One of the blogs I follow is called Travelling around the World by Ester. I enjoy her photography a lot. A few days ago she posted a photograph of lotus flowers, a shot from Vietnam. Now lotus flower is used widely in the Buddhist religion to do offerings and thus you seem them very often in Thailand, Vietnam and also Sri Lanka (to name a few). It is a symbol of fortune in Buddhism. As I saw that post yesteday, I thought of my son, and of a story.
When you live on small islands like in the Maldives you tend to get ‘island fever’. I mean true island fever. It is very exotic, but these islands are tiny and after a while, you need to get out. 2 years ago in June, both kiddos got a nasty flu and were sick most of the month. A little island gets even smaller with sick kids, believe me! anyways as the kids were recorvering, husband booked tickets to go to Sri Lanka. It is just a 1 hour flight from the Maldives and such a beautiful country. It reminds me of Mauritius in many ways. We did awesome things there – not enough and I so want to go back. Actually it is a great combination SriLanka / Maldives… specially if you can’t afford to do the Maldives by itself.
At the end of the trip, husband needed to get back to work and I stayed a couple more days with the kids in the centre of the island at Kandy. One of the things one need to do in Kandy is visit the famous Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic of Buddha (Sri Dalada Maligawa).
This 17th century temple is believed to be the house to one of the canine tooth of the Lord Buddha himself. Thus Buddhist (and other curious) come to the temple to pay their respects.
It is thought that the tooth in question was removed from the Buddha as he lay on his funeral pyre and smuggled to Sri Lanka in 313AD. It was hidden in a Princesses’ hair. It immediately became an object of veneration and was brought out for special occasions, being showed off on the back of elephants (they are sacred to the Buddha). The ownership of the tooth became the symbol of Royal power: without it the King could not rule. When the capital was moved to Kandy in 1592, being the last remaining independent kingdom in Sri Lanka, so was the tooth and it was placed in a temple build specially for it. The current temple was built late 17th century but was severely damaged during the wars with the Portuguese and then the Dutch (ahh! these Europeans always needing to conquer the world). The temple was rebuilt and repaired eveytime, but stones were then used instead of wood. The last attack on the temple was by Tamil separatists during the infamous war that tore Sri Lanka apart in the end of the last century, the bombing was in 1998. The facade and the roof were detroyed and one more time the temple was rebuilt. Now even if the temple is not amazing from the outside, the inside is splendid. The relic itself is kept in a 2 story inner shrine kept by two large elephant tusks. The Temple and the Royal Palace have been classified UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The relic comes out once a year for Esala Perahera when over 1 million people come to the city to see it. You can read about it here, if not the largest, then Esala Perahera is one the biggest yearly Buddhist festivals in the world.
My little then 3 year old obliges but is often bored when I drag him with me to visit temples and other religious places. Mainly because I am a bit strict with his behaviour. Yes, he is a kid but respect of others never harms and is something that is very important to me, (he is still bored today and prefers when I tell him to climb a rock). But with the Buddha and this temple something happened. You have to leave your shoes at the entrance, usually he would complain but not a peep. At the entrance I thought it would be nice to buy flowers to offer to the Buddha and he wanted to carry them. He walked slowly and quietly from one room to another studying the shrines and when we came to the place where the relic is he did his offering, and sat down in a quiet contemplation. When we exited after, he wanted to do it again and clearly wasn’t really ready to leave this special place. Instead I took the kiddos to the Buddhist museum at the back and we stayed till the guard asked us leave. It was a very special moment.
The second part of this story is that we had 2 male ‘escorts’ with us – 2 Sri Lankans who worked at the first hotel where my husand worked in the Maldives. One of them had asked my husband if he could take us around his hometown a little bit, as he was there on holidays at the time. One of the guys is Buddhist and he did his best to answer to all of my children’s questions relating to his religion and the other is Muslim. Now I was talking about respect before and I must admit that I got very ashamed of myself when our Muslim friend’s phone alarm went off and signaled the end of the daily fast. Yes, it was Ramadan. He should be going to the Mosque, breaking fast with his family and yet he was standing on the grounds of a Buddhist temple with my kiddos and myself. He told me not to worry, that in his family breaking fast was just a simple soup and then off to the Mosque (or was it the other way around!) and that he could easily wait a little more. (and please don’t judge me by the hat my daughter absolutely wanted to wear in the temple! I took it off, she put it back on again).
I took many momeries back with me from that trip to Sri Lanka. My biggest wish would be that religion always should bring people together the way it did that day and makes us respectful and thankful for the inner and outer beauty around us.