.

The psalms were composed, some only for string - instruments, some for the trumpets and others for the flute "according to the Sheminith". Certain psalms were to be sung by those who had high-pitched voices.

These Biblical compositions have a kaleidoscopic variety of poetic pattern, nuances of pathos, aesthetic sensitivity and overlapping events which blend and merge into the 'Book of Psalms'.

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Brotherhood in Islam

FRATERNITY: The fraternity of brotherhood is an integral part of Islam. It is very appropriate to ponder and think of the Islamic brotherhood that unites us together. Almighty Allah in his infinite Mercy has informed in the Quran that.

"Verily the muslims are a Brotherhood, hence co-ordinate amongst you in this brotherhood". Not only Allah has established this brotherhood but also shows the way to strengthen and coordinate this relationship. The best way to obtain optimum results of this brotherhood is to conjure and conduct goodness and virtue among all and Sunday. How best we can do it? It is our thought in this hour.

It is imperative therefore to develop cordial relationship amongst us and to be helpful, useful and productive to the Muslim Ummath. If a brother does us a good, we must do a better help to him. If he does harm we must forgive and forget. If a brother or sister is sick, we must visit them and pray for their recovery. If in difficulty we must endeavour to help in the best possible way.

If a brother or sister of Islam passes away we must follow the Janaza and participate in prayer in order to shower merits of multitude on the departed soul. These are the righteous right of Islamic Brotherhood.

As Prophet (sal) said.

"A Muslim towards another muslim is like a building structure and they are a single unit. If any part of that structure is damaged the entire building will collapse".

Are we following this traditions of our Prophet (sal)? Do we treat all muslims alike? I am placing my hand on my heart and asking these questions to myself. Are we sincere in what we do? Do we go in search of the people and help them? Do we identify children who need help and guidance in Education? Do we look for orphans and the needy to cater for them? Have we ever ventured to find out the need of the silent families who want care and assistance? While fasting in the month of Ramazan, have we ever thought of the people who have no food and means to perform this duty?

I remember the incident of Hazarath Fathima (Rali) the beloved daughter of Prophet Muhammed (sal) which is mentioned in the Quran. Where in Hazarath Ali, Fathima and her family (Rali) on an optional Niyyath fast had Magnanimously given as charity to a beggar an orphan and prisoner all the provision they had for three consecutive days and fasted only with water.

Allah commends this charity in the Quran. And yet have we tried this in our life? Nay-no we have never done any meritorious acts like this. Why? Because we are too selfish and too greedy for this world.

I recall this incident of the battle in which a brother Sahabi was down to death and was in need of water when it was given to him he heard another voice calling for water he indicated to take water to the second Sahabi when it was given to him he also heard the sound of calling for water. He bade the water to be taken to the Third Sahabi, who was dead at that time and it was brought back to second he too was dead. And at last when the water was taken to the first Sahabi he too had passed away.

Even during the time of death the Sahabees preferred to help the other brother whose need was more. As thus sacrificed their lives for Brotherhood. This is the Crux of Islamic brotherhood we shall imitate these qualities in our lives. We recall the statement of the Prophet that every Muslim is a brother to each other.

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Aani Pongal

FESTIVAL: Pongal in Tamil means 'to overflow'. Pongal is a festival celebrated in Tamil Nadu on the first day of the Tamil month of Thai. During this period of the year the earth is positioned in its orbit around the Sun in such a manner that the South Pole is leaning towards the Sun and the places north of the equator have long days.

In a more non scientific parlance, on the first day of Thai the Sun proceeds from the south of equator to the northern hemisphere, from the Dakshinaayanam (the southern direction) to the Uttaraayanam (the northern direction), over the land of the Bharathas located in the Jambu dweepam. Indian belief system is built on the paradigm of the good and the bad.

Light/darkness, day/ night, waxing/waning around which the day-to-day life is marked, are all metaphors of the good and the bad. The monthly and yearly calendars too follow this prototype.

Every month is divided into two fifteen-day periods of 30 days, each of the fifteen days go by the waxing and the waning of the moon called the Valar pirai and the Thai pirai. Valar pirai is the waxing time of the moon from Ammavaasai (the new moon) to Paurnami (the full moon); the Thei pirai is the waning period of the moon from the Paurnami to Ammavaasai.

The Valar pirai, the waxing period is also called the Shukla patcham ('shuklam' means bright) and is deemed as auspicious, while the Thei pirai, the fifteen day waning period of the moon called the Krishna patcham ( 'Krishna' means dark), is not highly favoured.

Like the monthly calendar, the yearly calendar too is divided into two periods - the Uttaraayanam and the Dakshinaayanam. During the six months beginning from Thai (mid January to mid February) to Aani ( mid June to mid July) the Sun proceeds north of equator, while from the months Aadi to Marghazhi the Sun proceeds to the Southern hemisphere.

The first six months after the winter solstice from the Uttarayanam, during this period the days get longer; this period of bright sunshine and long days is considered as auspicious, and is sanctioned for temporal preoccupations; it is the period of celebration.

Thai indicates the commencement of this period. The first day of the Thai month is celebrated as Pongal. Aani indicates the commencement of Dakshinaayanam. Pongal is celebrated during the month of Aani too, in many Hindu houses and temples.

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Taqwa in Islam

RELIGIOUS PIETY: Islam is a religion meant for spiritualisation of temporal life. The world is a necessary place for humans to practice Islamic teachings; Taqwa (piety) is the foundation of Islamic way of life.

If this foundation is not properly laid in the life of a muslim, the edifice of Islamic life will not be strong and viable. It may crumble at any moment. Hence, 'Taqwa' (religious piety) is an essential basis of Islam.

The comprehensive meaning of the Arabic term, 'Taqwa' - comprises fear of Allah (God), God-consciousness, piety, protection against evil, righteousness, duty to Allah, abstinence, self-restraint or guarding one's tongue, hands and heart from evil, leading to good conduct observance of the divine ordinance in every walk of life, love of Allah, preserving or guarding oneself from sins of omission and commission.

Some of these meanings are interchangeable in English. For example, the following Quranic verses contain the terms used with meanings that are interchangeable 'O Mankind! worship your Lord (Allah) who created you and those who were before you so that you may become Al-Muthakun (the Pious -) 2:21.

"........ And take a provision (with you) for the journey, but the best provision is Al-Taqwa (piety, righteousness). So fear me. O men of understanding. (2:197) "While as for those who accept guidance. He increases their guidance and bestows on them their piety. (47:17)

Taqwa is derived from 'Waqa' meaning to protect oneself from God's punishment by doing only that which pleases Him. It is piety in practice.

Taqwa is the culmination of a process of spiritual cleansing which instils a concept of God-consciousness in the individual with a view to acquiring divine attributes. When a person gains Taqwa - he does everything that satisfies Almighty Allah.

How can we attain the Love of Allah? We should seek his assistance in Loving Him daily five times in our prayers and be very careful of living and doing whatever we do between prayer times as if He is closely watching us. In this connection, Allah says in the Quran as follows: "...... And He is with you (by his knowledge) where so ever you may be. And Allah is the All-seer of what you do." (57:4)

Verily, you are under our eyes and glorify the praises of your Lord when you get up from sleep." (52:48)

It must be remembered that all our actions are for Allah's pleasure only. Therefore, a Muttaqi (Pious man) should be always on the alert not to displease Allah, which can be done by mentalling stepping aside from whatever he is doing and pausing for one moment to remind himself that Allah is continuously watching his actions.

Besides, taqwa is a result of sincere devotion to Allah and selfless service to mankind. The 'Mumin' (believer) is one who has already gained Taqwa and is God-conscious. He exhibits excellent morals and behaviour and proves himself to be an asset to the muslim Ummah (Muslim nation).

It may be said that through a Mumin - the seed of Allah's attributes can germinate in other people's minds and take a firm root.

In fact, the Mumin should willingly make sacrifices which are not too hard for him, since he has been used to cultivating that sacrificial personality all along, during the month of Ramazan (fasting month).

Therefore, every Muslim who performs the obligatory and optional prayers - and who practises other Islamic manners and actions should mix the essential characteristic of 'Taqwa' with the other 'Ibadath'- (righteous deeds) in order to make these Ibadath acceptable with Allah. A pious Muslim only can gain Allah's favour and enter paradise at last.

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The Hindu Festivals of India

Continued from June 13

Hindu Festivals: This Sri Lankan tradition of swings during Sinhala - Hindu New Year is a migrant from India, as the Sinhala New Year is totally a Hindu tradition, absorbed by Sinhala Buddhists with local Buddhist tradition built into it.

There is also a festival during this season called Raksha Bandhan, wherein a girl gifts a bracelet to young man and in case he accepts it he becomes the adopted brother pledged to help her in all times of stress and war. This was the origin of the festival. Today in the Indian scenario it is just a ritual, it is a festival of charity now though.

In the wake of this festival comes Janmashtami the birth day of Lord Krishna, the most beloved of the gods. He was born in a prison at midnight. The astrologers told the king, a boy born on that particular day or at another time would destroy him.

The king then ordered all the male babies be put to the sword. But Vasudeva, the king's father managed to take the child out of the prison, when the guards had fallen asleep and had this child exchanged with a cowherd's daughter. Krishna is regarded a child of mischief and his battle with Arjuna is one of the most daring.

In fact in Uttar Pradesh, where Vidhudhabha, son of King Pasenadi of Kosala born of slave girl, being refused by the Sakyans of Kapilavastu (Tilaurakot, Nepal not Piprahawa of Uttar Pradesh India, which is only the park of the merchant Nigrodha, where Buddha on his visit to his father stayed for some time and to which place his stepmother Prajapathi Gotami came and pleaded to be ordained as a bhikkhuni, and where Sakyans of Kapilvastu raised a stupa enshrining their share of the Sacred Relics they got after the cremation at Kusinara) the chair Vidhudhaba sat on washed by the courtiers with milk to be seen by him, Vidhudhabha in order to avenge the insult massacred the Sakyans totally.

On his return his cavalry was stuck in the soft stony path and destroyed by a sudden flood,. This spot had an nameboard raised by the Archaeological Survey of India as the site of Krishna - Arjuna battle, which incorrect identification being shown by this writer in writing, this incorrect interpretation has been withdrawn.

Ganesh is the god of wisdom and granter of boons. In a fit of anger God Siva cut off his head. Ganesh then the only thing that was available to him, an elephant head, had it fixed on his neck. The female of Ganesh is Shakthi (Perennial Energy) in central India.

Her other incarnation is Durga, the militant. Her festival begins with the new planting season. From one godhead millions of incarnations of gods emerge. Durga goddess was requested by the gods to destroy demons and created 1000 forms of her like Kali, Bhadra Kali, Chanda and Munda, and many Matrikas. Chanda and Munda tormented Durga and she withdrew this incarnation.

The festival of Rama Lila celebrated in Varanasi, (Benares) the legend Ramayana authored by Valmiki. In this festival young people brandishing poles run between the two townships of villages of Lanka (still carrying the same name) the kingdom of evil Ravana and Ramgram the kingdom of Rama. Ravana abducts Sita the wife of Rama.

She is rescued by Rama with the help of the monkey army led by monkey leader Hanuman. This rescue is enacted annually and at the close of the ceremony, effigies of Ravana even over 50 ft in height are set up on the banks of the Ganges river, where this war had taken place and burnt.

Every household also set up effigies of Ravana, and tourched to symbolize the victory of good over evil. In Uttar Pradesh, Saheth-Maheth (Sravasti) the presiding god is Hanuman, His idols quite large are found raised at several points besides the trunk road too.

The most colourful, with the entire sky glittering signals the dawn of Diwali, This festival is dedicated to goddess Lakshmi, goddess of prosperity. Earlier this festival of lights was one that was celebrated in the 6th century B.C to honour Niganthantaputta/ Mahavira the 24th Thirankaras of Jainism who passed away at Pava at the age of 72, in Vaishali, and later absorbed by Hindus.

In Tamil Nadu the festival is Pongal, in Assam, the festival is Bihu and in Kerala the festival is Onam. this writer had the privilege of participating in all these festivals as he is engaged in annual tours to India to research on Indian arts and crafts and heritage of India.

Incidentally there is a village in Mahaoya (Ampara district) named Holike. Could this be that the tribes that lived in this holike village were Hindus and celebrated the festival of Holi? This needs to be researched by Sri Lankan historians. In Ampara at Rajagala, at Rassagala Vihara there are inscriptions of the 2nd century B.C. referring to the statues of Arhant Mahinda and his other bhikkhus and also of a stupa enshrining the relics of Arhant Mahinda.

Further in Mahaoya there are villages named Bedirakka, Galude, Pollebedda, Gandevatalwa etc., and it is a pity that no history undergraduate or post - graduate visit this areas and do a research. In India, undergraduates help us now to trace the roads Buddha walked nearly 72,000 miles during his 45 year mission. Dr. R.L. Spittel studied Veddhas' lives in Mahaoya.

 

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