Matara: Digging Legends

 

Saman the crab catcher, rows across the Nilwala River. Matara. 31 May 2014 Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Saman the crab catcher, rows across the Nilwala River. Matara. 31 May 2014
Photograph© Chulie de Silva

After a days romp through the staid Dutch built Church, Fort and other monuments, I started digging around for the history of Matara and its legends.

One of the legends that emerged is of the scholar poet King Kumaradasa or Kumaradhatusena son of King Kasyapa of Sigiriya fame and the poet and dramatist, Kalidasa who is supposed to have lived sometime between, 170BCE and 634CE.  Matara likes to claim Kalidasa as a son of theirs but our big neighbhour India thinks otherwise. The salacious bit of the legend is that the handsome King in flagrante delicto with a courtesan, spied a bee entangled in the petals of a lotus flower, and was inspired to write two lines of poetry.

Read more about how the lives of the King and the Poet Kalidasa changed with this poem on my new website myislandlanka.com

Link directly to the story: http://myislandlanka.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=176:matara-digging-legends&catid=79:gods-temples-legends&Itemid=458

Spring Vienna 2007

Photos, photos and photos, you take heaps on holiday and then they lie inside a folder, often forgotten. … Till, one fine day, you unearth them from a half forgotten archive. It all comes back then — the walk through a park, on a warm spring morning in Vienna.

The grasses stirred as the soft wind rippled the water. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

The grasses stirred as the soft wind rippled the water. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

Time to go cycling with Dad. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

A father goes cycling with the duaghter. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

Seeing the boy fishing in the clear stream, brought back memories of how my cousins and I used to fish in the little stream below the bridge at Hikkaduwa. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

A boy with his net catching fish in the clear stream. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

Cooling off in the clear meandering stream. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

Two girls and a horse cooling off in the clear meandering stream. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

Photograph© Chulie de Silva

… and then there were the lovely birds —  drakes am told.  Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Three drakes in a row. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

Three drakes in a row. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

.... and then there was four. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

…. and then there was four. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Four ducks on a pond,
A grass-bank beyond,
A blue sky of spring,
White clouds on the wing;
What a little thing
To remember for years
To remember with tears!

By William Allingham (1824 – 1889) , “Four Ducks on a Pond”, from Evil May-Day &c., published 1882

Meditations at Vesak

The setting sun turned the sands golden, the rise and fall of the waves,  changing , changing every moment, leaving nothing to permanence,  the horizon stretching away like the samsara — in deed a brief transient moment that embodied all Buddha’s teachings on Anicca (impermanence) , Dukkha (suffering) and Anatma ( absence of a permanent self or soul) . …

Meditations - Aniccha, Dukkha, Anatma, Hikkaduwa, 16 April 2014. Daria from Moscow on the beach at Hikkaduwa.

Meditations – Aniccha, Dukkha, Anatma, Hikkaduwa, 16 April 2014. Daria from Moscow on the beach at Hikkaduwa.

Among ghosts and legends at Sasseruwa (Res Vehera )

Ancient monasteries, potent legends, the mystique of incense laden Buddhist temples is a heady combination and a good playground for amateur photographers. Sasseruwa also known as Res Vihara is such a Buddhist monastery, so named as the area was flooded with rays of light (Res) when the Bodhi tree was first planted. The tree was one of the first 32 saplings (Dethis maha bo Ankara) of the Sri Maha Bodhi in the Anuradhapura.

The monastic complex is located off the beaten track at Galgamuva in the Kurunegala District. Dating back to the 2nd century BC, Sasseruwa Raja Maha Vihara had nearly 100 caves where over 360 priests had lived and attained spiritual enlightement like the Buddha. The main attractions now are the magnificent colossal unique Buddha statues – one reclining in the main cave shrine and the other, the unfinished standing brooding Buddha carved into a rock face. Incidentally both statues are around 39 feet in length and height.

Reclining Buddha Statue, rock cave, Sasseruva (Res Vehera). 23 Feb. 2014. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

Reclining Buddha Statue, image house of the “Raja Maha Viharaya”  Sasseruva (Res Vehera). 23 Feb. 2014. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

Details of the feet without the customary pedestal - the unfinished collosal granite Buddha Statue at Sasseruwa. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

Details of the feet without the customary pedestal – the unfinished collosal granite Buddha Statue at Sasseruwa. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

We had taken a couple of wrong turnings and the light was fading, and the inky blue black night was almost on us. I was despairing as there wouldn’t be enough light to photograph. The glimpse of the white stupa, across a lake at Sasseruva was a welcome sight.  As KM de Silva said, the white stupa “gave a subdued but unmistakable quintessence of Buddhism –simplicity and serenity.”

The Bodhi tree at Sasseruwa Raja Maha Viharaya. One of 32 saplings of the Anuradhapura Bodhi tree. Saseruwa Raja Maha Viharaya. 23 feb. 2014. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

The Bodhi tree at Sasseruwa Raja Maha Viharaya. One of 32 saplings of the Anuradhapura Bodhi tree. Saseruwa Raja Maha Viharaya. 23 feb. 2014. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

My mind wandered away back in time. I roamed invisibly among the caves of priests meditating; listening to sermons in the evenings, with “hulu athu’ (natural torches made of leaves) lighting up the complex; the Bodhi Puja at the feet of the tree; the lonely artist  moping near his unfinished statue; King Dutugemunu’s Army camping near the lake and even spotting a love tryst between a comely maiden and a handsome warrior. ..

Romanticism aside it was also interesting to reflect on the fact that although  the two forms of religious exercise Buddha proscribed were mediation and learning through sermons, how we lesser mortals needed the rituals of worship for spiritual sustenance. Prof. MB Ariyapala in his book “Society in Medieval Ceylon.” says how people influenced by beliefs and superstitions needed Bodhi trees, dagabas and image houses and the rituals of worship. Thus he says every monastery then also had to have amidst the meditating priests, Bodhi trees, stupas, image houses, and alters for offering flowers and incense. In that respect, society hasn’t changed that much from medieval times.

Reclining Buddha Statue, in the image house of the Raja Maha Viharaya. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

Reclining Buddha Statue, in the image house of the Raja Maha Viharaya. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

The main image house “Rajamaha Viharaya” is perched high up on a rock. Inside it is a virtual treasure trove, albeit the collection of frescoes and statues are fast decaying. The Pièce de résistance is unique 39.5 foot reclining Buddha Statue. I walked around the statue as I have never been able to before in any other temple. The robe is of actual cotton threads pasted on the statue and then painted. The threads, the story goes were were woven by a poor woman as an offering to Buddha.

Feet of the reclining Buddha statue with thumbs in equal position indicating this is not a parinirvana statue. Saseruwa Raja Maha Viharaya. 23 Feb. 2014. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

Feet of the reclining Buddha statue with big toenails in equal position indicating this is not a parinirvana statue. Saseruwa Raja Maha Viharaya. 23 Feb. 2014. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

Lotus chakra marks on the soles of the feet of Buddha. Sasseruwa Raja Maha Viharaya. 23 Feb. 2014. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

Lotus chakra marks on the soles of the feet of Buddha. Sasseruwa Raja Maha Viharaya. 23 Feb. 2014. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

Buddha is supposed to have had thousand-spoked wheel sign on his feet, as described in the Digha Nikaya, in the “Discourse of the Marks” (Pali: Lakkhaṇa Sutta). In the earliest phase of Buddhism was generally aniconic, with the Buddha being represented as symbols such as a footprint, an empty chair, a riderless horse, or an umbrella. Many early worship stones with the Buddha’s foot print exist at monastery sites.

The entrance to the resident of the guardian cobra of the reclining Buddha, Raja Maha Vehera, Sasseruwa. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

The entrance to the resident of the guardian cobra of the reclining Buddha, Raja Maha Vehera, Sasseruwa. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

As I was trying to focus on the intricate design of chakras carved under the soles of Buddha, another traveller was pointing and photographing the hole on the wall just behind me. Apparently the hole was the entrance to the abode of a cobra, the guardian of the statue. And if that message on the wall was not enough for any robbers, there was this seated Buddha statue with the cobra sitting very protectively over the head of the Buddha.

The Cobra shielding the mediating Buddha. Sasseruva (Res Vehera) Raja Maha Viharaya. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

The Cobra shielding the mediating Buddha. Sasseruva (Res Vehera) Raja Maha Viharaya. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

Earlier, with creaking bones and wobbly knees I had climbed up uneven 300 or so stone steps to view in wonder the 39 foot vertical colossal Buddha statue of Sasseruwa. Chiselled in high relief, this unfinished statue is considered to be far inferior to that of the more famous twin the Aukana Buddha statue. In the fading light, there was so much feeling and intensity. One long ear lobe was carved ( as in photo) and the other was not.

Details of the face of the unfinished statue showing the carvings on the left ear. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

Details of the face of the unfinished statue showing the carvings on the left ear. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

At least 3 versions of legends exist as to why it was never finished –it was a competition between the master and the protege and the latter gave up when the Guru completed first his Aukana statue. The second is the work was abandoned when the artist discovered a crack on the rock. The third is that it was the work of a craftsman from King Dutugamunu’s army and was carried out when the army camped here before going to war with King Elara. Apparently, the army was unable to cross the “Malwathu Oya” (river Malwathu) due to heavy rains.

Saseruwa granite Buddha statue in the Abhaya mudra. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

Saseruwa granite Buddha statue in the Abhaya mudra. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

This statue might have lost out to Aukana, but there is still an unmistakable impressiveness of this colossal which can dwarf a worshipper to a Lilliputian.

The cool black of a village night, pierced harshly by a few modern lights, yet caressed by soft breezes was upon us when we left. I turned back to record in my mind a one last look. Are the ghosts I could sense a figment of my lively imagination or is the disappointed sculptor still brooding; is the woman who sewed the robe still around — maybe returned to guard the statue as the cobra; are the many painters who devotedly painted murals lamenting over the decaying of their art works. Who knows, but what I saw was not just ruins but a rich piece of their lives. Are we telling their story well?

The old man and the sea

Lonely fishermen post tsunami, Southern Sri Lanka. 12 Dec.2006. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

Lonely fishermen post tsunami, Southern Sri Lanka.  Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

“For most of history, man has had to fight nature to survive; in this century he is beginning to realize that, in order to survive, he must protect it.”

Jacques-Yves Cousteau

“Charmed: I’m Sure” … do Manners Maketh the Modern Woman?

Originally posted on Campari and Sofa:

showbiz-modern-manners-liv-tylerThose of you familiar with my occasional ranting on the subject will know that I have ‘a thing’ about decent manners. I’m not talking about the laborious English process that has you talking about the weather as the house burns around you, nor the baffling French protocols involving vous voudrais, how many times to kiss an acquaintance and when it is polite to sleep with your hostess’ husband … No I am talking more about the common or garden variety – the one that has you thanking people, saying please, returning calls, letting people through doors ahead of you, respondevou-ing ‘yes, please’ or ‘no thank you’ rather than waiting to see if something better comes along, then honouring your social engagements, calling to cancel rather than sending a text etc.

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