Ancient custom: A traditional dance of the Sri Lankan people. — Photo triptosrilanka.com
The Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka celebrates its 66th
Independence Day today, February 4. On this occasion, the country's ambassador to Viet Nam Dr Kalahe Gamage Ivan Amarasinghe wrote to Viet Nam News.
Sixty-six years ago, on February 4, 1948, the salubrious tropical island of Ceylon, globally renowned as the pearl of the Indian Ocean, was granted independence from the British Empire as a dominion territory within the Commonwealth of Nations. Since then it has transitioned through democratic governance and practices into full independence and was renamed the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka on May 22, 1972 under the leadership of the Honourable Sirimavo R D Bandaranaike as the first democratically elected woman Prime Minister of the world. While the status of the independent nation transitioned from dominion into a republic, Sri Lanka retained its association with Britain and the Commonwealth of Nations comprising 53 countries around the world. In 2013, Sri Lanka hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting [CHOGM]. The President of Sri Lanka, His Excellency Mahinda Rajapaksa presently heads the Commonwealth as the Chairman. Sri Lanka has also been a committed member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation [SAARC] since its inception. Though insular due to its geographical limitations, the history of Sri Lanka is renowned for its associations with global seafaring nations over millennia. It lies on a strategic position along the historical Silk Road, extending from Europe and then over land through Egypt, Somalia, the Arabian Peninsula, Iran, India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Java in Indonesia, the Philippines, Viet Nam and China across the ocean (see diagram below). This was the historical route of global cultural exchanges and trade.
Though contemporary diplomatic relations between Viet Nam and Sri Lanka are attributed to an official association of the last 43years, the oceanic Silk Route clearly lends credence to the existence of a historic association between the two countries and others over millennia rather than decades. Hence, there exist similarities in cultural values and bilateral relations between the two peoples.
Culture ties with Viet Nam
Cultural developments in long-established countries are inherently underpinned by spiritual values and associated practices of the inhabitants; and so they are, for Viet Nam and Sri Lanka. For nearly 2000 years, both countries accepted Buddhism as the bedrock of their society and have robust civilisational foundations based on the Buddha Dharma. In Viet Nam, over 17,000 pagodas distributed in towns and villages stand testimony to the prominence given to the spiritual centres of local guidance and in most pagodas associated with the final resting places of the ancestral spirits. The traditional practice of praying for the ancestral spirits on full moon and new moon days takes priority for most Vietnamese. The leadership of the Sangha, be they Mahayana or Theravada, has been highlighted in war times and peace times. The traditions practiced at the time of birth, marriage and death of the Vietnamese have a remarkable similarity to those in Sri Lanka. Both societies offer the freedom of choice for individuals to change spiritual preferences and belief systems without any penance or punishment. Both societies have over recent centuries practiced robust policies of inclusivity of minorities and faiths. Cultural enhancement inherent in the inclusive spiritual diversity of the fabric of society is evidence of tolerant majority ethnics.
Both Sri Lanka and Viet Nam are fast developing countries with stable governments. Doi Moi in Viet Nam and the Open Economic Policy under Mahinda Chinthana in Sri Lanka are hospitable invitations to global investors to share their natural and human resources in a genuine expression of friendship in the global village. Both countries have accepted socialist, republican values as the cornerstones of governance. Viet Nam is a leading member of ASEAN and in a vein of forgiveness and good faith similar to Sri Lanka, extended hands of reconciliation to those within and without, who challenged its territorial integrity and national sovereignty over the last few centuries. Both countries are essentially agricultural in productivity, with over 70 per cent of the population being rural. However, the human resources that have been developed and the future potential in keeping with the fast changes in the global arena of information technology are by no means to be underestimated in both countries. The vast improvements currently in healthcare, academia and institutional infrastructures of both countries are a far cry from those which existed a few centuries ago when they were easy prey for colonisation and subservience. Both countries believe in non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries; yet, they welcome multilateral, cohesive global action in good governance, alleviation of poverty, social inclusivity, appropriate investments and economic development. Both countries serve similar goods and services to the global market and hence may ideally develop new bilateral ties, serving partnerships rather than competition in isolation.