Katie de Silva sends this report on her recent travels. Welcome back!
In case people (I hope, at least, some people) have wondered whatever happened to Whitman's occasional exonumia book author Katherine Jaeger, she has married, moved, and changed her name. That is, she is me, Katie de Silva. I've just returned from a trip to Sri Lanka, where I went to meet my new in-laws and take in some of the sights. Places I've seen in North America, Europe, and the Middle East are nothing like this equatorial island. Mystical Ceylon, jewel of the Indian Ocean, was packed with wonders - I spent 18 days gawking with my eyes and mouth wide open. If you could chop up the works of Arthur C. Clarke, Rudyard Kipling, John Masters, and Michael Ondaatje, mixed them together with onions, curry powder and the scent of flowers, you might get close to the flavor of Sri Lankan existence.
Of course, I couldn't return without making a numismatic report.
My husband's kin live in and around Colombo, the capital city on the southwestern shore, but the archaeological and historical features I visited were inland and upland. We took a four-hour train ride to the mountain city of Kandy, which had been the royal capital from 1472-1815; until it became part of a British protectorate. (The Kingdom of Kandy had successfully repelled invasions by the Portuguese and later, by the Dutch, but peacefully handed rule to the Brits.)
The National Museum of Kandy is in one wing of the original Royal Palace, adjacent to a major Buddhist shrine called the Temple of the Tooth. There I saw a few cases of coins, but the display lighting was so dim and the patinae were so dark, I could barely make out what I was seeing. And nothing bore a label. Another two hours further north and east, we visited the fabulous UNESCO World Heritage sites of Sigiriya (5th century capital known as the "Lion Rock") and Polonnaruwa (11th century capital, famous for its enormous Buddha statues carved from living rock) and their museums, but I saw no numismatic displays. No photography was permitted indoors, in any case.
On returning to Colombo, I meekly bought a made-for-tourists "Coins of Sri Lanka" keepsake, feeling mortified at having only this lame souvenir to share with Esylum readers. At the eleventh hour, my stepdaughter Umanga made a brilliant discovery, right in her wallet, and has presented scans for our delectation. It is a 1000-Rupee note issued in 2009 by the current president, Mahinda Rajapaksa. It features his smiling portrait on the obverse, with inscriptions in English, Tamil and Sinhala. I leave it to the readers to judge the reverse, which will be instantly recognizable, but shucks, it's just WRONG in so many ways.
Gihin Ennan! (That's "I am going now" in Sinhala)
And here I thought Kavan Ratnatunga was our only Sri Lankan correspondent. E=Sylum readers sure do get around!
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