The New Kathiresan Hall in Bambalapitiya came under an extensive security blanket on Saturday, 25 May, with a large number of police personnel making their presence felt rather conspicuously. The grand event that drew the security contingent to the Hall was the wedding of the eldest son of President of the Court of Appeal, Justice S. Sriskandarajah.
The hall was packed mostly with the members of the legal fraternity from the bench and that bar. The judges of the superior courts who were in the front row were seen enjoying the Nathaswaram music by veteran artiste, P. Sithamparanathan.
The wedding ceremony began with the arrival of the bridegroom in a procession, accompanied by his father, Justice Sriskandarajah. According to the tradition of a Hindu wedding, the procession was led to the dais to the sounds of Nathaswaram music.
Sudden change, and surprise
However, when the wedding ceremony was in progress, the musicians were suddenly removed from the hall by the relatives of the bridegroom, leaving the guests who were enjoying the music, wondering somewhat bemusedly, why the music had stopped suddenly and why the musicians had been moved out, along with their instruments.
Their unasked questions were answered shortly, when to the surprise of all the guests there was another procession, into wedding hall to the accompaniment of the Nathaswaram music. The procession this time ushered in, not just any guest, but the head of the country, President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
When the guests who were in the first row stood up to greet the President, he asked them to sit down, and quietly made himself comfortable on the special chair placed between that of Attorney General, Palitha Fernando, and the Acting Chief Justice, Saleem Marsoof.
Needless to say the seat was right in front of the main dais where the ceremony took place, and the President, with the marking of holy ash and sandalwood cream on his forehead, customary offering when one arrives at a Hindu wedding, looked quite at ease.
Among the other guests occupying the front row were the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Parliamentarian, Appathurai Vinayagamoorthy and retired judge of the Supreme Court, C.V. Wigneswaran, who has been a strong critic of the government in recent months, especially with regard to its handling of the judiciary and the Tamil political issue.
Incidentally, Justice Wigneswaran was also considered as a prospective TNA Chief Ministerial candidate for the Northern Provincial Council in Tamil political circles. However, in a recent interview with a Tamil daily, the learned judge had said unequivocally that he is not interested in entering politics.
Generally, the guests who arrive at an event, that has the President as a special invitee, are thoroughly checked, with metal detectors also fixed at the entrance to scan the invitees. Another indicator of a VVIP arrival is the heavy presence of commandos in the vicinity of the venue.
However, things were somewhat different at this wedding at the Kathiresan Hall. For, despite the heavy and conspicuous presence of police personnel, the guests who were mostly Jaffna Tamils didn’t face any inconvenience with regard to the security arrangements. And the atmosphere that prevailed at the hall was also remarkably pleasant.
Justice Sriskandarajah was thrust into the limelight in the recent past, courtesy the impeachment issue of the ousted Chief Justice, Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake, which has had a huge impact on the legal fraternity of the country.
When a writ application over the Chief Justice issue came before the President of the Court of Appeal who happened to be Justice Sriskandarajah, he referred it to the Supreme Court for constitutional interpretation. The Supreme Court gave its determination back to the Court of Appeal and the President of the Court of Appeal in compliance with the determination, gave the judgement that was in favour of Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake.
The judgement did not go down well with certain factions, which saw Justice Sriskandarajah threatened with anonymous calls. He had made a complaint at the Bambalapitiya Police in this regard. However, it did not make him change his stance. Justice Sriskandarajah, known to be amiable, humble and down to earth, remained firm in his judgement.
Sriskandarajah entered the Judiciary from the Attorney General’s Department as a High Court Judge and was elevated to the Court of Appeal. He served the appellate court for seven years before he became its President.
However, a couple of weeks ago, Justice Rohini Marasinghe, who was third in line at the Court of Appeal, was elevated as a Judge of the Supreme Court, ahead of Justice Sriskandarajah, in an appointment that is viewed as a telling lesson for refusing to toe certain populist lines.
There is no gainsaying that things have not been smooth between the Judiciary and the Executive for the better part of 2012. The unease led to the impeachment of then Chief Justice, Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake, in November last year. Interestingly, no unease was evident at Saturday’s wedding, as the elitists of the Hulftsdorp rubbed shoulders and anecdotes with the Head of State while enjoying the well-prepared vegetarian cuisine.
It is also interesting that the President’s security personnel had also opted for dignified suites in place of their usual white short-sleeved shirts, perhaps, as a mark of respect for the host or the event.
The President appeared to be in a very convivial mood and when he went to greet the happy couple seated at the throne, he removed his footwear and shook hands with them. The couple in return received blessings from the President by bowing down and touching his feet, the traditional way of receiving blessings from the elders.
The comic ‘climax’ of the entire wedding occurred when the President descended from the dais after greeting the couple and found the TNA Parliamentarian, Appathurai Vinayagamoorthy, falling at his feat. The guests had first thought the TNA Parliamentarian was also trying to get the blessings of the President. But later it transpired the Parliamentarian had genuinely tripped and fallen at the President’s feet.
When Vinayagamoorthy fell, as was to be expected, the presidential security rushed to the scene. The President also looked as though he was about to extend a helping hand. But the TNA MP scrambled to his feet, proving all was well.