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Sri Lanka's Shared Goddess

on 2014/3/4 4:25:59 ( 1848 reads )


SRI LANKA, March 1, 2014 (Economist): The end of their bitter war, nearly five years ago, has done little to unite Sri Lanka's divided communities. In their modest way, a photographer and an anthropologist are working together to try bridging the distance that separates the country's two largest ethnic groups--by showing them how they worship the same Goddess.

The majority, Sinhala-speaking Buddhists, call Her Pattini while the minority Tamil Hindus name Her Kannaki. For the most part, neither of the two communities knows that the other reveres Her under a different name. But their beliefs are deeply syncretic, and point towards a shared history and traditions.

Sharni Jayawardena, the photographer, and Malathi de Alwis, the anthropologist, are using this shared background in an attempt to foster reconciliation. For more than two years they traversed the country photographing the worship of the Goddess; Her many temples, rituals and processions.

The result is a captivating collection of images that not only displays the similarities between the religious practices of the Sinhalese and the Tamils, but the many variations within their communities. Their work was shown over two days in the cosmopolitan capital, Colombo. The exhibition is still to be staged in Jaffna and in Batticaloa. The creators hope it goes at least a small way towards breaking down the walls of estrangement that were built up over decades of strife.

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