New take on Vada Kaha Sudiya

Very few who today join lustily in singing the popular song "Bivva Neda Vadakaha Sudiya" associate it with the total eclipse of the Sun that took place in 1955, when Sri Lanka was one of the best locations to view it, when darkness dispelled the light of day for nearly five minutes around 10 am; as the Sun, Moon and Earth aligned on a single trajectory. It was darkness at day, when even the birds began flying back to their nests.

"Vada Kaha Sudiya" that had its origins from events that day, showed the power of both the media and astrologers, just as it is today. It was the "Lankadeepa" that carried a recommendation by an ayurvedic physician cum astrologer, not an unusual combination even today, that dark complexioned women could have some hope of being fairer of skin, if they drank a decoction, in which the main ingredient was "Vada Kaha" (Sweet Flag or Acorus Calamus) at the time of the total eclipse, preferably unseen by any others. It was what’s called a "Kema" in local parlance, a secret and often whispered cure, which has nothing to do with the ayurvedic pharmacopoeia.

Just as the land was returning to the light of day after the brief "night" of the eclipse, there were young women all over the country, both in towns and villages who were throwing their guts out and collapsing in exhaustion with the "Vada Kaha" taking effect. Worried parents and guardians were rushing young women to hospitals, doctors and the nearest clinics; the rudimentary ambulance service we had was strained to its limits as were the doctors in all hospitals, to cope with what seemed a terrible epidemic that had spread throughout the country. Many believed it to be the malefic effects of the solar eclipse. The symbolic Kalu Emily was immortalized by campus rhymesters who soon came up with the lyrics of "Bivva Neda Vada Kaha Sudiya"; still the favourite at any party when the inevitable baila session gets going.

Those were days when "Fair and Lovely" was not available for both women and men, and, the first budget of the SWRD Bandaranaike Government had thought it necessary to reduce the duty on lipstick and cutex to help rural lasses get some colour on their lips and nails. The sales of the "Lankadeepa" soared much beyond the expectations of its publishers, and there was a lively debate on the importance of astrology in combination with Ayurveda, or by itself.

That the debate on the importance of astrology, in the day to day lives of our people is very much alive even today, well into the 21st Century, and 40 years after man first stepped on the Moon, is clear when one sees the number of publications on astrology that are on sale at every street, and the determination of politicians of every hue to take oaths of office, hand over nomination papers for election, begin their first day in office, or carry out any other act they think is of importance to them, at an auspicious time chosen by one’s favourite astrologer, preferably resident in India, with a visiting practice in Sri Lanka.

These recollections of the good old Vada Kaha Sudiya came to me with the total solar eclipse that was partly seen over Sri Lanka in the early hours last Wednesday. There is no doubt that many politicians and business people took the necessary advice from their planetary consultants on how any malefic effects of the eclipse could be warded off; like those Hindus devotees in India, who crowded at temples and sacred rivers to make sure the were cleansed of their sins, and wish for better days, and protection from evil at the time of last Wednesday’s eclipse.

Unlike these mass rituals for protection that took place in India, there is news now trickling in that there were other rituals or "kemas" done in Sri Lanka too, especially by politicians of the green elephant tribe, who were hoping to use the effects of the eclipse to better their ever declining political fortunes; a just as those dark hued young women tried to get fairer with a dose of Vada Kaha Sudiya in 1955.

The consultant astrologers, who had stopped foretelling the impending fall of rival political leaders whose planets are obviously on the ascendant, had advised their desperate green clients to drink portions of "Naaga Valli Paanaya", at the time of the eclipse, preferably in secret, or at least away from the sight of any rivals or media people. The promise was that if they took the portion, with some bitter Kohomba or Margosa juice for better effect, at the correct time, facing the South, and in one gulp, they would stand a very good chance of winning at the next round of elections, whenever that came.

With elections always just around the corner in Sri Lanka these days there were many takers for this great opportunity. This must be the reason for politicians of the green jumbo tribe not being seen around last from last Tuesday evening. They were preparing for the early morning ritual that would change their political fortunes and hopefully place them on a winning trajectory. They went to their private corners at home or garden, and gulped the bitter green portion, with great hope for the future. Whether they were also subject to bouts of vomiting as happened to Kalu Emily or all those dark skinned women of the Vada Kaha days is not yet known.

These are not people who rush to government hospitals but prefer treatment in the privacy of nursing homes. But, there is much speculation that many green politicos did take this portion of green desperation, just like their latest attempts to be converted to the necessity of a unitary state…after all their support for a federal system and Balasingham - Solheim think.

But some of the former members of the green jumbo herd who are already on the winning side, have told their friends who remain green with envy, that if they had only realized the link between Naaga Valli and the Betel Leaf, which is the winning symbol of today, they need not have bothered to take secret green portions during a solar eclipse. They could have come on to the side of power with a sheaf of betel leaves in their hands, without a portion of Naaga Valli Paaney in their belly, and would possibly be holding office, before then next election came around.

So when the next green poltico comes to the party you are at, it may be time to change the lyrics of "Bivva Neda Vada Kaha Sudiya, to "Bivva Neda Naaga Valliya." He or she might go green all over, but isn’t that their party colour?

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