Kathina and Pilgrimage to Sri Lanka 2013 – A Travel Journal

A party of 13 including Venerable Pannavudha (Chuan Ren) went on this 8-day trip from 9 November to 16 November 2013. The Sri Lanka trip took us to Colombo, Dambulla, Mihintale, Anuradhapura, Matale, Kandy and Nuwara Eliya. Sri Lanka is home to eight UNESCO’s World Heritage sites and the trip covered three of them, namely Golden Temple of Dambulla, Ancient City of Anuradhapura and Ancient City of Kandy. These places had more than 2,000 years of history.

The Commonwealth Head of Governments Meeting (CHOGM 2013) was being held in Sri Lanka while we were there. The way I see it, it is either good or bad. Bad, because there were road closures in Colombo and we had to contend with hotel accommodation that was not ideal. Good, because Colombo was spruced up and infrastructure covering airport and roads were improved for the occasion.

My impression of the country

I was charmed by the people’s good-natured manners, ample patience and country’s rich historical culture and architecture. The island nation was 90 times bigger than Singapore and yet its population was just 3.5 times that of Singapore’s. Land is plentiful in Sri Lanka.

Coconut trees were seen everywhere and coconut is one of Sri Lanka’s main exports. It adds a relaxing touch to a slow and steady pace of life in this paradise.

Sri Lanka is predominantly a Buddhist country with about 75% of its population embracing Buddhism. Ven Mahinda, who was the son of King Asoka of India, first met King Devaanampiya Tissa of ancient Sri Lanka to bring Buddhism to the country in 250 B.C. There were rock temples and historical religious sites dotted round the country and pilgrimage to Sri Lanka was one aim of the trip. The main objective of this trip was also to perform Kathina Puja and Maha Sangha Dana at Mangalaramaya Buddhist Temple in Talagala.

Day One

At Mangalaramaya Buddhist Temple, Talagala

I was moved by the elaborate welcoming party at the temple when we arrived. Venerable Master, monks, drummers, singers, and temple devotees welcomed us. We all wore white for the occasion just like the temple devotees. I felt like a member of a political party. No disrespect intended. I felt purity all round with every devotee wearing white.

There were drummers in traditional costumes beating their drums. Sweet voices were heard from five female singers as they welcomed us. Great hospitality was shown by Venerable Master of the temple and refreshment was provided on arrival in a tent set up for this occasion. We felt like VIPs.

The temple treated us to a sumptuous dinner which consisted of Sri Lankan local food fare.

At night, the temple put up traditional performances by the dhamma school members. What a powerful performance it was. There were “human tornadoes”, acrobatic stunts, singing and dancing. We need not have to be Commonwealth Heads of Governments to see such traditional performances organised for them at CHOGM 2013 meeting.

Day Two

At Mangalaramaya Buddhist Temple, Talagala

On second day, we set off early at 4 am. (But because of a miscommunication, we were woken up at 2 am by morning calls at the hotel.) We were however better off than the temple devotees who started their celebration as early as 1 am. The procession was colourful and celebratory. There were drummers in traditional Sri Lankan costumes, young boys twirling fire rings, female dancers, stilt walkers, and an elephant walking the path to the temple.

Morning breakfast was at a special room was set up for us. The servers were looking out for our needs with great hospitality.

We were later shown the meditation centre belonging to the temple some distance away from the temple.

The Kathina puja and Maha Sangha dana ceremony was very elaborate and steed in tradition. There were 250 monks taking part in this dana giving and 1,000 devotees witnessing this ceremony.

Day Three

At Mihintale

Mihintale is the place where Buddhism was first introduced to Sri Lanka. It is the cradle of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

The stupa on site marks the spot when Ven Mahinda, who was the son of King Asoka of India, first met King Devaanampiya Tissa of ancient Sri Lanka to bring Buddhism to the country in 250 B.C.

We climbed some part of the 1840 steps made of granite slabs to reach the summit of a rock dwelling. We had a breath-taking view of the areas from this vantage point. The climb was difficult but worth it.

At Isurumuni Rock Temple (3rd Century B.C.)

Many rock carvings were seen at this place including Isurumuni & Lover, Man & Horse, etc.

At Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura is capital of first Kingdom of ancient Sri Lanka (4th Century B.C.) Sri Maha Bodhi (Sacred Bo-tree) was brought in as a sapling of Bodhi tree from Bodh Gaya some 2,200 years ago. (Shakyamuni Buddha attained enlightenment under this tree in Bodh Gaya, India.) Sacred Bo-Tree is protected in the compound. Wooden and metal props support tree branches to ensure its longevity.

After this visit, the rain came down hard and we were soaked to the skin on the return journey back to hotel.

Day Four

At Dambulla Rock Temple

Dambulla Rock Temple was built in 1st Century B.C by King Walagambahu. There are five caves. It contains many statues of Buddha carved out of rocks and rich colourful paintings on walls and ceilings. They were exquisite and still maintained their beauty after so many years.

At Matale

We were introduced to the many spices of Sri Lanka.

At Kandy

We visited the Temple of Tooth Relic in the night. It was recorded that there were only two tooth relics retrieved on cremation of Shakyamuni Buddha. One was in China and the other was in this place. Devotees waited in line to get a glimpse of Buddha tooth relic through a window, which remained shut except for three times in a day at 6.00 am, 6.30 am and 7.00 pm. The tooth relic is kept inside seven jeweled caskets. We could only view these caskets since the tooth relic will be shown to the public once every five years.

Day Five

At Nuwara Eliya

This was the scenic part of the trip. The tour bus took us through mountainous roads passing miles and miles of tea plantations. One such plantation we visited was Mackwoods Labookellie Tea Plantation.

Mackwoods manages 27,000 acres of tea plantation at elevation of 2,000 m.

Nuwara Eliya has a cool climate and there are waterfalls. The well known one is the Ramboda Fall. Next stop was at Lake Gregory. This place has the feel of a little English Village in the hills. The British explorer, Samuel Baker, brought in Hereford cows, strawberries, carrots, leeks and other vegetables and fruits from England to replicate the British feel of this place.

Day Six

At Kelaniya Temple, near Colombo

The last temple we visited was Kelaniya Temple. This temple is very popular with locals. As in all temples and holy places, we had to go in bare-footed and removed our hats out of respect. Sand surrounds the compound. It felt clean even when it was raining. Huge, green and shady Bo-tree was seen in the compound with a Buddha statue under it. The locals carried pots of water and circumambulated it. At the end, they poured the water round the tree. The buildings have great carvings and are life-like. The architecture is elaborate. The paintings on walls and ceilings are exquisite and breathtaking.

The white stupa there in the shape of rice-heap enshrined a Royal Throne. There were two warring factions fighting for this Royal Throne. Buddha saw this and appeared from the sky to mediate the warring factions. It was said that Buddha appeared in Sri Lanka three times. This was one of them.

Day Seven

Free and easy day and was spent in Colombo. Took a flight home at 1 am the following day on a three and half hour flight time.

Everyday lives of Sri Lankan people

Tut Tut is used as metered taxi. It is a three wheelers with one driver and two passengers at the back. This Tut Tut was common zipping around busy Colombo streets. Main mode of transport was non-airconditioned public buses. Bus conductor shouted out at each stop, which I had no clue about. The driver was driving way too fast, but surprisingly no accident was seen.

Cows roam the street. They have every right to use the road. Watch out for cow dung on road!

Shops along streets sell daily necessities from dried goods, fishes, vegetables, various forms of rice, fruits. Bananas, papayas, coconuts, apples, oranges, pineapples are common. Vegetables are plentiful in Sri Lanka but not exported.

Ceylon tea is cheap and is one of main exports of Sri Lanka. The other main exports are clothing, textile, gems, rubber and coconuts.

Cashew nuts common in Sri Lanka are sold along sides of roads. Coach bus made a quick stop for us to buy.

Sri Lanka is famous for their spices. Some examples include vanilla planifolia, nutmeg, cocoa theobroma, cinnamon, etc.

Meals

Our meals throughout our trip were of the same, curry-based, same kind of spices, meat in curry, red and white rice, papadam, same kind of fruits, hard-boiled eggs in the morning. Therefore on the last meal before boarding for flight home, we asked for Chinese food. It was a change we appreciated.

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