Over 300 Sri Lankans and friends of Sri Lanka gathered together at Mulgrave Community Hall on Saturday to celebrate a special Harmony Day with delicious food, inspiring speakers, beautiful music and traditional dance. It was a day of colour and movement, a day for making new friendships and celebrating the diversity of a rich shared culture.
Sri Lanka is a small teardrop shaped island in the Indian Ocean that has been through bloody war and trauma for 30 years. Sri Lankans are a very religious people and embrace the four great faiths of Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity.
Since the end of the war in 2009, the guns have been silent. Now the slow emotional work of forgiveness, reconciliation and peace-building is being encouraged. There are grave fears that the embers of war can too easily be fanned anew. And, in the past it was often money from the diaspora overseas that bought the guns and bullets to fight that war.
So how do we build harmony amongst the overseas Sri Lankans who for so long have taken sides in a brutal ethnic war?
For the past four years the Vic/Tas synod’s Uniting Through Faiths project has supported a Sri Lankan Harmony Day. It is a celebration of food and culture, music and dance and, of course, cricket – the bond that unites Sri Lankans. We have also brought in the wonderful energy of the United Sri Lankan Muslim Association(USMAA) as partners in this venture.
These annual celebrations of peace and reconciliation begin with the lighting of the traditional oil lamp. Children from Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist background represent our yearning for a new future by lighting this lamp together.
Harmony Day has given birth to a beautiful multi-faith and multi-ethnic choir – now called ConChord. They sang with great passion last Saturday in English, in Tamil and in Singhalese. The small choir has now grown to over 40 voices and the children’s choir has blossomed as well. We had the joy of hearing “A New Song for Lanka” penned by none other than former commission for mission executive director David Pargeter who was the inspiration for much of this work. It was truly a song of hope and peace and love:
“Colour and creed won’t define us
Together we’ll build a new land
Come; take the hand of a stranger
For justice and truth we will stand”
The evening ended with a thunderstorm and there was some symbolism as we washed away the pain of the past and celebrated the nurturing of new relationships based on respect and hope for a shared future of peace in Sri Lanka.
Many people deserve thanks but let me name just three: our choir master Rushan Hewawasam, organiser extraordinaire Maheshini Perera and USMAA president Riyaz Yoosuf and his team.