Shrines in post-war north swamped by visitors

Shrines in post-war north swamped by visitors

2010-04-09 17:29:56
MANNAR, Sri Lanka (UCAN) -- About 3 million people have descended on northern Sri Lanka during the past three months on pilgrimages to three of the region’s most prominent places of worship. The end of the civil war has seen an influx of visitors to Nagadipa Vihara, a Buddhist shrine, the Nallur Murugan Kovil Hindu temple in Jaffna, and the Madhu Marian shrine in Mannar. These places hold spiritual and historical significance for the nation. “We are happy to see these people here, and they make use of the limited facilities,” said Father Barnabas Fred Desmond Culas, administrator of the Marian shrine. “Some come here as pilgrims others as tourists.” He said around a thousand people of different faiths, mostly from the south come to the shrine on week days. But the number swells to 4,000 at weekends. Buses and tourist coaches arrive regularly at the shrine which now has three priests, three nuns and seven church workers acting as guides. Most come in the right spirit and are mindful about preserving the shrine’s serenity, peacefulness and beauty, he said. According to the shrine administrator, bad conduct, loud music, and the use of alcohol and tobacco are prohibited. Modest attire is expected during worship. Father Culas said new notice boards in three languages telling visitors how to behave have been placed around the shrine. The effects of the war are still to be seen. De-mining in the area is still in progress and shrine facilities still bear the scars of the conflict. Lodging facilities are insufficient, since most of the houses in the area are damaged. There are only about 100 houses to accommodate people. “Pilgrimages are being promoted by the state,” a Buddhist monk said while leading a group of eight families around the Nagadipa Vihara shrine. Families from far flung cities and towns such as Matara, Galle, Colombo and Kandy are also visiting the shrine, he said. According to the monk, “They primarily come to fulfill a spiritual mission.” But then there are others who also come for educational purposes, tourism or just to see the ravages of war, he added. SR09387/1596 April 9, 2010 32 EM-lines (342 words) Thousands flock to venerate saint’s relic Pilgrims now free to visit Madhu shrine
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