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Sri Lankans observe 'Vesak' festival amid tight security

The Sri Lankan government has restricted the five-day national 'Vesak' festival celebrations to just two days citing the prevailing security situation in the country following the massive Easter Sunday bombings on April 21 which claimed nearly 260 lives and injured 500 others.

Saima Siddiqui

Saima SiddiquiBy Saima Siddiqui

Published on 18 May 2019 11:03 AM GMT

Sri Lankans observe Vesak festival amid tight security
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Sri Lankans observe 'Vesak' festival amid tight security
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Colombo: Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena on Saturday granted an amnesty to 762 convicts to mark 'Vesak', also known as 'Buddha Jayanti', being celebrated by the Buddhist majority nation amid tight security arrangements in the wake of Easter Sunday bombings.

The Sri Lankan government has restricted the five-day national 'Vesak' festival celebrations to just two days citing the prevailing security situation in the country following the massive Easter Sunday bombings on April 21 which claimed nearly 260 lives and injured 500 others.

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'Vesak', the Day of the Full Moon in the month of May, is the most sacred day to millions of Buddhists around the world. It was on the day of 'Vesak' two and a half millennia ago when the Buddha was born, attained enlightenment and in his eightieth year passed away.

President Sirisena released the 762 prisoners, including 26 women, under a Presidential pardon to mark 'Vesak'. The president, however, made no reference to monk Galagodaatte Gnanasara, whose release was demanded by Buddhist leaders.

Gnanasara, who is in jail for contempt of court, was in the forefront of an anti-Muslim minority campaign since 2013. It was speculated that Sirisena may free him marking 'Vesak'.

Those freed were those who had been convicted for minor offenses other than rape, murder and drug offenses.

Special security arrangements have been made by the security forces including the armed forces, Police and Special Task Force (STF) on Vesak Poya day on Saturday, and the next two days for the security of the devotees, the Colombo Page reported.

In addition to the security measures taken by the security forces over the past few weeks to protect the public while arresting the terrorists, a security programme has been implemented to provide security to all the temples and sacred places where devotees gather.

The Buddhist holy festival was hampered by security fears with a marked decline in the numbers of devotees attending temples.

The suicide bombings killed over 250 people and information gathered from those arrested for links with the local Islamist extremist group National Thawheed Jammath (NTJ) pointed to the possibility of more crowded places being targeted.

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Anuradhapura, the sacred city in north central province, the home to the revered Bo tree brought from Bodh Gaya in Bihar, saw less than 5 per cent of the devotees visiting to offer prayers.

The Vesak Day is marked with colourful decorations of flags, lanterns and buntings. The devotees attend temples to observe meditation.

Muslims also joined majority Buddhist community in making Vesak' decorations in Muslim-majority areas. This comes just a few days after anti-Muslim ri'oting in several places.

Amid security fear, the free food offerings on stalls by way side have declined. Upul Rohana, the public health inspectors' spokesman, said there were only 92 approves free food stalls this year, a drop from usual number of around 6,000 around the country.

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(PTI)

Saima Siddiqui

Saima Siddiqui

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