Buddhist and Hindu cultures have coexisted seamlessly in my family. It extends to relationships with religious institutions as well. On the Buddhist side there is Asokaramaya, which has a long presence in family history. For more regular religious maters there’s the smaller temple down our road. Palaya Kadiresan Kovil (pictured in the Google Earth screen shot below) is one of two Kovils that represented the Hindu side. It is bordered by Galle road, Vajira road and “Duplication” road. Note that this is NOT the new Kadiresan Kovil which is further south along Galle road.
I suppose the “trips” to Kataragama would represent the ultimate fusion of family bi-culturalism.
Hinduism has an obvious presence among Sri Lanka’s Buddhists. The most visible sign is the presence of shrines to localised Hindu deities in Buddhist temples. Less noticeable is the uniquely Sri Lankan pantheon of Hindu influenced deities described in an earlier post. However the intermingling of belief systems are much more complicated to verbalise accurately without writing an anthropological text. Particularly to non Sri Lankans who are not going to “get” the multilayered complexities of Sri Lankan life. The Brits have the best phrase to avoid having to explaining such things: “tradition dear boy, tradition” (Jeffry Archer, The Century, A Quiver Full Of Arrows).
The detachment of adulthood and exile makes me realise that Hinduism’s presence in my family is unusual even by “traditional” Sri Lankan standards. As a child it all seemed quite normal. The Hindu element originates from the Jaffna roots of a much loved family elder. The remaining ancestral origins point to the deep south. Close enough to the president’s home town to consider or avoid a scrutiny of the family tree.
The Palaya Kadiresan Kovil was my relative’s “neighbourhood” kovil. I used to tag along for “pujas” when I was over for a “spend the day” during school holidays (referred to simply as “going to Kovil”). There was the invariable stop at one of shops near the Kovil gates. Usually to buy camphor. I still have faint memory of walking through a curtain of jasmine garlands into a crowded shop. The retail session was of course padded by a quick bi sometimes tri lingual chat. The most vivid recollection I have of the place is the elaborate pigeon coop (my memory has dimmed enough to make me unsure if there were more than one). To me it looked like a Hindu version minaret. I never bothered to ask about their significance. Then again it was always made clear to me that one didn’t go to places of worship to “sight see”.
We never went during times of major pujas — just for smaller late afternoon services. The crowd was sparse enough for everyone to get close to the holiest of holies. Afterwords some like my relative, would stand hands clasped before the sanctum lips silently mouthing their prayers, heads slightly tilted to the side.
I have a rapidly fading recollection of an very dignified old lady in an immaculate jade green sari standing alone in the public area outside the main shrine. Her posture was proud and confident. But the expression on her face was of profound humility and devotion.
Strange how randomly images stick in the brain no?
The other Kovil deserves a post of its own – coming soon 🙂