This past weekend, while most Americans’ eyes were transfixed on the Super Bowl–especially the half-time show, in which a misbehavin’ M.I.A. flipped off the broadcast’s entire viewership, stealing most of the attention from headliner Madonna–there was quite a different kind of show going on at the auditorium of the University of The District of Columbia on Connecticut Avenue. Roughly 1000 Sri Lankans from the DC/MD/VA area gathered here to commemorate the 64th anniversary of independance from the British, the last European colonial power to hold sway on the island, in a program that was both informative and entertaining.
Having not attended one of these celebrations since I was a kid, I was duly impressed at both the organization and the content of the event, whose formal introduction gave way to a more informal showcase of Sri Lankan music and dance, which I would assume is the event’s main attraction. In addition, a short film was screened, which provided an update of the progress of the country since the end of the war in 2009. It was indeed gratifying to see Under Secretary for Asian Affairs, Robert Blake, a man who was highly critical of Sri Lanka during the last phases of the conflict, address the crowd and acknowledge the great strides Sri Lanka has taken since then. Evidence of the healing was apparent in the fact that practically the whole program was conducted in English, Sinhala and Tamil, the three main languages spoken in Sri Lanka. In addition, a muslim and a catholic joined Buddhist and Hindu priests to give the invocation. Children, a living representation of the future, figured prominently in the festivities, and Ambassador Jaliya Wickramasuriya was swarmed with little people when he went onstage to light the ceremonial oil lamp, a Sri Lankan tradition for auspicious occasions. Of course, you cannot have a large gathering of Sri Lankans without food, and Spice Lanka in Derwood, MD provided the Sri Lankan short-eats–veggie patties, fish rolls, and stuffed gothamba roti. All in all, the Sri Lankan embassy in DC produced another great event of which Sri Lankans everywhere can be proud.