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Given the importance of poya days in Sri Lanka, I thought I should bring together poems that deal with the subject of the full moon . They are very different in scope however. Fortunately, for they are long in themselves, I do not need to explain much: the themes are easy to grasp once one realizes the actual subject of the poems. The latter two are emphatically political, but I begin with the whimsy of Nandana Weerasinghe. I include two poems, since they are both short, though both are thought-provoking. The first is translated by Manoj Ariyaratne, the second by A T Dharmapriya.
The Moon-Shadow
What difference does it makeWhether it is a big vessel

Or a small one?

We look at so many different vessels

With clear water and see

Only the reflection of the moon

When full

Full Moon On A Dewdrop

Unwilling to listen

to the cacaphony

of the rolling

angry waves

that leap high up

in pride

into the empty sky

as if they had sucked the moon’s whole light

That silent dewdrop carrying the glory of

the full moon and the joy

of endless moonlight

falls on a cold leaf

and dries up

slowly, secretly


If you do not read the note under the title, you might miss the full impact of S. Pathmanathan’s poem, which he himself has translated. He uses the simple need for water, sketched out in the context of a beautiful description of nature, as a trope for the aspirations the Tamils hoped to achieve with the help of India. The suffering that resulted is forcefully sketched, before he returns to the tranquility of nature.

Thoughts on a full moon day – (Composed on the eve of the departure of the IPKF)

The full moon pours milk

and a hundred thousand thoughts

surge in the sea of my mind

Once before

at a time like this

the gentle breeze lulled the coconut palms

bathed in moonlight

and music wafted on the silent air

the sky spread out like a blue canopy

under which we walked on the wet sand

holding hands as stars drew designs

while from the thatched hut

a song to the throbbing of drums

rended the midnight hours.

The full moon pours milk

but there has been no rain for three months

And as the sun scorches the crops,

and the tops of trees

craning our necks

we look up in vain

Hands are needed to dig

to seek water

and we appealed

some young men responded and came armed

And vowed ‘We won’t rest

till we strike water.’

Neighbors came with crowbars and pickaxes

and others sent them food

Who else could be so lavish, we thought

and decorated our streets with thoranams

we garlanded them and welcomed them

to the sound of drums

Having received these celestial beings

we took them round in motorcades

we were in a trance for over a month

But one day the gods turned into demons

they pestered us who had asked for a homeland

and our homes were destroyed

the transformed gods had to be appeased

with fowls and goats

with ornaments and houses

and wine and women

Not water but tears welled up

the youth were hunted for trying to dig

an unlawful well

and they went everywhere to give credence to

a pack of lies

The demons were incited

to rob and steal and loot

we had sought to worship the crescent

through the murunga tree

but the crescent we saw

was on the fourth day

we cried, we wailed

Then one day the cyclone uprooted the murunga tree

and the demons vanished

the youngsters undaunted

started all over again the blasting of rocks

Some complained

that their sleep was disturbed;

they conferred without asking us

a venture unheard of

We could not permit such nonsense

so the river was blocked

and the well ran dry

Parched crops and scorched groves

broken palms and cracked temples

and the ruined homes

What if the palmyrah is blasted?

This is not the time to moan or mourn.

The full moon pours milk

Let the palmyrah sprout again

and grow erect as impetuous as ever

Never bending its knee

in the face of oppression

Let the throb of the drums

rend the late night air

let the melody of the flute

pour nectar in our ears

At last we can walk, burying our feet

once again in the wet sand

The full moon pours milk

Translated by the author

Note: Hindus consider it auspicious to worship the crescent on the third day after the new moon, but to look at it on the fourth day could bring misfortune.

Finally, Arjuna Parakrama used imagery from Wesak, the time at which the incident occurred, to describe racial violence at the Peradeniya Campus in 1983. The incident seemed inexplicable at the time, but as the note indicates, it later became clear that the inspiration behind the incidents led to more intense trauma later on.

Vesak is here again

Vesak is here, again.

It’s seen in the swagger white-washing half their smirk;

In the sadhu of the sacred song –

the whining serpina faltering a placid tune –

that cuts across the uncluttered canteen chairs

so empty now;

so empty and so smug.

It’s heard in the whispers of the lovers on the lawns at dusk;

seen through the relaxed smile of friends strolling home,

a Good Day’s Work tucked well beneath

their belts

As for you who are

many full-moons wiser than to smile;

much fuss was made about your fine-worn masks,

crafted smooth as silk, with a quiet rhetoric

that masks the ulcers bursting on your tongues.

A trained choir in devotional sibilants to sing

of disregard, of varying grades of fear,

carefully constructed sacrificial edifices to propound,

of excuses searched for well, and gratuitously found;

ethics, morality linking arms

with an avowed wish to sound

as if you wished with all your heart to help,

but for the filigreed distinctions of thought,

and fine legal points, that are, insurmountable

Thus far, this huge creation, Peradeniya, is inviolate and whole,

shaky but intact this proud patch work pandal for Vesak,

allowing every combination, dim or dark,

brighter in someone else’s studied view,

shining out at night, when needed most,

as a comfort

against BRICK.


A few moments’ worth of charged words,

wafting in the Vesak breeze,

like salted tears shad

by a shuttle-cock in pain.

May 1983

Writer’s Note:

Of the first ever eruption of racial violence at the prestigious University of Peradeniya, a student wrote, under the pseudonym Camus – “It is difficult, given its well organised nature, not to view the racial violence that erupted on the campus in May as a planned precursor to the massacres in the rest of the country two months later’ – ‘Peradeniya – Towards Collapse?‘, NLR 2, 1984

Sunday Observer 29 May 2011 – http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2011/05/29/mon08.asp