Ceylon was ceded to the British Government in 1815 and remained British until it was finally granted independence in 1948. In those days the pound bought 3 Sri Lankan Rupees whereas in February 2011 the exchange rate was 170 rupees to the pound. I’m not sure what that says about the relative wealth of the two countries!
On Independence Day it is decreed that alcohol cannot be purchased or consumed in public places and there was an apologetic note on the hotel day indicating that "the bar has reluctantly been closed for the day". At 10.45 (that time must be historically significant) the hotel had arranged for a local ceremony to celebrate Sri Lanka’s independence which started with a few speeches followed by the official raising of the Sri Lankan flag and the playing of the national anthem. The speeches were not burdensome but the anthem, although a cheery piece of music was fairly lengthy as National Anthems go. The next item on the agenda was "the lighting of the lamp" which involved the hotel’s dignitaries (the owner and MD’s) together with regular visitors to solemnly light a candle on an ornate piece of ceremonial brassware. Unfortunately the wind did not understand the rule of the ceremony and only one managed to get a candle lit. Never mind the thought was there!
After this formal part of the programme we were treated to several local dances with the performers decked out in full national costume. All dances were orchestrated only by the steady beat of drums and certainly the dances including only male dances seemed to create trance like movements from the dancers. The male dancers were athletic with gymnastic jumps and twists whilst those involving the women dancers were much more poetic and seemed to portray simple stories about folk life. I became transfixed with the delicate and expressive hand movements of the female dancers and it was certainly hard to ignore the athleticism of the guys. There were five different sets of dances – all unique to different regions of the island and all enabling the dancers to show off local costumes.
As a final treat we could pick from a huge selection of local sweets. The majority looked fairly bland and uninspiring but we did try a few. Just because they were there! Some were sickly sweet whilst others were tasteless and one in particular (a white slab of crumbly substance) only managed to dry the mouth totally of all moisture. A strange experience which can only be compared to how you mouth might feel after a heavy night on the alcohol!
Although this whole event was clearly arranged for the benefit of staff to celebrate this significant day in the island's history I sensed it was also contrived with tourists in mind. But I'm sure that it did also offer a "proper opportunity" for the hotel’s employees to celebrate their country’s independence. Many were able to take a break from their job to join the rest of us.
It was an enjoyable interlude and an experience that was totally unexpected as we had no idea as to the significance of 4th February until the actual day itself. This is a day when for all intents and purposes the majority of the islanders are not expected to work. It is a Bank Holiday for all.