The Sign

09/09/2011 at 12:36 PM (Adventure, Books, Environment, Mystery, Politics, Religion, Thriller) (, , , , , )

The Sign, the third book written by author Raymond Khoury, combines a tale of politics gone awry and the realities about the impact of global warming into the plot of a thriller. In the modern world depicted by the writer, the joint forces of pollution of the earth and arising political upheaval gives rise to big arguments between those who believe in evolution and those who believe in creationism. The sign which appears over Antarctica, during the collapse of an ice shelf, as a shape-shifting globe and then vanishes are claimed by the latter group as a divine sign from God. The sign itself was able to arouse my curiosity but all the squabbles regarding its “divinity” put me off. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think this a Bible-thumping book at all but which way you lean politically is likely to effect how you perceive the book. The Sign seemed too technical and science focused for me to like it at first until the thriller part came into play with scientist Danny Sherwood’s escape attempt.

This sign’s appearance is witnessed by Gracie Logan, a science reporter who’s at the right place at the right time. She is boarded on a scientific vessel to cover the breakage of the ice shelf. Deciding to follow the story of the sign and investigate what it means, she is led to Egypt after a tip-off from a priest called Brother Ameen. Her crew sees the sign drawn in a Coptic cave inhabited by a Catholic priest called Father Jerome who is widely regarded as a Saint. The catch is that these images were drawn seven months earlier before the appearance of the sign in Antarctica. In regard to Gracie and her TV crew, I feel the descriptions were just too long and the debates on creationism versus evolution were too much on the preachy side to be enjoyable. Those characters became marginally of interest only after the death of a main crew member in Egypt in shady circumstances.

The Sign Book Cover

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Once Boston’s Matt Sherwood, reformed car thief, was added to the equation after learning about the possibility that his brother’s death was a murder from his best friend, the plot becomes more action-packed and the pace begins to accelerate significantly. The short chapters and simple to read prose keeps you turning pages more because you are interested in where the plot will lead rather than because the characters arouse your sympathies. This is a plot-driven novel which doesn’t really care much to endear the characters to you. This is all about the characters going from Point A to Point B and to Point C in pursuit of the ending. Perhaps this is because of the writer’s credentials as a screenwriter – it is a lot easier to imagine this as a blockbuster with a lot of action. This book may have the pace of an adventure written by Dan Brown but because it considers much deeper subject matter such as global warming and environmentalism in almost lecture mode, I feel it’s more of a science fiction about corruption in religion and politics rather than the plot of a religious thriller featuring religious figures from myths and legends of the past. It almost feels like you’re reading something academical when reading bits of the book not involving Matt’s physical encounters with the Bullet as he tries to find out what really happened to Danny Sherwood, his kid brother.

This book will bring enjoyment for a fan of quickly moving adventure thrillers if you don’t mind lectures with an agenda sneaking into your fiction. For me, this detracted from having a wholesome reading experience. If a book claims to be a thriller, I have different expectations of content rather than politics and the possible dangers to humanity through global warming. This is not a religion-bashing book either as the final solution to the corrupt plans by the state and the military who are at odds with each other seems open-minded. But while I didn’t dislike this book, I believe it could have been written a lot better.

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Wesak, Poson and Esala – Buddhist Festivals of Sri Lanka

05/20/2011 at 10:06 AM (Tradition) (, , , , , , , , )

I guess this is a week late as  the celebration of Wesak – the day Lord Buddha was born, enlightened and passed – was last week. But I think Buddhist rituals don’t get as much publicity as those of other religions so I suppose this post might have something in it you might not have known. I’m just going to stick to the branch of Buddhism I know about within this although I’m aware there are other denominations of Buddhism in Oriental nations. This post is specifically regarding the Wesak, Poson and Esala days in Sri Lanka carried out on the full moon days of May, June and July. The Buddhists here are generally of the Theravadha variety; the Oriental ones are called Mahayana.

The Buddha I pay homage to is this one and he is called Siddhartha Gautama; lots of Western people that have come to know a little about Buddhism tend to confuse him with the Chinese Laughing Buddha. What Buddha means is “one who has achieved a state of perfect enlightenment” and there are several monks who have been bestowed with this title.

Wesak is the start of the Buddhist festival season in Sri Lanka. When I  lived there, my cousins and I made candle lit Wesak lanterns and lighted small oil lamps to decorate our homes. Many older people used to dress in flowing white and meditate at temples from dawn until dusk. I found that tested my patience but ringing the temple bells was more fun. To me, the little places called Dansal that sold food and the Thorana statues that illustrated stories from Jataka in panels were more interesting and were much more successful in gaining my attention.

Poson is a festival on a smaller scale. It celebrates the introduction of Buddhism to the island of Sri Lanka. A famous story about the King Devanampiyatissa and the Buddhist envoy Arahat Mahinda Thera (son of Emperor Ashoka) meeting up on the sacred rock Mihintale is one that has been told many times and religious processions are held in its honour. You can read the story itself here. Also, Sanghamitta – the sister of  Mahinda Thera, is credited with bringing a sapling of the Bo Tree under which Buddha received Enlightenment to the ancient city of Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka.

Esala is another big festival but most of the festivities tend to be held in Kandy near the Temple of the Tooth (Dalada Maligawa). It is thought the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Lord Buddha is held here. There is a big procession held each July called the Esala Perahera. This parade held in honour of Buddha even has his tooth relic casket transported on the back of the Maligawa elephant draped in decorative robes. In addition, the parade has performances by fire twirlers, whip-cracking dancers, stilt walkers and male Kandyan dancers in traditional clothing who beat drums as they walk. This perahera dates back to the time of King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe who wanted the tooth relic which happened to be the private property of the king to be venerated by the public.

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