January 16, 2019
Our visit to Sri Lanka took us to the spectacular Kelaniya Buddhist temple compound, one of the most sacred in the country where tens of thousands of worshippers flock annually. Buddha is said to have once visited the temple site to stop a war from erupting between two brothers over a jewel-encrusted throne.
Walking along its expansive grounds, a sense of peace settled over me in spite of the number of people in attendance. Worshippers sat on the ground praying, meditating; they lit incense sticks, they placed food offerings at the feet of statues. And if you happened to catch their eyes, they smiled.
The temple site lies some twelve kilometers outside Colombo on the banks of the Kelani river. The original buildings went up around 350 B.C. Only the stupa (a white 90-foot structure resembling a heap of rice) remains. The others were destroyed by invaders again and again only to be rebuilt by locals after each and every destruction. The last big blow was dealt by the Portuguese in 1510. Since then many, many major renovations have taken place with the last big reno undertaken in the early 20th century.
The pièce de résistance is the image house. Every wall and ceiling inside this elegant, yellowish-cream-coloured building is covered with sumptuous murals depicting scenes of the life of Lord Buddha and historical events of ancient Sri Lanka. You could spend a week looking up and down and all around and never get your fill of the beauty in every detail. The murals were done in the early 20th C by an artist called Solias Mendis.
As we walked out the gate and back out into the street, the hypnotic sound of chanting monks followed behind us.
Next, we climbed back on the bus and headed to Colombo’s National Museum, where we spent a couple of fascinating hours looking at everything from royal regalia to antique demon masks to textiles. Child that I am, I was especially taken with the life-size recreations of ancient communities. The museum had a really good souvenir shop, unfortunately, we got no time to browse because we had to get back to the ship in time for lunch. (Really, I could do with fewer meals…)
Next stop: Trincomalee, Sri Lanka