Located around the Southeast from India, there lies an island that many would not consider her as the top country to visit. Sri Lanka, the land filled of Sinhalese as a majority, has portrayed a vision of continuous tensions and dangers. The more than a decade civil war – between the Sri Lanka government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (in short Tamil Tigers) – has drained the potentials this country can bring, adversely disrupting the daily lives of the Sri Lankan and bringing the death toll to more than 80 thousand people. This discontent seems to have originated from the colonial times when the Tamils were enjoying greater social welfare and higher social status, which resulted in deep vexation and fortification against the influence of the west; finally a prolonged war that should not have happened began. Exacerbated with the 2004 Tsunami, the path to recovery seems unattainable. In 2009, the Sri Lankan government finally won their battle against the rebel group, bringing an end to this unnecessary civil war. Sri Lankan has since able to enjoy the overdue peace.
Devotion to Theravada Buddhism has evolved to be the only acceptable consolation and guidance to a better Sri Lanka, forming an essential part of Sri Lanka’s culture and traditional customs. The Poya day, for instance, is the Buddhist day adopted where no meat and no alcohol can be consumed on every full moon. Street stalls, restaurants and even hotels are forbidden to sell alcoholic drinks to anyone including tourist. Clearly, the spread of Buddhism has not only reached this island, it has infiltrated and deeply rooted to the livelihood of each Sri Lankan. Likewise, many government policies as well as events are also skewed towards the promotion of the ideology of Buddhism.
The Gangaramaya Temple, situated on the Slave Island in Colombo, is one of the most intriguing temples I have come across. Hidden behind its dull yellow gate, this temple has treasures beyond your imagination. Entering the temple from the west side, it would lead you into a dark room, slightly lighted by its orange fluorescent bulbs, filled with Buddhas and its disciples’ statues. These statues seem to carry living souls; the realistic facial features somehow have manifested a strange feeling that is hard to explain. The possibility of supernatural being appeared to be true. Behind this temple, there stood a Bodhi tree as well as a museum where Buddhist related collectables were displayed for visitors.
Great details about Theravada Buddhism can be found at Kelaniya Temple. Located at the northeast of Colombo, one can go to this attraction rather easily – either by train or by tuk tuk. Its ancient historical statues as well as monuments of more than 2500 years old have attracted thousands of Buddhist devotees to pay their respect to this sacred temple. The locals believe that if one worships at this temple, her/his sins will be washed away
Hinduism is the second largest religion in Sri Lanka. With about 12.6% of the whole population, Hindu temples are easily visible on the streets in Colombo. The celebration of Pongal festival happened to be on the same day with my visit to Sri Kailasanathar Swamy Devasthanam. Hindu worshippers gathered themselves near to a shrine that holds nine planetary gods; with offerings they prepared such as milk, yogurt, curry, flowers and coconuts for this auspicious moment. The cleaning process of these nine planetary Gods started shortly after Shamans finished their initial prayer and cleanup of the shrine. Curry, milk and coconuts were used to wash the dark looking statues, giving them a new and shiny appearance. Decorated with flowers provided by the worshipper and returning blessings to the devotees, this marked the end of the ritual. It was a great experience for someone like me who is not a Hindu.
Religion not only provides a comfort for a soul, it provides answers to our daily challenges. The look of a Christian in Saint Anthony Church depicted his deep connection with God. The touch he made on the glass panel and the look he had with Jesus portrayed a desperate need for help. Photography is not allowed inside this church unless approval granted by the Church. Lucky as I am, I am allowed to take a couple of photos of this amazing church and to participate in their Sunday parade with them.
Despite the countrywide adaptation to democracy, the freedom of religion in particular Christianity is pretty restricted. The Sri Lankan – Christians- are currently the main targeted group discriminated by Buddhists and Hindus. Saddened by the news I heard, I empathize what the innocents have to go through. Prayer seems to be heard when a large number of policemen stationed themselves at different key areas during the parade, supporting and protecting the Christians from dangers.
Peace seems close, but hard to grasp.
In addition, one should also pay a visit to Jami Ul Alfar Mosque. The red and white bricks sweetened the stroll along the street close to Pettah Market, adding a contrast colour and a little fun to the busy walkways. Pettah Market or Manning Market is an open and bustling market where traders come together to do wholesaling of various products. Coolies are a common sight, carrying bags of goods over their shoulders. Taking a peak into the dilapidated warehouses will definitely bring you memories of those old colonial days.
Walking along the Galle Face Green’s shoreline, the contentment among families was felt unconstrained. Expressions of their faces were pure joy despite their horrendous past. This rhythm of happiness could both be felt and heard from their never-ending laughter. Families brought their kids to the seaside or to the nearby open field to play were common sights; enjoying the cold splashes or gently sea breeze as gifts given by our Mother Nature.
Most of the Sri Lankans grew up in an unstable and violent environment; the struggle to stay positive could be a challenge for some. On the other hand, due to their deprivation and hardships, they have somehow realised the importance of history; many of the colonial architectures, for instance, are now under restoration process or undergoing a new facelift. The nostalgic past may stir ire among the Sinhalese – anti colonialism ideology. On the other hand, the urge for stronger economic development and growth has created a harmonious balance among the various ethnicities and religious groups. Sri Lanka, in my opinion, is an intriguing, friendly and safe country, which required our further exploration.
- Always take a tuk tuk with metered installed. You don’t want to be given a cut throat price by the tuk tuk driver.
- Shoes and socks are not allowed in many temples
- Finding a toilet can be a problem
Below are some of my pictures taken during my trip to Sri Lanka, Colombo:
Thank you for reading my blog.
All Photographs on this Blog, Copyright © 2017 Kimy Chang, All rights reserved