5 minute read -A short story about a visit to the Dambulla cave monastery in Sri Lanka. An ancient place of worship, on the special day of full-moon.
Sri Lankan relish
The sweet taste of hoppers -a thin, soft milky-pancake kind of food- along with the tropical flavors of coconut roti, savory fried lentils and sweet and sour pineapple make a delectable start of the day. It’s morning. Early still as Anoma, the mother in our home-stay, treats our taste-buds to a traditional Sri Lankan style breakfast. Seated in a garden full green with flowers, trees, pots and plants. In seclusion, and with charm that is often seen in Sigiriya’s home-stays, I considers ourselves lucky this morning.
The sun has already risen and it’s not too warm. Yet the oppressive atmosphere warns for what’s coming. ‘Are you ready to go sir, madam’ Manju, the home-stay owner asks us ‘It will be hot soon’
Barely ten minutes later we’re in his tuk tuk, on our way to the sacred Dambulla cave monastery.
Compared to Trincomalee, Sri Lanka’s ocean prevailing north, the scenery look different; roads are surrounded by abundant dense greenery, wild growing shrubs as well as grandest tropical trees. For the first time since our arrival I feel that we’ve entered the jungle. Manju drives us along water-bodies with eye-pleasing white, pink and purple lilies. And long fields of fresh rice alternate with the lush forest. Their delicate, soft, somehow nutty smell both dreamy and delightful. Further ahead on the road we pick up the sweet scents of mango’s and oranges, sold by one of the many fruit stalls. Meanwhile the wind pleasantly touches our skin.
Dambulla cave monastery, a peek into ancient divine
The sun just starts burning at arrival at the monastery. Luckily the stairs leading up to the sanctuary are partly in the shadow of large jungle trees. It’s quite a climb to reach the temple; at least a couple of hundred of stone stairs lead to the cave, located atop of a 160 meter high rock. Jumping monkeys, as well as relaxing ones and moreover, eating ones welcome us along the track. Often chewing on offered lotus flowers or snacks taken away from tourists. They are a good excuse to take a break. And make excellent photo models.
As we slowly climb up, the scenery becomes more vividly and wide. Overlooking Sri Lanka’s magnificent jungle and observing a jaw-dropping, endless stretch of tropical rain-forest. Along with the monkeys it doesn’t just make the climb bearable, but also much more enjoyable.
It takes a slow 40 minutes of climbing, shooting and gazing before we finally reach the cave temple. Our heads are covered in a thin layer of sweat. We remove our shoes before entering the sanctuary that has been serving as sacred place for pilgrimage for over 22 centuries. Five chambers featuring stone statues of Buddha’s, gods and goddesses as well as numerous bright colored Buddha paintings characterize the temple. Their colors mainly grey, red and yellow. With marvelous detail and decoration the murals depict the story of prince Siddhartha and his way to enlightenment. It looks impressive and plentiful. Yet the lack of information makes it hard to comprehend this place of ancient divine.
Being the largest and best preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka, many visitors are drawn to the cave temple on a daily base ‘Today it’s extra crowded’ a bypassing tour guide mentions. ‘It’s a full moon, so many people come to the temple to pray’ he continues. There are indeed many visitors, both tourists and worshipers. Making the temple feel on the crowded side, given the relatively small space.
White dresses and hot stones
While most people just continue the walk downhill to visit the Golden Buddha, Manju brings us with the tuk tuk. A well needed break, because by now it’s scorching hot. Although the caught wind feels pleasant, it’s not cooling enough. A little worn down from the heath we continue.
At the temple ground we follow the footsteps of two monks in saffron colored robes up to the sanctuary. And join some hundred people sitting in the shade, under the eye of a meters tall Golden Buddha. Due to the full moon, their dresses mainly white.
The ceremonies, held on every full-moon day in Sri Lanka bless the lunar phase under which prince Siddhartha attained enlightenment, reached nirvana, and became Buddha more than 2,500 years ago. Declared as a public holiday, it’s a returning day of significance for the country’s Buddhist community.
With renewed energy we follow a second stone path up to the Golden Buddha Statue, again bare-feet. And walk among dozens of devotees who carry white lotus flowers. Most of whom pray before they place their offer at a long white table in front of the statue. Monkeys similar to the ones before are feasting on the flowers. It’s a good day for them.
Shifting from shadow to sun again, the ground becomes unbearably hot to walk on. My feet are actually burning, forcing me and others to more-or-less jump our way down to safe grounds again. With flaming feet I land back in the shadow when a then a loud bell rings. Monochrome chants by monks follow, their sound fills the whole area. Devotees fold their hands and pray along. Almost instantly most people are connected through the divine. Blessed to see this special ceremony, and with the sound of the prayers still in my mind, we return back to the peaceful garden of our home-stay.
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