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Sunday, 10 May 2015

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New frontiers of dansal fare:

Wi-fi, cinema, petrol and reload

If Vesak is about spirituality, beautifully crafted pandals and artful lanterns, it is also about dansalas, of food and drinks offered at pavements and street corners to weary sightseers looking for sustenance for the body after a surfeit of visual and celestial gratification.

Vesak dansalas are about showcasing Dana Paramita - (perfection of generosity), the first of the ten Paramitas (Perfections or Transcendental Virtues) which every Bodhisatta (Buddha aspirant), has to practice to gain Supreme Enlightenment (Samma Sambodhi).

For the curious, the other paramitas are Sila (morality), Nekkhama (renunciation), Panna (wisdom), Viriya (energy), Khanti (patience), Succa (truthfulness), Aditthana (determination), Metta (loving-kindness) and Upekkha (equanimity). These virtues are cultivated with compassion, guided by reason, uninfluenced by selfish motives, unsullied by misbelief and all feelings of self-conceit.

The traditional dansalas have always been about food and drinks - translating generosity to feeding the hungry and quenching the thirst of the weary. Dansala offerings have encompassed a varied range of food and beverages from the known and familiar to experimental and the herbal - fried rice ghee rice, boiled manioc, Marie biscuit, milk coffee, soft drinks, ice cream, beli mal, kottamalli.... But it has always been food and drinks - the tried, the tested and the familiar.

These are generally organized by individuals and groups such as youth clubs, sports clubs, and three-wheeler driver associations of the area with the help of the inhabitants. On a grander scale, dansals are also organised by private companies, government departments, ministries and at times even media institutions.

Wi-Fi

Interestingly however, the tried and tested had made way this Vesak for the novel and unusual incorporation technological advancements, inedible essentials and service to the smorgasbord of dansal fare, give Vesak 2015 a 21st century flare.

The concept may have been unfamiliar, but a walkabout around Colombo through some of the favourite must-visit sights including Town Hall, Chaithya Road, Bauddhaloka Mawatha and Gangarama Vesak zones, showed that the atypical dansala, though a surprise to many still managed to draw the crowds with the neoteric offerings.

Topping the list and proving to be very popular was the 'Wi- Fi Dansala' run by Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd. (ANCL). The hordes who flocked to the Lake House 'Amadahara Vesak Zone', which also showcased digital wonder, couldn't be but awed by the novelty of a Wi-Fi generosity.

According to General Manager, ANCL Newspapers Abhaya Amaradasa, the main purpose of the novelty dansala was to give the public a good exposure to modern technology and make a difference to the traditional way of celebrating Vesak.

The 'Wi-Fi Dansala', which blended in beautifully with the digital pandal in the 'Amadahara Vesak Zone was a brainchild of the Lake House Management, and was facilitated by the Information and Communication Technology Agency Sri Lanka (ICTA). This was the Wi-Fi dansala in Sri Lanka.

Cinema

Another uniquely unusual generosity that proved to be a major attraction was the 'Cinema Dansala' organized by the Light of Asia Foundation in association with the Embassy of Pakistan.

It was a parallel event to the International Buddhist Festival 2015, and had several giant movie screens set up around the BMICH premises giving the public an opportunity to enjoy some classic Buddhist movies absolutely free. A 3D animated movie titled 'The Monkey Hunter', and a documentary on Anagarika Dharmapala, also proved to be a great draw.

According to Honorary Chairman, Light of Asia Foundation, Navin Gooneratne, this is the 7th year the organization had held the Buddhist Festival.

They plan to make it a grand event next year, even go global and invite Hollywood stars, who had become good Buddhists. One of the most popular Hollywood celebrities in this connection is Richard Gere.

The main purpose of the project is to build a bridge of compassion among all people, and highlight the true meaning of Buddhism.

Political Counselor to the High Commission of Pakistan Hasan Zaigham, said they had set up a stall featuring booklets and pictures based on the Buddha and His Buddhist teachings. He said the purpose of hosting the 'cinema dansala'' was to share whatever they have, including the literature with the general public.

He also said the High Commission plans to take some Buddhist monks to Pakistan, which will help expand bilateral relationships between the two friendly countries.

Petrol

Away from the digital and celluloid draw, there was also a 'Petrol Dansala' in Kotikawatte organized by Shenaz Senarath and his own company Destiny DJs. According to him the dansala was a joint project by Destiny Djs and Stunt Mania, who handle all sports activities and have a special Honda outlet in Kotikawatte.

Wanting to do something novel and unusual good deed this Vesak, they had decided to hand out free petrol, but only for bikes. Popular pop artiste, Iraj Weerarathne was among the special invitees for the opening of the 'Petrol Dansala'. Requests for Donations were made through Facebook, and Senarath said it was the first time in Sri Lanka's history that such a 'Dansala' was organized.

Reload

There was no political involvement, but just friendship and Team work, he said, adding that for the Poson season too, they were planning to have a similar dansala in Anuradhapura, the nitty gritties of which are still to be finalized.

There were several other unique dansalas across the country. Columnist Mithra Sri Karunanayake in his popular Sunday column Samaja Gaveshana wrote there had also been a 'Phone Reload Dansal' which gave free reloads to everyone and media in the past have reported on a dansala giving free haircuts.

So in this time of change and innovation, don't be surprised if the dansal concept changes and evolves in the coming years, embracing the technological developments that make life both comfortable and confusing.

And who knows, next Vesak we might even see 3D pandals and electronic giveaways.

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