Tim had read that 20kms down the road from Tissa there was a town called Kataragama where there was a Buddhist temple that Sri Lankans went on Pilgrimage to. So we woke up in the morning and headed towards the bus station. On the way a bus going to Kataragama stopped on the side of the road so we ran after it but were too slow. There was another bus parked just before it and they asked us where we were going so we told them and they said we are going there too, we will take you there for free, jump on. We had a little chuckle thinking they were joking but soon realized it wasn’t a public bus but a private party.
It was a staff party for a tea plantation near Galle where the boss was taking the staff to see the temple. It is the first work staff party we have been to where a big bottle of Fanta is being passed around instead of alcohol. So we had the best bus trip being asked all sorts of questions and one of the worker’s daughters just thought we were hilarious. Food was passed around and then the singing and drumming started. We couldn’t believe our luck. They were a little confused when Tim said he couldn’t sing. The men all looked at him as if to say well of course you can sing!
The trip ended all too soon and we said goodbye to our new Sri Lankan friends. We walked passed the usual fruit and food sellers to the river where the people were cleansing themselves before entering the temples. From the river we crossed a bridge and there was a wide boulevard with a few small Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist temples along the outside then you came to a bigger temple which was fenced with elephant and peacock statues. People were putting their fruit baskets down here first at the base of the elephants feet and then picking them up and entering through the gates to the main temple which sat under a giant Bodhi tree.
The sites and sounds and smells were a whirlpool of sensation. You didn’t know where to look. Directly in the gates there were people lighting coconut hearts, chanting and then throwing and smashing them into a pit. There were people everywhere with fruit platters on their heads or being carried in their arms and they were lining up to enter the temple to get their platters blessed so they could then eat them. This line grew and grew before our eyes until it was out of the gates of the temple.
Behind this temple there were little shrines to specific Buddha deities where for 20 cents priests would wind a cord around your wrist while chanting a blessing. We discovered another gate out the back of this temple and our jaws dropped to the floor as there were thousands and thousands of people making their way down another wide sand covered boulevard to a massive Buddhist stupa. Now it was a Saturday and I think part of a two day festival which is why there so so many people but I think every Saturday thousands come to make this pilgrimage. It was one of the most amazing cultural experiences I have ever witnessed. I think in the thousands of people we saw maybe 4 other Westerners. Walking our way towards the white dome overhead with the throng of white clad locals we experienced a sense of calm that you wouldn’t normally feel with this many people. People stared and waved and smiled at us but we felt a part of it all.
All along the boulevard there were flower sellers, selling lotus flowers for tributes to Buddha. Tim asked one if he could take a picture and she said yes and he soon found himself being taught to open up one of the flowers all the while learning of the family who sold the flowers. They come every Saturday to sell the flowers and it was 2 sisters and their mother. One of the sisters was heavily pregnant with her fourth child. They refused any money for the two flowers we tried to buy and we were really touched by their kindness.
Arriving at the stupor we found a procession of people holding a long red length of material over their heads and 3 men were winding the material around and around the base of the stupor. It seems to be a good idea to touch the material as it was being wound out.
Walking back out to the boulevard to the first temple there was music and dancing happening around the Bodhi tree where people danced with peacock feathered adorned wood harnesses on their shoulders. There were also ladies doing a trance like dance to each of the gods. This whole procession was accompanied by trumpets and drums.
Back outside the temple and along the first boulevard, monkeys had come out of the trees to sit along the fence and steal peoples fruit left over from their platters.
A little tired after the sensory overload we walked to the bus station and on the way sat down and ate some delicious vegetable rotis. Unfortunately our bus trip back was nothing like the one out to the temple. Standing room only for us, we were packed in like sardines with the humidity near 100 as it was pretty close to raining.
But we made it back to Tissa and on the way home visited two more temples, that although lovely, were not a patch on this morning’s experience. Just as we made it home the heavens opened so we were kind of forced into a relax without feeling guilty about it. Dinner was had at the guest house which again was a delicious rice and curry mix.
Today was such an unexpectedly amazing cultural experience. One we will never forget. The longer we spend in this country the more we love it. The landscape is beautiful but it’s the people for us that make it one of the best countries we have ever visited. They have definitely worked their way into our heart and soul. S
Just buying our daily supply of fruit.
Tim on the bus with the boys from the tea plantation. Sorry about the blurryness but we were hurtling done the road.
The people cleansing themselves in the river.
The fruit platters being placed at the bottom of the elephants.
Me just standing back and observing everything going on.
The second temple.
The men covering the base of the stupor. You can see everyone helping carry the material so it doesn’t touch the ground.
Tim and his flower lady.
Looking back to the boulevard. So many people.
The dancers and drummers in front of one of the deitys.
The coconut smashing.
These guys were starting their procession to the temples. Singing and dancing all the way.
Back in Tissa. Rice fields were all around the village.