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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.