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Vesak and the Festival of Light

Vesak and the Festival of Light

COVID-19 has put a stop to many things across the world. People are expected to stay home, follow safety guidelines to ensure they neither contract nor spread the virus to others. This has not only hampered daily lifestyles and livelihoods, but also religious worshipping and gatherings. 

People have been made to re-evaluate, innovate and re-think all that was considered normal before. It is the same with religions. We have perhaps been given an opportunity to re-connect with our beliefs. 

The month of May holds a very special place in the hearts of Buddhists across the world as it commemorates three important milestones in the Buddha’s life. It is said that the birth of Prince Siddhartha, the day in which he gained enlightenment as the Buddha and finally his passing away or ‘Parinibbana’ fell on Vesak – the day of the full moon in the month of May.

The Buddha and Buddhism is often associated with the symbol of light as it signifies the light of wisdom people follow through his teachings. It also signifies hope that one day we too will reach nibbana as an end to all suffering.

With over 2500 years since his passing, light is also used to pay homage to the Buddha. Buddhists light lanterns, oil lamps, construct large structures with electric lights depicting jataka stories (stories of Buddha’s previous lives), have competitions to judge the most beautifully crafted lanterns. Vesak is therefore celebrated in two fold. One as amisa Pooja – meaning paying homage by offering material things to people and prathipaththi pooja meaning homage through the practice. 

Simply speaking, people take time to study and practice the dhamma – the teachings of the Buddha, to reach the light of wisdom during the day and then pay homage by lighting lamps and lanterns in the evening. The entirety of the country is then lighted, drawing crowds across towns and villages to view the beautiful lights in the cities, a activity known popularly as ‘vesak blanna’ (to see Vesak). So much so, that there is even a popular song called, ‘yaman bando vesak blanna’ (Come on Banda, let’s go see Vesak). It is safe to say that Vesak is now called a festival of light, which has taken precedence over practicing the teachings of the Buddha. The carnival like atmosphere with vendors selling lanterns, toys, rabbit masks and what not, stalls with free food and drinks are offered, sometimes even forcefully, is a far cry from the dhamma. 

In fact, traditional Vesak lanterns were made at home and had symbolic meanings. The Ata-pattama (an octagon shaped lantern) symbolises the eightfold path. The Nelum kuduwa (lotus shaped lantern) is another symbol of the Buddha. Making these were a family affair with parents, children and grandparents getting involved. All materials were bio degradable. An oil lamp or candle was placed in the middle and hung on a tree. As the wind blows the lantern will then catch fire and the household will ponder and discuss on the impermanence of life and all material things. In recent years however, lantern making has become a commercialised affair with people buying readymade- lanterns or imported ones. Children no longer know how to make lanterns from scratch and everything is about the end result and not the journey. 

On the other side of this is that people are making a living. With so many unable to earn a wage, selling lanterns would be a way to get out of the financial crisis that they are in. This is true especially during COVID-19. 

Here are some interesting lantern making ideas we spotted this Vesak. 

WHO Sri Lanka.

This one is made using things from the garden.

Home-made lanterns for Vesak

Learn how to make a Vesak lantern using items from your garden with this video from House of Lonali #HealthyAtHome #SriLanka #lka #COVID19 #COVID19SL World Health Organization (WHO) World Health Organization South-East Asia Region – WHO SEARO United Nations Sri Lanka

Posted by WHO Sri Lanka on Monday, May 4, 2020

This too is from WHO Sri Lanka featuring a House of Lohani design. This is an easy way to make these with things at home. 

Thank you for staying home this Vesak to keep you, your loved ones, and your community safe! We hope this video from @HouseofLonali on how to make a homemade lantern helps you stay #HealthyAtHome #SriLanka #lka #COVID19 #COVID19SL

Posted by WHO Sri Lanka on Thursday, May 7, 2020

The following lantern is also simple and easy to make at home with your younger children 

If you can find these things why not make your own atapattam lantern. Follow a step by step tutorial here. 

If you do have the PickMe app and would like to help out people trying to make a living during COVID19, why not order your Vesak lanterns through them. This is an initiative they have partnered with We Build Colombo Together. A project well worth supporting. 

We are doing our bit to keep the spirit of Vesak alive during these difficult times. We have partnered with We Build…

Posted by PickMe on Tuesday, May 5, 2020

If all fails nothing is more simple and beautiful than a small clay oil lamp. 

Unlike any other time, we have to reflect upon the choices we have and the decisions we need to take. Now more than ever we need wisdom over rash or easy decision making. 

So irrespective of which religion or ethinicity you belong to, light a lamp or a lantern to give us inspiration, hope and direction during these difficult days. 

This Vesak, let us use our new found wisdom to be kind, to be resourceful and to be innovative. Let the light show us the path to be better humans, to understand impermanence and what is right for all living beings and the planet that lives and breathes with us.

May all beings be happy and peaceful. 

Sinhala and Hindu New Year and children  

Sinhala and Hindu New Year and children 

‘What can we do this avurudu?’

‘Can we visit atthamma and aachchi?’

‘Can we do banis Kaeme tharagaya?’

‘You mean we can’t play avurudu games at all?’

These are the questions that are echoing around our house these days, as children and parents are in lockdown. No matter where you live in the world and what culture you belong to, new year celebrations bring people together, it is a very tactile social occasion that speaks to all our senses. Every household will make a special effort to bring the best food on to the table, wear beautiful new clothes, buy presents, visit each other, laugh and play. It is a time for social engaging where large groups of people spend time with each other. It is the same with the Sinhala and Hindu New Year. 

We would see New Year Games celebrated in a large scale where the whole village is brought to one place. There begins the fun. From running around the village, bicycle races, tug-of-war to the heartiest laugh, scraping coconuts and eating banis (sweet tea buns) there is a game for everybody regardless of age, gender and abilities. 

But with the reality of COVID19 upon us, this is not for us. Meatless Monday SL understands that food security is a massive problem with livelihoods and personal finances threatened as the demand and supply for basic food widens. The mental and physical wellbeing of the masses are at risk. Most of all, would be its impact on children. Children need activity and interaction to ensure the development of their mental, physical and social skills. What about their spiritual needs? Have we addressed them?

Do we shield them from the realities or do we tell them as gently as possible about what is going on? Should this be a learning curve for us all to show them that our choices matter, that we should reassemble our priorities, make them understand that we hold a temporary lease on Earth and we need to comply with nature, be kind to one another and all the other beings in this world? 

But most of all how do we work around this situation? 

No matter what are difficulties are, let us gather them together and tell them real stories. Tell them the need to appreciate the simple things in life. Maybe could use this time to learn and embrace empathy, sympathy, rest and self-reflection. 

We might not be able to have the best new year food, clothes and entertainment, but we can tell them that we have each other. Celebrate today as a family and we believe that the new year or avurudu as we say can bring us the hope and much needed mental boost we need. 

No matter what you can put on the table, eat with love and laughter. Then, spend time with each other. Have avurudu games at home and give some fun memories to your children and some live entertainment to your neighbours. Who knows we may come up with some brand new avurudu games – social distancing style!

We don’t have many pics but we hope these will bring a smile to your faces!!!

  1. Paan kamey tharagaya (Bread eating contest)

  1. Lokuma bada (largest tummy)

  1. Gedara watey diveema (running around the house)

  1. Lissana gahey nageema (climbing a grease pole) 

  1. Aliyata as thabeema (The Sri Lankan version of pin the tail)

  1. Kamba adeema  (Tug of war) We had no rope…. So we used our clothes line

  1.  Balum pipiraweema (balloon popping game)

  1. Kotta pora (pillow fight)

  1. Lime and spoon race

  1. Kanaa muttiya 

  1. Loudest laugh –

  1. Scraping coconuts

keep that distance, but all is not lost. Let that indomitable human spirit fly high. Let us give that strength to our children so that they make the right choices that is good for themselves, their community, the environment they live in and to the world. 

Have a safe and blessed new year!!

Celebrating World Vegan Day at Mount Lavinia Hotel

Celebrating World Vegan Day at Mount Lavinia Hotel

The Mount Lavinia Hotel is well known for their incredible vegan buffet on poya days consisting of over a hundred vegan dishes from all over the world, along with their special vegan menu – both firsts in Sri Lanka. Following the tradition of promoting vegan food to Sri Lanka, on 1st November, Mount Lavinia Hotel partnered with Meatless Monday Sri Lanka and Humane Society International to celebrate the Workd Vegan Day. 

In 2018 on World Vegan Day, the Mount Lavinia Hotel introduced a special vegan high tea for the first time in Sri Lanka to celebrate this special day. This year on World Vegan Day, the Mount Lavinia Hotel celebrated one year of success with their vegan high tea in partnership with Meatless Monday Sri Lanka and Humane Society International. The event was highly successful with both vegans and non-vegans turning up at the hotel to enjoy the variety of vegan food available to them at the high tea.

(Winners of the Meatless Monday competition enjoying the vegan high tea with family)

At a special price of 1,100 rupees, the high tea was well worth the price as it consisted of a range of both international and fusion items that were an absolute treat to everyone present. The high tea platter was made up of traditional English scones served with jam and vegan cream, a few Sri Lankan dishes with a twist such as spicy “Lavariya”, traditionally a local sweet and miniature coconut rotis with a delicious filling among others. For desserts, they had a beautiful range of unique fusion sweets that were a treat to the taste-buds. 

(Scones with a Sri Lankan touch to it)

(Spicy Lavariya and other vegan delicacies)

For vegans, it was another opportunity to treat themselves to vegan treats without the hassle of explaining their diet multiple times or having to question the food being served. For the non vegans, it was an opportunity to devour delicious vegan food and open their eyes to everything the vegan world has to offer.

The Vegan Day celebrations continued with a cookery demonstration conducted by Dr. Pablis of Mount Lavinia Hotel which focused on teaching the Meatless Monday team on making vegan Sri Lanka food. 

(Thadsha from Meatless Monday team assisting Dr.Pablis in the food preparation)

(Dr. Pablis demonstrating the food prepared)

International Bio Diversity Day 2019 – Food, Health

International Bio Diversity Day 2019 – Food, Health

Reconciliation or as most of us call it “Sanhidiyawa” has been a hot topic for us in Sri Lanka lately. But not only us, most countries value the idea of reconciliation and are working towards building a safer environment where all ethnic groups and religions are equally respected. But, this is between our own kind, the human kind. We give less thought when it comes to co-existence with other species and nature. We often forget how all things are connected in this ecosystem and how our actions could cause ripples across the whole system.

Today, the 22nd of May is the International Day for Biological Diversity and this year’s theme is “Our Food, Our Health”. Food and Health are pressing issues in the world today as 422 million people suffer from diabetes as of 2014 and 17.9 million people die each year due to cardiovascular diseases according to statistics produced by the World Health Organization. Let’s talk how all of this is connected.

Biodiversity is one of nature’s most precious gifts to the mankind and as such to protect it is also up to the mankind. The air we breath, the water we drink and the food we eat are all dependent and an integral part of biodiversity. Biodiversity is a vital part for our survival and today, it’s in crisis before us.

Our food; how it affects the biodiversity

Among our most destructive actions such as coal power plants, transportation etc., animal agriculture and industrial fishing are the top most causes of climate change and species extinction. As per cowspiracy facts, livestock and their byproducts account for at least 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, or 51% of total worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. It is also one of the biggest reasons for deforestation of rainforests.

How cattle ranchers are chewing up the Amazon rainforest. Courtesy: Greenpeace / Daniel Beltrá

Livestock and livestock feed covers ⅓ of earth’s ice freeland. These destructions to the ecosystem result in rising temperature levels causing the arctics to melt. Cattle manure that is released to the oceans is one of the most significant causes for ocean dead zones. Each year, It is estimated that 335 million tons of manure (measured in dry weight) is produced by livestock in the United States alone  sea water to mix with an enormous quantity of nutrients, such as phosphorus and nitrogen. This process, referred to as eutrophication causes the oxygen levels in the area to drop which is bad news to all living things a body of water.

To make things even worse, the coral reefs around the world are dying due to overfishing and rising temperatures in the sea. Half of the Great Barrier Reef which is home to to more than 1,500 species of fish, 411 types of hard coral, one-third of the world’s soft corals, 134 species of sharks and rays, six of the world’s seven species of threatened marine turtles and, more than 30 species of marine mammals, is already dead.

Great barrier reef in March 2016 and May 2016. Credits: XL Catlin Seaview Survey

Each species in the world is affected by climate change which results in uprising temperatures and sea levels, irregular rainfalls and many of such species  listed as endangered or going extinct. These include bumblebees, whales, Asian elephants, Giraffes, insects, oceanic bird species, sharks, coral reefs, monarch butterflies,great apes, polar bears, pacific walrus, and seals that rely on arctic sea ice.

Our health

Biodiversity plays a vital role in our daily lives although it is not so apparent. Our health relies heavily on the very ecosystem that’s being destroyed by us. Humans need fresh water, food and fuel sources as requisites for its survival. Our actions that cause destructions to the biodiversity or more specifically to its ecosystem services  have significant impacts on our health. The air we breathe are becoming polluted due to high emissions of greenhouse gases and other sources of CO2 to the atmosphere. Cattle manure disposed by animal agriculture, tons of plastic disposals, mercury and other chemicals being released to the seas are eradicating the coral reefs and expanding ocean dead zones. The plastics we dump into the ocean turn into microplastics over time is consumed by the fish and ultimately ends up in our own bodies. Some fish are considered to have high levels of Mercury in them and doctors around the world  pregnant mothers to refrain from eating them minimize the impact on the unborn child. These actions have impacts on all of us in ways we cannot imagine.

Furthermore, in comparison, our meals have now become  less diverse. They contain more animal products and less plants. These meat based products we produce,  by compromising large amounts of crops, water and land is destroying our own health. One such example is the processed meat that is categorized by WHO as a group 1 carcinogen which is within the same category of tobacco, while red meat is categorized as a group 2a carcinogen. But, we are even more than happy to share such products with our children. Animal based food with high amounts of fat content are also the prominent cause behind type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.  

Therefore, it’s now time to re-think if all of this Destroying the rainforests, releasing CO2 to the atmosphere, wasting gallons of water to produce animal feed that goes into producing meat to satisfy the demands of only one part of the population while 815 million people are  suffering from chronic undernourishment, destroying the marine life are all ecosystem disruptive actions. It’s time we find our roots to reconcile with the ecosystem which indules, forests,  deserts, oceans and all types of species.

Promoting Meatless Monday at Regional Level

Promoting Meatless Monday at Regional Level

SLYCAN Trust and Member of Parliament Venerable AthuraliyeRathana partook at a symposium on “Mindful Easting” organised by Humane Society International in collaboration with IOGT VIỆT NAM and GIÁO HỘI PHẬT GIÁO VIỆT NAM held at the Vietnam Buddhist Institute of Hanoi. A few of the key speakers at this event including Ven. Thero were, KhenpoWangchuk of Bhutan, founder of Jangsem Monday in Bhutan Karma Dendup and Humane Society International – Farm Animals Asia Pacific Programme Manager Robert Lucius. The symposium was also an opportunity for KavinduEdiriweera from SLYCAN Trust to present its recently initiated Meatless Monday campaign.

Representing Sri Lanka Ven. AthuraliyeRathana stressed on the wastage of high calorie vegetarian foods that are being used to feed genetically modified breeds that are solely for meat production. He argued that thousands of people could have been fed with the “feed” and that would also contribute towards the reduction of carbon emission by way of reducing the meat supply. Furthermore he stated that people need an attitudinal change. He explained that instilling and promoting sustainable methods of living and toxin-free agriculture concepts would help to create the required outcome of a healthy eco-system. VenRathana also initiated the Bill through a private member Bill in Parliament in 2009.

The symposium was also an important event for SLYCAN Trust as it was instrumental in providing more perspective towards its recently initiated Meatless Monday campaign.

“It was interesting to see how different countries worked on their meatless Monday campaigns and the approaches they were taking. Our campaign is new in Sri Lanka and this symposium would no doubt be beneficial in making it a success in the coming days,” said KavinduEdiriweera from SLYCAN Trust.

The speakers at the event focused primarily on “Buddhism and environmental protection”, the teachings of Lord Buddha and his environmentally friendly lifestyle. They further stated that human beings must first pay gratitude to our key elements, earth, sun and universe and secondly towards everyone in society, ancestors and to the environment around us.


“Animals have no ability to have conscious thought or reason. We are people of higher intelligence. Many Western philosophers have constantly reiterated on how we should not harm animals out of moral obligations and should treat them with as much as we care humans,” said Humane Society International – Farm Animals Asia Pacific Programme Manager Robert Lucius. He went on to say that animals are not different from us it’s only the breed that differs.

The speakers went on to emphasise on the importance of using the modern technology to not destroy the present environment but in its best interest. In addition it was also stressed that there should be no room for error when it comes to the protection of environment. As modern societies we are aware of the adverse effects of deforestation and industrialisation that especially affect this side of the world.

Lucius explained how people have been misled and how they continue to be superficial about the consumption of animal products. The industrial revolution too was cited as an example that was responsible in the transformation of a system that was profit-driven negating other factors related to the industry. These include genetically modified bodies that prevent the natural behaviour of animals and injecting of chemicals prevent catching diseases until they are being slaughtered among many other mal practices.

Meatless Monday Pop-up stall at Saturday Good Market

Meatless Monday Pop-up stall at Saturday Good Market

(Meatless Monday pop-up stall featuring Fit Sugar at the Good Market)

To create a wider outreach and to carry forward the important message of leading sustainable and meatless lifestyles to a substantial audience, the Meatless Monday Sri Lanka campaign hosted a stall at the Saturday Good Market that was held on the 15th of December 2018 at Race Course Grounds, Colombo 07.

The Meatless Monday stall featured two home bakers named ‘Fit Sugar’ and ‘Smokey’s the Brownie Bar’, who are in the business of sustainable production and ethical food sourcing. Fit Sugar produces vegan and gluten-free cakes, cupcakes and other baked products while Smokey’s the Brownie Bar produces vegan chocolate brownies. One of the main aims for hosting the stall was to create awareness of the numerous meatless food options available to consumers even in the form of baked produce which are traditionally associated with dairy and eggs.

The Pop-up stall also consisted of educational and promotional material regarding the Meatless Monday campaign, which included postcards, book marks and leaflets which were used to distribute to the visitors at the Good Market. The representatives of the Meatless Monday Sri Lanka team was able to educate the public on the importance of shifting towards meatless lifestyles in light of many environmental benefits while promoting animal welfare and personal wellbeing.

Every Saturday, the Good Market succeeds in bringing together more than 3000 visitors to the Race Course Grounds, who come in search of organic and health produce from the local vendors that gather from around the country. All throughout the day, the Meatless Monday Pop-up stall was visited by a wide range of interested parties such as school children, college students and families.

(Visitors at the Meatless Monday pop-up stall)