After a scrumptious breakfast the group was then taken to the picturesque “Paravidevi Dupatha” (Pigeon Island) via a bridge that had to be walked on foot. The group from the North was warmly welcomed by the Head Priest of the Temple. Much to the surprise of the members from the Northern DIRCs, the Deputy Inspector General of the Southern Province was present to welcome the gathering along with high ranking government officials. This I felt was one of the highest marks of respect that could have been offered to a visiting delegation into Matara. After a charismatic speech from the DIG who emphasized the importance of unity and a home grown solution to the ethnic conflict, the group observed Buddhist “pirith.” It was a truly remarkable spectacle to see Moulavis, Buddhist Monks and a Nun being present in an environment where Buddhist rituals were being practiced. Most of the members from the North expressed their sincere joy at being able to visit a Buddhist place of worship since they never had before.
After climbing down the steep slope that led to the temple, the group walked on foot to the nearby “Our Lady of Matara” Church. The Head Priest at the Church enthralled the gathering with some fascinating stories, out of which the most notable one being of the famous statue of the deity of “The Lady of Matara” being washed away into Sea during the tsunami and several days later it being washed back ashore. He also spoke vividly about the tragic events that took place on the 26th of December 2004, when the South Asian Tsunami swept away scores of worshippers in front of his own eyes, during his morning sermon.
The group then were taken to witness the infamous Dutch fort in Matara, constructed in the shape of a star and surrounded by a particularly impressive moat which is now home to a number of fish and amphibians. The inside the Fort, which had been turned into a museum, offered a variety of information on Matara, even the remains of a two thousand five hundred year old human being. After a quick look around the sturdy buildings, the group boarded the bus once again to return to the Sarvodya Center. Surprisingly enough the DIG we had met before arranged for us a police escort. While some of the members perceived this as being pre-emptive action to thwart a potential attack on the group, it was meant to symbolize the highest levels of respect being rendered to the group visiting from the North. I was told only VIPs received this kind of treatment.
After lunch, the Matara DIRC had their welcoming ceremony for the group from the North.
This particular ceremony was extremely well attended, with the Executive Director of the National Peace Council, Dr. Jehan Perera being in attendance as well. Upon its conclusion, the moderator informed the group that they would have to choose two options, either between going to the Martin Wickramasinghe museum or a sea bath at the “Polhena Beach”. While there were initially a few murmurs of agreement to the option of attending the museum, a notable personality remarked that it would be better if we could do both. To this unsurprisingly, there was a strong applause.
With much excitement, the group took off to the beach. After warnings of not to stray too far into the sea, the participants dived into the water. There were even a few who turned a deaf ear to the warnings and decided to swim several hundred meters into the ocean. After days of travelling and speeches that provoked one to think about the dynamics surrounding the conflict, the participants seemed to use this opportunity to let off some steam. Having told that an extremely impressive cultural ceremony had been organized on their behalf, the participants reluctantly emerged from the water. The term “impressive” to describe the cultural ceremony that took place would have been quite an understatement. The ceremony consisted of a variety of different Sri Lankan dances. These weren’t your typical ubiquitous “Natum Bera Karayos” that graced Colombo 7 functions but rather I was told they were “Low Country Traditional Sinhalese Dancers.” In between the dances, several notable politicians and the DIG (despite their being an incident between the police and a group of protestors) who had earlier been at Pigeon Island, made a repeat appearance to convey their appreciation of the visit by these members from the North. Even Sanath Jayasiruya’s brother was present in his absence.
The event was made more memorable for the participants, with a sumptuous dinner which consisted of fine Southern Sri Lankan dishes like “Ambul Thiyal.” Day 4 marked the end of the visit to the south by the Northern DIRC’s and the teams set out to their last resting place before setting off to Jaffna via Kurunegala.