The Puttalam Grand Mosque was conceptualized by Muslims, engineered by a Burgher, designed by a Sinhalese and built by Tamils. Its founders were pretty keen to go out of their way to bring in some symbolic multi-ethnicity in what is usually considered to be a Muslim only place.
The mosque was built in 1934 and the trustee board still continues efforts to integrate with other religious communities in the region by inviting them for meetings and functions. It was built on top of an ancient mosque that apparently stood since the seventeenth century and was visited by a Sinhala king (maybe one of the Seethavaka’s)
There’s this really cool clock in the tower. It occupies half the room and requires a dedicated person to operate it. The gongs are massively loud and peal out the hours. The views are pretty spectacular also. Like a lot of picturesque spots in this area, the mosque looks over the lagoon.
There have been problems in Puttalam lately, mostly grease yaka related. The mosque authorities are quick to distance themselves from troublemakers, but itis clear that they might not have the whole of the Muslim community here under their peaceful influence. There is some evidence of simmering discontent.
They’re proud of the fact that the 1915 Muslim-Sinhala riots didn’t reach Puttalam. The people of Puttalam joined up sans religious barriers and collectively put a stop to things then. The story wasn’t that sweet in 1976 though. An altercation that happened because of rice rations prevalent during Sirimavo’s time saw bloody racial violence permeating the city, killing many.
Needless to say, everyone here is keen to avoid something like that happening again. But most violent events are created by one insane person or a few and then spread through the laity like a disease, riding on the backs of rumor, stupidity and misplaced loyalties.
If the community is not strong and interfaith relationships aren’t sturdy, the fragile situation in Puttlam might erupt. Last week, in response to the death of a policeman, a group of Sinhala protestors were due to stage a harthaal. This would have spelled disaster since the Muslims in the area were the obvious targets, them being wired up already. But saner heads prevailed and it looks like the worst is over Alhamdulillah.
If you ever go to Puttlam, try and get a tour of the mosque. More pictures here.
|Puttlam 24 Aug 2011|