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

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 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

Binara Poya, Women Power & Therigatha

Today is Binara Pura Pasalosvaka Poya day the 2557th year, since the passing away of Sakyamuni Siddhartha Gauthama Buddha. It was on a full moon day like today that Lord Buddha consented to admit women in to the Buddhist Order on the fourth appeal made by his stepmother Maha Prajapati Gotami.

A damaged and fading frescoe of Buddhist Priests pay homage to Lord Buddha. Telwatte Purana Thotagamuva Rajamaha Viharaya. Telwatte. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

A damaged and fading frescoe of Lord Buddha and the future Buddhas, who are seeking “Niyatha vivarana (prediction of future Buddhahood). Telwatte Purana Thotagamuva Rajamaha Viharaya. Telwatte. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

According to Premasiri Epasinghe, writing in the Island newspaper in 2010, Buddha turned down the request thrice. Then the women, 500 of them banded together under Maha Prajapati Gotami, shaved their heads, wore yellow robes and made another appeal via Venerable Ananda Thera – the “Dharmabandagarika” (Keeper of the Dharma). That was good activism and good sense to seek the support of Ven. Ananda who was, Buddha’s cousin. son of Amitodana, the brother of Buddha’s father Suddodana.

According to the scriptures and stated by both Epasinhe and Walter Wijenayake writing in today’s Island “the Buddha gave womenfolk permission to enter the order subject to observances of eight chief precepts (ashta garu dharma). They are:

1. A Bhikkhuni has to worship a day old higher ordained Bhikkhu even if she was 100 years old in higher ordination. She should get up from her seat and show her due respects to the Bhikkhus who observe the major precepts.2. A Bhikkuni should not observe the rainy season precepts in an area where there are no Bhikkhus.

3. Every fortnight a Bhikkuni has to request for ‘Pohoya kamma’ from the Bhikkus. She has to know the time she should obtain advice from the Bhikkhus.

4. When a Bhikkuni concludes her rainy seasonal precepts observation, she has to do it in front of both Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis.

5. A Bhikkhuni who has committed a major mistake should confess it in the presence of both Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis.

6. A Bhikkhuni has to undergo two years as a special trainee and then become a higher ordained Bhikkhuni in presence of both Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis.

7. A Bhikkhuni should not scold a Bhikkhu under any circumstance.

8. A Bhikkhuni should not advise Bhikkhus, however, Bhikkhus should advise Bhikkhunis.”

Both writers point out as many have done before, that Buddha gave equal status to women. Reading these ashta guru dharma, I wonder whether Bhikkunis are on par with Bhikkus. To my understanding of these 8 rules Bhikkunis are not. I feel the rules do not giving any credit to a woman of being able to follow the path laid out independently. Some of these rules seem to be justified as no. 2, when you think that most of the 500 women might have lived very sheltered lives. In any case, the admittance of women into the Sangha community was a gigantic step forward and recognition as being suitable to lead the hard life as Bhikkuni.

Part of the statues that are at the entrance to the  shrine room at the Pulinathararamaya Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Part of the statues that are at the entrance to the shrine room at the Pulinathararamaya Photograph© Chulie de Silva

However, in Buddhism if a woman aspires to be a Buddha, the first step is to do enough “ping” –good karma- so she will be born a man. Then the real door opens for the long samsara journey, and she now a he, can ask for niyatha vivarana (prediction of future Buddhahood).

Goddess with many hands. Welle Devale. Unawatuna. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Goddess with many hands. Welle Devale. Unawatuna. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

In the Hindu Pantheon of Gods there are many absolutely gorgeous female Gods– Saraswathi, Lakshmi, Pattini, Durga, Kali , etc but in all their temples found within Buddhist temples, its male priests who perform rites.Women are not even allowed into the inner sanctums of these temples, unless they are accompanied by a well known male. Why Buddhists need these temples and follow these rites is another debate.

A Priest blesses a little girl at Welle Devale. Unawatuna. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

A Priest blesses a little girl at Welle Devale. Unawatuna. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Musing on all these on this poya day, I went searching for the Terigatha and found the Teragatha translations too.

 The Bhikkuni order is credited with the Therigatha, which are translated as Verses of the Elder Nuns (Pāli: theri elder (feminine) + gatha verse), a collection of short delightful poems supposedly recited by early members of the community of Buddhist priests — the Sangha — in India around 600 BC.

In the Pali Canon of Theravada Buddhism, the Therigatha is classified as part of the Khuddaka Nikaya, the collection of short books in the Sutta Pitaka. It consists of 73 poems, organized into 16 chapters. It is the earliest known collection of women’s literature.

This poem from  Chapter 1: The Single Verses (excerpt) translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu, is a honest and clear expression.

I.11 — Mutta {v. 11}   

So freed! So thoroughly freed am I! —
from three crooked things set free:
from mortar, pestle,
& crooked old husband.

Having uprooted the craving
that leads to becoming,
I’m set free from aging & death.

So in the final analysis it is Buddha’s teachings and one’s mind that is important. A verse in the Theragathas  -i.e the bhikkus’ verses says it all.

Vappa (Thag 1.61) {Thag 61}   

One who sees
sees who sees,
sees who doesn’t.

One who doesn’t see
doesn’t
see who sees
or who doesn’t

The Bhikkuni order went into decline in Sri Lanka and was virtually none existent for nine centuries or so. However, there now exists in Sri Lanka a functional bhikkuni sangha holding regular patimokkha (the twice monthly recitation of the precepts) and properly supported by bhikkus. Read more on the Contemporary Bhikkuni Ordination in Sri Lanka by Bhikkuini Sobhana.

Verses reproduced here with consent as per citation below:

“Therigatha: Verses of the Elder Nuns”, & “Theragatha: Verses of the Elder Monks”,edited by Access to Insight. Access to Insight, 23 April 2012, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/thig/index.html . Retrieved on 19 September 2013.

Nallur Kandaswamy Temple, Jaffna

I went to school and grew up in a very Buddhist enclave in Panadura called “Nalluruwa” and I wondered what the connection was to the Nallur Kandaswamy temple as I wandered in to this famed Hindu Kovil on a cool balmy evening in 2009. The aura of peace and calm surrounding this most revered place of worship for God Skanda was palpable.

The entrance to the Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil or Nallur Murugan Kovil (Tamil: நல்லூர் கந்தசுவாமி கோவில்). It is one of the most significant Hindu temples and a favourite with devotees. Jaffna, Sri Lanka.  31 Aug 2009.

The entrance to the Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil or Nallur Murugan Kovil (Tamil: நல்லூர் கந்தசுவாமி கோவில்). It is one of the most significant Hindu temples and a favourite with devotees. Jaffna, Sri Lanka. 31 Aug 2009. Photo Chulie de Silva.

Skanda is the Hindu God of war and can therefore be compared with Mars, the Roman God of War and tutelary deity of Rome. “The ancient Tamils saw Him as an embodiment of loveliness and beauty, ever young and fragrant. They had worshipped him, for more than five or six millennia and this faith and devotion that they had for Him have been embedded in their collective consciousness,” says Sivanandini Duraiswamy.

To walk into the temple is to be enveloped in a strange mystic aura.Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil or Nallur Murugan Kovil. Photo Chulie de Silva.

To walk into the temple is to be enveloped in a strange mystic aura.Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil or Nallur Murugan Kovil. Photo Chulie de Silva.

A Tamil colleague explained that the daily temple prayers indicate that the Hindu temple was built in Nallur in 1462 AD (1385 Saka Era) by Bhuvaneka Bahu VI known in Tamil as Senpaka Perumal.

Details of a door to an inner worship chamber at the Nallur Kandaswamy Temple. Photo Chulie de Silva

Details of a door to an inner worship chamber at the Nallur Kandaswamy Temple. Photo Chulie de Silva

Nallur was the pre-colonial capital of the Kingdom of Jaffna. The Portuguese destroyed the temple in 1621 AD and the temple was rebuilt during Dutch rule in 1749 AD.

A woman prays quietly and an elderly priest walks past this beautiful chamber with high decorative ceilings leading to a magnificent alter. Photo Chulie de Silva

A woman prays quietly and an elderly priest walks past this beautiful chamber with high decorative ceilings leading to a magnificent alter. Photo Chulie de Silva

“The world rejoices and the many adore as the Sun of Glory riseth for the world’s joy,” says Duraiswamy in an article quoting the opening lines of the celebrated Sangam work depicting Lord Murugan as the Supreme One riding across the luminous sky bringing joy to all.

A priest sits outside the entrance to an inner temple. Photo Chulie de Silva

A priest sits outside the entrance to an inner temple. Photo Chulie de Silva

The first clock tower was erected in 1899, and the main hall where the vel or lance of the deity resides was re-furbished using rocks in 1902, says a report on wikipedia. The temple was undergoing renovations at the time I visited.

The clock towere at Nallur Kandaswamy Temple. Photo Chulie de Silva

The clock tower at Nallur Kandaswamy Temple. Photo Chulie de Silva

Details of carving on the clock tower at the entrance to the Nallur Kandaswamy Temple. Photo Chulie de Silva.

Details of carving on the clock tower at the entrance to the Nallur Kandaswamy Temple. Photo Chulie de Silva.

The aura of peace and joy was also with the people I met just outside the temple. Photo Chulie de Silva.

The aura of peace and joy was also with the people I met just outside the temple. Photo Chulie de Silva.

Skanda is also the patron deity of Ruhuna where he is worshipped with fervour by Buddhists and Hindus at the Kataragama Temple. He is considered as a guardian deity of Sri Lanka. The Kataragama temple was founded in what was then the deep Southern jungles of Sri Lanka. It is a pilgrimage undertaken by many Buddhists as well as Hindus – a hazardous journey on bullock carts in a land frequented by wild elephants  and leopards in days gone by, the journey is now made easier by motorable roads. The veneration of Skanda is a common feature for the North and  the South of Lanka.

Skanda is also housed in a shrine adjacent to the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy. Interestingly, the temple festivals in Kataragama, the Kandy Perahera and the Nallur Temple festival all take place around the same time says my learned Tamil friend.  The Kandy Perahera and the Nallur festival start at the conclusion of the Kataragama water cutting ceremony in the month of Esala!

References: Sivanandini Duraiswamy’s Nallur Kandaswami:
The embodiment of loveliness

Nallur Kandaswamy temple

Hey! That’s my photo not yours

The web has apparently over 3 trillion photographs so what are the chances of one of yours being picked  — or maybe the correct phrase is “lifted  without permission” from the few you have on your blog — and then seeing it on the front page of a Sunday paper? 

I would have said pretty slim, till I heard the popular “Mul Pituwa” program Sunday before last (15 March, 2009) host Bandula Padmakumara talking about a front page article on the Sunday Times article “Lost treasures to be brought home” and the photograph of Tara Devi.

Having written the blog post “Goddess Tara time to come home?” my ears naturally picked up. The photo glimpsed on the TV screen looked suspiciously like mine on the blog. Having had one more instance when another Sunday weekly carried a photo of mine without any credit. I did a dash to town to buy the paper and voila! there was my photo from my blog adorning the front page — not so much as a please, not even the much maligned phrase “courtesy of” – that is used blithely by most newspapers here. 

Infuriating was a mild term to describe how I felt, cheated is more like it, considering this photograph was taken by me during a short stop in London in 2008 when this statue was on display at the British Museum.  I had made a special visit to the British Museum for the sole purpose of seeing this statue, take this photograph and write the story.

My first letter to the editor went unanswered and no correction was carried last week.  Are we surprised?  Well, yes , since the other paper was quick to apologize and cartried a correction with a thumbnail photo. Today, after my second letter I got an e-mail response admitting that the Sunday Times obtained the photograph after a Google search but said ” We may have copied the picture from your website, but the website gave no credit line to the picture, and therefore, we could not have known the ownership of the photograph. As a practice we have no qualms in giving credit to an article, graphic or photograph, and would have been happy to give you the credit-line had we known it belonged to you,” and expressed “regret if we have caused you any inconvenience or pain of mind.”  Obviously, sending an e-mail to get copyright clearance didn’t cross their mind. And they missed the © Important: Copyright Notice: All images and text in this site is copyrighted. No material from this blog may be used except as a direct reference to this site

Of course as bloggers all of you know from the blog stats I can say how many people accessed the site prior to 15 March and how many came via a Google search and as for the missing credit line – it is there clearly displaced.  Further, a blog is your own personal diary and from what I learned during my graduate study days is that photographic works are protected by the mere fact of their creation. This is a fundamental basis of respecting works of authors . 

When I talked about the lack of knowledge on copyright issues among the media here with another media colleague and the need to educate the journalists here he had this to say:  “Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is  good journalism.  For a century, the imperatives to strengthen journalism and to strengthen newspapers have been so tightly wound as to be indistinguishable. That’s been a fine accident to have, but when that accident stops, as it is stopping before our eyes, we’re going to need lots of other ways to strengthen journalism instead.”

“So there comes a time when intellectual property of journalists, that maybe the work of accredited journalists or a 14 year old kid doing a blog has to be respected.”

On that debatable note let’s open the space for discussion – Are print newspapers as we know them dinosaurs in an age when most of us get our news from the electronic media and if they need to go foraging blog sites for free photos etc  how important are our blog spaces and citizen journalism sites. 

That brings us to the question what are our rights as bloggers and photographers — or do we not have any rights in this age when anyone and everyone copies everything possible.  see an interesting well written piece Copyright is for Losers by Rupert Gray on Shahidul Alam’s blog

Of course print newspapers can argue that they have gate keepers to ensure quality unlike us bloggers who write without editorial supervision but then again dinosaurs were big and powerful too at one time. … As I write my radio is playing quite appropriately the famous Belafonte song  “There’s hole in the bucket, Dear Lisa, Dear Lisa…”

Goddess Tara Time to Come Home ?

 

Tara is  the Goddess of compassion, the powerful feminine counterpart of the bodhisattva  ( the next Buddha to be) Avalokiteshvara.  She occupies a central display position at the British Museum now. The image a stunning full statue is gilded and is watched over by another gilded bronze — a slightly smaller statue of a 16th century Avalokiteshvara from Nepal.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tara is supposed to be one of the finest examples of figural bronze and is supposed to be 8th century AD.

 

This particular statue discovered somewhere between Batticaloa and Trincomalee in the East coast of Sri Lanka and lifted from the island was ” gifted” by Sir Robert Brownrigg  to the British Museum (BM) .  

 Tara means star and she appears in Mahayana Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism and particularly, Tibetan Lamaism, as a complex array of manifestations: goddess of ascetism and mysticism, mother creator, protectress of all humans as they journey across the sea of life.

The BM says that “the eyes and the elaborately arranged hair were doubtless inlaid with precious stones and a small niche in the headdress would have contained a seated image of  Buddha.  Tara’s right hand is shown in the varamudra – the gesture of giving and although the left hand is empty it may have held a lotus.”

Tara’s creation as myths go is a an interesting fantasy. According to popular belief  she came into existence from a tear of  Avalokiteshvara, which fell to the ground and formed a lake. Out of its waters rose up a lotus which opened to reveal the goddess – a truly painless birth.

She is the ” heavenly deity who hears cries of beings, experiencing misery in samsara; a world of continuous rebirth, death and suffering. As the female aspect of the universe, she gives birth to warmth compassion and relief from bad karma as experienced by ordinary beings in cyclic existence. She engenders, nourishes, smiles at the vitality of creation and has sympathy for all beings as a mother does for her children. “(an extract from http://www.kaalita.com/Asian_art.html)”

‘Tis a time in  Sri Lanka we could do with her compassion,  a powerful feminine force– so isn’t it  a good time to ask the BM to return it to us in Sri Lanka? 

Of course we must be prepared to guard,  protect and preserve it as much she is supposed to protect us.  I suppose she was too compassionate to put a hex on the ones who lifted her from here.

See also

1. British Museum : Gilded Bronze figure of Tara: http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/asia/g/gilded_bronze_figure_of_tara.aspx

2. The Goddess Tara: http://lakdiva.org/tara/

3. For more on various Tara manifestations see: http://www.crystalinks.com/tara.html

 

Photographs © Chulie de Silva

Degas’ Fourteen Year Old Little Dancer

 

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Degas Little Dancer. The All time favourite blog with readers. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

For a museum freak like me some pieces stick in your mind and become eternal favourites.  Degas little ballerina is one such piece. So many years later  it stirs in you such emotions as you see this statue and read the story behind the work . …

“At the sixth impressionist exhibition in the spring of 1881, Edgar Degas presented the only sculpture that he would ever exhibit in public. The Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans, the title given by the artist, has become one of the most beloved works of art, well known through the many bronze casts produced from this unique original statuette after the artist’s death.”

She was not so warmly received when she first appeared. The critics protested almost unanimously that she was ugly, but had to acknowledge the work’s astonishing realism as well as its revolutionary nature. The mixed media of the Little Dancer, basically a wax statuette dressed in real clothes, was very innovative, most of all because she was a “modern subject”: a student dancer of the Paris Opera Ballet.

Marie van Goethen, the model for the figure, was the daughter of a Belgian tailor and a laundress; her working-class background was typical of the Paris Opera school’s ballerinas. These dancers were known as “rats de l’opéra,”  literally opera rats, presumably because of the scurrying around the stage in tiny fast-moving steps. But the derogatory association of rats with dirt and sewage is unavoidable. Though privileged as a servant of art, the Little Dancer was viewed in morally unfavorable terms by her contemporaries.

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Young, pretty, and poor, the ballet students were understood as potential targets of male “protectors.” Degas understood the predicament of the Little Dancer — what the contemporary reviewer Joris-Karl Huysmans called her “terrible reality.” The Little Dancer is a very poignant, deeply felt work of art in which a little girl of fourteen, in spite of the difficult position in which she is placed, both physically and psychologically, struggles for a measure of dignity: her head is held high, though her arms and hands are uncomfortably stretched behind her back.

In the context of the evolution of sculpture, the Little Dancer is a groundbreaking work of art. The liberating idea that any medium or technique necessary to convey the desired effect is fair game may be traced back to this sculpture. Degas represented a working-class subject, though not an everyday one, with both realism and compassion, but without moralizing. In so doing, he captured with brilliant simplicity the difficult tension between art and life.

Text from http://www.nga.gov/collection/sculpture/noflash/zone3-1.htm

Photographs© Chulie de Silva @ National Gallery of Art, Washington DC. May 2008