22 August 2009

Anuradhapura - Once a glorious kingdom, now a sacred city

Today's post will be dedicated to Sri Maha Bodhi in Anuradhapura.. that we visited on 1st of August 2009, after returning from Tantirimale.

Most Buddhist devotees who visit Anuradhapura usually cover all Atamasthana (literally 8 sites) which have great religious importance to us. We didn't have time to visit all 8 sites, but we did visit two of them - Sri Maha Bodhi and Ruwanweli Stupa.


Sri Maha Bodhi
One of the most sacred objects for Buddhists in Lanka is this Bodhi tree, a gift from India brought by Arhant Sangamitta Thero - the daughter of Emperor Ashoka in 3rd century BC. This sacred tree was once a sapling of the very Bodhi tree at Bodh Gaya which sheltered Bodhisatva Siddartha Gauthama to attain enlightenment and become Lord Gauthama Buddha.

This sacred tree in Anuradhapura is said to be one of the oldest trees in the world.. and as Wiki says, it is the oldest human planted tree in the world with a recorded date.

If I remember right, along with Sangamitta Thero, a large group of artisans arrived from India to Lanka bringing a wealth of knowledge and skills on themes like arts and crafts, dancing, music and even architecture, agriculture among others. These ancient sites in Anuradhapura as well as in Polonnaruwa and other cities reveal traces of these wonderful artistry, preserved for centuries.


Here's a few snaps I captured at Sri Maha Bodhi premises.

* Click on each photo to expand them

Pic 1: The ornate gateway at the first entrance
Pic 2: A glimpse of Sri Maha Bodhi tree, surrounded by a protective wall. In the center is the stairway and on top of it is the second entranceway.

PS: I was tweaking the white balance *setting of my cam* here too, so some pics have different color schemes!

Pic 1: 'Mura gala' or guardstone straddling the stairway *there's 2 for each stairway*
Pic 2: 'Sandakada Pahana' or Moonstone at the foot of this stairway. *I had another in Lankan Artistry post*
Pic 3: A portion of the Korawakgala, a stone railing, straddling the very stairway. While it adds a simplistic yet charming beauty it also supports the weak, the children and the aged to climb up the stairway while holding it.

And here's the very stairway *as seen from above*

Pic 1: The sacred Bodhi tree, surrounded by two golden railings and flanked by a few Buddhist Flags. Some of the boughs on the right side rest upon huge supporters.. and they are said to be oldest boughs remaining since the 3rd century BC.
Pic 2: Close up of these oldest boughs
Pic 3: Sacred Bodhi tree *as seen from the bigger shrine hall below*

Pic 1: Portion of the second entranceway which houses a small shrine where devotees can offer flowers.
Pic 2: Close up of the deep yellow sculpture. It looks a bit modern and I think this is a guarding deity.

Saw a group of traditional drummers in the 'Maluwa' or grounds, on the other side of the first entrance, playing their drums as a 'shabda puja' (a percussive offering) to the sacred Bodhi tree.

See the tiny drummer out there? He might be around 6 - 8 years. Well this lil one started dancing around while playing his thammettama (a traditional twin drum), after seeing me snapping pics of them! =D

The 'Lova Maha Paya' or the Great Brazen Palace of 2nd century BC, sitting between Sri Maha Bodhi and Ruwanweli Stupa. In the ancient times it rose about 9 floors and accommodated thousands of monks. Today only these stone pillars of the ground floor remain in tact.

15 August 2009

Elayapattuwa - Sculptural Wonder

Take a virtual tour in Elayapttuwa which nestles the Siri Sambuddha Pancha Sathika Shrawaka Charikaramaya (roughly translates to.. 'Temple of Lord Buddha and his 500 disciples on travel'). A religious site in the process of constructing a one of a kind sculptural wonder.

* Click on images to expand them

Sign board beside the road. Flanking the road were a row of thatched shops selling various items such as offerings and local refreshments.

The founder of this temple has visited another country and was inspired by a sight there and has decided to build our own religious spectacle.. to recreate the wonderful sight of Lord Buddha and his disciples journeying on foot.

The beginning of the walkway beside these lifelike sculptures. The first sculpture is of Lord Buddha.. the rest 500 sculptures are of his disciples, following one after another in a winding line.

Notice the sign board at the foot? Nope, I didn't break the very rule and take pics! =D Almost all who entered the premises had a cam with them.. and they all took pics.

What the sign says is, that we should not pose in front or beside the sculptures and take pics of us, treating the sculptures as a mere backdrop. Yet.. some people did break the very rule not far from this warning sign. -__-

People entered the sculpture path after removing their shoes and caps, just like they enter a Buddhist temple.

Portion of a lil bridge that we had to cross. Through the thin gaps we could see the pond beneath. If I remember right, part of it was made in wood while this portion was in concrete, designed like logs.

Portion of the small pond that sits beneath the lil bridge. It was infested with 'Nil Manel' or blue water lilies (Nymphaea stellata), the National Flower of Sri Lanka.

The 2nd pic shows a finely crafted ready-to-soar-hawk and a pig right behind. *I think it was a pig, if not a dog*

Now let's take a closer look at the sculptures while walking along the paved path.

From a distance these sculptures seem like they are all the same, but they are not! Each sculpture is designed to represent different disciples. And these sculptures portrayed their unique features.. as described in Buddhist literature. We were able to easily identify the sculptures of Arhant Mugalan and Maha Kashyapa theros.

The second and third pics captured the vista between each sculpture. We were able to see rows and rows of sculptures overlapping in the distance.

*by the way don't mind about the different color tones, as I had tweaked the cam settings and ended up with them* -__-

See how these statues neatly line up as far as the eyes can see. Notice the trees in the background of the third pic? The big oval shaped blots are actually bird nests, probably of Sunbirds or kin of them. And almost all trees here snuggled these nests! The area echoed with the lil birdies' chirps and we caught a glimpse of a few, during our long stroll.

It took us a lil more than 1 hour to cover the distance twice, as we returned through the same path. But we walked at a snail's pace, especially since I was pausing every five minutes to take snaps! So it might take about 15 mts or so, to cover the path at a normal pace. =D

These sculptures were there before the last portion. About 50 - 75 statues, have not yet been painted. As they've been short of funding. The third pic shows the final lap of sculptures that sits on an artificial slope, that will take shape of a rockscape once completed.

Hopefully in few months time the whole area will be developed into a wonderful spectacle.

11 August 2009

Lankan Artistry and Craftsmanship - Tantirimale

Here's some of the excellent artistic works of our skilled artisans, I managed to capture at Tantirimale temple.

* Click on images to expand them

rear view of the welcoming 'thorana' (pandal)
and a monument at the entrance

I know this pic isn't a good one. The car park was within the premises so this was all I could capture. I can't recall its front view, but from the pic it seems that even the rear view of this pandal wasn't all that bad. Especially cause its motifs look very neat and elaborate.

I also have a vague memory of this white washed monument as I didn't see it up close. The pots on the platform are called 'punkalas', literally means a pot filled to the brim with water. It is a symbol of prosperity and abundance in our culture.


lateral view of the bell tower

I simply guessed it has to be the bell tower cause its positioning was at the summit of the extensive rocky terrain and a few meters away and below the Bodhi tree. And it looks like I've also captured a distant transmission tower without realizing. The two towers display a fine contrast between two eras, ancient and modern.


external 'Makara Thorana' (dragon pandal?)
at the entrance of Shrine Hall

The golden sculpture in the niche of its top depicts the advent of Arhant Sangamitta who brought a sapling of sacred Bodhi tree from Bodh Gaya in India. According to the scriptures and folklore here, the Bo tree near the bell tower of Tantirimale temple, is said to be a sapling sprung from the afore mentioned sacred Bodhi sapling.

About 8 of them sprung and they're planted in various locations in Lanka, collectively known by the name 'Ashta pala ruha' (eight saplings). More about Tantirimale's Bo tree and temple can be read here.


portion of the Sandakada Pahana or Moonstone
at the foot of the stairway of the Shrine Hall

They are at the foot of a stairway of almost all Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka. Its artistic value lies in the ornate relief carvings packed in each concentric semi-circle. The ruddy patches in between the relief are actually sand and dust. So apart from its symbolic implications, I wonder if they were first built as stone mats, to naturally wipe the feet of devotees, before they enter a sacred premises.

I'll be quoting Kirigalpoththa's comment that well explains the motive behind the moonstone,

"According to one belief Moonstone depicts water (Exactly the mythical lake of Anotatta)

Lotus/water plants and swans all mean water,
4 animals symbolizes the four channels open out of the lake in the four directions.

So it means washing your feet before entering the temple"

internal 'Makara Thorana'
just outside the Shrine Hall

The polished wooden carving below and the white washed dragon above adds a fine contrast to the interior entrance of the Shrine Hall. I wish I had enough time to capture the rest of the thorana as well. But before I could do so, our crew already left me behind! So had to keep up with them. =D


some of the murals adorning the Shrine Halls' interior walls

I think the angle of my shots slightly downgraded the picture quality as these paintings were set at a very high level from the ground. Most of these murals depict stories of Buddha's life and the advent of the sacred Bo sapling. The 2nd (middle) pic has a classic 'pun kalasa' at the bottom, carved off wood and it sits above the door frame.

Outside these walls on either sides of the Shrine Hall were two dozen unfinished Buddha statues, sculpted on the spot. *I think they were two dozens, since that's the usual number of statues they sculpt to symbolize the 'Suvisi Budun' (twenty four Buddhas, predecessors of our Lord Gautama Buddha)


ceiling murals of the Shrine Hall

I nearly sprained my neck trying to admire all the gorgeous motifs spanning across this ceiling. Every inch of the ceiling was packed with stunning and vibrant patterns. And I wanted to take many more pics but malli (cousin brother) warned me that I was making too much noise and disturbing the devotees!

Cause my cam gave a shutter sound out everytime I clicked, and I didn't know how to turn down its volume! -__-

09 August 2009

If only trees could talk...

* Click on the pictures to expand them

like this lone tree gazing sadly at the dying lake...

like this lone tree protecting a thin layer of soil.. bearing an unbearable heat...

like this lone tree sheltering thousands of devout.. on Poya days...

like this lone tree who witnessed the rise and fall of a glorious kingdom...

like this lone tree constantly purifying the air we breathe.. even at its old age...

With hollowed souls they live on.. protecting earth.. and animals..

..and even humans.. who mercilessly chop them down...

until... they could no longer bear this burden..

and when their roots give up...

when they could no longer keep up..

the stalwart tree is compelled to lie down..

until its last breath.. wishing to be born again..

never as a human.. yet forever as a tree..

to protect the earth's inhabitants.. including you and me.

05 August 2009

Skyline and the landscape

I added a new slideshow to the blog, featuring some of the pics I took.. that I can't wait to share. =D Till then, enjoy their thumbnails.


Araliya at Tantirimale Temple

As you may have already guessed, this one has exclusively become my profile pic. =D Reason is simple, cause it's one of my most favorite pics, out of all the ones snapped by me. *that didn't explain anything, I know* =D

By the way notice the direction of its foliage.. defying the laws of gravity they seem to be drawn towards the right side, isn't it? This is a classic example of the gale-like-wind we experienced at the summit and throughout Tantirimale. For any featherweight person hoping to visit Tantirimale, I do recommend he or she to carry a 20-30 kg heavy backpack for support. *seriously, ask anyone who's experienced the winds out in here and they'd tell the same!*

The left pic shows how the tree should normally appear in line with the laws of gravity. *meaning between the bouts of gale* The right side tree is a different one.

I forgot to mention, Araliya is also called Frangipani or Temple Flowers, and I found the above two trees flanking the Tantirimale Stupa.

See a portion of the stupa weaving the skyline together with the distant Araliya tree. *more pics of stupa will be up eventually*

Tantirimale's landscape is a fascinating one, where one finds himself lost in a terrain of rocky outcrop spanning hundreds of acres as far as the eyes can see.

The white structure in the distant of the first pic is the bell tower I think, sitting few meters away from Tantirimale Bodhi Tree, which rests on the summit of the very rocky terrain. The second pic is slightly tilted *probably I was standing on a slope when I took it!* and the thin indigo line in between the heavens and the earth is the horizon. My mom said it could even be the Indian Ocean! *wish there was a copter at hand to verify*


PS: I had to intensify the brightness of the last couple of pics a lot, as they looked really gloomy. So please don't mind the unusual glare of the sky.. just this time. =D
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