Chanting monks mourn Sri Lanka?s tsunami dead

Daily Times (Pakistan), March 28, 2005

PERALIYA, Sri Lanka -- Hundreds of mourners prayed until dawn on Sunday beside an unmarked mass grave in southern Sri Lanka, chanting Buddhist mantras to honour the dead three months after they were swept away by a killer tsunami.

As night fell in the coastal village of Peraliya on Saturday, small clay lamps and red and yellow lanterns flickered as monks in saffron robes chanted the centuries-old prayers.

Not far from the mass grave, hundreds of lamps were placed on either side of a newly rebuilt railway line where the giant waves washed a train off the tracks, killing over 1,000 passengers and hundreds of others who lived nearby.

The glow lit up three crushed carriages, which now sit on a parallel track ? now a shrine for grieving relatives and friends and a symbol of the tsunami for passing tourists. ?I wish that nothing like the tsunami will ever happen anywhere in the world again,? said Kumudu Manoja, a 25-year old nurse, as she lit one of the lamps.

A sea breeze made the seemingly simple task of lighting a small lamp difficult and frustrating for the mourners.

?My cousin?s wife and her two children died in the tsunami, so I am lighting this oil lamp in their memory,? said 35-year old housewife Chandanee Welihena.

Some wept as they remembered loved ones among the around 40,000 Sri Lankans who were swept to their deaths by December?s tsunami. Others held back tears, simply staring at the gentle roll of the surf in silent prayer. Across Asia, about 290,000 people are dead or missing after the tsunami.

?The third month remembrance is an important Buddhist custom as the religious service, even the lighting of a small oil lamp, can help ease the pain of those who suffered the loss of someone near and dear,? said Venerable Weliulle Damitha, one of 50 chanting monks.

The monks and mourners ? many of whom had travelled from the capital Colombo ? vastly outnumbered local tsunami survivors.

Rumours of another tsunami: Hundreds of panic-stricken locals abandoned their tents and makeshift shelters in the run-up to Saturday?s three month anniversary and fled inland amid rumours of another impending tsunami.

Thuran Manjula, a 33-year-old craftsman who makes traditional wooden devil masks, was one of a few survivors to stay put.

Living in a tent near the site of the train wreck with six members of his extended family, he is striving to get back on his feet.

?I lost everything I ever owned. My house, my workshop, 100,000 rupees ($1,000) worth of equipment,? he said.

?But everyone in my family survived and I thank god for that.? ?I don?t believe these (tsunami) reports, and besides, what more can happen??

Others remained disconsolate.

?Why should I leave now for a safer place after all what has happened?? asked H Kalupahana, a retired government clerk who lost his eldest son, a university student, in the disaster and decided to stay too.

?I did everything for my son and I don?t want to live anymore now that he?s gone. I can?t commit suicide, so I hope another tsunami will come and take my life as well - life is worthless without my son,? he said. reuters