Alden Boon

Dansel: The Beautiful Sri Lankan Tradition of Giving

10/08/2018

A young boy stood by the road, brandishing and waving a flag, beckoning us to pull up to the driveway. “They’re giving away free food and water,” explained Dulshan my tour guide. “What’s the catch?” were the first instinctive words that escaped from my mouth, this city boy’s cynicism manifesting. “No catch at all,” replied Dulshan, who then unbuckled his seat belt, disembarked his vehicle and very quickly disappeared from view. Apparently, Sri Lankans, no matter their statuses, practise dansel, the act of giving, during celebratory occasions or on days when the full moon is out. Entire stretches of road would be dotted with families doling out food and beverages.

Dulshan returned with a huge kanda leaf that sprawled his forearm and palm, on which there were hunks of cassava or manioc, a type of tapioca; and onions stir-fried with spices. At another pit stop, women were busy pouring belimal tea from kettles into colourful cups carefully arrayed. A young chap in a grey shirt emblazoned with a batman motif was tasked with serving the drinks to guests. The invigorating floral drink is said to have medicinal properties. At this stop, I was also handed jaggery, a cube of sweetener made from the treacle of the kithul tree.

“You have to thank them for the treats,” nudged Dulshan after I was done with my photography. See, the locals practise dansel in hopes of receiving good karma. I felt consternation wash over me, a sole foreigner in a sea of locals, yet thanks to this show of hospitality I was a part of a Sri Lankan family. I waited for the matronly lady who smiled at me earlier to lock gaze with me, but she was busy with refilling the cups. “Stūtiyi,” Sinhala for “thanks”, I hollered when she finally looked up at me. She reciprocated with yet another smile, and I felt warmth in my heart.

Dansel Sri Lanka Giving Good Karma
Dansel Sri Lanka Giving Good Karma
Dansel Sri Lanka Giving Good Karma
Dansel Sri Lanka Giving Good Karma
Dansel Sri Lanka Giving Good Karma
Dansel Sri Lanka Giving Good Karma
Dansel Sri Lanka Giving Good Karma
Dansel Sri Lanka Giving Good Karma

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alden Boon
Alden Boon is a Quarter-finalist in PAGE International Screenwriting Awards. When he's not busy writing, he pretends he is Gandalf.

Have Your Say