Family Kovil Colombo Sri Lanka


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.

Palaya Kadiresan Kovil, Colombo Sri Lanka -  Google Earth screen shot
Palaya Kadiresan Kovil, Colombo Sri Lanka - Google Earth screen shot

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 🙂

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9 thoughts on “Family Kovil Colombo Sri Lanka

  1. Thanks for trip down memory lane. Family kovil was same, but temple was Meththaramaya (Lauries Road). The kovil somehow I never got around to visiting when adult as after the 83 riots it was housed as refugee camp and then subsequently closed?
    I have vivid memories of my Dad and childhood spent visiting the kovil, especially the Murugan temple on the side.

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  2. great post Cerno. religion, faith and childhood memories can’t be documented on google earth but clearly add to picture of the kovil in question.

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  3. Brilliant post! What we should understand is that the merge between Buddhism and Hinduism is not limited to our country. It is everywhere from thousands of years..

    If some one wants proof visit Angkor ..precisely the Bayon Temple..

    Why anyone wants to seperate this two? It is more beautiful when it is merged..

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  4. maf: Thank you 🙂 happy you enjoyed it. I think things like Google Earth are a way of adding/sharing layers of personalised context to places. Sort of humanises what otherwise looks like just another building.

    Kirigalpoththa: Thank you – yes there’s a lot of interesting intermixing of culture between Hinduism and Buddhism. I guess the closest thing to Angkor/Bayon in that area is Borobudur. Though I have to admit I find smaller scale manifestations like Katharagama more intriguing. Have you thought of exploring the mountains in that area?

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  5. Borobudur – Never been to Indonesia. But seem both Angkor and Borobudur has similarities.

    Yes Kataragama is one of the best examples from our own country. Also places like Polonnaruwa you see this merge quite well. Infact Bayon temple and Polonnaruwa temples are done during the same period.

    Must go to Wedihitikanda oneday. Other than Yala i have not explored that area much 🙂

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    1. Hope you get a chance to go to Borobudur. Speaking of Yala, I’ve heard that there are a lot of ancient ruins/archeological sites scattered around Yala that have been barely documented.

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  6. Thanks. If my next project gets through i’ll be in Jakarta hopefully in January’10. I’m keeping my fingers crossed 🙂

    Yes ‘Magama’ has been the second kingdom for SriLanka for many centuries and yet very little is written and known compared to areas like Anuradhapura / Polonnaruwa. I’m very interested in doing an archaeological adventure in that part of the country oneday.

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