It’s a hot steamy day in Colombo, Sri Lanka and we are visiting a Buddhist Temple. A relative, a beautiful six year old little girl has recovered from dengue fever. She spent a few critical days in intensive care when she should have been centre stage at her aunt’s wedding.
Her sisters and the other flower girls were dressed in beautiful satin outfits heavily decorated with bright shining jewels, bare midriffs and their heads adorned with garlands of blue and white flowers whose perfume assailed the senses. The little girls’ outfits were made by the bride’s mother.
The child is still frail. Her large beautiful dark eyes seem almost luminous but she is back home with her loving family.
Her grandparents, an elderly aunt, my son and his bride together with elderly me have arrived to give thanks for the child’s recovery.
I am introduced to aspects of Buddhism. Apologies if I am incorrect but this is I as I understand it as explained to me.
Firstly we remove our footwear. Most people wear clothing that is predominately white in colour and there is an air of reverence but also a sense of purpose.
The tree which we are to encircle I am told is the tree the Buddha sat under and the only tree native to this country which has no purpose or usefulness other than to give shelter. It produces no fruit, no food, and its wood and bark have no use, not even for carving or burning.
In a country with 22 million souls nothing is wasted.
Vendors adjacent to the Temple sell flowers and other items to be offered to the Buddha. But firstly the ritual of walking around the huge base of this tree, stopping to fill jugs with water to pour on the roots of the tree to sustain it.
The flowers have their stems removed and are placed ceremoniously around the altar which circumvents the base of the tree. They will wither and die before tomorrow in these temperatures. Others peel fruit, unwrap food all of which will rot and die. Reminders that we are not here for ever and that love and kindness will make our journey passing to the next life easier.
Oil lamps are lit, and will too burn out and die. People sit around deep in thought, some shed a tear and others pray in silence.
We walk barefoot over stoney ground and then back track to find a path which is kinder to our soft Western feet, to the entrance to the Temple.
We enter a riotous mosaic of colour which covers each and every wall and the roof. Images of previous Buddhas stand or sit, some life size, in various poses. I am told which poses it is forbidden to photograph. I am also not permitted to photograph any person’s face in the Temple. I can understand that as this is a holy place and I am intruding on another way of life.
‘Buddhism is not a religion but a way of life’ explains my new daughter in law.
There is a huge statue of a Buddha laying on his side filling the width of this cavernous Temple. Too much to photograph other than in half a dozen shots.
My new daughter in law explains Buddhists too are waiting for the arrival of the final Buddha much as Christians await the return of Jesus.
We slowly leave this holy place and head back to our minibus. The elderly aunt confides it is her 80th birthday the following day. She is congratulated and hastily presents are put together to mark this special occasion.
‘She’s 83 not 80 tomorrow. She was born in 1931, but she’s stayed at 80 for the past three years’, whispers her younger sister.
it seems that women are the same allthe world over!