Thursday, November 24, 2011

A day at the Olentangy trail

 by Janani Amarasekara
The Saturday was glorious. Unlike the earlier days, the atmosphere was filled with a cool breeze and warm sunshine. It was the perfect day for an outdoor stroll. Weekends here in Columbus are usually sunny. We, along with some other Sri Lankans who live in Columbus, decided to take advantage of this perfect day. “It is the tail end of autumn.

Before the snow begins there’s something we should see,” suggested one of the Sri Lankans who had been living here for a while. I being a novice had no idea where to go and what to see. By about 10 in the morning everyone gathered at the hotel where we stayed. We packed snacks and drinks in our picnic bags, and armed with enough warm clothes, everyone was ready to leave.

Within a few minutes, everybody was in the vehicle and with the aid of a global positioning tool (GPS); we were on our way to our destination. Since it was Saturday, the road was full of vehicles. However, to my surprise I did not hear any honking at all.

There were queues of hundreds of vehicles, but I could hardly call it heavy traffic unlike Colombo. People were in their lanes, following the traffic lights. It was a smooth journey. We were driving along a river, and by the side of the road were trees of different hue.

“Hey, look at those trees. Those are beautiful. Don’t they grow in our country?” My voice was rather loud, almost everybody in the vehicle started giggling, and my husband’s flushed face turned towards me. It showed signs of discomfort. I realised that I said something stupid. “Idiot, those are not a special type of trees,” my husband whispered slowly into my ear.
“Then, what are they?” I was inquisitive and still loud. “Shush, haven’t you heard that in autumn leaves take different colours?,” “Oh! I know. But, I never thought they would be so amazing,” I tried to cover up and fake a relaxed smile at the others. What a shame! “We are going to Olentangy trails to see the Fall colours,” said a fellow traveller to rescue me from the difficult situation. “I heard we can see striking Fall colours in that locale.” He added.

Thanks to the GPS tool, we reached our haven soon. After parking the vehicle near the entrance, we unloaded our picnic bags and warm clothes. Though, it was a bright and sunny day, a slight chilly weather made us stick to our warm clothes, something unusual for me. In the morning, I was so delighted with the sight of sunshine, and was ready to leave my warm clothes behind at the hotel. However, luckily I listened to my husband and brought them with me.

If not I would definitely be freezing while on the trail. Finally, after the preparation, we were ready to see the Fall colours at the Olentangy trail. This is a beautiful greenway-walking path along the Olentangy River. It is one of the most popular greenways in Ohio. This trail offers an unspoiled 22 kilometres, from Worthington Hills to downtown Columbus.

This well-liked bikeway winds through several neighbourhoods, with trailheads at several major city parks. We did not walk until the end of the trail. However, we hiked quite a distance. On our way through, we passed a few artistic bridges, picturesque multi-coloured trees and a massive playground. By the side of the playground there was a Skateboard Park too, something we do not witness in our country.
A few boys on their skateboards were playing on the cement structure. Bikers and runners were a usual site on the trail.Unfortunately, we were a little tardy to see the Fall colours at that spot. To our relief there were some amazing trees, although the majority of the trees had already shed their leaves. One of the members of our crew said, “We came here to see the Fall colours, in vain all the colours have already fallen.” It was the joke of the day. However, it was a pretty good day outdoors, out of Columbus!

Pix: Aravinda Dassanayake


Saturday, July 9, 2011

All Saints Church, Borella

A short drive along Punchi Borella via Ananda Rajakaruna Mawatha brought us to a glorious church with a tall spire and an unusual bell tower. Next to All Saints Girls’ School was the All Saints Church, which is one of the two All Saints’ Churches in Sri Lanka. Galle Fort houses the other All Saints’ Church.
The environment in the church at Borella is completely different. Some priests at a nearby mission house felt the need for a church at this area and the construction was carried out with the help of devotees. When we reached there, the Tamil mass was going on.
This is the only church in Sri Lanka, which has Mosaic Art on Royal glass paintings. The church was designed using the techniques of Gothic Architecture, on June 28 1886 Parish Priest Bonjan laid the foundation stone for the church. Fr. Collin, one of the initiators, was very enthusiastic about building a church. He succeeded in acquiring the land of two acres with the help of Lady Pies Johanna Wenham Thomson and Lady Arthur Gordon, the wife of the then Governor of Ceylon. At the auspicious moment of laying the foundation stone, Governor, Sir Arthur Hamilton Gordon brought some documents written in Latin. It is said the documents described the construction of the church. Those were put into a tiny glass bottle and then buried with the foundation stone.
A result, number of carnivals and fairs were organised to collect funds Fr. Conrad was one of the priests who was eager to put up the church. Later, Fr. A. M. B. Jayamanna further developed the church. As a result of a vow he had made for the successful completion of the church, now there is a cloth with a scenery from the life of Jesus painted on it. It is fixed on the roof above the main altar. The first service after the completion of the church was held on September 24, 1938. Painted glass windows and doors add an extra colour to the already glamorous church interior. In keeping with the Sri Lankan culture, there are a few lotus flowers painted on the ceiling of the church.
Among the other attractions at the church premises are the cave and the bell tower which have taken a prominent place. According to legend some devotees had seen Mother Mary near the cave here. The bell tower, which was built in 1957, is the only one in Asia that has 25 bells in one place. The tower was erected to commemorate the 300th Novena of the church. These bells were brought from Bokum City, in West Germany. They were especially made from a metal unique to that particular factory. The largest bell of the tower weighs 2000kg. Operated manually at first, the bell tower was later converted to an electronically operated one. There is also a mission house at the back of the church. Words ‘Pax Huic Domu’ is written at the entrance. It means ‘Peace to this House’.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Alls well that ends well!

 It was a fine Sunday morning, I should have woken up earlier. I had to sit a very competitive examination at an examination centre I had never gone and never heard of before. It was at 9.30 in the morning, and I woke up at 8’o clock. At the first glance on the wall clock, I was convinced that the clock had stopped last night at eight.

Oh no, seeing the same time displayed on the mobile phone and my mother’s scream hit me hard, I nearly fell off the bed. Nothing was ready. “What had I been doing last night? Oh, Aishwarya was gorgeous in that lovely red dress and Sharukh was really handsome.” Another one or two minutes was wasted in pensiveness until my father also screamed at me.
Wearing a wrinkled top and not at all matching denim, dishevelled to the maximum, I got into the car with pens and pencils in one hand and a sandwich in the other. “Oh, I forgot the bottle of water,” I screamed. “I cannot turn back. Buy one from a nearby shop,” father exploded. I sat back and tried to loosen up.

The morning was a complete disaster; I hope that at least the examination will be a piece of cake. “Dad, do you know the place?” “I think so. I asked my peon for directions,” he replied. I was relieved. I admired the striking colonial type buildings along the road. Turning left and right, finally dad brought me to a place which looked like a school. “The building over there with a high green wall is your examination centre,” he pointed. “Right, then after the examination I’ll have to come home by bus?” I asked praying he would say he would come. “Yes, you better. Walk down this lane and what you see over there is the main road,” he rekindled my hopes. I walked into the premises, without wasting even a millisecond to confirm that the place was correct. “Could you tell me where hall number 01 is please?” I inquired from one of the girls there and they pointed to me the direction.

As I was on my way to the hall, another candidate asked me, “Is this Wolvendal School?” I was flummoxed, because it was not my examination centre, “I’m not sure. I didn’t actually check the board, however, my centre is Kotahena Central College,” Shocked as I was, she suggested, “Shall we ask somebody else?” “Yes, sure” At the end of all the inquiries, I realised that it was I who had come to the wrong centre.

I hurriedly rang my father while those girls lamented that I had to go a long way to find the centre in a limited time. My furious father virtually flew to the place and as soon as I got into the car he said, “Didn’t you ask directions to the school?” “They said I need to go to Kotahena,” I stuttered. “No, it should be somewhere around here,” he screamed.

He took a nippy turn to the next byroad, and asked a person about the school, “Go straight on this road, and take a right turn and then a left turn.” We followed his directions and it brought us nowhere. Time was ticking fast and there was precisely 10 minutes for the examination to begin. Highly frustrated, I was almost in tears. My father kept scolding me about my messy life. He dashed at of the car to ask directions, on his way back he asked another. He said, “Kotahena! My Gosh, you need to go to Kotahena what are you doing here?” We silently came up to the main road. The admission card had the address of the centre as Maha Vidyala Veethi.

We were both convinced that the lane should be somewhere around here.
I actually could remember passing that street when we were on our way to the earlier place. We gave up asking for directions for the school.

We asked for the street. Within a few minutes, we were standing in front of the school. As always, I have been lucky, it was exactly 9.30 and the examinations had not yet begun. By the time I entered the school, the candidates were still loitering. The morning was full of action and within seconds, my mind was at ease to write the examination in style.

Monday, June 6, 2011

An evening at Galle Face Green

The sun was at the edge of the horizon and the Galle Face green was warming up for a long night despite the slight drizzle. It was a busy Sunday evening at the Galle Face Green. An array of old and new models of vehicles filled the car park and the ticket officer was busy issuing parking tickets. Through the barricade, we entered the breezy stretch of green, the walkers’ paradise, which graciously welcomed us to the arena.

Though it was just 5 o’clock in the evening, the promenade on the sea face stretching one and a half kilometres was swarming with families, children, vendors, lovers and merrymakers.
The largest open space in Colombo used by many hundreds a day was a donation of the British Governor Sir Henry Ward. He laid out this land in 1859. It was used for horse racing a hundred years ago and it is now a paradise for high-spirited citizens.
Two major Sri Lankan hotels, the Ceylon Continental and the Galle Face Hotel, mark the boundaries of this picturesque green turf, while Taj Samudra overlooks the stretch. Many Romeos and Juliets were huddled under umbrellas were dreaming and in their own world. At the same time, some children along with their parents raced across the stretch with their toys and while some flew kites.
The tantalising aroma of fast food vendors was too inviting to ignore. Unless you are a hygiene freak, there are enough and more food choices to make. My favourite has always been the prawn vade, without sauce though. These vendors have everything you need to pile up some fat on your tummy. If you are not into snacks, they will even give you dinner. The famous of the fast food joints is the Nana’s. There were three shops with the same name; however, the inauguration years were 1979, 1987 and 1988. The Nana’s food stall of 1979 boasts of being the pioneers. Galle Face Green hardly goes empty during any time of the day.
It attracts many locals as well as tourists. It is the best spot in town for vendors. Merrymakers strode on to the beach from the steps, which lead from the parapet wall, under the vigilant eyes of lifeguards, these merrymakers enjoyed the experience of the rolling waters. The giggles of the girls echoed on the walls and the men followed the hum to check out on girls. Those who wanted to remain in dry clothing cheered the rest. The evening was vibrant!
A little walk towards the Continental brings you to the 100 metres tall remote operated flagpole and to the newly built bridge, which spans up to the deep waters. The experience on this observation point is wonderful. The deep waters circle around the supporting pillars, as if they are ready to drag them to the seabed. This is the ideal spot to watch the divine view of the sunset.
The mesmerising colours of the evening sky hold you to a step closer to nature. The view of the sea is magnificent; it calms down a tensed mind and eases the pressure. However, the situation on land is pathetic. Among vendors and visitors are piles of garbage thrown here and there. There are garbage cans kept at some points. Maybe these are inadequate and the public are not educated enough on the proper disposal of garbage.
At one point there was a board displayed to warn the public of a fine, unfortunately, someone had changed the lettering and it read ‘If you keep the environment clean, Rs. 500 will be fined.”
However, it is the responsibility of all of us to keep the place clean, so that future generations can benefit from this invaluable landscape.

Self-discipline for cyclists, a must

Road accidents are on the rise and every day the country loses five to six valuable lives on the road. Who takes the blame? People point fingers at officials, but how fair is it? Every citizen should take responsibility. Upholding road laws by users make the experience on the road pleasant for all of us. On a previous week we enlightened you on some best practices, pedestrians need to follow. Today we are educating you on some rules and regulations cyclists need to follow. According to Sri Lankans, the cycle is the vehicle of the poor.

However, now many youngsters use cycles to commute to school. Intentionally or unintentionally, sloppy cyclists cause many accidents on the road. The first step of safe cycling and in avoiding accidents is checking the bicycle, to see if it is in good condition. Ensure that it is mechanically good, the height of the seat and the handle suits your height, and the fixed revenue license is visible.
The number of accidents, related to cyclists, occurs during the dark hours can be more, when compared to daylight hours. Therefore, a white lamp infront and a red lamp or a reflector at the back is essential. Painting the mudguard in white is also important. When the light is dim, always activate these lights and wear light coloured clothes to make it easier for other vehicles to spot you.
The wisest action is using the dedicated cyclists' lane if present, as it is safer than on busy roads. However, in the absence of a lane, ride closer to the left edge. Riding in vertical lines, rather than going in pairs is secure for the riders. Some modern day youngsters do perilous stunts using bicycles. Unless they are professional stunt performers, this action would lead to many accidents.
Therefore, riding using both hands is the best, while not giving hand signals. Even when signalling, do that early allowing sufficient time for drivers to prepare. Never carry anything extra, which will disturb proper handling of the cycle. In some areas, especially in villages, people hold other cyclists and chat while riding. This practice is dangerous and should be avoided. Unlike other vehicles, bicycles have the benefit of taking less room on the road. Then cyclists are tempted to overtake other vehicles in a bad manner.
This could surprise other drivers, and could lead to accidents. When it comes to mishaps related to cyclists, always it is not the fault of the rider.
Therefore, it is better to be cautious than be regretful. While passing parked vehicles, see if a careless passenger has opened a door, or may be another motorists might hastily overtake the parked vehicle and you. Be careful about your surroundings.
Another fatal moment in motor traffic is when a vehicle enters a main road, since this is an unexpected movement for drivers on the main road, it is better to stop and watch the traffic. When the highway is clear, entering is secure.
On a one-way road or at a roundabout avoid taking the opposite way. Sure, you notice vehicle come to your face, but these motorists do not anticipate you. Thus, the result will be an accident.
Arresting accidents is easy if we act cautiously on the road and follow road rules. Let us aid the country to minimise the number of lives lost unreasonably. In another episode, we will elaborate about road rules applying to motorists.

Sri Kailasanathar Swami Devasthanam: The oldest Hindu temple in Colombo

Sri Kailasanathar Swamy Dewashthanam
The deafening sound of Ketti Melam, music played at Tamil weddings, filled the atmosphere of Sri Kailasanathar Hindu Temple, and the grandly dressed crowd rushed around the kovil to ensure a perfect nuptial ceremony. Not wanting to barge in, we wandered around the place to find the kovil office. A man appeared from nowhere and offered us to help. "Show us the office please?" "Come I will show you," he signalled us to follow. "There, at the blue painted building." We thanked him and followed his directions. We were stunned to see the board 'wedding hall.' The man had assumed we too were invitees. After another round, around the kovil, we found the correct place and managed to meet the kovil officials.

The decorated roof

The astrology chart

A bull statue
The decorated Gopuram
Sri Kailasanathar Swami Devashthanam is a kovil hidden inside a bushy surrounding behind the Fort Railway Station. Built during the Portuguese era, it was a family kovil. Apparently, it is the oldest Hindu temple in Colombo. Although it is Sri Kailasanathar, Swami Devashthanam, many still identify it as the kovil at the Captain's Garden. Though I presumed it as an unseen and unknown kovil, we later realised that it is popular even among non-Hindus. The number of Sinhala notices displayed there makes it obvious.
The entrance to the road leading to the kovil is near the famous second-hand bookstores at D. R. Wijewerdene Mawatha. Turn right from the main road and kovil Veethi, leads to the kovil over the Fort railway lines. As soon as you take a right turn from the kovil Veethi, to the kovil grounds, there are two kovils in the vicinity; a new building and an old colour-faded building. According to the kovil Manager, the faded building is the Ganapathi Kovil and the new-fangled building is the Easwaran Kovil.
Though the two kovils are adjacent the management of the two is different. Construction of a new kovil was under way at the place. A man who hid behind the stone dust was carving beautiful sculptures from the stones brought especially from India. Nowadays with the use of machines, cutting and polishing a stone into a sculpture is an easy task. However, the life of the artisans who originally built the kovil would have undergone many difficulties. The clerk of the kovil office, Nesarajah, took us on a tour around the kovil. Starting from the intricate lotus-carved main door, the tour covered almost all corners of the kovil. As soon as we entered, Nesarajah pointed to the roof. Oh! A gorgeous carving of an astrology chart, adorned the roof entrance. Magnificent paintings of Gods and Goddesses decorated the entire roof of the kovil. The kovil is full of statues of various gods. Shrines dedicated to various gods filled every empty slot of the temple.

The Vel Cart
"Easwaran kovils usually have shrines for almost every god," said the manager. The kovil has shrines for almost every god whom I have read in Tamil folk tales. Sri Kailasanathar Swamy Devashthanam is the starting point of the Vel ceremony, which later went up to Bamabalapitiya on the Galle Road. The kovil has two major festivals, in March and August.
The March festival is dedicated to goddess Pattini, while the August festival is dedicated to God Easwaran.
There is a beautiful Vel cart, decorated with intricate wooden carvings. In June 2010, the kovil Management had organised the most recent Kumbabhishekam ceremony. The kovil offers different special poojas for various gods during the week.
Beginning the week on Monday with a pooja offered to Goddess Pattini, the kovil has a unique set of poojas to Goddess Durga, Bahirawa, and nine planets. On Poya days, the Sri Sakkara Pooja is followed by an almsgiving to the devotees.
The Kannagi Amman festival began on May 25, and it will last for 10 consecutive days, Nesarajah said. The shrines of Goddess Pattini and God Easwaran had two carved bronze flag poles in front.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Thalawila Church Unique shrine dedicated to St. Anne

The city of churches, as I would like to dub Kalpitiya, occupies a large number of fine little churches scattered around the neighbourhood. Under the dimly lit streetlights, these churches glow in the dark with the help of some colourful light bulbs. There is one place in this peninsula, of which the popularity has been rising everyday for almost 400 years. It is none other than Thalawila Church, which is known for its miracles and blessings for many years.
This church is dedicated to St. Anne, the mother of St. Mary. Thalawila is considered as one of the most visited churches in the country and a unique shrine, which is worshipped by many thousands of people each year despite their religion. According to the records, this is one of the oldest churches in Sri Lanka. The cool breeze of the vast Puttalam Lake and the mighty Indian Ocean refreshes the apostles who are exhausted from eternal struggles in life.
Front of the church
The history of the Thalwila Church goes back to the seventeenth century. There are two stories related to the origin of the shrine. The first tale is rather an exaggerated story, which narrates about a Portuguese traveller, who in poor circumstances, travelled to find employment. However, failing to do so, he returned to where he lived. He used the coastal route for this.
The tired traveller happened to fall asleep under a large tree, which then grew at Thalawila. He dreamt that he saw a statue at the foot of the tree, with lighted tapers. Waking up from his deep sleep, he realised that the image was actually there. In his confusion, he prayed and was suddenly dazzled and awestruck by the 'great awakening light', which illuminated in the form of St. Anne and the Saint in the bodily presence stood before him. She told him that the image he had seen was intended as a representation of Her.
She ordered the traveller to build a church at the very spot in Thalawila and name it after Her.
It is believed that the image and the statue that is there today are the same. The story of the origin, which is accepted by many is related to a shipwreck. A European trader, travelling in a ship dedicated to St. Anne, was shipwrecked off the coast of Thalawila in the early half of the 18th century. As the place where they landed was not very hospitable, they sought a place to rest. They saw a large banyan tree at a distance and they loomed it with the statue of St. Anne, which they had in their possession. They placed the image in the tree, with the captain of the ship vowing to return and build a church if his business prospered.
The European trader obviously met with success as he desired, and kept his word by building a church at the place where the statue of St. Anne stood in its glory.
It is said that in 1943, by some bizarre coincidence, exactly a hundred years after the erection of the present church, there appeared the hull of a wrecked vessel for which the present generation has no recollection. The huge crowds which flocked to view it, believe that it was the vessel, which had once borne the image of St. Anne, which testifies the persistence of the tradition.
"This, however, is not the original church built by the trader," said the Administrator of St. Anne's Church, Fr. Luke Nelson Perera. "The first church of this premises was built in 1762 and this church in 1843," he added. The earliest church had been built using cadjan and wood. Therefore, over time it had been destroyed. The statute of St. Anne's placed at the church is made out of wood. "All the churches in Sri Lanka, which are believed to have miracles, have wooden statues," explained Fr. Perera.
According to the historians, the wood needed for the construction of the church, especially for the 18 pillars of the hall, were found from the surrounding forest.
There are many miracles recorded in the history of St. Anne's Church, Thalawila. For many who desperately wish for a baby, this is considered as the last resort. They pray for many days and nights and ultimately their wish will be granted. An engineer working for a leading Company in Sri Lanka, Arul, was married for 10 years without children when they first heard about the church. After praying to St. Anne, now they are a happy couple with a daughter. "I have experienced the miracle of St. Anne's.
"I have a lot of faith in Her," said Arul. One of the popular miracles is the shipwreck of the 'Kandula' ship, which belonged to the Navy.
This ship had collided with a sand bank near Thalawila and got shipwrecked. Removing the parts of the vessel was a tough job. Then the officers made a vow at the St. Anne shrine. It is said that then everything happened in order. As a way of paying gratitude, now the Navy attends the church festival every year.
The church is always full of devotees. However, the most crowded period is the festive season. There are two major festivals of the church; one is during March and the other is in August. "About 400,000 devotees attend the March festival and 500,000 the August festival. Organizing these events is a major task," he explained. These two are gazetted feasts of the country.
Therefore, the GA of the area does the planning, which involves the government.
At present, a development projects, initiated by Fr. Nelson Perera are in progress at the shrine. Drinking water project for pilgrims, renovation of the roof of the shrine, construction of a retreat house and Tree planting campaign are some of them.

SLTB to launch novel project to minimise accidents: Points system to choose best depot

The Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB) has declared May as the month of accident prevention. "In line with a proposal by the Board's Vice Chairman, L.A. Wimalarathne, the program 'We save you', will be carried out to arrest the rising number of accidents and also give a boost to the income of the Board during this month," said Manager, Income Generation of Sri Lanka Transport Board, H. M. Chandrasiri.
Under the program, all the depots in the country will be assessed on a special grading scheme. Daily points will be awarded for the percentage of buses put into the service as per area requiremen, number of miles covered and the income brought in by the end of the day.
At the same time, points will also be deducted for passenger complaints and cases of accidents.
During this period, SLTB employees will also be educated on how to maintain a bus, ways and means to provide a better passenger service and highway code. The Sri Lanka Police and guest lecturers will conduct a lecture series in order to impart lessons.
As an incentive the depot with the highest number of points will be selected as the best depot. "We are planning to reward the winning depot, with something that will help further and sustain the depot facilities," said Chandrasiri.
"This will be the perfect project to minimise the number of accidents caused by SLTB buses.
All our employees will be enthused to provide a better service for the community," he added.
In the first three months of this year there were 380 accidents involving Sri Lanka Transport Board buses resulting in 23 deaths.
In 2010, the number of accidents involving State buses was 1,158.

Deegavapi Vihara: Sacred shrine blessed by the Buddha

The newly built shrine
Driving away from the bustling city of Ampara, towards East on Akkaraipattu Road for almost 18 km, brings you to the point where you are required to make a left turn from the main road to enter Deegavapi Temple Road. This path, has a dead end at the garden of the shrine, and passes a small hamlet of Muslim community and a picturesque ambience. Once you pass the locale, it is just the plain lush green valley, which allows you a splendid panorama up to the sky.
By the time we arrived at the temple, it was almost deserted and there was hardly anybody to be seen except one or two vendors. The mesmerizing serenity of the temple resembled the idyllic setting of a place blessed by the Buddha. It was during the third visit the Blessed One visited Deegavapi shrine with 500 other arahants and had spent the time meditating. Of course, although occasionally a peacock breaches the silence of the atmosphere, it is the perfect place to meditate.
After parking the vehicle at the gate of Deegavapi Vihara, we hurried passing the two storeyed monks' abode until the Stupa was in our vicinity. Did I expect to see a beautiful dazzling white Stupa like Ruwamweliseya? Maybe, I did not. Deegavapi is nothing like a Stupa. It rather gives an impression of a heap of bricks and plants. The circumference of the Stupa is 1000 feet, and it has been restored only up to 30 feet of the height. Rest of the height is a small jungle with various bushes on it. According to archaeologists, the Stupa was 110 feet high in 1964. However, a report by Badigode Buddharakitha thera says that the height of the Stupa was 185 feet in 1845. I presumed that on top of the Stupa there was an eagle's nest as well. Flower pedestals, foot prints of the Buddha, and ruins of a beautifully decorated Vahalkada were seen all over the place. There are ruins scattered around the premises.
The Stupa had been built by King Saddhathissa (137 -119 BC), and is considered as a 'Pariboghika Stupa', one which does not contain relics. Being one of the 16 places blessed by the Buddha the shrine has become a sacred place. The great chronicle Mahavamsa, states that the King had also donated a jacket decorated with gold lotus flowers, and gems to cover the Stupa. According to an inscription on a gold foil found during an excavation, the Stupa was later renovated by king Kawanthissa who ruled from 164 - 192BC.
The British took over the entire land that belonged to the temple. In 1886, the Governor had instructed the villagers to dig the area and remove the bricks and granite slabs to be used for irrigation projects. Buddhists had refused to take part in the excavation.
The project had ended leaving only a pile of soil at the area where the Stupa was situated. Ven. Kohukumubure Revatha Thera, had located the Stupa.
Later he started reconstructing the stupa. The thera also managed to reclaim 250 acres of land back to the temple.

The Monks’ abode

Deegavapi Stupa

Ruins of a decorated Vahalkada

Foot imprint of the Buddha Pedestal

Stone flower pedestal
Pix: Janani Amarasekara

Miracles of Somawathie dagoba attract pilgrims

It was May 09, 2010 and the devotees at the Somawathie shrine were attending a Kiripindu Pooja. Minutes and hours passed by, and all were engrossed in the pooja, when a strange pinkish light appeared near the square chamber of the Pagoda. The air above the premises echoed by the hum of a worship, 'sadhu!'It was not an alien incident for Somawathiya; it had happened numerous times before. Some scholars interpret this light as illuminations of the Buddha and some deem this as a proof for the appearance of a god. Whatever it is, these miracles do bring many devotees to the shrine.
Around 40 kilometres away from Polonnaruwa, the Somawathie Chethiya is a popular pilgrimage site among the Buddhists and non-Buddhists. The place creates a lot of news throughout the year. Besides, the miracles, there is also an elephant that visits the temple regularly to pay homage to the Stupa which is enshrined with the right canine Tooth Relic of the Buddha. During the rainy season, the whole area goes under water.
During the conflict, the journey to the temple was not easy. Once you drove in at the last army camp, you were required to leave your National Identity Card with the security. Subsequently, it was a journey through the thick jungle up to Somawathie Viharaya.
While standing here at the temple premises, I remember a story related to my grandmother. Some years ago, my granny went missing. A few days later, she was back at home from an adventurous journey to Somawathiya. "I was late by the time I reached the army camp. There were hardly any vehicles to commute up to the temple. Taking a tractor was the only option I had. I got into it to reach the shrine and spent the night all alone at the temple," she said. This incident took place in 2007 and she was 68 years old then.
The history of Somawathiya predate Dutugemunu. Therefore, it is much older than Ruwanweliseya, Mirisawetiya or Jetawanaramaya. Some believe that it was built during the reign of king Kavantissa, Dutugemunu's father who ruled Magama. According to ancient chronicles, the very first Arahant of the country, Aritta Thera, had visited the residence of gods especially to bring the Sacred Right Tooth Relic of the Buddha.
As the legend unfolds, Kawantissa's sister, Somawathie Devi, had built the dagoba during the second century BC. The Mahawamsa describes that the royal couple who had left Ruhuna had sought refuge in Raja Rata over a disagreement with king Dutugemunu who was also the nephew of Somawathie. Queen Somawathie had a yearning to build a stupa in honour of the Buddha. The king himself had agreed to the idea with much enthusiasm. Giri Abhaya, the husband of queen Somawathie, had explored a possible site for the construction. In the course of his survey, he came upon an area where Bhikkhus led by Arahant Mahinda resided. When the king suggested his idea to Arahant Mahinda, he gave his consent to the stupa-building project.
The location was known as Somapura. There were companion stupas known as Kumbanacchaduwa (identified as the place where Kadol elephant had died).
The pilgrim of earlier days to the holy shrine had an opportunity to see on one side of the dagoba, a trench-like opening revealing some five feet inside the present dagoba, wherein is the ancient brick masonry of the earlier dagoba. However, now the trench has been covered.
The flooded premises
The present freshly painted white dagoba is an enlargement of an earlier one. Two kings have renovated the chetiya and with the opening visitors could view the section of the chetiya that revealed the three layers illustrating the three periods during which renovations were undertaken.
According to scholars, some Brahmi characters found at the site have been identified as letters from the second century. Seven stone inscriptions detailing the history of the dagoba have also been found in the area. Separate inscriptions found here refer to the Rebavehera and Pajini Naka Araba Vihara, which are presumed to be the ancient names of the monument. According to the latter, there is also a belief that the vihara was a construction by Naka, the son of king Mahallaka Naga in the second century.
Like the road to Seruwila Dagoba, here too, the voyage itself offers you an array of thick jungle and swamp as well as their inhabitants, big and small.
In fact, the dagoba is often visited at night by elephants. Sungawila is the last little town and border village from where you cross the Mahaweli to travel on some 13 kilometres of unsealed road that cuts through the Somawathie's strict natural reserve and wildlife sanctuary, and takes you through the jungle and marshy land to the great dagoba.
As elephants encroach into the temple premises, an electric fence has been installed there. The fence is powered by solar electricity. Electricity is switched on in the evening from six onwards.
The Somawathie Chetiya is famous in recent history due to its miracles, which took place in the temple. Some of the valuable ancient ruins found in the place are found at the Polonnaruwa Museum.
MiraclesThe Buddha’s foot imprint

Self-discipline for road safety, a must

During the last three decades, since 1977, more than 40,000 people died and nearly 370,000 injured out of which 68,440 were serious. Am I talking about the damage caused by the 30-year-old conflict? No, I am not. These are statistics on road accidents, released at the recently held conference hosted by the National Road Safety Council.
The data also revealed that around 150 accidents are reported daily in Sri Lanka, causing death to five to six people. This is not a problem faced only by the Sri Lankans; almost 1.3 million people around the world die each year from road accidents.
Taking this rise of accidents into consideration, many countries of the world including ours, have declared a Global decade of Action for Road Safety in 2011-2020.
The road accidents are under the spotlight, making it the perfect time to discuss the causes. Negligence plays a key role in causing accidents although not the eventual.
Ill disciplined pedestrians and drivers also deserve the blame. The Gazette Announcement 486/8 issued by the Sri Lanka Government on December 29, 1987, established a set of best practices the pedestrians and drivers need to follow. Unfortunately, only a few know these practices and even those who know rarely puts those into practice. Therefore, we decided to enlighten you gradually on the rules suggested by the gazette announcement. After all, this is simply common sense that we all should have.
Pedestrians - The discussion about safety of the pedestrians, always give priority to children. The parents need to be watchful when their children use the road. Never allow them to play on the road.
As a rule of thumb, keep children away from the moving traffic while walking. From their tender age, teach the safety road rules and develop the habit of following those.
Pedestrians should always use footpaths or pavements, if provided. Using the footpath also needs you to follow few rules; avoiding covering the full width of the pavement while walking tops this list. Haven't you ever faced these types of pedestrians in your life? How did you feel? I am sure you did not feel great!
Further, pedestrians should note that the roads are for the primary use of the motor traffic. Therefore, they should offer priority to motor traffic.
They also should take caution while walking on the dimly lit roads, especially at night. If there is no footpath, it is advisable to wear light colours and carry something white, which will help the drivers to spot you easily at night.
When a pedestrian needs to cross the road, look for a pedestrian crossing, overhead bridge or an underground crossing.
A crossing within 50 metres wants the pedestrian to cross from there. While crossing, stop and check for motor traffic until you get a safe moment.
As we learnt as children, "Eyes right! Eyes left! Eyes right once again.
Then, if the road is, clear. Quick march! Don't rush! You may cross the road for there's nothing now to fear." You are safe on the road, if you follow this rhyme. Crossing - in an instance when motor traffic and pedestrians coincide, needs the attention of the drivers and the pedestrians.
Following the rules, ease the life of both the parties. Crossing behind or ahead of parked vehicles is fatal, especially after getting down from the bus, as this causes many accidents. Many main roads have security fences along the road. Always choose to use a dedicated gap of the fence, when a pedestrian enters the road, instead of jumping over. After all, who wants to end with a broken bone instead of walking few steps? Fences guard the pedestrians. Therefore, never bypass and walk on the road.
An intersection is an idyllic example for intricate traffic plans. Motor vehicles come in every direction. Therefore, pedestrians need to be cautious at these places. Since, most junctions provide narrow footpaths or the footpath might be absent. When you start to cross the road at pedestrian crossing, allow the driver sometimes to see you, and lower the speed before stopping.
Pedestrians on the crossing, merely obliges the driver to stop. The pedestrians need to be extra cautious if the road is dark or wet. At points where traffic signals control the motor traffic and the pedestrians, do not dare to cross when the red man is on.
If a control button is available, press and wait for the green man. The duration between the red man and the green man is hardly two minutes. So why be restive and prefer colliding on a vehicle rather than waiting for two minutes? It is your preference. In the end, you are periling your life. Never try to cross when the green man blinks, which signals the pedestrian, to 'hurry.'
We play the role of the pedestrian in our daily routines. Follow this set of best practices and make others lives easier. Next week, we hope to bring you another episode of rules on courtesy driving dedicated for bicycles and motor vehicles. Let us do our duty to lessen accidents.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Navy-operated boat trips to Adam's Bridge

The Sri Lanka Navy has initiated a novel project to let the public experience a journey to the renowned Adam's Bridge in Thalaimannar. Inaugurated on April 10, as a part of this project they operate boat tours for the public to the bridge.

If the sea is calm and if there is no rain, departure from the old pier at Thalaimannar to the sand banks will be operated from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. everyday. The journey is 15 km from the mainland to the bridge. After landing at the sand bank, people can explore the area.
"Visitors are not expected to bring anything specifically for the trip. We provide everything including food and water. Only thing is that they should not litter on the sand bank," a Navy official who is in charge of the tour said.
Adam's Bridge or Rama's Bridge is a chain of limestone shoals between Pamban Island, off the South Western coast of Tamil Nadu, and Mannar Island. There are many legends related to this bridge. A famous story in the ancient Sanskrit script, Ramayana identifies the bridge as a construction by the Vanara army of Rama, which he used to reach Lanka and rescue his wife Sita from Ravana, the Raksha king who ruled Lanka at the time. The believers of this chronicle named this bridge as 'Rama's Bridge'. According to the geologists, this stretch of sand banks was a former land connection between India and Sri Lanka. The bridge is 30 km long and it is believed that this had been a continuous stretch during the olden days. However, sea erosion has separated the sea bank into 18 fractions.
The Sri Lankan Navy governs nine of them and the other nine belong to the Indian Navy. Adam's Bridge, which separates the Gulf of Mannar from the Palk Straits, consist of some dry sea banks. The sea around the banks is very shallow. It is said that during the bygone days people reached India by foot through this bridge.

here devotees worship daily: Thiruketheeswaram Kovil

The harsh rays of the burning sun reached every inch of the Kovil premises. It was three in the evening and the place was deserted except for Murali, the boy who was clearing the yard and us. The daily pooja was at five and we had plenty of time to walk around the place.
Thiruketheeswaram Kovil, one of the five main Hindu temples of the country dedicated to God Siva, is an ancient Hindu Kovil situated in Manthei. It is about seven miles to the North from Mannar Town.
As the legend unfolds Kethu Bhagavan worshipped Lord Siva at this temple, and that is how the temple got its name Thiruketheeswaram.
This Kovil is one of the main places of worship sights in Mannar. Many Hindus and non-Hindus from all over the country visit this place nearly every day. “We never had to do the evening pooja without devotees. All around the year people visit this Kovil,” said Swami Nithyanandan. “The place is blessed with people,” he added.
The history of the temple goes back to the era of Chola. It is believed to be built in 600 B.C. Another story related to the Kovil says that the father-in-law of Ravana, the king of Lanka, built Thiruketheeswaram. Ravana himself had been a devotee of Koneswaram Temple, Trincomalee. Rama, who built the Sivan Temple at Rameshwaram, on his way back to Ayodhya from Lanka, is reputed to have worshipped Lord Siva at the Thiruketheeswaram as well.
The Thiruketheeswaram Temple
The Assistant Archaeology Commissioner, S. Sanmuganathan, in his research paper ‘Excavations at Thiruketheeswaram’ states that ,”The ancient Saiva shrine of Mahathiththa called Thiruketheeswaram is referred to in Tamil devotional hymns dating from 7th century A.D.” However, the invasion of the Portuguese Catholic colonists in 1505 brought the darkest period of the Kovil. They destroyed the buildings and took most of the valuable items in it.
The materials found from the Kovil and from the nearby Buddhist temples were used to build the Fort of Mannar. One of the most popular Tamil civil servants, Sir Kanthiah Vaithianathan explains this tragedy plainly in his report named ‘Thiruketheeswaram temple and the port of Manthota’, “To the Portuguese who had set about to plunder the rich Hindu Temples of the Deccan, Thiruketheeswaram was even an easier pray than Kanya Kumari, which they succeeded in plundering.
The conversation of the people of Mannar Island was preceded by the plunder of Thiruketheeswaram, whose very stones were subsequently used in the construction of the Mannar Fort.
The feeble effort made by the king of Jaffna to avenge the crime on Thiruketheeswaram was magnified into a massacre.” He also added in this report that the good and the bad times of the Kovil were directly related to the political condition of the country.
The Kovil prospered during the period of Cholas and Pandyans. Even Parakramabahu the Great had been having a soft corner for the Kovil. It is evident from the ruins found from the site that the Kovil was once built according to Pandyan architectural style. The exact location of the destroyed temple was located more or less after 400 years in 1894.
In the 20th century most of the restorations of the Kovil was completed. In June 1903, a small temple was reconstructed and the central shrine was reconstructed and re-consecrated in 1921.

A statue of a rat
The Kovil has gone through several facelifts and additions until 1970’s and the tank near the Kovil, Palavi tank, was rebuilt in 1949. The Palavi tank is prospered by the river Palavi, which had been the outlet of Matale waters via Malwattu Oya and other natural waterways of the extensive basin.
Presently the devotees are advised to bathe from this tank without using the main pipeline, since the water supply to the Kovil is only twice a day for two hours. At present, the Thiruketheeswaram restoration committee does the management of the Kovil. The main priest of the Kovil is Swami Shiva Kumar who had served the temple for 35 years. He had seen vicissitudes of the temple since 1976. For him, the most haunting time at the Kovil is the period of the recent war.
“The Kovil was closed for 12 long years. We fled from the place to secure our selves. No one was here during that period,” he said. The temple was reopened in 2002 during the ceasefire agreement of the two parties.
Though the Kovil was untouched during the war, around 24 ‘madams’ or rest houses, situated around the place for the use of the devotees, were destroyed.
“Two parties had fired each other by covering themselves from these buildings. Only a few walls remained intact,” said one of the caretakers of the Kovil who had come here in 2002. When asked about his experience of the war he said with a smile, “After I arrived there were no face to face gun fires. All came from above,” Though it sounded a tragedy the way it was replied brought us a good laugh.
Wooden cart under construction
Destroyed rest house of the Kovil
Now the Kovil has a new rest house and used by the devotees who come from faraway places. “Even yesterday there were people from Kottawa and Rajagiriya,” he added.
The festival of the Thiruketheeswaram Kovil is held annually in May. This year it starts on May 8, and finishes on Vesak Poya day. A huge wood cart decorated by excellent carvings, and which was restored recently is used for the procession. Along with that a statue of a rat, bull and a peacock will be paraded.
Inside the main temple, there are shrines of Nadarajar, Vineyakar, Somaskander, Maha Vishnu, and a Maha Lakshmi Shrine along with the Maha lingam. The main entrance of the Kovil is decorated with a tree storied Raja Gopuram.
The area where the Maha Mandapam is situated was decorated from magnificent stone carvings.
In addition, there were two decorated outlets from the main shrine in the shape of a dragonhead, to remove water or milk from the inside chamber.
There were few peacocks roaming around the premises, which doubled the beauty of the place.

Pix: Janani Amarasekara