The Bloody Fantastic Poya Holiday on Stamps

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Westerners are often amused at best and horrified at worst to realise that us lazy, brown people have a get-out-of-work-free card in the form of the full moon aka the Poya holiday. Basically, if the moon is out in all her glory, the Sri Lankan government insists that citizens be allowed to stay home in order to perform “religious observances” regardless of their actual religion or complete lack thereof. I personally like to raise a glass of Scotch to the good old moon and thank it for deciding to come out on a week day. When this full moon falls on a weekend, we unfortunately do NOT get an extra holiday. Somebody should recommend that though.

The downside of Poya is that they can’t sell meat or alcohol in our shops. This however is a minor obstacle, as many of us have a well practiced system of planning ahead and stocking up.

So anyway, Ceylon issued a set of four stamps in 1967 to commemorate the first anniversary of the introduction of this absurd but useful Poya holiday system. They feature different Buddhist shrines and the values are 5, 20, 35 and 60 cents. The best part about this issue is the sheer variety of first day covers they issued along with it. I have acquired four different ones featuring the 5 cent stamp and 35 cent stamp but research indicates that there are many more. 

First Anniversary of the Introduction of the Poya Day

Vessantara Jatakaya on Stamps – Laos, Thailand and Sri Lanka

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One of my favourite areas to collect (and yes, I know I have too many) is the depiction of Jataka stories on stamps, something made easier by living in Asia. Each “Jatakaya” features a story about a previous birth of the Buddha in either human and animal form. Sri Lanka has issued several Jataka stamps in the past but recently, I got my greedy paws on some great issues from Thailand and Laos featuring the popular Vessantara Jatakaya.

The story in short is about this gormless muppet Vessantara who walks around giving away all his possessions, including his children. As a rather zealous antinatalist, I find this last point upsetting because duh, bringing new humans into this hellhole of a world without their permission is bad enough, but TO GIVE THEM AWAY LIKE THEY ARE YOUR FUCKING PROPERTY? I MEAN SERIOUSLY? However, since Vessantara also becomes the Buddha in a later life, I suppose we should refrain from calling him names. At least he didn’t try to chop their heads off because God asked him to.

So on 5 December 2001, Laos issued a gorgeous set of four stamps depicting scenes from the Vessantara Jatakaya. The relevant section/chapter of the Jatakaya is mentioned on the stamp.

200 K, Himavanta

200 K, Himavanta – Vessantara giving away the magical elephant which brings rain to his kingdom. Dude felt sorry for envoys from his neighbouring country of Kalinga who were facing a massive drought. Suffice to say, his own countrymen were not too pleased and demanded that he be banished. The pouring of water is meant to signify that the requested boon has been granted.

900 K, Vanapavesa

900 K, Vanapavesa – Although he got a chariot in which to leave the kingdom, our genius Vessantara gave that away too, so we find him and his family trudging through the forest, on foot.

3200 K, Kumarakanda 3200 K, Kumarakanda – Vessantara sends his children away to be slaves to a nasty old man, Jujaka who beats the crap out of them.

3600 K, Sakkapabba 3600 K, Sakkapabba – Sakka, the king of the Gods appears in disguise to ask Vessantara for the gift of his wife Maddi and Vessantara complies. This Maddi was obviously a spineless wench because she should have just kicked them both in the goolies and run off with her lesbian lover but to be fair, Sakka was only playing a trick. He gave her right back to Vessantara framing it as “a reward for all the generosity you have shown so far”. Wiley old fox that one.

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Postal Independence Stamps: Palau and Marshall Islands

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I recently got two great stamps sets marking the postal independence of Palau and the Marshall Islands. You can see their location on the map of Oceania below.

via Wikimedia

Map via Wikimedia

I already have a decent collection of stamps from the Solomon Islands with a few appearances of Vanuatu, Tuvalu, Kiribati and Tonga but these were my first ever stamps from Palau and the Marshall Islands – so, very excited!

The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) is basically a bunch of atolls and islands in the North  Pacific Ocean, in a region commonly referred to as Micronesia. Their postal history starts in 1897 while under German dominion with German stamps overprinted with the words “Marschall Inseln”. You can see one here.

The Marshall Islands were under occupation by the Japanese from 1914 to 1944 during which time Japanese stamps were used. Next came the Americans who ran the postal service until 1984 using American stamps with no special markings.

This set issued on 2 May 1984 thus indicates the beginning of an independent postal service in the Marshall Islands. They indicate an outrigger boat, fishing net with fish, stick map (used for navigation and an island. Aren’t they absolutely fucking gorgeous?

1984 Marshall Islands, Inauguration of Postal Independence

1984 Marshall Islands, Inauguration of Postal Independence

Palau is also situated in Micronesia and its fortunes seem to follow a similar trajectory to the Marshall Islands with the Germans kick-starting their postal service in 1901 followed by the Japanese and then the Americans. The issue of their own stamps started with this set in 1983. I also love stamps with just words on them!

1983 Republic of Palau, Inauguration of Postal Service

1983 Republic of Palau, Inauguration of Postal Service

For anyone who’s interested, this site has a good overview of the Marshall Islands including its postal history and this one provides lots of details about the postal service during German and Japanese occupations. For Palau history, see here.

Sri Lanka Mahapola Stamps and Covers from the 80s

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The Mahapola scheme which provides scholarships to undergraduate students in Sri Lanka was the brainchild of the late Lalith Athulathmudali (26 November 1936 – 23 April 1993), a former Cabinet Minister of Education. The story goes that his own father passed away when he was just about to go abroad for studies, putting him in some financial difficulty. The young Athulathmudali had then made a request to the government and been provided a grant. It is said that the establishment of the Mahapola scholarship scheme was his way of repaying this favour.

Mahapola was not just a name given to a scholarship scheme though. it actually began as a trade fair, exhibition and carnival of sorts to promote an open market economy in Sri Lanka in a way that benefits rural communities. A Mahapola lottery scheme was later introduced where the proceeds would go into the Mahapola Scholarship Fund. It’s interesting to note that these scholarships were granted almost purely on economic need (90 percent) with merit counting for only 10 percent.

Thus, the 1980s in particular saw a flurry of Mahapola themed stamps with an issue coming out every year starting from 1984. This cover celebrating the fourth anniversary of the much lauded scholarship scheme featuring four colourful stamps is my favourite, regardless that is, of the religious undertones.

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Amphibians – Thailand and Sri Lanka

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My friend Tom recently sent over some very colourful frog stamps from Thailand – issued on 10 July 2014, these little guys look like they might jump straight off the stamp!

Flat-headed Toad

Flat-headed Toad (Ingerophrynus macrotis (Boulenger, 1887))

Phongsaly Tree FrogPhongsaly Tree Frog (Rhacophorus kio (Ohler and Delome, 2006))

Long-nosed Horned Frog

Long-nosed Horned Frog (Megophrys nasuta (Schlegel, 1858))

Red-eared FrogRed-eared Frog (Hylarana erythraea (Schlegel, 1837))
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Sri Lanka 1983 Vesak stamps featuring murals by George Keyt

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George Percival Sproule Keyt (wtf kind of name is Sproule?) rocks my world. You don’t need to be an art connoisseur to understand that this man could paint.

Keyt’s work has been featured more than once on Sri Lankan stamp issues but for today I wanted to explore the 1983 Vesak issue. It features four of his murals from the Gotami Viharaya in Borella all of which depict various scenes from the Buddha’s life.

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Sri Lanka 2015 Archaeology Department 125th Anniversary

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Sri Lanka issued a stamp and first day cover commemorating the 125th Anniversary of the Department of Archaeology on 8 July 2015. The stamp features Harry Charles Purvis Bell who served as the country’s first archaeological commissioner from 1890 to 1912.

While the Department of Archaeology was established with Bell’s appointment on July 7th 1890, archaeological observations and photography had been taking place even around 1861.

125th Anniversary of Department of Archeology

The stamp backdrop shows HCP Bell in front of the famous Sigirya fresco wall – he was instrumental in the early excavation and preservation work done on what is today an important World Heritage Site

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Sri Lanka 1996 Therigàthà stamps marking Vesak

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This is the first in a series of posts which will take an in depth look at some of the most interesting Vesak stamps of Sri Lanka.

The four stamp set issued to commemorate Vesak in 1996 featured four scenes from the Therigàthà which is the ninth book of the Khuddaka Nikaya, which in turn is the fifth part of the Sutta Pitaka, which in turn appears in the first division of the Tipitaka, the sacred scriptures of Buddhism (and boy what a mouthful that was). It has a companion volume, the Theragàthà.

Sri Lanka - Theri Gatha - Vesak 1996

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Sri Lanka Vesak Stamps 2015

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Sri Lanka has been issuing Vesak stamps every year since the late 70s. The majority of these early issues are some of the most treasured in my collection because they depict some awesome bits of history, mythology and art and I tend to geek out over that type of thing. Unfortunately, most of the later ones have not been as interesting and this year is much the same.

We actually had two separate Vesak issues this year with a three stamp set commemorating Vesak and a separate one stamp issue commemorating the State Vesak Festival. Why this was necessary is beyond me and none of the stamps look particularly special.

2015 Vesak stamps

Date of issue: 20 April 2015

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