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SRI LANKA Nostalgic essays and stories.............Religion is the Heroin of the proles.....

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mass wine and Kukul Muss
Fasting and Feasting
Part two of a nostalgic series of essays and stories on growing up in the grim shadow of the Church...a lot of Vitriol with a dash of humour in this one..
"Nostalgia (n) regretful or wistful memory of an earlier time…" Oxford Dictionary.
The Catholic Church has always been good at both fasting and feasting. The fasting is probably a relic from the Jewish origins of Roman Catholicism (The Sabbath and that sort of thing) with some influence from the Ramadan of the Muslims and is just a token gesture and nothing more. Just like not eating meat ("Muss") on a Friday. I could never understand the connection between Fridays and meat eating, or rather not eating meat. True, Jesus Christ did die on a Friday. So what? We only want to eat animal flesh not indulge in cannibalism!

What about fish? Why is it OK to eat fish? Why only Muss? Why not prohibit the eating of green vegetables that we all used to hate as kids anyway? Pathola for a start!
The very first time I ever ate meat on a Friday as a kid, surreptitiously of course (Pardon me God I did sin!) I did worry a little bit about going to hell. These days I am not too worried about going to hell. Ranji would say that I have already gone there but my consolation is that by the time I go to hell lots of others including members of the clergy would have preceded me!

Feasting is a far more serious business than fasting. The actual feast of our church should have been the Feast of The Holy Cross but this was never a box-office success.
The Blockbuster was of course the Feast of The Immaculate Conception (of Mary: original name Miriam). This feast is usually some time in February and is a sort of a carnival. The whole business was held out of doors with the stage being the Grotto of our Lady of Fatima just outside the church. Pilgrims from all parts of the country would turn up which boosted the income of the church. Vendors would set up stalls and the streets would be decorated. The Archbishop of Colombo would make a dramatic entrance halfway through the proceedings and after several hours of Vespers and bell ringing the statue of Our Lady would be carried in a procession which would provocatively go as far as the Buddhist Chaitya.

Misguided religious philanthropists would foot the bill for a spectacular fireworks display (no doubt in an effort to buy their way into heaven), money that would have been best spent on the poor people of the parish such as Rose Amma. The preparations took several days but the actual proceedings would start around sundown. By this time the place would be heaving and since it was actually held outside the church people felt free to chat and gossip. Young men would take the opportunity to chat up girls.

The proceedings would generally start off with Gramophone records of a religious nature played at high volume over a system of Tannoy type loudspeakers. Prayers and hymns and incense would follow. After the dramatic entrance of the Archbish, things would quickly come to a climax. Fishing boats decorated with multicoloured electric lights would appear in the lagoon. The fireworks would start off. A few rockets and Roman Candles at first but later followed by spectacular star shells.

The statue of Mary would then be carried down the steps (the church was on a hill) and placed on the top of a vehicle decked in flowers and electric lights (The power was provided by a rather noisy generator on a following pushcart.) Three altar boys carrying a cross and two candlesticks of a very heavy guage would head the procession. It must have been like that in the Crusades 'till the Turks started attacking!

The girls from the convent boarding school and the nuns would follow the altar boys. Next came the hoi polloi. All carried candles and sang hymns. The local majority Buddhist populace would line the streets to politely watch this spectacle. There was no TV those days.
The "Holier-Than-Thou" crowd and the self-appointed-custodians-of-Mary took the rear end and as close as possible to the vehicle carrying the statue of OL in yet another silly effort to get to heaven by the back door. Priests and the Archbish were however conspicuous by their absence. The misguided faithful would wend their way along the street and turn back around the clock tower near the famous Salgado Hotel to make their way back to the church.

Tired but happy altar boys would return to the sacristy to hand over the weapons (i.e. the cross and the candlesticks) after the Crusades and would hear the laughter and sounds of merriment from the "Mission House". The Archbish and assorted priests would be wining and dining. They always dined on chicken (Kukul Muss) a luxury in those days.
I have this information from the highest authority: That of the then Sacristan a Tamil guy called Xavier.
The proles sang their praises to Miriam and carried her statue along the streets whilst the clergy gorged themselves on chicken carcasses!
Poor old Rose Amma! She could have done with a bit of chicken!
mass wine and Kukul Muss
"Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. IT IS THE OPIUM OF THE PEOPLE." Karl Marx. 1844

"Whisky is cheaper than opium, safer than both religion and opium and is far more fun." Gyan Fernando. 2001
© Gyan Fernando 2001. First written on the 14th of May 2001

Chandrika and I | Erik Solheim & I | My Part in the Census | Census Again! | Not Cricket! | I Crossed The Line | My Part in my Funeral | The Gamarala and the Temple | Gamarala and the Puhul | Two men and the bear | Incense and Candlewax | My Father & The Devil

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