INDONESIA – AN ODYSSEY OF THE SOUL by Bernard VanCuylenburg
An alternate title for this article would be “Beyond Bali” since this resplendent island blessed with the bounties of nature is a favourite travel destination for many Australians. I have friends who have visited Bali more than once and can never resist the temptation of repeat visits ! However, Bali, is only a very small jewel in a large crown of a country, which nature has endowed with landscapes and scenery of soul stirring beauty and majesty. And that country is our neighbour to the North – Indonesia.
KING MOGGALLANA THE 2nd – MOGGALLANA THE MAGNIFICIENT –
BY Bernard VanCuylenburg
The recorded history of ancient Lanka begins with the arrival of Prince Vijaya from South India in the year 483 BC and ends with the conquest of the Kandyan Kingdom by the British in 1815 AD and the defeat of King Sri Wickremasinghe Rajasinghe, the last king of Kandy.
Thus ended the monarchy of Ceylon which spanned a period of over 2000 years. In the hands of any good Hollywood writer or producer, the melting pot of history during this period has all the ingredients for a box office winner – Lust, greed, passion, hate, romance, murder, patricide, nymphomania (as has been recorded during the reign of one female queen) – in short the seven deadly sins multiplied many times over ! King Moggallana the 2nd is one of the relative “unknowns”. This is his story………
Before dealing with the reign of King Moggallana the 2nd, mention must be made of the king before him who ruled for six months in the year 537 AD. King Silakala had three sons. They were Prince Moggallana the eldest, the second son Prince Dhathapabhuti and the youngest Prince Upatissa. Prince Moggallana was entrusted with administering the Eastern province and was sent to live in the region. According to the Culavamsa, Prince Dhathapabuthi was given charge of the “sea coast”, but there is no detail as to where this exactly was. His favourite son Prince Upatissa, was kept in the capital Anuradhapura, with positions of less responsibility. He intended that the young Upatissa succeed him as King, contrary to the established order of succession when the eldest son succeeds his father. And once again jealousy reared its ugly head. Prince Dhathapabhuti bided his time and finally had Prince Upatissa murdered. This in turn enraged Prince Moggallana who on hearing of his brother’s murder is reported to have said – according to the Culavamsa – “He has usurped the government though he has no right to it. Without cause he has slain my younger brother….” sarcastically adding “I will see that he has a merry reign !”
I crave the reader’s indulgence if I digress here, but the lessons of history it seems are never learned. There are numerous instances where the ruling monarch incurred the wrath of a son who was next in line to rule, because he had a favourite – usually the younger son – who was the apple of his eye, and was being groomed for succession after him, resulting in the legal successor (the eldest son) being cast aside. I could draw a classic parallel to King Silakala’s show of favouritism where he allowed his heart to rule his head. Exactly one thousand, one hundred and twenty one years later, in the year 1658 the Moghul Emperor Shah Jehan who gave the world The Taj Mahal , followed King Silakala’s rash example to the letter. His three legal son’s were Prince Aurangzeb, Prince Murad Baksh and Prince Dara Sukoh. Prince Aurangzeb was next in the line of succession, but the Emperor favoured his youngest son Dara Shukoh. He sent Aurangzeb to keep order in the Deccan – as far away from Delhi as possible. Murad Baksh was sent to another far flung district, but his favourite Dara Shukoh was comfortably ensconsced in Delhi and groomed to take over as Emperor. In a rage, Prince Aurangzeb usurped the throne in a coup and imprisoned the Emperor who died a broken man. He paid a heavy price for his favouritism.
One of ancient Lanka’s beloved sons King Duttu Gemunu, liberated the island from Tamil rule in the year 101 BC. when he defeated the ruling King Elara in a duel of honour fought on the back of elephants. King Kasyappa of Sigiriya fame committed suicide on the back of the royal elephant confronting the army of his step brother Prince Moggallana the 1st in 496 AD. Twenty eight years later, Prince Kasyappa, the eldest son of King Upatissa the second also committed suicide on the back of the royal tusker in 524 AD in battle with Silakala who had rebelled against the king. Once again, the stage was set for a clash between two brothers for kingship. The gallant Prince Moggallana sent out a challenge to his brother Prince Dhathapabhuti which was accepted. The Culavamsa quotes him as saying “We two alone will fight a combat on elephants…..” Armed with the five weapons, the sword, battle-axe, spear, bow and shield, the protaganists faced each other on their elephants. The chronicler is very graphic in his description of what followed. He wrote ” The huge elephants rammed each other and a crash was heard at their onslaught like the roar of thunder. Sparks flew at the striking of their tusks…..” King Dhathapabhuti’s elephant however was badly wounded and began to yield. The King on sensing this decided to commit suicide, rather than being taken prisoner, and “made as if to cut his throat…” (Culavamsa). How many times has one heard the old saying “Blood is thicker than water?” Prince Moggallana on observing this greeted his brother with reverence and cried out to him “Forbear to do that
that!” What followed was gruesome in the extreme. Despite his brother’s plea, King Dhathapabhuti in full view of his nemesis and the onlookers, proceeded to cut his neck until he eventually bled to death. A bloody end to a reign of six months and six days.
In the year 537 AD Prince Moggallana ascended the throne and immediately found favour with the public and clergy alike because the chronicler writing in the Culavamsa uses every superlative possible to sing his praises. King Moggallana had a way with words and was a talented poet whose reputation spread through the length and breadth of the land. Sadly, none of his literary works has come down to posterity. Being a poet, learned monks and other poets were singled out by him for special merit and reward. His poetic talent was without equal, and his generosity, philanthrophy, largesse and kindness endeared him to his subjects with each passing day. He won the clergy over by alms giving, gifts of medicines and garments and the founding of Viharas. He is referred to as “an abode of virtue” and “a shining light of the good doctrine”. But this is not all for which he is famous. His literary talents were equalled by his achievements in the field of irrigation and hydrology.
To him goes the credit for having constructed the largest tank in ancient Lanka still in use today. This is the ‘Padavapi’ tank, today known as ‘Padaviya”. Another giant tank constructed by him was the ‘Pattapasanavapi’ or ‘Patpahanvewa’ known today as the Naccaduva tank. Both these projects are a glowing testimony once again to the engineering skill and brilliance of those ancient engineers. The Naccaduva tank was the main reservoir for the irrigation projects under the Malvatu-Oya, the river which flows on the east side of Anuradhapura. Second only to King Mahasena and King Dhatusena as a tank builder, King Moggallana the second was one of the most distinguished and greatest kings of ancient Ceylon. He died in the year 556 AD after a glorious reign of twenty years, a paragon of virtue, a beacon of light, a son of Lanka beloved by his subjects who died in the words of the chronicler “full of pity for the world”.
SRI LANKA – THE CHINESE CONNECTION – By Bernard VanCuylenburg
Sri Lanka’s cultural ties with China go back about 2000 years, and it is a matter of regret that the compilers of the Mahavamsa and the Culavamsa – except for some passing references – mention very little about ancient Ceylon’s relations with China. Historians have had to rely on Chinese records to obtain information regarding trade delegations, and cultural and diplomatic visits between both countries. Some of these Chinese visitors lived in the island , and kept records of their sojourn and the political conditions prevailing at the time. Perhaps the most famous Chinese visitor to Ceylon was Fa-Hsien who came to Ceylon in the year 411 AD. during the reign of King Mahanama. He spent two years in the island and in his writings gives us a marvellous account of the city of Anuradhapura in which he refers to the mansions of the merchants, and also of the colonies of Greek and Persian traders in the city. The flourishing Buddhist civilisation merits special mention. It is not possible to elaborate on details of these visits in a short article. But a few examples would suffice to highlight the excellent relations between the Chinese empire and ancient Ceylon.
In the year 428 AD. King Mahanama despatched an embassy with gifts to the emperor in China. Recording this visit at the time, the Chinese chroniclers refer to King Mahanama as “Mohonan”. Another Chinese record states that King Kitsiri Mevan, (also known as Sirimegavanna) son of the famous King Mahasena sent an embassy to the Indian emperor Samudragupta, requesting permission to build a monastery at Bodhi Gaya for pilgrims. For this fact to be recorded by the Chinese, is evidence of the interest which they had in the islands affairs of state. Another Chinese source refers to the ambassador sent by King Kumaradhatusena to the Chinese emperor in the year 515 AD. Incidentally, King Kumaradhatusena was the son of King Moggalana better known for the part he played in the Sigiriya story. He is therefore the grandson of the famous King Dhatusena. In the year 718 AD King Mahanavamma received Chinese pilgrims in his court with great honour. The great Mongol emperor Kublai Khan who ruled China from 1259 to 1294 AD despatched a mission to Ceylon to obtain the sacred Tooth Relic. This mission failed in its task, and returned to China. Fortunately for Ceylon, the emperor did not take this failure personally. We were lucky a second time when in the year 1405 the famous Chinese admiral Zheng He again visited the island determined to take the tooth relic back to China. He too failed in his mission and was rather peeved at the treatment he received at the court of King Vira Alakesvara the monarch at the time.
Returning to China, Zheng He bided his time and returned to the island again with a vengeance in 1409 when our luck ran out. In a supreme display of might and imperial power he seized the King, his queen and some nobles of the court and took them prisoner to China. King Alakesvara was eventually released and returned to the island humiliated and broken in spirit. Worse, he never recovered his throne. King Parakramabahu V1 ruled the island during his captivity. The rest of the prisoners were released in the year 1414 and returned to the island with a demand from the Chinese emperor , which I call the height of arrogance in the extreme. They returned with a nominee of the Chinese emperor to the throne of Ceylon ! Fortunately King ParakramabahuV1 speedily eliminated the emperor’s protege and began his long reign of 55 years in a stable political environment.
Historians have divided opinions on the Chinese account of an ambassador sent to China by King Kasyappa of Sigiriya. King Kasyappa following his father’s foreign policy intended to strengthen ties and trade with China, and sent this diplomatic mission to China while he ruled at Sigiriya. But the ambassador and his entourage reached China only after the untimely death of King Kasyappa. The Culavamsa does not mention any record of such a mission, but the scribes in the imperial court in China recorded this visit, and King Kassyapa is referred to as “Kia – Che” It is interesting to note that King Devanampiya Tissa who ruled the island from 247 – 207 BC is a contemporary of the Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huangdi who initiated work on the Great Wall of China .
Sri Lanka’s relations with ancient China are as fascinating as her links with the classical world – ancient Greece and Rome.
THE CAMBODIAN CONNECTION – By Bernard VanCuylenburg
From its inception by King Yashovarman in 889 AD, to its decline in the 14th century, Angkor in Cambodia was the capital of the powerful Khmer empire. The world famous temple complex of Angkor Wat built and extended by various Khmer kings between the 7th and eleventh centuries when this civilisation was at the height of its extraordinary creativity, is today a world heritage site. A few years ago during my travels in Cambodia I spent a few days at Angkor marvelling at these magnificient monuments of ancient glory in stone. Apart from wishing to drink deep of her archaeological splendour, my main reason for visiting Angkor was to travel about 900 years back in time and see this kingdom which had close cultural ties with ancient Sri Lanka specially during the Polonnaruwa period. When King Parakramabahu the 1st ascended the throne in 1153 AD he established close diplomatic links with the powerful Khmer kingdom, true to his foreign policy of expanding trade with countries in South East Asia. Relations between ancient Ceylon and Cambodia were so close that King Jayavarman who ruled Angkor from 1181 to 1218 AD sent one of his sons to spend some time at the royal court in Polonnaruwa. The young Khmer prince was thus a VIP guest at the court and some records indicate he stayed there for three years.
In her excellent book HISTORY OF ANGKOR Professor Madeleine Giteau of the Sorbonne University Paris, mentions this visit and also goes on to state that in the 13th century the Sinhalese kings were responsible for spreading Theravada Buddhism in Cambodia which until that time practiced Mahayana Buddhism. As a result of King Parakramabahu’s dynamic foreign policy, there were many foreign merchants residing in Ceylon at the time. Among these were the Cambodian bird catchers because an important item in international trade during this period were exotic bird feathers. Apart from diplomatic missions, there were probably Sinhala merchants residing in Cambodia, specifically in Angkor which facilitated two way trade. Cambodia also had some influence in the architecture during the Polonnaruwa period, albeit very limited. The “Sathmahal Prasadaya” in Polonnaruwa with its design of seven storeys is typically Cambodian. King Parakramabahu’s policy of fostering ties with the Khmer empire had one negative (though fortunately temporary) result for ancient Ceylon. Before he became king, Ceylon enjoyed very close ties with Burma. Burma also enjoyed close trade links with Cambodia.
When Ceylon established diplomatic ties with Cambodia the Burmese king Alaungsithu became very suspicious . He feared that Ceylon would deprive Burma of a major share of her trade with Cambodia. He then became openly hostile by obstructing Ceylon’s trade with South East Asian kingdoms – an act which strained relations between Burma and Ceylon. And unfortunately, this led to war. What the Burmese king failed to realise was that he picked on the wrong man ! King Parakramabahu was not know as “The Great” for nothing ! A man who did not believe in half measures, and being the great statesman he was, he explored all diplomatic avenues, playing the pacifist to dispel the crisis which had developed. When all failed he dispatched an army to lower Burma to teach the Burmese king a lesson. (This incidentally would give one an idea of the strength of Ceylon’s army and navy at the time). Fortunately, King Alaungsithu sued for peace and happily diplomatic relations were restored .
After King Parakramabahu’s death in 1186 AD his successors King Nissanka Malla and King Vijayabahu 2nd continued maintaining strong diplomatic links with Cambodia. In 1353 Angkor was abandoned when this once mighty empire was seized by the Siamese King, Ramadhipathi. However, in 1358 another Khmer prince Suryavamsa Rajadhiraja recaptured Angkor and ruled until 1370, when another massive attack from Siam (present day Thailand) signalled the fall of this once proud kingdom. Sadly, one hundred and fifty years before, a similar fate befell Ceylon when Polonnaruwa was captured in 1215 by an Indian prince, Magha. By 1235 the destruction of Polonnaruwa was complete . Perusing the pages of history, I formed the opinion that the fall of Polonnaruwa began with the death of King Nissanka Malla 1n 1196 AD. The four kings after him spent their time and energy squabbling and plotting . Corruption spread through the land resulting in neglect and weakening of the kingdom. Unity they say is strength. Conversely, disunity results in division and weakness. It was during this time that Prince Magha of the Kalinga dynasty invaded the island to deliver the coup de grace. The lessons of history it seems are never learned.
Today, two ancient kingdoms which had close links over 900 years ago merit the honour of being classified as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO, evoking the admiration of visitors from all over the world – Angkor, capital of ancient Cambodia, and Polonnaruwa capital of medieval Ceylon.
ANCIENT TREASURES OF THE EASTERN SEABOARD – By Bernard VanCuylenburg
There is a treasure trove of archaeological wonders in the Eastern seaboard of Sri Lanka and one specific location is the Kuchchaveli, Pulmoddai and Tiriyaya district of Trincomalee. And that brief introductory line is the genesis of this article.
I walked through the desolate track through patches of thick shrub and dense forest, my curiosity aroused by some stone slabs and granite pillars which lay scattered in disarray on the forest floor. Ocassionally I came across ancient brickwork which I surmised may have once been part of a wall. The villagers in the area told me that further on, in deep jungle there were statues of the Buddha badly damaged. This did not surprise me because there is an inscription that this whole area was occupied by members of the Buddhist clergy since the 3rd century B.C. It was late in the evening and having been warned that leopard and bear were seen in the vicinity, I ventured no further. I was in Kuchchaveli about 14 miles from Trincomalee, on the Trincomalee – Pulmoddai road. On one side lay the ocean, and on the other the jungle, bisected by the road. The jungle track which I was on branched off the main road.
The year was 1974, and I was employed at Nilaveli Beach Hotels Limited. It was the year the hotel opened for business. Whenever I had time off I would visit this area and heal my soul in the silence and solitude of this place which must have once been a place of spiritual grandeur. To the best of my knowledge these ruins were never classified and no archaeological excavations were undertaken. The intervening ethnic conflict made this task impossible. My heartache then was that these ruins would surrender to the grip of the strangling jungle. Reclaiming them for posterity was a forlorn hope. My heartbreak today 44 years later from a different time and place, is that they may have disappeared from the pages of our history forever.
Fortunately, there is one special treasure which has been restored and will forever have a special place in my heart. This is the TIRIYAYA VATADAGE, a further twenty four miles from Nilaveli. Historically the Vatadage has been dated to the 7th century A.D. although there is a brahmin inscription which states that the Buddhist clergy occupied this site since the 3rd century B.C. What is most important is that there is a record of two merchants named Tapassu and Bhalluka who visited Tiriyaya during Lord Buddha’s lifetime and enshrined hair relics of the Buddha at this shrine. I visited Tiriyaya often. Surrounded by thick forest the Vatadage stood majestic in beautiful countryside. The total isolation and solitude of the place was interrupted by sweet birdsong and the sounds of the forest, which enriched its spiritual atmosphere. I would spend hours here listening to the music of the wind and the sounds of silence. Inspired by the fact that this shrine could be traced back to the lifetime of the Buddha, I left each time, enriched in spirit with a deeper level of consciousness which enabled me to see and understand life more clearly. My fervent hope is that this sacred shrine is well preserved as it was when I first visited it over thirty years ago and has not suffered any damage in the ethnic conflict. In the Kuchchaveli area there are caves along the seashore with Brahmin inscriptions dating from the 3rd century B.C. There had to be a centre of learning, perhaps even some monasteries in the vicinity. Given the vagaries of the weather, I fear these inscriptions will be lost forever.
About seven miles from Trincomalee, on the main Trincomalee – Anuradhapura road, there is a track which branches off into the forest (It was a track then. It is a road now). About three miles down this road is a jewel in the crown of Sri Lanka’s archaeological sites – the ancient temple complex of THE VELGAM VEHARA. When I first visited it I wondered why nothing had ever been written about it, and it did not even feature in any tourist brochure. Neither could I find reference to it in the Mahavamsa or the Culavamsa. It has to be in the Mahavamsa, or maybe I am missing something. Relatively unknown then, this beautiful complex is as magnificient as any in Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. There are ruins of many buildings near the Vehara, and elegant pillars cover a wide area in what once may have been lush gardens. It is a precious gem, and the venerable Chief Priest of the temple was my mentor each time I visited this site. He told me that the Velgam Vehara is over a thousand years old but could not provide me with any historical information. Perhaps in perusing the Mahavamsa, the information I seek stares at me from the hallowed pages of this ancient chronicle, and my spiritual thirst and enthusiasm blinds me. I can only hope that this site will be preserved for future generations. In her long and glorious history of over 2500 years, a once proud civilisation chose to build her spiritual heart here. The stillness of the woods and the mystery that surrounded the site intrigued me then, as it does now after all these years.
Sadly, the description of this site in the preceeding paragraph is confined to the past tense. When I visited this site in September 2014 I was shattered to find that many of the statues had been destroyed and vandalised. This once beautiful temple complex in lush gardens did not in any way reflect its past glory and is only a pale shadow compared to when I used to visit it in the mid seventies and early eighties. When I expressed my disappointment to the high priest, he told me that it is a miracle that he and his assistant priest escaped with their lives during the dark days of the ethnic conflict.
Fortunately the archaeological sites in Sri Lanka have not been attacked by the Thyo – Bacillicus which causes a disease of stone. This vicious bacillicus crumbles any stone surface thus erasing its beauty forever. It is the scourge of archaeologists, the world over and has been prevalent in Cambodia and other sites around the world. However, some consolation can be taken from the fact that advances in modern restoration techniques have proved a timely antidote. There are surely other ruins buried deep in the jungles of the eastern province which will never be retrieved. We owe a debt of gratitude to the people who gave us monuments like the Tiriyaya Vatadage and the Velgam Vehera. Since there is no record of their names, they remain among the many unsung heroes who took ancient Lanka to first world standards. But their monuments are a testimony to their skill, and will keep their legacy alive, while helping us to widen our window into the past.
THE HEALING HANDS OF ROYALTY – By Bernard VanCuylenburg
According to the great chronicles of Sri Lanka’s glorious history the Mahavamsa and the Culavamsa, 184 kings and one queen ruled the island beginning with Prince Vijaya in 483 BC. and ending with the reign of King Sri Vickrama Rajasinghe in 1815 AD. which heralded the start of British colonial rule in the country. Within this time frame spanning a period over 2000 years, a few names stride history’s stage – rulers whose names are forever enshrined in letters of gold in the hearts minds and psyche of Sri Lanka……King Devanampiyatissa, King Pandhukabhaya, King Dutthagamini, the great tank builders King Dhatusena and King Mahasena, the genius who gave us Sigiriya King Kasyappa, and the great King Parakramabahu the first , to name just a few……..
In this article I wish to pay tribute to a man who was not only a great king and philanthropist, but also a famous surgeon who whilst attending to affairs of state, found time to travel the island healing the sick and giving those who needed healing, the benefit of his medical expertise. This man was KING BUDDHADASA who ascended the throne in 337 AD and ruled till 365 AD , a glorious reign of 28 years.
A generous human being and devout Buddhist, he merits the highest praise of the chronicler writing in the Culavamsa who states ” He had pity for all beings as a father has pity and love for his children….” I venture to state that King Buddhadasa was the ‘Mother Teresa’ of his day ! In the chapter dealing with his reign, the chronicler gives us numerous examples where he treated the sick . There is the classic instance of the young man treated by the king for a head ailment although we have no details regarding the precise nature of the injury. It is obvious that surgery was performed on the young man because the Culavamsa states “The king split the skull, performed the operation and put the parts of the skull together again…..” He also cured a Buddhist monk suffering from epilepsy and saved the life of a woman seven months pregnant whose foetus was in the wrong position. It should be noted that his kindness and medical skill was not limited to human beings, but also to animals. He appointed physicians to attend to elephants and horses all over the island. There is the interesting story of a snake (probably a cobra) suffering from a tumour in its belly that was healed by the king. Having cured the reptile, the people remarked “Even the reptiles benefit from the king’s medical expertise…….” The health of the people was his greatest concern and he initiated a medical scheme which would have been one of the best in the world at the time.
He built hospitals for the sick in every village and appointed a chief physician whose responsibility was to administer three hospitals in each district . He also set up hostels for the crippled and the blind with instructions that they be fed and their needs attended to. Whenever he could get away from matters of state, he travelled the land attending to the sick, performing surgery whenever necessary. According to the Culavamsa, he had a pocket made inside his mantle to carry his surgeons knife and the chronicler further adds “….whenever he met them he freed the afflicted from their pain…..” The actual word used in the Culavamsa is “Satthavatim Sattha”. (Surgical knife). In the limited space of this article it is not possible to detail the many cases where he healed the sick. I can only add that any reader interested in the life of this great king should peruse the Culavamsa in the chapter dealing with his reign.
This good and great king led the life of a Boddhisatva and the chronicler describes him as “….a mine of virtue….” When he died in 365 AD the island was plunged into grief. With his passing a golden era of twenty eight years ended, and the country lost a great king, a brilliant surgeon, a philosopher and philanthropist.
Over fifty years ago on an estate far away, a story of evil and revenge was played out to the horror of a young Assistant Superintendent who became the hapless victim of a God’s revenge from another dimension…….And with that introduction the curtain goes up in the following tale of a God’s wrath. The plantation where this drama unfolded was Hopton Group in the Uva district – an estate as remote as it gets, far away from anywhere. Hopton was one of the largest estates in Madulsima in the Uva district, 2600 acres in extent. The Manager at that time was a Scotsman, a veteran planter who had risen from the ranks and learned his craft the hard way. In a word, he was a pragmatic gentleman well versed in his trade, and more than being a Planter he also had a degree from a prestigious Scottish university. There were four Assistant Superintendents on Hopton, and the youngest and most recent of them was the chief protaganist in this story. The four divisions of Hopton were Swinton, Old Factory Division, Bulugolla, and Lower Division. “Sandy” the young Assistant was in charge of the latter two divisions. “Sandy” is the pseudonym I shall use, for that was not his real name.…
When I peruse the Mahavamsa and the Culavamsa priceless records that documents ancient Ceylon’s cultural heritage, it marinates my soul in the grandeur of the island’s rich civilization that is almost legendary. In art, architecture, hydraulic engineering, hydrology and irrigation/ water management, ancient Lanka is on par with the classic civilizations of imperial Greece and Rome, the great Aztec and Mayan civilizations of Central America, and that of the Incas in Peru. And, as in all great records of a country’s history, many questions remain unanswered which will to us forever remain tantalizing mysteries. In this article I will deal with two, one of which I experienced personally, over thirty five years ago.
THE MYSTERY OF THE MALIGAWILA BUDDHA.
A few miles from Monaragala lies the village of Maligawila. At least it was a village when I visited it many years ago. I have no idea what it looks like today with the pace of progress. In 1930 a sensational discovery of a colossal Buddha statue was made in thick elephant infested jungle. The statue was badly damaged and ancient records state that it was King Agaboddhi the first, who commissioned the carving of this statue around 600 AD. The discovery of this statue gave rise to a two fold mystery. The ancient stone masons first cut and extracted a massive chunk of rock in one whole block from a quarry located half a mile away. This alone was an effort requiring superhuman strength not to mention the fact that they had to haul this rock to Maligawila where they erected it in an upright position. It was after this was done that the sculptors got to work and produced this masterpiece. The department of archaeology began restoring this statue in 1965, and I visited the site a few years later. I recall an officer from the department telling me that they were at a loss to understand how this massive chunk of rock was transported through dense jungle. The slightest mishap would have resulted in the rock being cracked which would have rendered it worthless. What method of transport was used ? But those ancient workmen were more than equal to the task. Today fully restored, the Maligawila Buddha stands resplendent in majesty in lush countryside, forty five feet in height. I have seen ancient statues of the Buddha in Thailand, Cambodia, China and India. But the statues of ancient Lanka are some of the best in the world.
Not far from Wellawaya, there is a carving of three figures on a rock face in Buduruvagala. The eminent historian Professor K.M.De Silva, who was once the Vice president of the International Association of Historians of Asia, dated these statues to the 9th century AD. In this complex there is a statue of Lord Buddha in the centre flanked by a Bodhisattva on either side. Thirty two years ago I visited Buduruvagala and was privileged to “witness” and experience a phenomenon which some told me bordered on the supernatural, but which I prefer to think of as spiritual. Let me set the scene. To reach Buduruvagala, one has to branch off the Wellawaya – Ella road and journey along what was then a rough jungle track till suddenly, in a beautiful glade in the forest one comes across these giant statues standing majestically tall and imposing in a serene jungle setting in silent splendour as they have stood for over a thousand years. In the stillness of this site amidst the beauties of nature, there is an atmosphere which is mystical and defies explanation. As I came upon the site a cultivator from a nearby plot of land he was working on, noting my interest, came up and introduced himself to me. He said his name was Sirisena, and although his home town was Nuwaraeliya, he told me he often visited this area hoping to start cultivation. We spoke for a long while, and during our conversation Sirisena revealed an astounding fact to me. He told me that every Maha Poya day, the statue of the Bodhisattva on the left of the rock face emanated a sweet scented oil. I must have been blessed by the Gods because by some beautiful coincidence I happened to be there on Maha Poya day. Of course, I decided to test the veracity of Sirisena’s words. I went up to the statue and was surprised to see a liquid substance oozing from the head of the statue right down to its feet. I touched this liquid which resembled a light oil and then I smelt it. It had a fragrance which I had never experienced before. A pure beautiful scent which soothed the senses and seemed to heal. This deeply moved me and I stood for sometime in stunned silence gazing in awe and reverence at the face of these statues, spiritually fulfilled and enriched. I then applied the oil on my hands and forehead, and my driver Samarasinghe, and Sirisena did the same.
Sirisena told me that the oil ceases flowing when the Maha Poya day ends. But the mystery deepens. I was informed that every Maha Poya day towards nightfall , as Buduruvagala stands silent in its enchanted atmosphere, the sound of drums beating, conch shells blowing, and cries of “Sadhu…..Sadhu” can be heard in the immediate vicinity of these statues. The few villagers listen to these sounds in awe and wonder. There are greater things in life than we dream of in our philosophy, and I hold the belief that in this sacred and hallowed place, these are voices from the past. Parting the impenetrable veil of time, they reach out to us through the ages in some way strengthening the bonds between their lives and ours. I left Buduruvagala reluctantly, but spiritually uplifted. Just as these statues are carved out of living rock, their beautiful images remain engraved in my mind forever. I subsequently published an article in the “Ceylon Daily News” regarding my experience. Today, over thirty five years later, I wonder if this phenomenon still occurs, keeping the mystery alive. More archaeological treasures must lie buried in the ruins, and at the time of my visit the area was largely unexcavated. I hope one day archaeologists will breathe life into the past of this magnificient complex so that Buduruvagala will come into focus not only for its sculpture, but in the full scope of its history.
At the end of a road less travelled, a new journey begins………
The Saint of the world – AN ANTHONIAN IN PADUA – By Bernard VanCuylenburg
To set the scene for this article I have to commence with a reference to Hypnos, who in Greek and Roman mythology is the God of sleep. His son Morpheus is the God of dreams, but Hypnos and I have never been on amicable terms. For years my patterns of sleep have been fragmented, and many are the nights I have laid awake when sleep evaded me, waiting for dawn’s golden light. I have often wondered if, as boarders at St. Anthony’s College Kandy, the infernal tolling of the bell at the ungodly hour of 5.30 am. to wake us boarders, is in some way to blame for this condition !! A “Sleep in” beyond the sound of the bell was an impossibility !!…
THE MADURU OYA MARVEL – AND ROADS LESS TRAVELLED –
By Bernard VanCuylenburg
“Archaeological History”, The Maduru Oya Marvel.
After firstly, viewing the magnificent “flowing-flag” of “My Lovely Island Home”, as I call her, then reading through the most magnificent story of the “Mother Of Marvels”, as I would prefer it to be known as, written by, who I would simply describe as one of the very best “writers” to put pen to paper, Bernard VanCuylenberg, proudly, stolidly, soundly, a Sri Lankan Burgher with an unconditional love for the little “Pearl Of The Indian Ocean”, just as Neil Jayasekera (the flag-waver) & “your’s truly” are, as well.
We are all a part of “history”, folks. Like it, or not, the history of our entire world will someday fade into nothingness, but, until then, it is the solemn duty of every-one of us, to respect the “time” the Almighty has given us, and not forget to remember everything that has made little old Mother Earth “great”.
Bernard “goes into history” here, from various angles of the globe. All the facts & figures are there. Putting it mildly, this guy would have to be one of the most ardent Archaeologists who, is not one, by trade. He is simply a “teacher” wishing to impart his wide knowledge of Archaeology (and English)to pupils who are, in my opinion, the luckiest in the World, to be taught by an absolute guru.
And so, without impinging into an excellent series of articles, suffice to say that here, we come into a “common-sense”, down-to-earth, lesson from an “Arch-aeologist” at heart, as to WHY Sri Lanka stands to lose it’s status as one of the most important Archaeological Phenomenons of the Ancient World. A tiny bit of God’s Earth that has achieved SO MANY GREAT THINGS, is now losing it’s grip on the essential events of a bygone era. The beautiful Land, the fabulous architectural achievements, structures dedicated to the Lord Buddha, statues, even, not properly taken care of, and now showing signs of deterioration, achievements, proudly, the pride of this Planet, already losing due recognition through sheer ignorence (the don’t care, attitude, I call it). Wake up, Sri Lanka, wake up, my lovely Island home. If you do not, the “Goodnight Waltz” will probably the last beautiful song you will hear.
Desmond Kelly (Lankan Aussie & proud eLanka supporter)
THE MADURU OYA MARVEL – (Part 1)
Peeling back the layers of history, archaeologists spanning the years, have made sensational discoveries which have been immortalised in the collective human conscience. To set the scene for this article, I am compelled to venture to lands further afield – far away from resplendent Lanka – and cite a few examples where archaeological discoveries have set the human spirit aflame and caused a sensation around the world. The stunning discoveries made by the engineers and surveyors when the Maduru Oya scheme was first undertaken in Sri Lanka will resonate with some discoveries made in other lands. One of the most famous was the discovery of the tomb of King Tutankhamen who ruled Egypt from 1360 – 1350 BC. in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. On the point of giving up after a fruitless search and colossal expense, the persistence of two archaeologists, Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon finally paid off when in 1922 the tomb was discovered with Carter uttering the words which expressed his sentiments at that moment …..”My eyes have seen marvellous things…..” So great was this discovery that they spent a decade emptying the tomb of more than 3000 objects many of which needed on-the-spot conservation. But there have been other discoveries lesser known but equally important. I spent a whole day exploring the Valley of the Kings and later visited the exhibits from the tomb of King Tutankhamen which covers practically the entire third floor of the Cairo museum. It is a visit I highly recommend to anyone travelling to that part of the world.
When the Egyptian civilisation had already declined, and when the Roman empire was lapsing into its long dark night, a civilization unknown to the west 6000 miles away from the heart of Rome was approaching its peak. By the fourth century AD the Maya had begun to build a chain of magnificient cities and temples throughout the rain forests of Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico connected by paved roads constructed by Mayan engineers. The decline of the Maya commenced in 925 AD after which these cities were lost and forgotten, wrapped in greenery, smothered by the rain forests. Then in the year 1839 an American lawyer and diplomat John Stephens, and an English artist Frederick Catherwood breached the jungle fastness and rediscovered the miracle of Maya civilization. On penetrating the jungle’s thickness and discovering these cities Stephens said “I thought I was looking at a scene from another world….” I followed the trail of Stephens and Catherwood during two visits to these countries and have stood open-mouthed, gazing in awe at these colossal temples and buildings, noting all the while that the engineers of ancient Lanka were as competent and in some respects superior to their Mayan counterparts. The discoveries of Stephens and Catherwood sent ripples of excitement throughout the West.