- By Aubrey Joachim
An International Class Sri Lankan movie portraying true incidents from 475 years ago bearing close resemblance to the current times.
Martyrdom has been a part of Christian history from very early years since inception of the Christian faith. A martyr is a person who is willing to sacrifice their life for a particular belief or for spreading their faith against specific sentiment. The first recorded martyrs were Christians murdered by Emperor Nero in AD 64 for their firm Christian beliefs and teachings. Since then, over the years many thousand Christians are killed each year across the world for the same reason. Martyrdom is almost always a very gruesome form of death. In recent years, various terrorist groups have carried out publicly portrayed gruesome murders of mainly followers of the Christian faith.
Christianity is the only religion where its followers believe that earthly suffering leads to eternal life in God’s kingdom. Hence the ultimate sacrifice – dying for one’s faith and beliefs is a price worth paying. After all Jesus Christ himself underwent an ignominious death to save humanity and martyrs have seen fit to follow His example. While the Catholic Church has ceased to specifically name and confer sainthood on martyrs for several centuries, those who undergo such sacrifice are still remembered collectively during specific liturgical observances.
1560 Ceylon was a long way and nearly 15 centuries since Nero murdered St. Stephen in Rome but equally horrific incidents took place in Mannar at the time. While Stephen angered Jewish authorities by his Christian teachings, a Portuguese Catholic priest Fr. Melcheor was beheaded by a King named Sankili for preaching and converting his subjects to Christianity.
Seeds – Praana in Sinhalese – is the true historical account of Fr, Melchior’s gruesome end and the events leading up to it from some 16 years prior, when some 700 Catholic converts in Mannar were slaughtered by the same King Sankili. Those 700 souls are now referred to as the ‘Martyrs of Mannar’. Their remains have been discovered in mass graves in the Mannar area and scientific carbon dating has proved these remains are from that time. The well-researched incidents have been made into an international class movie by a young Sri Lankan film director Sanjaya Nirmal and features leading Sri Lankan Sinhalese and Tamil actors as well as two international actors – Trae Hicks as Fr. Melcheor and Stephen Mark Lodziak as Fr. John playing the lead roles.
Although relating to actual incidents nearly 500 years ago the story mirrors closely the political, inter-racial and inter-religious issues of modern Sri Lanka. The influence of a foreign power, the stigma of the caste system and powerful political dynasties stirring religious undertones – all of which create social disharmony. The leader of the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka, His Lordship Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith has praised the movie as a true reflection of the current circumstances. Seeds has even been seen by Pope Francis.
Foreign colonisers were known to bring their culture, language and religion to the lands they colonised. That is how they built their powerbase. This is a universal fact. Even Australia is a case in point. While Christianity first arrived in Ceylon in the first century following Thomas the Apostle’s spreading of Christianity in Kerala, its profuse spread – especially along the Western coast of Ceylon – occurred after the arrival of the Loureco de Almeida’s first Portuguese fleet in 1505. By 1544 significant numbers of locals converted to Christianity in the Mannar district which was part of the Jaffna Kingdom much to the ire of King Sankili. This is when the persecution of Christians began in earnest and resulted in the mass murder of nearly 700 Christians. A Goan Catholic priest Fr. Lizano who was in Mannar at the time and witnessed the persecution and murders was urged to leave Ceylon by his flock and went back to Goa. Reports of the happenings in Ceylon went back to Portugal and in 1560 an armada of ships was sent to Ceylon to avenge the murders and depose King Sankili. Fr. Melcheor was the missionary on the fleet along with a Fr. John. While the Portuguese troops had military objectives, the Christian missionaries were there to preach and console the persecuted Christians. Despite pleas for him to leave the country for fear of death, Fr. Melcheor refused to abandon the persecuted locals. The two missionaries were captured and Fr. Melcheor paid the ultimate sacrifice for his faith and belief that ‘life is nothing but death, and death is merely another name for life’. He was beheaded.
The movie which has been seen by thousands in Sri Lanka is in three languages – English, Sinhalese and Tamil is a truly international class movie and is even screened on international flights by major airlines. Film maker Sanjaya Nirmal has embodied spectacular cinematography into the production. Research and production coordination is by Rev. Fr. Anthony Nishan and the haunting music score is by Rev. Fr. Prasad Harshan. Among the cast are famous Tamil actors the late Dharshan Dharmaraj, Niranjani Shanmugaraja as well as Sinhalese favourite Nita Fernando. Interestingly, the many ‘extras’ in the movie come from the blood-line of the Mannar Martyrs. The Producer is prominent businessman Janaka Perera.
The English version of the movie will be screened at Events Cinema in Castle Towers on June 4th. More information and tickets please visit http://www.auselanka.com/praana-seeds-sri-lankan-film-951
Aubrey Joachim is a Sri Lankan expat who is an Australian citizen and is a social commentator.