Personal history, Asokaramaya Buddhist Temple Colombo Sri Lanka

Took part in a family ritual older than myself. A dana (alms giving) for monks at the Asokaramaya in Thimbirigasyaya. In memory for a grandfather who was gone before I was born. The event is a fixture in the childhood of humble self and the relevant cousins. Today’s is my first as an adult.

Satellite image of the Asokaramaya generated from Google Earth

In the old days, the preparations started the night before with female relatives gathering at the grand parental abode to cook. Never figured out why the cooking took most of the night. I suppose there were more monks and family. The number of cooks and their enthusiasm must have slowed things down as well. Next morning the procession to the temple – after franticly loading the chariots with people and those stacking food containers.

Things would simmer down to a respectful hush at the Pirivana that is located to the side and rear of the temple. The path to the narrow court yard to the monks’ dining hall past a wide rectangular pond. Remember being fascinated by the huge fish that looked up from the dark water. Another fixture of those days was an ancient monk (close to the family I overheard) who had to be helped up the steps.

Then hungry impatience while the adults solemnly served the monks. There’s a vague recollection of gingerly serving the dish I was assigned. It might have been the day when I finally got to an age where I could be trusted with the task.

After the rituals, we convoyed back to the old house and a massive family feed. The star dish was the Caju curry. A truly heavenly dish. By then it would be an extended family lunch that meandered into the afternoon.

Now the crowd is smaller. Just six of us – with me being the only cousin/nephew/grandchild in the continent. The other cousins far way in colder places. The fishpond in the Pirivana is gone and so is the ancient monk.

Was entrusted with taking the Buddha puja tray to the image house. In its cool veranda, dogs snoozed with the most blissful expressions I’ve seen in the face of any animal. Inside, the only change since my childhood was my elevated eye level and the art history books I had read. The walls had a strong whiff of old European masters. There was a feel of Titian and Bartolomé Esteban Murillo mixed in with a Venetian touch. Something El Greco in the depiction of night skies. The painted and moulded figures on upper walls and ceiling seemed to reference a certain Italian. It is quite possible that the artists working on Asokaramaya got some ideas from out west. Yet their achievement is the celebration of old Sri Lankan designs while using tools of western art and not caving into the grim lecturing imagery of the Europeans. Personally, the images in the image house are happy, friendly and approachable. As they did when I was 7.

A Samanera with a clear voice conducts the Buddha puja. Back in the dinning hall a surprisingly thin temple cat with a short tail eyes us from its triangular face the whole time we are serving the meal. It meows persistently (at me and then at an aunt) during the chanting. They are very spare in the quantities they eat. For the second time in a week I hear a monk mention that most people stop with this type of event 4-5 years after the death of a relative.

We have our lunch in the building that stands on the site of the old house. Enough people to sit around the table that my grandfather used to hold forth. It is a concise meal. My elders are looking forward to their afternoon naps.

On the way home I weigh the merits of blogging this.

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