Tripin 2020 - page 24

with richly coloured and sharply
detailed murals of the 18th and
19th century, recounting both the
life of Lord Buddha and episodes
in the history of the temple.
Everywhere you look there is a
different story to be told. Even the
ceiling is painted with planetary
gods (the navagrahayo) and the
twelve zodiac signs. It is worth
meandering slowly through the
temple to take in all the intricate
detailing. Through the first
room lies the sanctum of the
magnificent reclining Buddha.
Plated in real gold and covered
with a single white veil, the
reclining Buddha is set amidst a
vestibule of ancient artwork.
In contrast to the rich, deep
colours on the interior walls, the
inner-most shrine, called the Hall
of Perfumes, features a meditating
golden Buddha statue backed by a
painting of a blue sky with a single
Himalayan mountain peak. Almost
3D in its execution, the painting
at the end of the decorative
corridor is eerily serene, with
devotees sitting wonderstruck
at its feet, a testament to its
powerful effect. Turn the corner
and bear witness to the oldest
recorded panel painting of all
time. Recognized internationally
as a national treasure among the
wall paintings of the 20th century,
the depiction of the princess
Hemamala smuggling the tooth of
Lord Buddha, hidden in her hair,
from his funeral pyre to Sri Lanka,
is truly breathtaking. The historic
episode had taken place between
301-320 A.D. and as the setting
sun streams through, illuminating
the painting, I feel a sense of
overwhelming serendipity. How
had I lived in Sri Lanka all this time
and not known about this before?
Stepping outside into the
courtyard, we make way to the
blackened silhouette of the giant
bo tree against the molten sky.
The sacred tree is surrounded
by a golden railing and has a
white marble Buddha statue set
into its roots. Seeming to take
nourishment from the offerings
of devotees at its base, the
majestic tree spreads its boughs
wide, offering shade for those
who come to pay their respects.
Surrounding the tree, laying cross-
legged in the soft caramel sand
are people from all walks of life;
monks from the far east, villagers
from across the island, tourists
and non-Buddhists alike pay their
respects as a bhikkuni (female
ordained Buddhist monk) chants
scripture hypnotically in the
center of the courtyard. Despite
the crowd, an all-pervading calm
envelops the temple precincts
giving visitors a sense of
undeniable tranquility.
Heading away from the courtyard,
passing by the blackened rows
of sacred flames, Padmasiri Sir
pauses, letting us know he has
one more place he would like
to show us; the golden relic
chamber. Centered in the back
of the 14-carat-gold encrusted
room, encased in a glass altar,
are the golden relics of Lord
Buddha’s visit; the very relics
that are paraded during the
Duruthu Maha Perahera. What I
found most fascinating of all is
that inside the altar, are three
mini glass spheres. Encased
within lay three individual hair
follicles of Lord Buddha! Visitors
are afforded the chance to listen
to live sermons from monks
inside the golden chambers. A
rarity indeed, as most temples
on the island recite scripture
through a microphone.
As we say our goodbyes and
bow our heads in gratitude, I
feel blessed to gain insight into
a sacred site that has existed
before my beloved country had
even taken shape. For those of
you who are interested in the rich
culture of Sri Lanka but cannot
find time to visit the ancient
cities of Polonnaruwa and
Anuradhapura, I urge you to visit
Kelaniya Temple. Echoing the
spirituality of a nation, Kelaniya
Temple is not only for Buddhists.
Its divine energy is universal
and I challenge you not to feel a
sense of seraphic contentment
upon leaving its walls.
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