Monday, 11 April 2016 12:03

Arabian Flavour in the East

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Located along the eastern coast of Sri Lanka, just a few miles south of the city of Batticaloa, lies an enclave that displays its distinctive atmosphere right from its gates.

 

It is home to a community which remains extremely proud of its heritage. Its inhabitants follow their religious conviction with fervour yet this is an overwhelmingly friendly community, ready to open its arms to any visitor requiring a welcome. This is Kattankudy, our very own oasis in the east, with its unique Arabian flavour.

To its residents, Kattankudy is all about identity. The city makes its presence felt from far away; usually, the traveller faces classic green direction signboards in all three languages to indicate locations, but at the town border of Kattankudy, an imposing gate bearing all the hallmarks of Arabian architecture welcomes the visitor. Preceding that on either side of the road are beautiful structural replicas of date palm trees arranged in ascending height. For a moment, it is easy to imagine oneself in the Middle East but then, this is Kattankudy, holding on to that unmistakable Arabian spirit.

Legend has it that Kattankudy derives its name from an Arabian merchant named Kattan who settled here. The town boasts of a predominantly Muslim population and it is apparent at every turn.

Adding to the Arabian flavour of Kattankudy is a special attraction of its own. A line of date palm trees decorates the centre of the town's main street from the entrance gate onwards. When I visited, the trees were bearing signs of a rich produce with bountiful bunches of dates dangling below the pale green branches. This was a unique experience as Kattankudy is the only known locality in Sri Lanka where dates are grown.

Adorning the streets are numerous decorative monuments, amongst them a picturesque and colourful instantly-recognisable structure built around a replica of a Rehal (a Quran stand). A gift from the people of Iran, it remains as testimony to the Islamic ambiance that the town holds. Other monuments include one bearing a star and crescent which welcomes any visitor to the pristine beachfront.

Kattankudy is home to the Heritage Museum. The building holds a rich and diverse collection of the history of Muslims from the area as well as the community of the country as a whole. Evidence of the extensive trade for which the Muslim ancestors of this country were famous is abundantly found throughout the museum. A separate gallery segregated into cubicles showcases the different aspects of the lifestyle to which the Muslims of the country were accustomed. These cubicles serve as a unique porthole into the yesteryear of Muslims. A priceless collection of ancient Islamic manuscripts including ancient copies of the Holy Quran is a sight not to be missed. A separate gallery is dedicated to the story of the Muslims in the island dating back almost a millennium.

A picturesque and colourful instantly-recognisable structure built around a replica of a Rehal (a Quran stand). A gift from the people of Iran, it remains as testimony to the Islamic ambiance that the town holds

The town's beach deserves a special mention, if for nothing else but the sheer pristine beauty that it holds. It was not surprising to find out that this was one of the town's favourite gathering places with numerous restaurants lining the beachfront, which finds itself densely packed on weekends. The beach is indeed an inviting as well as a soothing experience that one would not want to miss.

For the ordinary dweller of the town, life is slowly picking up pace. With business thriving and nearly all modern amenities available right at the doorstep, Kattankudy is slowly looking to shed away the dark past that enveloped the town a few years back. The memories of those murky days are still held in the hearts of those who survived them. The brutal terrorist attack that took place inside a mosque is still held locked in time with the bullet-holes preserved as a tribute to those who fell within their house of worship. This attack sent shockwaves through the entire Muslim community and the names of all those gunned down are etched on a memorial tablet within the mosque complex. Their bodies were buried in a special burial ground right next door. Besides this, Kattankudy is indeed a town of mosques as there are no other shrines of worship.

Through every turn, it was not surprising to see a smiling face wherever I went. That warm atmosphere, created not by the sun but by the welcoming smiles of each and every person that I met, ensured that it was truly a unique experience to taste the flavour of Arabia right within our shores.

Words and Photography Shyam Ranasinghe

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