Buduruvagala Stone Sculptures

Seven statues sculptured on relief on one gigantic rock in the 9th -10th c A.D. The 51 foot high Buddha is in the centre and is flanked by three smaller statues on either side. Photo ©Chulie de Silva circa 2000.

Seven statues sculptured on relief on one gigantic rock in the 9th -10th c A.D. The 13 m. high Buddha is in the centre and is flanked by three smaller statues on either side. Photo ©Chulie de Silva circa 2000.

The photos of Buduruvagala (also spelt Buduruwagala) taken nearly two decades ago tumbled out of a shoe box of old letters and cards I was rummaging in.  With it came the memories of that journey to see Buddha’s rock with the remarkable Mahayana sculptures in Sri Lanka. We were holidaying in Ella. A last ditch effort on my part to rekindle the old romance. That was a lost cause but we did drive from Ella, turning South at Wellawaya to see this colossi of Buduruwagala.

The land was parched dry, spent and desolate, like an aged wrinkled parched man waiting for a drink. The last bit we walked on foot, in blistering heat with little respite. No throngs of tourists. This was late 1990s just a couple of local visitors. We didn’t talk much, but that was par for the course where the marriage was.

Buduruwagala means the rock with the Buddha images and is a composite of the words Buddha=Budu; Ruva=images and Gala=rock. The gigantic rock when it came into view was at first glimpse so surreal in the barren landscape. I remembered the descriptions of the rock comparing it to a huge elephant reposing bowing paying homage to the seven statues sculptured in to it.

My search for more information on the photos unearthed a heap of interesting facts. This is Sri Lanka’s finest example of Mahayana sculpture and is dated to be around 9th -10th c A.D., and was possibly a site for a monastery. The statues and the writings on it indicated that worship and practice of Mahayana Buddhism was more widespread in Lanka than I first thought. Mahayana influence began  to take hold in Sri Lanka around the 7 Century, and reached its zenith during the rule of King Mahasen (A.D. 276-303) says Janaka Perera in an article The Impact of Mahayana Buddhism on Sri Lanka “By the 7th and 8th Centuries the centres of Mahayana practices were the Abhayagiri and Jethawana monasteries (which also includes the country’s largest stupa) complexes in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka’s ancient capital.”

The central imposing main Buddha image is the tallest in Sri Lanka and is 13 m. in height and is attributed to be Dipankara Buddha and not Gautama Buddha as I assumed earleir. The Buddha is said to be in the Samabhanga posture and has the right hand gesturing  the Abhaya Mudra. Now that the Bamiyan statues are no more, this could very well be the tallest stone sculpture of a Buddha statue.

The six carved statues on either side are all of Bodhisatvas. In very simplistic terms Bodhisattvas are ones who aspires to be a Buddha. Mahāyāna Buddhism encourages everyone to become bodhisattvas and to take the bodhisattva vows.

On the right of the main Buddha statue are the sculptures of Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva in the centre, a bare breasted Goddess Tara to his left and Prince Sudhanakumara to his right.

On the right of the Standing Buddha image are the sculptures attributed to be of 3 Bodhisatvas Left: Sudhanakumara (height 6.530m) Center: Avalokitesvara (height 7.160m) and Tara (height 5.980m) .Buduruwagala stone sculptures, Wellawaya, Sri Lanka. circa 2000. Photo©Chulie de Silva

On the right of the Standing Buddha image are the sculptures attributed to be of 3 Bodhisatvas Left: Sudhanakumara (height 6.530m) Center: Avalokitesvara (height 7.160m) and Tara (height 5.980m) .Buduruwagala stone sculptures, Wellawaya, Sri Lanka. circa 2000. Photo©Chulie de Silva

Avalokiteshvara (height 7.160m) the Bodhisattva of compassion has eyes that are half closed, long ear lobes, wears a cloth round his waist (dhotti), and his matted hair crown holds an effigy of Amitabha. His hands are in the ahvana mudra  (gesture of calling). The male figure on the right of Avalokiteshvara, is supposed to be of Prince Sudhanakumara. He too has a matted hair crown and holds a book in his right hand and the left hand is in the ahvana mudra too. On the left of  Avalokiteshvara, is the only female bodhisattva of the group and is identified to be of Tara. This statue standing at 5.980m., is probably the largest statue of Tara found in Sri Lanka. She is portrayed here in the Tribhaṅga or Tribunga posture –  a tri-bent body position in the traditional Indian sculpture.  She also has a matted hair crown and holds a water pot in her lowered left hand and her right hand is in the ahvana mudra.

There are three more male bodhisattva sculptures to the left of the central Dipankara Buddha statue. The central bodhisattva is attributed to be Maitreya ( the next Buddha according to Theravadha Buddhism) and is 7.3 m in height. His eyes are half closed, he wears a necklace and his hands too are in the ahvana mudra. The 6.17 m. statue on the right hand side of Maitreya with both hands in the ahvana mudra is aupposed to be an unidentified variation of Avalokiteshvara.  The figure on the left of Maitreya holding a vertical vajra in the right hand uplifted in kartari mudra with the left hand in the ahvana mudra  is identified as Vajrapani (Vajra-bearer height 6.4m).

The statues to the right of the main Buddha statue and on the left are the sculptures of Maitree Bodhisatva, in the centre, Vajrapani Bodhisatva and an unidentifiable deity. Buduruwagala stone sculptures, Wellawaya, Sri Lanka. circa 2000. Photo©Chulie de Silva

The statues to the left of the main Buddha statue are the sculptures of Maitree Bodhisatva, in the centre, Vajrapani Bodhisatva and an unidentifiable deity. Buduruwagala stone sculptures, Wellawaya, Sri Lanka. circa 2000. Photo©Chulie de Silva

The descriptions and identification of the statues are from a paper by Mahinda Degalle titled Buddha’s Rock – Mahayana Legacy at Buduruvagala.

Deegalle states that identification problems have risen in two statues — Sudhankumara on the right group and Maitreya on the right group. The former is disputed to be of Sudhankumara or Manjusri while the latter being Maitreya or Manjusri.

Janaka Perera’s article The Impact of Mahayana Buddhism on Sri Lanka  states that “By the 10th Century, pillars of a temple within the precincts of the Thuparama were identified as tridents (vajra), similar to the dorja or thunderbolt of Tibet which is usually held by Mahayana Bodhisattvas (A.M. Hocart, ‘Archaeological Summary).” He also states that many practices such as the 7th day almsgiving for a dead relative to transfer to him/her merit gained by giving alms to the Sangha stems from the belief in gandhabba – a state of mind that exists between the death and rebirth of a being.  It is widely accepted that the idea of gandhabba spread in Sri Lanka via Mahayana sects that emerged during the Anuradhapura period of Sri Lanka’s history.

Further he quotes Sri Lanka’s former Archaeology Commissioner Dr. Raja De Silva in his scholarly assessment of Sri Lanka’s World Heritage site Sigiriya. De Silva states that King Kassapa I (478-496) who figures prominently in the history of the famous rock was a follower of Abhayagiri monks and that available evidence reveals a strong possibility that the site was a Mahayana monastery. He also attributes the famous Sigiriya frescoes to be of Tara – the consort of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara (Sigiriya and its Significance /Digging into the Past).

See also my post of the Sri Lankan Gilded Tara statue at the British Museum

Remembering Amma@1 year after

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A year without Amma has flown past. Early on 17 morning I could hear the sounds in the kitchen as Padmini, the resident chef Prema & the consultant chef hired for the event started the preparations. I wandered outside on to the verandah. It was still inky dark, a sliver of the moon was still visible.

The night readies to depart -the sliver of a moon still visible. Copyright Chulie de Silva

The night readies to depart -the sliver of a moon still visible. Copyright Chulie de Silva

Dawn breaks over Siriniwasa.Copyright Chulie de Silva

Dawn breaks over Siriniwasa.Copyright Chulie de Silva

By the time I returned from the beach the dawn was just breaking. The house will later fill with visitors – neighbhours, relatives – most will remember Amma with love.
The kitchen was the hub – the centre. I was wandering around photographing food , and Prema 1 & 2 would take a peak at my photos.

Potatoes and pickle -- preparations have started.Copyright Chulie de Silva

Potatoes and pickle — preparations have started.Copyright Chulie de Silva

 

The tuna awaits. Copyright Chulie de Silva

The tuna awaits. Copyright Chulie de Silva

 

Copyright Chulie de Silva

Copyright Chulie de Silva

“Now put that away and do some work, otherwise you will mot get any good karma,” said our bossy Prema. So I got the job of rolling into balls the fish mixture. My sis-in-law came to my help and speeded things up deftly rolling the mixture.

As more helpers trooped in, I escaped to pick up the camera.

The fruits were prepared and the Buddha puja was ready.

A circular dish containing mini potions of all food prepared that is offered in the Buddha Puja.

A circular dish containing mini potions of all food prepared that is offered in the Buddha Puja.

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Copyright Chulie de Silva

Copyright Chulie de Silva

 

Prema 2, the consultant stirs the huge pot of yellow rice with a freshly cut and washed young stalk from a coconut tree.

Prema stirs the yellow rice. Copyright Chulie de Silva

Prema stirs the yellow rice. Copyright Chulie de Silva

“Aren’t you going to take ‘potos’ (photos) of us with the proper camera like last time asked Prema 2. Obviously, they didn’t have much faith in phone cameras! So that had to come out too. But those are yet to be downloaded,

The next day Prema 1 sat with me looking at all the photos and trying to understand what this posting pics on FB was. Suddenly, she turned and said there’s no photo on FB of the salad I painstakingly prepared. Luckily for me i had photographed it although I had not posted it.

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Prema was suitably impressed. “You must take more and post on FB, so people will get to know our culinary skills,” said Prema. “Tomorrow, you must photograph my garden, so the ‘rata inna nona’ (the lady who lives abroad) can see what I have done with the garden. I now have a second PR job.

All photographs copyright Chulie de Silva

PS This is my first blog from the iPhone😄

 

Meeting Ananga, the God of Love at the Telwatte Temple

There are about three stories jostling in my mind, each one wanting to be the first on the blog for 2015. Not quite good to have my own thoughts hustling to win like the politicians. Cut to the chase, the decision is to leave the sadness of 2014 behind, embrace the new and do a happy post. Post tsunami 10th anniversary almsgiving, I went wandering with my new love, my Nikon camera. First stop was to meet Ananga, a.k.a. Kamadeva, son of Vishnu and Laxmi . His wife is Rati but he lives alone at this abode — the Purana Totagama Raja Maha Viharaya in Telwatte, Hikkaduwa.. He and Rati were favourites of my father and a number of other writers. Ananga is the god of sexual love, like Eros of the Greeks and Cupid of the Romans.

Statue of Anangaya at Purana Thotagama Temple, Telwatte, Hikkaduwa. 26 Dec. 2014. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva

Statue of Anangaya at Purana Thotagama Temple, Telwatte, Hikkaduwa. 26 Dec. 2014. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am not sure, what he is doing or supposed to be doing standing larger than life size at the entrance to the shrine room of the temple but there he is, holding a sugar cane bow in his left hand and a sheaf of arrows in the right.

While our giant neighbhour, India, widely worshipped Ananga there are not many references to for the prevalence of this cult in Sri Lanka. In fact, as far as I know this is the only statue of Ananga in Lanka. He has a variety of names .  e,g. Kandapa, Naranga, Malkehella, Madana, Malsara, Makaradvaja and Kama.

Buddha Statue inner shrine, Purana Thotagama Raja Maha Viharaya, Telwatte, Hikkaduwa. 27 Dec. 2014. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva

Buddha Statue inner shrine room or Viharage, Purana Thotagama Raja Maha Viharaya, Telwatte, Hikkaduwa. 27 Dec. 2014. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva

In the inner shrine room, facing the huge reclining Buddha, is another giant standing statue, of God Vishnu, father of Ananga.  There is not enough room for me to back up to take the photo, but I do manage to capture some of the majestic stance of God Vishnu.

Statue of God Vishnu at Purana Thotagama Temple, Telwatte, Hikkaduwa. 26 Dec. 2014 . Photo copyright Chulie de Silva

Statue of God Vishnu at  Thotagama Raja Maha Viharaya Temple, Telwatte, Hikkaduwa. 26 Dec. 2014 . Photo copyright Chulie de Silva

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vishnu is also known as Narayana, and  Upulvan (blue lotus colour), is represented as a black or deep blue man — sometimes with four arms,  club in one, a shell in another, a discuss in the third, and a lotus in the fourth. His vehicle is the bird Garuda. He is the guardian God of Buddhism.

To the left of the Ananga statue is another colossal statue of God Natha (Avalokiteshwara), surrounded by murals. Two guardian lions stand on either side of the God.

Statue of God Natha at Purana Thotagama Temple, Telwatte, Hikkaduwa. 26 Dec. 2014. Photo Copyright Chulie de Silva

The statue of God Natha ) at Thotagama Temple, Telwatte, Hikkaduwa. 26 Dec. 2014. Photo Copyright Chulie de Silva

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aryapala in his  Book on Society in Medieval Ceylon, quotes Senarath Paranavitane ad states that there was an inscription containing invocations to Tara and Avalokiteshvara, affording evidence that Mahayana Gods and goddesses were objects of popular worship.

The Guard (Doratupalaya) to the right of the God Natha, with the guardian lion. Purana Totagama Raja Maha Viharaya, Telwatte, Hikkaduwa. 26 Dec. 2014. Copyright Chulie de Silva

The Guard (Doratupalaya) to the right of the God Natha, with the guardian lion.  Totagama Raja Maha Viharaya, Telwatte, Hikkaduwa. 26 Dec. 2014. Copyright Chulie de Silva

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Manjusri dates the Telwatte Purana Viharaya as 1799. The inscription n the doorway dates this “Aluth Viharage” pintings and sculpture to 1805, but despite this Senake Bandaranayake says these are much more likely to be of mid-century vintage.

Inscription above the door to the shrine room. Purana Totgama Raja Maha Viharaya, Telwatte, Hikkaduwa. 26 Dec. 2014. Copyright Chulie de Silva

Inscription above the door to the shrine room. Purana Totgama Raja Maha Viharaya, Telwatte, Hikkaduwa. 26 Dec. 2014. Copyright Chulie de Silva

Many who visit the temple have little idea of the historical value of the statues or the frescoes, let alone the names of the gods in the statues. For them its a temple in the village that they come to worship.

An elderly woman worships at the Purana Totgama Raja Maha Viharaya, Telwatte, Hikkaduwa. Copyright Chulie de Silva

An elderly woman worships at the Purana Totgama Raja Maha Viharaya, Telwatte, Hikkaduwa. Copyright Chulie de Silva

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This lady had no answers for her grandson when he asked for the names of the Gods. It is difficult to account for the presence of Ananga in the temple says Ariyapala adding that “It may have been a warning to the lay-devotees against indulgence in sexual pleasures.” Whatever the reason for building the statue, its a part of our heritage that will be lost as there is no visible plans to save them. Learning to accept impermanence and decay is an essential requirement of Buddhism. Maybe we have lessons to learn.

Frescoes on the wall to the left side of the Ananga statue. Purana Totgama Raja Maha Viharaya; 26 Dec. 2015. Copyright Chulie de Silva

Frescoes on the wall to the left side of the Ananga statue. Purana Totgama Raja Maha Viharaya; 26 Dec. 2015. Copyright Chulie de Silva

Fading Murals of Bihalpola Raja Maha Vihare

Information is pretty thin stuff, unless mixed with experience said the American author Clarence Day and so it was with the Bihalpola Raja Maha Vihare  located off the Kurunegala-Narammala-Madampe Rd, Sri Lanka. We had been warned that the climb to the top was tedious but I was glad that I huffed and puffed and dragged my aching, creaking joints to the higher level of the temple.  Much of the murals are fading and decaying but the grandeur and the colours of what is left of the frescoes in the relic chamber (Datu Mandiraya) of this temple was well worth the climb.  

Mural of possibly Sariputta or Mogallana Arahat thera.Bihalpola Raja Maha Vihare. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

Mural of possibly Sariputta or Mogallana Arahat thera.Bihalpola Raja Maha Vihare. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

Historically the temple roots go back to King Devanampiya Tissa (B.C. 89-77), who is supposed to be the first person to convert when Buddhism was introduced to Lanka by Emperor Asoka. An interesting fact I gleaned after returning was that Kingship was founded in Ceylon [Sri Lanka] by Asoka with the consecration of Devanampiya Tissa. This is a hypotheses put forward by Senarath Paravitana, our pioneering archeologist and epigraphist. The temple was later renovated by King Walagamba (89-77 BC) and the paintings are supposed to belong to the Kandyan period.

Mural of possibly Sariputta or Mogallana Arahat thera.Bihalpola Raja Maha Vihare. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

The opposing right side mural of possibly Sariputta or Mogallana Arahat thera.Bihalpola Raja Maha Vihare. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

Ananda Coomaraswamy in his classic work Mediaeval Sinhalese Art describes in detail how the natural pigments were prepared by Kandyan artists. White was derived from hydrous magnesite obtained from  a cave known as the makul gal lena in Vetekgama near Maturata. Red came from Cinnabar, which is not known to occur in Lanka and says it must have been imported. Yellow from gamboge (goraka)  from the gokata tree (Garcinia morella). Black  is lamp black and was made from grinding the juice from the jack fruit, Kekuna oil (oil from Canarium zeylanicum) and rosin (hal-dummala, from the hal tree Vateria acuminata) and then mixing it with shreds of cotton cloth and setting on fire this mixture in a clean earthen pot with a second pot inverted above it. The soot is deposited on the top pot and then collected. Blue was rarely seen it seems, but was obtained from the indigo plant. Green was known as pacca and was made by mixing blue and yellow. Shades of colours were obtained mixing red, black and blue with white to form pink, grey and light blue respectively.

Coomaraswamy comments that a characteristic feature was the outlining of all forms with a clear black line: this outline and the occasional use of small quantities of green or white in the detail of an ornament gives just the necessary softening required to harmonize the strong reds and yellows and reduce their extreme brilliancy. This can be seen in the executing of the above two murals.

A fire in 1997 has damaged number of paintings and a wooden Makara Thorana at the temple and treasure hunters have got away with the Sacred Footprint of the Buddha and some of the statues at the Viharaya. Maybe the statue in the middle in the photo below is a replacement as it doesn’t seem to blend in harmony with the other two statues in the relic chamber.

The inner relic chamber. Bihalpola Raja Maha Vihara, Kurunegala. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

The inner relic chamber. Bihalpola Raja Maha Vihara, Kurunegala. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

The Makara Thorana at the entrance  too looks as if it has also been redone.

The makara thorana at the entrance to the relic chamber. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

The makara thorana at the entrance to the relic chamber. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

However, the Jataka stories — stories of Buddha’s previous lives on the Vihara walls are fast fading. The stories are visually retold in long panels and there is a small strip that is just sufficient to give a short explanatory note of the Jataka story. The Vessantara Jataka on the panels on the outer wall of the relic chamber tells the story of one of Buddha’s past lives — about a compassionate prince, Vessantara, who gives away everything he owns, including his children, thereby displaying the virtue of perfect charity.

The first two panels from the Vessantara Jatakaya. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

The first two panels from the Vessantara Jatakaya. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

The first panel probably shows the people requesting the King Sanjaya to send Prince Vessantara away from the kingdom as he gave away the magical white elephant that brought rain to the kingdom to envoys from Kalinga, a neighbhouring village.The second panel shows Prince Vessantara’s wife Queen Madri in conversation with a bear breasted servant.

Panel with the magical white elephant being led away. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

Panel with the magical white elephant being led away. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

The panel with the magical white elephant adds to the panorama but here it is the observer that has to move to follow the story while the mural stays static.

Panels showing people carrying away items given away by Prince Vessantara. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

Panels showing people carrying away items given away by Prince Vessantara. Photo copyright Chulie de SilvThe upper level where the relic chamber is situated is reached by two narrow wooden staircases and there are trap doors that were probably there to protect the relics.

The air is cool and tranquil and the view is lush and green from the higher level where the main Stupa enshrining Buddha’s relics are located. Historical records attribute the bringing of the relics to  Brahmin Hambinarayana from Vaishali. At the lower ground zero level, the Chief Priest had displayed some relics in a transparent casket. They looked like minute bone fragments.

The stupa on the top level. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

The stupa on the top level. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

Next to the 3 storey relic chamber is a “Tampita Vihara” which is  a shrine room built on pillars.

The 3 story relic chamber is next to the Tampita Vihara. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

The 3 story relic chamber is next to the Tampita Vihara. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

We might not have known the importance of this temple but the people from the vicinity were all there on this full moon Poya day.

Young devotees walk up the stone steps to worship the Buddha Statue at the temple on the top. Bihalpola Raja Maha Vihara, Kurunegala. 6 Dec.2014. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

Young devotees walk up the stone steps to worship the Buddha Statue at the temple on the top. Bihalpola Raja Maha Vihara, Kurunegala. 6 Dec.2014. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

Many of Sri Lanka’s temples have decaying historic murals as this one.

The shrine room, Bihalpola Raja Maha Vihare. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

The shrine room, Bihalpola Raja Maha Vihare. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

As Ananda Coomaraswamy said: “The value of these paintings lies not merely in their beauty and charm as decorations, but in the fact that they are priceless historical documents that could npt be reproduced under modern conditions.”

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?

Death as a mirror of life

The narrow road from Pinkande to Katudampe was shiny black newly tarred, clearly marked on the edges with white unbroken lines.On either side we passed lush green paddy fields, houses surrounded by small garden plots with coconut, mango, banana and fruit trees. A solitary young Buddhist priest walked briskly, the bright orange of his robes, matching the setting sun that burned brightly beyond the fringe of trees. This was quintessentially rural Lanka at its best. We were mostly silent on the way to the Sri Sunandaramaya Temple at Katudampe in Dodanduwa.  On the seat with me was a small clay pot with a white cloth over it. This was my mother’s ashes — all that remained of a once vibrant, energetic, mother.

The river by the temple was silent. Nothing moved. The silence had an aura of its own as if it paid homage to the nearby temple.

The river by the Sri Sunandaramaya Temple, Katudampe, Dodanduwa. 8 Feb.2014. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

The river by the Sri Sunandaramaya Temple, Katudampe, Dodanduwa. 8 Feb.2014. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

I stood beside the bamboo grove, and watched the still waters. This was where we would leave my mother’s last remains by the temple she worshiped and also close to the Polgasduwa hermitage where she gave alms annually sometime ago. Returning ashes to a river is not  Buddhist custom. It’s a borrowed ritual from Hinduism. Rivers like the river Ganges is the embodiment of all sacred waters and the Sinhales use of “Ganga” for river probably stems from it. All rivers are supposed to have descended from heaven and the belief is that they are also the vehicle of ascent into heaven.

The bamboo grove by the Katudampe river. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

The bamboo grove by the Katudampe river. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

As I stood crouched near the bamboo grove, my mother’s life passed through my mind. The breeze was gentle, calmed by the peace enveloping the river, I could let my sorrow seep into the water.  I heard a quiet splash in the water near me and turned to see a river snake  slid into the water, less than a foot away from me.

A river snake slides into the Katudampe river. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

A river snake slides into the Katudampe river. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

I wondered whether the snake was an omen, a relative of the past, maybe my own mother come as an incarnation but any such thoughts I had were snuffed completely by Rev. Hikkaduwe Tilaka, the chief priest of the temple. The novice priest on the other hand was very excited. He and I looked around for more snakes but there were none.

Looking for water snakes in the river by the Sunandaramaya Temple, Katudampe, Dodanduwa with the Podi Hamuduruwo. 8 Feb. 2014. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

Looking for water snakes in the river by the Sunandaramaya Temple, Katudampe, Dodanduwa with the Podi Hamuduruwo. 8 Feb. 2014. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

In my sorrow, I had turned to re-read the The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying that had been a gift from my younger son. I was reminded about the central concept of Tibetan Buddhism — of  life and death being seen as one whole, where death is a mirror in which the entire meaning of life is reflected.

In the teachings of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, life and death are presented together as a series of constantly changing transitional realities known as bardos. So from the Tibetan Buddhist point of view and my understanding our entire existence — something like we know as our travels through samsara — is divided into four continually linked realities (1) life, (2) dying and death (3) after death and (4) rebirth. The greatest and most charged of these however, is the moment of death. Scriptures of Theravada Buddhism too, states that your “chethana” loosely translated meaning your mindset at the moment of death is the all important karma that drives your rebirth.

Many of the rituals performed at funerals like the one of pouring water on to a cup, till it overflows is passing on blessings to a dead person to benefit her/his after life

As water raining on a hill flows down to the valley,
even so does what is given here
benefit the dead.
As rivers full of water fill the ocean full,
even so does what is given here
benefit the dead.”

7th day almsging in remembrance of my mother. Siriniwasa, Hikkaduwa. 24 Jan. 2014. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

7th day almsgiving in remembrance of my mother. Siriniwasa, Hikkaduwa. 24 Jan. 2014. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

As the evening shadows deepened Matheesha, my brother Prasanna‘s younger son and my mother’s youngest grandson, stood patiently for the signal from the priest. The time had come to let go.

Samsara is your mind, and nirvana is also your mind
All pleasure and pain, and all delusions exist nowhere apart from your mind”

The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche

Matheesha holds the ashes in a pot with a bag of white flowers as the river waits silently. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

Matheesha holds the ashes in a pot with a bag of white flowers to be sprinkled on to the river that waits silently. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

Reflections & Refractions

Tranquility at Katudampe temple, Ratgama, Sri Lanka 8 Feb 2014. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Reflections and Refractions by the river at  Katudampe temple, Ratgama, Sri Lanka 8 Feb 2014. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Know all things to be like this:
a mirage, a cloud castle,
a dream, an apparition,
Without essence, but with qualities that can be seen.

Know all things to be like this:
As the moon in a bright  sky
In some clear lake reflected,
Though to that lake the moon has never moved.

Know all things to be like this:
As an echo that derives
From music, sounds, and weeping,
Yet in that echo, is no melody.

Know all things to be like this:
As a magician makes illusions,
Of horses, oxen, carts and other things,
Nothing is as it appears..

–Buddha’s teachings on death and dying.

 

Seenigama Devale and animistic rituals

Seenigama Devale at dusk. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Seenigama Devale at dusk. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

My father claims that he planted one of the coconut trees at this temple you can see on the old coast road to Galle, in a tiny hamlet called Seenigama. The little temple – a half a mile or so into the sea with a clump of coconut trees is a veritable treasure trove of stories. It wasn’t built on the sea. The temple was originally on the beach on a mound of sand built by villagers to venerate God Devol, who apparently was able to use his powers to change sand into sugar — local name  for sugar is “seeni,” and “gama” is village in Sinhala.

The sea ate the “seeni” beach and the temple is where it is now. The severe sea erosion was due to coral mining extensively carried out in this area. Kilns burning coral spewing pungent smoke was a common sight in this region when we used to pass this area.  Kilns were present till the 1970s, I think. The damage to the marine environment was so grave that even the Devol Deiyo the patron god of the fisher folk in this area couldn’t prevent the wrath of the sea in the tsunami of 2004.

Coast road to Hikkaduwa, still showing the erosion of the beach 30 Dec. 2008.Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Coast road to Hikkaduwa, still showing the erosion of the beach 30 Dec. 2008.Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Briefly Devol was a Prince from India who was put on a boat by his father and sent off to  Lanka or maybe he was thrown out of the palace. … Looks like this was a punishment route that many princes from the subcontinent were forced to take by their fathers. One legend has it that Devol’s father – a King had seven sons by seven queens in his harem , all born on the same day.  Unable to decide on who the Crown Prince will be he put all seven into boats and pushed them out to sea — an outbound exercise to select a survivor to inherit the crown? This I suppose was one of the first lot of boat -borne asylum seekers. Then the coast guards were a pantheon of island guarding gods and the  all powerful Goddess Pattini, put Devol’s skills to the test before allowing him to land.

Devol is worshiped as a dual purpose God. He can bless a person or as the Lord of vengeance from his seat of judgement decide on punishment to evil doers. Cursing with Devol is referred to as “grinding chillies at Seenigama Devale.” The curse is moulded on the anvil — stone chilli grinder provided by the chief of the temple the “Kapurala”. Chillies the hot burning ingredient that causes burns, irritation and pain when a paste of which is applied on the skin becomes the vehicle for the curse.

From left: Vishnu, Kataragama and Devol Deiyo/Gods at the shrine at the Welle Devale, Unawatuna. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

From left: Vishnu, Kataragama and Devol Deiyo/Gods at the shrine at the Welle Devale, Unawatuna. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Devol’s entry into Lanka was granted by Goddess Pattini , after she was given a boon to cure diseases by Devol. “On the strength of this he got himself a visa,” says Srilal Perera responding to my blog  “Shrine on the beach “Welle Devale, Unawatune”  written after a visit to Unawatuna. Srilal also pointed out that in the annual all night “Gam madu” rituals in the villages of Sri Lanka this episode is enacted.

Gammadu means literally a village shed and the Sinhala Drama evolved from these rituals “The drama is only a bi-product of activities seriously directed towards the sustenance of the entire life of the community, namely the propitiation of gods and demons, and the performance of magical rites which are calculated to prevent diseases, ward of evil, bring plentiful crops and confer in general prosperity in the village.”which included music, song or recited verses, costumes, drama and masks,” says Prof Ediriweera Sarachchandra in his scholarly work “The Folk Drama of Ceylon,”

This book (purchased for a princely sum of LKR 18/–, circa late 1970s) meticulously traces from the roots the rituals of folk religion and the fusion of village cults of exorcism with the culture emanating from Buddhism.

“Gam Madu,” “Pam madu” or “Puna Madu” are species of the same type of ritual with slight differences in each, says Sarachchandra adding that they are generally referred to as “Devol Madu.” All rituals are performed for general good luck and the expelling of evil.

Demons or Yakshas are portrayed as frightening creatures. A faded fresco at Welle Devale, Unawatuna, supposed to be of Agora. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Demons or Yakshas are portrayed as frightening creatures. A faded fresco of Siva-Vatuka with an elephant in his mouth at Welle Devale, Unawatuna.  Photograph© Chulie de Silva

So where did this evil enter the life of the Sinhalese villagers. Mostly from the belief that mysterious evil influences or evil powers of people and demons caused ill health, brought bad luck and caused hysteria and temporary insanity.

The prevailing concept Sarachchandra says is “vas, Vas or vas-dos,”  which affects people adversely preventing them from being healthy, successful in their undertakings etc. The malicious influence can come from people who have the ‘evil eye” (asvaha), evil mouth (katavaha); uttering envious words and lamenting over one’s good fortune (ando andiya) or from the entertaining of evil thoughts (hovaha). Evil influences can come from many demons — very colourful and too many to list here  but they can cause swoons, fits of insanity (murtu) and various types of hysteria.

Sarachchandra gives an interesting alliterative phrase used by “Demon priests” as “asvaha, katavaha, hovaha, ando andiya turtu murtu pinum peralum avalum vevlum. I can remember this phrase among the many recited by our Dhobi — the laundry man — who would come at my mother’s bidding to get rid of of the Asvaha (or evil eye) from us.

The ritual called the “Dehi kapanawa” (cutting the limes) was performed in the mornings and is a lesser routine, out of all the animistic rituals. It is mainly performed if you had been falling sick often and is supposed to have got the “evil eye.”. For me usually this was performed on the back verandah of Siriniwasa. The Dhobi would be dressed in white with a white turban and he had a big basin of limes. He would take a lime and hold it  in the grip of an areconut cutter called a giraya.

Antique Giraya at my alter. Giraya is the metal instrument on the far right shaped  with a woman's head and legs. 24 Feb. Sri Lanka. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Antique Giraya at my alter. Giraya is the metal instrument on the far right shaped with a woman’s head and legs. 24 Feb. Sri Lanka. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Many many moons ago, when I had my last ritual, the Dhobi would hold the lime over my head, chant various phrases, cut the lime into two equal parts with a swift click and drop the cut lime into a basin. In this role he had a much higher status as a magician who can bestow good health. How much “Asvaha ” you had was measured by the way the limes floated or ended in the bottom of the pail of water.

Did my life get better or did I feel good after that? I must get another ritual done to check if lady luck will return!!! This time I will be armed with my camera and follow the ritual closely. As for the demons, they are a fascinating lot and needs a separate blog to write about them. The demons are supposed to loiter at twilight or early morning in grave yards, cross roads, lonely roads etc.  We were not supposed to eat fried food and run around at twilight as the “yakka’s” (demons) would get hold of us or enter our bodies. This theory, we did challenge and I have survived to tell the tale. Maybe I should attend a Gam Maduwa and experience it first hand before writing more about it but first to read more about the different Yakkas and then to visit a temple of the all powerful Goddess Pattini and follow up on her cult.

The Mystique of Gal Viharaya, Polonnaruwa

At six a.m.  I set off for my fifth visit to the Gal Vihara. … like a pilgrim to Nirvana the jungle still dark but with shafts of dawn now appearing. The head of the standing figure — which I like to believe represents Ananda — was haloed with the first light , while the Master was in deepest shadow. The anguish on the face of the disciple seemed more delineated as he stood protectively over the reclining figure. Little scrappy dogs of all colours kept guard, and I was alone on this great plateau of gneiss,” so wrote Roloff Beny, a passage from his diary quoted in his most prized book in my collection “Island Ceylon.”

The standing statue Gal viharaya, Polonnauwa. AD 1153-86. One of the four great  medieval statues supposed to be of Buddha sculptured from a streaked granite rock during the reign of Parakramabahu the Great. The statue was earlier thought t be of Buddha's disciple Ananda. 12 March 2005. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

The standing statue Gal viharaya, Polonnauwa. AD 1153-86. One of the four great medieval statues supposed to be of Buddha sculptured from a streaked granite rock during the reign of Parakramabahu the Great. The statue was earlier thought to be of Buddha’s disciple Ananda. 12 March 2005. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Beny, a charismatic reputed photographer uses a blue suffused surreal Gal Vihara image with the standing and reclining statues on the cover of his book.  “No words can adequately describe the feeling of exaltation that I experienced when the spirit of the Island took possession of me,” he says. On his diary notes he asks “How many times down the centuries had the dawn touched the sorrowing face and gradually painted the rippling robes of the Buddha and brought to life the dying features?

The standing Buddha is considered to be of the finest of sculptures and is 22 feet 9 inches (6.93 m) tall. “The expression is clear and precise, while utterly transcending the limits of spatial and temporal experience,” says Beny adding that “the statue recalls Greek modelling of the sixth century BC.”

Some like Beny are of the opinion that this statue is that of Ananda Maha Thera but Dr. S. Paranavitana identifies it as that of Lord Buddha in the attitude described as Para dukkha dukkhita – “He who sorrows for the sorrows of others”.

The reclining Parinirvana statue of Buddha, Gal viharaya, Polonnauwa . AD 1153-86. One of the four great  medieval statues supposed to be of Buddha sculptured from a streaked granite rock during the Parakramabahu the Great. 12 March 2005. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

The reclining Parinirvana statue of Buddha, Gal viharaya, Polonnauwa . AD 1153-86. One of the four great medieval statues supposed to be of Buddha sculptured from a streaked granite rock during the Parakramabahu the Great. 12 March 2005. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

The reclining image is 46 feet 4 inches (14.12 m) in length, and is the biggest statue in Gal Vihara,and is also supposed to be one of the largest sculptures in Southeast Asia.

The colour and texture of the rock with the banded striations gives an extraordinary effect almost differentiating the textures between clothing and skin. The carving on the pillow is beautifully executed too, with indentations which looks like the crushing of a pillow, with the weight of the head. The pillow has the wheel or chakra, the symbol, which is also found on the underside of the soles of the feet of the reclining Buddha. The slight drawing back of the upper foot in this statue is an indication that this is his withdrawal into parinirvana.

The reclining Parinirvana statue of Buddha, Gal viharaya, Polonnauwa . AD 1153-86. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

The reclining Parinirvana statue of Buddha, Gal viharaya, Polonnauwa . AD 1153-86. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

The wheel – chakra – in Buddhist art symbolizes  Buddha as the one who in his first  sermon at Saranath, set the wheels of Dhamma in motion — Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta: Setting the Wheel of Dhamma in Motion. His subsequent discourses at Rajgir and Shravasti are known as the “second and third turnings of the wheel of dharma.” The eight spokes of the wheel symbolize the Noble Eightfold Path set out by the Buddha in his teachings.

The wheel also represents the endless cycle of samsara, or rebirth, which can only be escaped by means of the Buddha’s teachings. And some Buddhists regard the the wheel’s three basic parts as symbols of the “three trainings” in Buddhist practice: The hub symbolizes moral discipline, which stabilizes the mind. The spokes (usually there are eight) represent wisdom which is applied to defeat ignorance. The rim represents training in concentration, which holds everything else together.

The  Gal viharaya, compound Polonnauwa. AD 1153-86, once the "Uttararama" or Northern Monastery  built by King Parakramabahu the Great Photograph©Chulie de Silva

The Gal viharaya, compound Polonnauwa. AD 1153-86, once the “Uttararama” or Northern Monastery built by King Parakramabahu the Great
Photograph©Chulie de Silva

The Gal Vihara or Gal Viharaya is so called because of the rock/granite ( Sinhala = Gal) face that was used to carve the four statues and it was part of “Uttararama” (the northern monastery), in the city of Polonnaruwa.

Wikipedia quoting the chronicle Chulavamsa says “the Vihara was one of the more prominent of the 100 temples built throughout ancient Sri Lanka by King Parakramabahu I (1153 – 1186). The chronicle mentions that Parakramabahu I,  had his workmen build three caves in the rock after finishing the temple: the Vijjadhara Guha (cave of the spirits of knowledge), the Nissina Patima Lena (cave of the sitting image), and the Nipanna Patima Guha (cave of the sleeping image). Although they are described as “caves”, only the Vijjadhara Guha is a cave, while the others were image houses similar to the Thivanka and Lankathilaka, with their walls connected to the rock face. These walls, which were evidently decorated with frescoes] have since been destroyed and only their bases now remain.

Vijjadhara Guha, Gal Viharaya, Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka. Photograph Jerzy Strzelecki. This is a file from the Wikimedia Commons.

Vijjadhara Guha, Gal Viharaya, Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka. Photograph Jerzy Strzelecki. This is a file from the Wikimedia Commons.

While visiting Angkor Wat in 1993, I first noticed that there in Angkor was a temple very similar to the Sathmahal Prasadaya at Polonnaruwa and heard about the ties between Lanka and Cambodia during this period.

See Bernard VanCuylenburg’s article about; Lanka and Cambodian connections: http://lankavisions.weebly.com/the-cambodian-connection.html

[ See also Wikipedia for more history and images of the seated Buddha statues]

Reference:

Island Ceylon by Roloff Beny (1971, Hardcover)

Roloff Beny | ISBN-10: 0670402095 | ISBN-13: 9780670402090