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Went to Udappuwa last week, over Vesak. Udappuwa is on the north-west coast, near Chilaw. The town is a poster-child for global warming, sitting precariously between a lagoon and the sea. For now it’s a little gem accessible via deeply potted roads and narrow bridges. You drive along one raised road, surrounded by watery marsh and prawn farms. The center of the almost entirely Tamil town is a under-construction Kovil, fitting as we were there for a Hindu festival. It was a Hindu harvest/women/fertility festival, or something of the sort. The gist is that all the young women of the town dance around in circles all night and wade into the sea in the morning. As a young man it seems like a fantastic idea, with deeper significance, of course. Dom has some fantastic photos on ThreeBlindMen.com. I took a few but honestly, I was mainly there to get out of Colombo.
I’d recommend seeing Dom’s stuff for a scope of the affair. At night, near the main Kovil, concentric circles of young women clap and dance around the harvest offerings. They are various grains and stuff which, being a watery town, will be offered to the sea. Hello, and thanks for all the fish, so to speak. They are lovely girls, smiling and free. They have matching saris in groups of four or five, representing some connection I presume. The inner circle is filled with young boys, asking incessantly but politely to have their photos taken. I am especially non-photographic the first night and I just let them have my camera and take whatever photos they please. They don’t turn out very well.
one of my own, the bright light coming from some film cameras
I thought the town was especially young, but it turns out that all the young men are around the periphery of the dance, in dark furtive corners. If I was them I’d be watching. I wish all the single girls in Colombo would get together and dance in a circle. Apparently the dancing goes on all night by we head back to the house in Mundel.
It is too bloody hot in the electricity-less house or even the verandah so we sit on the sandy driveway. Everyone wants cool drinks, but the only ice we have is frozen in deep yogurt tubs. It is a large quantity of ice, but entirely unusable. After a few warm beers I figure out that we can simply pour booze into the tubs, let it cool and then drink immediately. This works marvelously and to much acclaim. In the interests of quality control, I test everything being cooled and end up having a quite satisfactory sleep in the driveway. Wake up and all the damn photographers have set up tripods to take unflattering pictures.
Drive my poor city car back to Udappuwa, up the unforgiving bridge and through the cratered streets. Down to the beach. The day is hot like fire but next to the water it’s blissfully cool. Stick my feet in the water but it’s not much for swimming. The current is strong and the water looks like it gets deep and vicious pretty quick. Mill about until the procession gets here. Take portraits of the kids that they’ll never see. Try to avoid the Johnny bumming cigarettes. The people are generally very nice, even the kids will ask for stuff, but they don’t nag or grab. Dawn has a pottu and is looks like she’s running for mayor. She’s meeting and greeting like a pro. Somebody offered her a husband with some property but she took a pass.
Then the procession comes up the road, with Mr. Dominic Sansoni in the center as always. Seba and Desh and I are hanging about the edges like teenagers. They’re all dancing around the temple priest in gaily colored saris, on their way to the sea. I try to squeeze through a fence to get a better look but I’m too fat and I get stuck. Dude looks at me and laughs and I give him a sheepish grin.
Finally, the procession makes it to the sea. I go to get a good view but Seba is there first and – him being an 8 foot German – I get numerous photos of his back. There’s a token virgin getting dunked in the sea and everyone else is pouring buckets of water on themselves. I’m soaked and everyone’s soaked and pretty soon everyone’s in the sea. Lots of splashing, words I don’t know, all good. Then, all of a sudden, there’s a women wailing, with a universal urgency. Turn, and there about twenty yards out I can just make out the top of a child’s head, bobbing mercilessly in the waves. The rest of him is underwater. Six or seven local men speed out into the water. I’m far more likely to cause trouble than good so I stay put. Take photos but feel rather bad about it on the whole.
The men grab the kid and loft his head up. Thankfully there’s a lot of help, cause I know it’s nearly impossible to lift deadweight and stay afloat one’s self. They paddle back to shore and ingeniously form a human chain to pull themselves in. The kid looks sputtery but fine, about 7 or 8 years old.
The water part of the festivities kinda ends after that. We get back in the cars, shake the sand out of our shoes, have some dinner and head back to Colombo. Lovely Vesak, in a Hindu sorta way.
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