Fleeting Moments at Hikkaduwa

Then there was the soft rain in the morning – falling gently, the morning drink for the parched grass after the blistering sun of yesterday. The planter’s chair  left on the back verandah is wet. Why should I be surprised?– It’s after all the monsoon and I love rain washed mornings. Beyond the fallen browned coconut leaves, beyond the sun hood of the boat bobbing on the gentle waves, the sky is turning blue.

Waves break on the coral reef at Benny's Point at Hikkaduwa. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Waves break on the coral reef at Benny’s Point at Hikkaduwa. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Waves form almost out of nothing, curls beautifully and lovingly break on the reef. I can watch these waves for hours. The beach too is washed, the sand damp and it is yet to be invaded by noisy screaming herds of children, youth peeing on our fence and their barking dogs. Calm before the human storm. Time for an early morning swim.

Photograph© Chulie de Silva

The inviting  sea.  Photograph© Chulie de Silva

The avocado my sister-in-law has got for breakfast is unblemished and had cost only 30 LKR compared to the 60 or 70 LKR I pay in Colombo.  The spot rupee had ended at 131.85/132.00 per dollar, on the 19 Aug. — its lowest since Sep. 17, 2012. So in dollar terms the avocado is good value. A bit of it ends up on my face — a cooling mask. Then I hear the drums — the steady beating and the sounds of a trumpet drifts in. In all our lives, there are sounds, words, phrases and images that resonate deeply. I hastily wash the impromptu stuff from my face and not quite knowing what it is but sensing a photo op., run out with the camera.

Young drummers set the scene for Buddhist Perahera. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Young drummers set the scene for Buddhist Perahera. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

It’s all happening across the road. The new Honda shop is a far cry from the little shop with a metal grid that I had clung to save myself in the tsunami. Certainly, Hikkaduwa has built back better. …

Children get ready with Buddhist flags for the start of a perahera to the temple. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Children get ready with Buddhist flags for the start of a perahera to the temple. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Girls stand in the hot sun holding colourful Buddhist flags eager to get going. It’s dress time for a little boy, who doesn’t seem too happy with his dress.

A mother wraps her young son in a shimmering red cloth for the perahera. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

A mother wraps her young son in a shimmering red cloth for the perahera. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

What’s it all about, I ask the kids. It’s a “Kiri Amma almsgiving” says one kid. This is usually an offering to Goddess Pattini to invoke her blessings for breast feeding mums, or the weak, sick and infirm. Goddess Pattini is partial to women devotees and has a strong following here. Mostly illnesses like chicken pox, measles and mumps are called “Deiyannge leda”- or gods inflicted diseases.

Boys hold the colourful canopy under which the devotess will walk to the temple at Hikkaduwa. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Boys hold the colourful canopy under which the devotess will walk to the temple at Hikkaduwa. Siriniwasa, our house  is visible across the street. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

The Nikini poya that falls today is also called a “Shudda poya.” This is something new that I had not heard before. Houses are washed, cleaned and a vegetarian meal is served on banana leaves in villages.

The little boy now holds a sheaf of peacock feathers and waits for the procession to start. A part of the newly renovated wall of Siriniwasa is in the background. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

The little boy now holds a sheaf of peacock feathers and waits for the procession to start. A part of the newly renovated wall of Siriniwasa is in the background. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

Mother’s dressed in white carry trays of food, beautifully arranged flowers — the symbol of impermanence.

Flower offerings for the temple  at Hikkaduwa.Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Flower offerings for the temple at Hikkaduwa.Photograph© Chulie de Silva

‘Once in a Blue Moon’ expresses the idea of a rare, special time when magical things can happen. According to astrologers there are conflicting definitions of what makes a Moon blue. Some say it is when we get two full moons in a row, both in the same sign. Other say it doesn’t matter if they are in the same sign as long as they both occur in the same calendar month. And there’s a third definition. Usually, there are three full moons between the date of the solstice and the date of the equinox – if you get a fourth, the third in the sequence is a Blue Moon too. By that definition, this Full Moon is blue!

Nikini Moon rise over Siriniwasa. Hikkaduwa, 19 Aug. 2013. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Nikini Moon rise over Siriniwasa. Hikkaduwa, 19 Aug. 2013. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Vesak musings in Dhaka

    Women sell large pink lotus flowes near the Kalutara Temple. The gentle green sprouting bo -sapling on the concret pillar behind her and the white obituary notice on the concrete pillar saying life is transient sums up the cycle of birth and death. Significant in the the pali stanzas recited when flowers are offered is:     "Puppham malayati yatha idam me     kayoa tatha yati vinasa-bhavam." -- Even as these the flowers must fade, so does my body march to a state of destruction." Kalutara, Sri Lanka. December 26, 2008. Photo Chulie de Silva

Women sell large pink lotus flowers near the Kalutara Temple. The flower buds and white obituary notice on the concrete pillar saying life is transient sums up the cycle of birth and death. Significant in the the Pali stanzas recited when flowers are offered is:
“Puppham malayati yatha idam me
kayoa tatha yati vinasa-bhavam.” — Even as these the flowers must fade, so does my body march to a state of destruction.” Kalutara, Sri Lanka. December 26, 2008. Photo Chulie de Silva

The street below me is slowly waking up. The coolness and the soft gentle night of Dhaka will slowly and surely be replaced by chatter, noise, blaring of horns, the cries of the street vendors and the harsh light bringing with it the sweltering heat. Peering out through a tangle of telephone and electricity wires on a still cool and balmy morning I see a vendor with a basin of mangoes on his head and a vegetable seller his rickshaw van piled with glistening vegetables. He stops the cha walla who sells tea from a large flask for an early morning cuppa and they both sit on their haunches and shares a smoke.  A daily maid in a brightly clad red saree with two lasses in equally bright salwars walk passes them, wrapped in their own chatter. The garbage cart with the two young boys is further up the street.  I had watched a street fight between these two young lads and a bigger guy a couple of days ago on the way to work. The young had fought ferociously guarding their territory to operate. This is Dhaka, my abode for the present – I am a stranger – a bideshi – I do not belong but yet am very much a part of it; they are not my family here but am already wrapped in the myriads of issues of my coworkers – so are they my karmic connections? I am not sure if this is a past karma or I am making new Karma – fragments of thoughts, vignettes of life flit across my mind this Vesak as I peer down at the street.

Morning sweeper at Lalmatia, Dhaka. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Morning sweeper at Lalmatia, Dhaka. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Back in Sri Lanka people will be trekking to temple– my family to the Katudampe temple.

Detail from a frescoe at Katudampe Rajamahavihara. Katudampe, Sri Lanka. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Detail from a frescoe at Katudampe Rajamahavihara. Katudampe, Sri Lanka. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Today they say the moon will be the biggest, brightest full moon for 100 years. As the moon does the tango with earth, at times drawing close at times pulling apart, I reflect on how my life too has been a series of such dances where I have been close to some people on a daily basis and then moved away forming new circles of friendship.

The comfort and contentment that we take for granted from a happy family environment are poignantly missed by me in Dhaka. May, is also the birth month of my father and Vesak for me is intricately woven in with memories of him. One priest he had great respect was the scholar priest Rev. Thilaka fro the Katudampe temple. A serene temple set near the banks of a river, I too have good memories of the temple that does a great service to the village community. Paintings probably by late 19th century artists are not famous but is an important visual story telling for villages.

Part of the ceiling frescoes at Katudampe Rajamahavihara. Katudampe, Sri Lanka. August 31, 2008. Photograph©Chulie de Silva.

Part of the ceiling frescoes at Katudampe Rajamahavihara. Katudampe, Sri Lanka. August 31, 2008. Photograph©Chulie de Silva.

Often emotional transactions are much more complicated than financial ones but there is one factor that is common to both  We need to speculate to gain.  Thankfully, unlike your purse the heart has the capacity to replenish itself.

Yesterday, my bearded boss Shahidul Alam, writing from Berlin had introduced me virtually to a photojournalist and film maker Zin Myoe Sett  in Myanmar (Burma). My first contact in Myanmar!  Responding to Zin’s mail and thinking that he might be a Buddhist and thoughts of Vesak foremost in my mind, I had ended my email to him wishing him for Vesak and said “Buddhu Saranai” (May Buddha protect you) in closing.  Zin replied saying we add “Metta” (loving kindness) to it.  So this blog where I muse about teachings and recollect past events with a varied collection of photos and my ramblings is for my new friend Zin with Metta. And to all of you who have followed my blog and encouraged me to write more. …

A temple close to my village Hikkaduwa is the Sailabimbaramaya Temple in Dodanduwa. It is well known for the  giant granite Buddha statue which had eyes set with blue sapphires.  But the gems that were there are no more.  They were stolen.  Obviously the Buddha’s benevolent smile or the teachings did not matter a tot to the robbers.

The temple itself got the name from the granite statue which was brought to Dodanduwa from India.  The story is that the incumbent monks had heard of the granite statues in a region in India called “Kaveripattam” and a Governor had intervened to send one to Sri Lanka by ship. Dodanduwa, then did a brisk trade in salted fish, earthenware and salt with Maldives and India. People of the area says the  statue was taken from the harbour at Dodanduwa to the temple up the river on a raft.

The first Buddhist School in Sri Lanka by the name ‘Jinalabdhi Vishodaka’ was started by in the premises of Sailabimbaramaya Temple by Venerable Dodanduwe Piyarathana Maha Nayaka Thera.

Interestingly, as I roam around these temples with my camera comes the realisation that  rejection of the not so perfect is universal. I found these rejected statues tucked away at the Kataluwa temple.

Damaged and discarded Buddha statues at Kataluwa temple. Kataluwa, Sri Lanka. September 10, 2011. Photo Chulie de Silva

The perfect is worshiped thus;

Ye cha Buddha atita cha-ye cha Buddha anagata,
Pachchuppnanna cha ye Buddha-aham vandani sabbada.”
The Buddhas of the ages past,
The Buddhas that are yet to come
The Buddhas of the present age,
Lowly , I, each day adore!

A modern Buddha Statue at the Katudampe Rajamaha Vihare. Katudampe, Sri Lanka. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

A modern Buddha Statue at the Katudampe Rajamaha Vihare.
Katudampe, Sri Lanka. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

To my life’s end the Buddha and his teaching will be my refuge. Sadly. as recent news reaching me from Sri Lanka shows that the difference between paying lip service to the teachings and practicing them is profound.

I have carried with me when I lived abroad a little book called the “The Mirror of Dhamma” by venerables Narada Maha Thera and Kassapa Maha Thera. I was introduced to this book by my sister-in-law Swineetha Fernando way back in 1965. I have in turn given copies to my sons and I hear my granddaughter Tara, can get her tongue around some of the Pali gathas with an interesting twist. I have thumbed this book many times and  today I leave a you a wish for Vesak from this book.

Visible, invisible too
Those dwelling near or far away.
The born, and those seeking birth
May every being live happily.”

See also

A Salutary Poem at Vesak from Rabindranath Tagore

Up close with Moodilla Flowers and Emerson Tennent

A fallen Moodilla flower at Akurela. Sri Lanka. 13 January 2012. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

I had hardly given moodilla flowers a second glance before, but the way they lay delicately poised on the lush green grass at Akurela was quite something.  The white stamens with rosy red tips glistened in the morning light while the breeze over the mangroves gently brushed over them.  A rare moment of beauty no doubt, before nature heralds their decay.

Akurela just off the main Galle road with the new railroad.  Akurela, Sri Lanka. 13 January 2012. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

The flowers, the lush foliage for me was also nature showing us that regeneration from devastation is possible.

The garden of a holiday hideout. Akurela, Sri Lanka. 13 January 2012. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Akurela was an area that was dotted with coral kilns and where the reef was mined extensively for coral.  The land and the people paid a high price of it in the tsunami of 2004.  Seven years after, nature has rebooted itself – lush, green and sparkling, a sight for sore eyes.

A search for more information on moodilla trees, landed me into the writings Sir James Emerson Tennent, a British Colonial Secretary to the Government of Ceylon, (1845-9) and his classic record of Ceylon: An Account of the Island: Physical, Historical and topographical.”

Sir James Emerson Tennent — a sketch by Ulsterman Andrew Nicholl.

Tennent’s description still has lasting value. He describes with certain warmth the tree (Barringtonia Speciosa) as “noble specimens,” “remarkably shaped fruit” and flowers that “are white, tipped with crimson. … and the stamens of which there are hundred to each flower. …

Tennent also states that its “native” name implies it “loves the shore of the sea”  and describes how the tree propagates through the fruits that are carried out to sea by the waves and then tossed back on a shore to root themselves on a different area of the  beach.  Not unlike coconut trees that grow along the seashore.

Ruchira Gunathilaka and friend showing the “moodilla,” saplings planted by the youth. Ipomea creeper with the purple flowers on the ground provide cover against soil erosion. Photograph©Chulie de Silva.

Interestingly my search also takes me to an article I wrote in 2006, where a youth group led by  Ruchira Gunathilaka was replanting a section of the Kalutara coast after tsunami to create a buffer zone with moodilla plants.  According to Ruchira Sri Lankan villagers use the fruit as a fuel.

My curiosity raised by reading Tennet, I was chiding myself  for knowing so little about this man.  Obviously not only a politician, but a scholar par excellence with a meticulous mind for details and love of nature, that centuries later could still engage a reader with lasting descriptions.

Foraging on the Net, I find the ubiquitous article on Wikipaedia, and a page for Tennet on FB! Yes he might never have imagined in a hundred years the social media revolutuion or that he would have his own space in Mark Zuckerberg’s Face Book — albeit an inactive one!

More interestingly for me was to discover a wealth of information online on the Emerson Tennent Papers maintained by the Public Records office of Northern Ireland, Nov.2007. 

Obviously a much loved Irish son, the Public Records Office holds an extensive collection of Emerson Tennent Papers — “c.5500 documents and c.75 volumes, 1773-1916, that mainly comprise the personal, political, estate and business papers of Sir James Emerson Tennent, 1st Bt (1804-69), of Belfast and of Tempo Manor, Co. Fermanagh, politician, civil servant and man of letters.”

While his writing on Ceylon was well known, it was a discovery for me to learn that he was the originator of a milestone Copyright of Designs Act (1842).

“Born James Emerson, he double-barrelled his name to Emerson Tennent in 1832 under the will of William Tennent of Belfast and Tempo, a wealthy banker whose daughter and heiress, Letitia, he had married in the previous year.”

The papers highlight his political career as a Whig, and of his controversial period of office in Ceylon.  “He was MP for Belfast, 1832-1845, Joint Secretary to the India Board, 1841-1845, Colonial Secretary in Ceylon, 1845-1849, Permanent Secretary to the Board of Trade, 1852-1867 (and usually regarded as the inventor of competitive examination for the Civil Service), author of major books on Greece, Ceylon, natural history, antiquities, etc, friend of Dickens and other literary and artistic people, and builder of Tempo Manor, Co. Fermanagh (to the designs of Sir Charles Lanyon), 1861-1869. He was knighted in 1845, and created a baronet on his retirement from the Board of Trade in 1867.

He produced a whole library of valuable books, amongst which are “Belgium, A Treatise on the Copyright of Designs for Printed Fabrics, Christianity in Ceylon, An Account of Ceylon, Physical, Historical and Topographical, Sketches of the Natural History of Ceylon, Wine: its Uses and Abuses, and a large number of other works.”

His book on Ceylon, published in 1859 [sic – 1858], was one of the most popular works which had appeared for a number of years, either at home or abroad. It was translated into several foreign languages, and at home ran through several editions. Upon natural history, Sir James Emerson Tennent was a high authority.” Apparently. until he wrote about the habits of the elephant, practically nothing was known in the west about the magnificent elephants.

According to Wikipedia The Oxford English Dictionary attributes to his book  “The Wild Elephant and the Method of Capturing and Taming it in Ceylon (1867) the first use in English of ‘Rogue Elephant‘, a translation of the Sinhala term hora aliya.

Wikipedia also states that during his tenure in Ceylon, “an economic depression in the United Kingdom severely affected the local coffee and cinnamon industry. Planters and merchants clamoured for a reduction of export duties. Tennent therefore recommended to Earl Grey, Secretary of State for Colonies in London that taxation should be radically shifted from indirect taxation to direct taxation, which proposal was accepted. It was decided to abolish the export duties on coffee and reduce the export duty on cinnamon leaving a deficit of £40,000 Sterling which was to be met by direct taxes on the people. This was one of the causes of the Matale Rebellion of 1848.”

For more info see:

Emerson Tennent Papers /Public Records office of Northern Ireland, Nov.2007: http://www.proni.gov.uk/introduction__emerson_tennent_papers_d2922.pdf

Youth Helps Protect Tsunami Damaged Coast in Sri Lanka, Dec 22, 2006: Permanent URL for this page: http://go.worldbank.org/GAUSC05RV0

Wilipedia Article on Tennenthttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Emerson_Tennent

The flower says. …

A flower blooms in monsoon rain. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

The flower says

Blessed am I

Blessed am I

Upon this earth…

 

The flower says

I was born from the dust

Kindly kindly

Let me forget it

Let me forget it

Let me forget.

 

Of dust inside me there is none

No dust at all inside me

The flower says.

 

The words are the first section of a song composed by Rabindranath Tagore for his dance drama Chandalika, the untouchable maid.  The drama was modeled on an ancient Buddhist legend describing how Ananda, – Gautams Buddha’s  disciple—asks  for water from a girl belonging to an indigenous tribe.

Best Photo Memories of 2010

 

This is it.  The last day of the year. What did I write in the book of my life in 2010?  Did I get it right? One never knows but the time flew.  From the comforts of a known world it’s been a dodgy journey through unfamiliar territory. Joys of daily life that family, friends – new and old — brought, were marked poignantly by the loss of loved ones.

Olu flowers in my house. January 1, 2010. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

January started with me playing around with my camera trying to teach myself photography. On hindsight,  that was a good start for what was to come by towards the end of the year. January also brings fond memories of Nepal.

Glass bottom boat at Unawatuna. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

February brought my sister on a visit from Brisbane and we spent time in Galle and Unawatuna. A photo review won’t be complete without one of the sea!

March brought an unforgettable experience of  travelling again on the A9, meeting the IDPs being resettled.

Mother and baby at Mallawi hospital. Photograph©Chulie de Silva


  

Cattle on the A9 road. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

 

Barefoot to school: recently resettled children from IDP families at assembly in school in Thenniyankulam, North Sri Lanka. Much value is placed on education and parents strive to give the best education for the children. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

April was Sydney and time to  see the star of my life my granddaughter Tara.

Tara and Ranil in Mosman. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

August was a time to celebrate my mother’s 88 th Birthday.  From a beautiful young wife who came to Hikkaduwa from Panadura, she now is the epitome of a gracious beauty.

Amma on her 88th Birthday 22 August 2010. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

 August is also a time we remember my father Benny Kirtisinghe.  My mother, Manel sang a lilting poem from memory that he had written to her from Hong Kong in the 60’s that told her how much she missed him. For him till he breathed his last she was his Flower of Love. Today, I spoke to her on Skype.  She was full of smiles. Her grandson, my brother Prasanna’s son Mathisha has passed his A level exam with 3 A’s.

There were moments, after the tsunami that I wondered if we were going to get this far.. We are a bit like veterans of a famous battle, recalling the bad times and proud we have survived the storms. Will life be free of troubles in 2011? Of course not. So on this last day of the year, I’ll leave you with a mantra I picked up from my constant companion and the modern treasure trove of knowledge—the Internet.

Sit cross-legged on the floor. Close your eyes. Now, repeat the following ancient spiritual phrase: ‘Ai amdi veribest’. That, of course, is the phonetic version. The original Sanskrit is hard to read. Anyway, if you want to know what it means, just say it over and over. It will swiftly reveal its own, very personal message to you.

Best wishes for 2011 and beyond.  

 
 

Statue and lotus flowers at my father's almsgiving. 31 August 2010. Galle, Sri Lanka. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

 

The Lotus Flower

Early morning sun on Lotus Flowers. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

All the heights of the high shores gleam
Red and gold at the sunset hour:
There comes the spell of a magic dream,
And the Harbour seems a lotus-flower;

A blue flower tinted at dawn with gold,
A broad flower blazing with light at noon,
A flower forever with charms to hold
His heart, who sees it by sun or moon.

Its beauty burns like a ceaseless fire,
And tower looks over the top of tower;
For all mute things it would seem, aspire
To catch a glimpse of the lotus-flower.

Men meet its beauty with furrowed face,
And straight the furrows are smoothed away;
They buy and sell in the market-place,
And languor leadens their blood all day.

At night they look on the flower, and lo!
The City passes with all its cares:
They dream no more in its azure glow,
Of gold and silver and stocks and shares.

The Lotus dreams ‘neath the dreaming skies,
Its beauty touching with spell divine
The grey old town, till the old town lies
Like one half-drunk with a magic wine.

Star-loved, it breathes at the midnight hour
A sense of peace from its velvet mouth.
Though flowers be fair — is there any flower
Like this blue flower of the radiant South?

Sun-loved and lit by the moon it yields
A challenge-glory or glow serene,
And men bethink them of jewelled shields,
A turquoise lighting a ground of green.

Fond lovers pacing beside it see
Not death and darkness, but life and light,
And dream no dream of the witchery
The Lotus sheds on the silent night.

Pale watchers weary of watching stars
That fall, and fall, and forever fall,
Tear-worn and troubled with many scars,
They seek the Lotus and end life’s thrall.

The spirit spelled by the Lotus swoons,
Its beauty summons the artist mood;
And thus, perchance, in a thousand moons
Its spell shall work in our waiting blood.

Then souls shall shine with an old-time grace,
And sense be wrapped in a golden trance,
And art be crowned in the market-place
With Love and Beauty and fair Romance.

Roderic Quinn

Roderic Quinn was born in Sydney. His Irish parents had migrated, in 1853, to Australia. He received his education in Sydney together with his life long friends C.J.Brennan and E.J.Brady. He studied law for a while, then worked as a country schoolteacher. When he returned to Sydney he took a position as a freelance journalist. He wrote short stories for the ‘Bulletin’, and made a modest living from his poetry from the 1890s to the mid 1920s. His work was extremely appreciated by his contemporaries. He was linked with Victor Daly as poets of the ‘Celtic Twilight’.