The Beaches of Sri Lanka – Hambantota, Mirissa, Weligama, Unawatuna, Galle Fort, Ahungala and Negombo

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The Beaches of Sri Lanka – Hambantota, Mirissa, Weligama, Unawatuna, Galle Fort, Ahungala and Negombo

Before leaving Sri Lanka, we decided to spend a few days at the beach.

When we first landed in Sri Lanka, we saw quite a lot of tourists who had come with nothing but shorts and bathing suits, carrying their surf boards.

I felt my heart surge with a similar desire for the beach.
I had to remind myself that this time, we had come to Sri Lanka to do a Buddhist pilgrimage and to visit some of the many ancient Buddhist sites.

As it turned out, Sri Lanka really took my breath away.
The pilgrimage exceeded all of my expectations and more.
I really had no idea that Sri Lanka had so many ancient rock and cave temples tucked away in the jungles.

From Yala National Park, it was only a short drive to Hambantota.
We had booked a wonderful room in the lavish Shangri-la Golf Club and Spa by the sea.
We gave our driver two days off, and we spent those days resting by the pool, reading and swimming.

The head chef of the hotel is from Indonesia, and she does a great job at developing daily menus that inspire food lovers.

In the evenings, instead of opting for the lavish buffet, we chose to eat at their “street food” stalls, in which they serve street food from around Southeast Asia.

The chef stopped for a chat at our table, and after a long chat about the state of her country and its politics, she recommended places for us to visit on our next trip to Indonesia.
Now, I can’t wait to go there again….

One day in Hambantota, after I swam, I used one of the pod swings that they have hanging from the tall palm trees.
As I was swinging in the pod, I felt like I was inside a nurturing, loving ethereal womb.
I suddenly felt as if I have been here before… centuries ago….
I KNEW with every inch of my being, that we are really and truly eternal beings, and that ALL of us definitely live on for eternity.

The coconut trees swayed in the wind, the waves crashed on the empty shores, and my pod was swinging in gentle circles, enhancing even more that feeling I had that we have been recycling our identities here many, many times.

My heart was filled with gratitude, not just for my many blessings and for being here, but just for being a human being, with all the potentialities, gentleness and possibilities that it entails….

What seems like a lifetime ago in my youth, I was a sad and lonely girl living in a war torn country, with no means, writing sad poetry in my diary, lamenting my destiny, dreaming…. dreaming of a better life…

And here I am now, so blessed in all ways and immensely grateful for every part of the journey that I call “my life”……the years of my confused youth, my journey towards greater understanding, and for everything that got me to be here today.

From Hambantota, we visited some ancient temples and slept the night in Mirissa, in a small boutique hotel by the sea.
The stretch of beach before the hotel was sandy and nice, but the proximity of the main road made that place very noisy.

We continued driving along the beaches towards Weligama, a popular place to learn surfing, with a nice stretch of beach that is kept clean by the many small surf schools offering surf lessons to the tourists.
There are also relaxed beach huts offering food and drinks.
I really liked Weligama.

Unawatuna is a haven for surfers and backpackers, who come to enjoy the clean beaches and the warm ocean waters.

In Unawatuna the ocean felt so warm and good that I didn’t want to get out of the water, but we were on our way to see Galle Fort, so in order to dry up before we continued, we walked around Unawatuna and looked at all the places offering Ayurveda massages, tempting local and international food, island excursions, and accommodations on the cheap.

Along the way we visited Yatagala Raja Maha Viharaya in Unawatuna, a cave temple near the ocean.

At the entrance to the temple, there is a small school filled with saffron-clad young monks.
They were studying in small groups of mixed ages.

A very lean, older monk signaled for us to come over.
He said that he was about to leave, to provide solace to a local family who had recently lost a young boy.
The child drowned about seven days ago, and now it was time for the final farewell ritual.

Galle Fort (pronounced Gaul Fort) is a a beautiful place on the coast that should not be missed.
The Fort was first built in 1588 by the Portuguese, then extensively fortified by the Dutch during the 17th century, from 1649 onwards.

It is a historical, archaeological and architectural gem.
Inside the fort, you can walk on the thick walls by the ocean, dine in one of the many small good places, visit the old church and the white mosque, and shop if you feel inclined to, in one of the many small, unique shops.

The streets of Galle Fort feature old European architecture, mostly painted in white, combined with island elements like covered patios to provide shade, and tall ceilings to circulate the air.

On our last night in Sri Lanka, we stayed at the Heritance Hotel in Ahungala, by the beach.
On our last night, instead of the lavish diverse buffet, we opted for the hotel’s fish shack by the sea.

There was only one other couple there beside us.
I dressed up in a short black dress and we sat there on the wooden stools, peeling huge grilled prawns served with fresh lime and salt, cooled by the night breezes.

We thanked Sri Lanka for being so beautiful,
We thanked the loving Universe for all its gifts.

On our last day, our driver, Janaka, took us to tour his home town of Negombo.
We dined together by the sea, and talked about his children and his hopes.
Then we went to have ice cream together in a small Italian ice cream parlor by the sea.
Like us, Janaka loves a good ice cream.

We thanked Janaka for being such good company, for driving us safely around the country, and for offering us so much help and good advice.
Janaka thanked us for taking such good care of him all along our journey.
At the airport when we left, we hugged and kissed him on both cheeks and felt like we are saying goodbye to a dear friend.

The busy airport was a bit disorganized but very friendly, and soon we were lifted up in the air…ready for our next adventure…

Goodbye Sri Lanka, where everything is alive and pulsating with warmth and awareness….where the green trees sway by the blue ocean…. waiting, hoping that when the temple’s head master reaches enlightenment, he will lean against them….

My thanks and blessings to you all, my global family,
Tali

P.S.
If you ever visit beautiful Sri Lanka, and would like to hire a trustworthy, careful, and fun driver, you can contact Janaka, at bjdelambert@yahoo.com, +94(0)777718559.

Wewurukannala Raja Maha Vihara Temple in Dikwella, Sri Lanka, and A Jataka Tale About The Monkey’s Heart

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Wewurukannala Raja Maha Vihara Temple in Dikwella, Sri Lanka, and A Jataka Tale About The Monkey’s Heart

Wewurukannala Temple is located east of Matara town, in the town of Dikwella.

It is a large temple complex with amazing Buddhist sculptures, art, paintings, and frescos.

The Wewurukannala Vihara temple was constructed during the reign of King Rajadhi (1782 – 1798), although there might have been an older, smaller temple on the site before that.

There is a large sculpture of a seated Buddha that is 160ft tall, the largest statue in all of Sri Lanka, which you can approach via a long set of many stairs.

The old temple is now enclosed inside a newer building, and you can peek into it to see the old statues and shrines.

The newer temple, which is now 250 years old, has a fantastic white entrance facade with lions decorating its front walls, designed in typical Sri Lankan architectural style.

I have seen similar white wall facades around Sri Lanka, decorating the entrances of old mosques as well as some churches.
These facades are truly beautiful pieces of architecture.

Behind the white entrance, there is a fantastically decorated temple with ornate paintings and statues, depicting tales and events of the Buddha’s life and past incarnations, including the famous Chulla Dhammapala Jataka Tale and other Jataka Stories.

There is a large Bodhi tree surrounded by a spacious courtyard, in which people sat and prayed, read thin books with Buddhist sutras and chanted.
As in other temples around Sri Lanka, there are candelabras that are shaped like a leaf of the Bodhi tree, as well as a covered long area to light small ceramic devotional candles, filled with wax or oil.

The temple has a very long tunnel of Hell, depicting life size models of demons and sinners that show, in very bloody and graphic detail, the gruesome suffering that awaits those who do not seek the path towards enlightenment.

We walked down the hell tunnel along with many other families, looking at the paintings all over the walls, which are arranged in two levels, upper and lower.
The upper paintings depict all the wrongdoing people do or can do, and below them are the paintings depicting all the many punishments, including being drowned in boiling cauldrons, sawn in half, disemboweled and so on.

Because Sri Lanka is a Buddhist country, a painting from the temple depicting one of the Jataka tales, was selected to be on the Vesak National stamps in 1991.

Many of Sri Lanka’s temple murals were chosen to be on the stamps, for it is believed that the life that the Buddha lived can be followed by anyone.
And by following the example of the Buddha, one can achieve Buddhahood and finally, full enlightenment.

A Buddha is not a God that is different from any of us, for we are all gods who have forgotten our Divine True Nature, and in our delusional sleep, we roam the earth like homeless, helpless creatures, completely oblivious to the power and majesty that is within us.

The Buddha, much like Jesus the Christ, has developed Himself in the course of countless births, to be far more full of light, compassion and love, beyond the capacity of all other human beings.

The one who has resolved to become like Jesus and like a Buddha, strives in each of her births to become better and wiser and free of envy, anger and greed, until at last she becomes perfect.

She becomes illuminated, she becomes a Buddha; for the Buddha means the ‘Perfect’, ‘Awakened’, the ‘Enlightened’ One.

Before she reaches this high state of perfection, she is called a ‘Bodhisatva’, one who is on the road to perfection.

The Jataka tales, which tell the stories of the former lives of the Buddha, have been told and retold by monks during their Dhamma sermons, by Buddhist grandparents to their grandchildren, and by parents to their sons and daughters.

The tradition of Buddhists encouraging their children to seek the path of righteousness and enlightenment goes on.

These stories also adorn the walls of temples around Sri Lanka, and all over the Buddhist world, where skilled artists have related them in their own styles for the devotees to see, study, absorb and develop their own understanding of the path towards enlightenment.

Art is a medium through which an exemplary life can be taught to ordinary people and to those who are afraid, too busy, or too caught up in the muck and mire of daily living.

The paintings primarily attempt to represent the spirit rather than a specific form of religion – a spiritual story with a heavenly ending, rather than preaching a doctrine.

Be it an ancient cave, a shrine or an elaborate temple, the walls and ceiling spaces were always decorated and elaborately covered with Jataka stories.

The wall paintings in this temple also realistically depict local monks much loved by the devotees.

Remember that you are NOT just a human being, living at the mercy of circumstances, at the mercy of the fluctuating weather, the trends, the political winds….. you ARE ONE with the DIVINITY that created it all…
You are God, appearing as many faces over time and space…
Who else can you be?

A Jataka Tale About The Monkey’s Heart

Once upon a time, while Brahmadatta was king of Benares, a Bodhisatta came to life at the foot of the Himalayas as a monkey.

He grew strong and sturdy, big of frame, well to do, and lived by a curve of the river Ganges in a forest haunt.

Now at that time there was a crocodile dwelling in the Ganges.

The crocodile’s mate saw the great frame of the monkey, and she conceived a longing to eat his heart.

So she said to her husband, “Sir, I desire to eat the heart of that great king of the monkeys!”

“Good wife,” said the crocodile, “I live in the water and he lives on dry land.
How can we catch him?”

“By hook or by crook,” she replied, “he must be caught.
If I don’t eat him, I shall die.”

“All right,” answered the crocodile, consoling her, “don’t trouble yourself.
I have a plan.
I will give you his heart to eat.”

So when the Bodhisatta was sitting on the bank of the Ganges, after taking a drink of water, the crocodile drew near, and said:
“Sir Monkey, why do you live only on fig fruits in this old familiar place?
On the other side of the Ganges there is no end to the mango trees, and trees, with fruit sweet as honey!
Is it not better to cross over and have all kinds of wild nuts and fruit to eat?”

“Lord Crocodile,” the monkey answered. “The Ganges is deep and wide.
How shall I get across?”

“If you want to go, I will let you sit upon my back, and carry you over.” Said the crocodile.

The monkey trusted him, and agreed.
The monkey climbed on the crocodile’s back.

But when the crocodile had swum a little way, he plunged the monkey under the water.

“Good friend, you are letting me sink!” cried the monkey.
“Why?….I trusted you…..What is that for?”

The crocodile said, “You think I am carrying you out of pure good nature?
Not a bit of it!
My wife has a longing for your heart, and I want to give it to her to eat!”

“Friend,” said the monkey, “It is nice of you to tell me, but let me tell you something.
If our hearts were inside us monkeys, when we go jumping among the tree tops, they would be all knocked down and shattered to pieces!”

“Well, where do you keep your hearts?” asked the crocodile.

The Bodhisatta pointed out to a huge fig tree, with clusters of ripe fruit, standing not far off on the shores where he came from.

“See,” said he, “There we keep our hearts hanging on yonder fig tree.”

“If you will give me your heart,” said the crocodile, “Then I won’t kill you.”

“Take me to the tree, then, and I will point my heart out to you.”

The crocodile brought him to the place.
The monkey leapt off his back, and, climbing up the fig tree, sat upon it.

“Oh silly crocodile!” said he.
“You thought that there were creatures that kept their hearts in a treetop!
You are a fool, and I have outwitted you!
You may keep your fruit to yourself.
Your body is great, but you have no sense.”

And then to explain the idea more, the Bodhisattva said:

“Trees laden with Rose-apple, jack-fruit and mangoes,
Across the water I can see.
Enough of them, I want them not,
My fig is good enough for me!
Great might be your body, Sir Crocodile,
But how much smaller is your wit!
Now go on your ways,
For I have better friends to meet.
I shall not crave the fruit of far off trees,
But the sweet Amrita nectar of eternity…”

With everlasting love,
Tali

Mulgirigala Raja Maha Vihara, an Amazing Cave Temple Complex, in Sri Lanka and A Jataka Story about how asking others for too much, can lead to hatred and loss

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Mulgirigala Raja Maha Vihara, an Amazing Cave Temple Complex, Sri Lanka

Mulgirigala rock cave temple complex was an unexpected delight for me.
Even after visiting many rock and cave temples hidden among the mountains and in the jungles of Sri Lanka, I had not known what to expect.

There is very little information about these temples in English, and before we took the long journey down narrow, pothole-strewn village roads to get there, we had no idea about what we would be seeing until after we had arrived there, and stood with our mouths open before these stunning works of art, done as devotional work by dedicated artisans and monks.

Mulgirigala is one of those ancient cave temples that should be much better known internationally, for its history and for its seven amazing caves.
But only the locals know about it and visit it.

The seven Buddhist meditation caves in this temple complex are lavishly decorated, each with detailed cave paintings and sculptures depicting old tales and folk lore about demons and kings, court ladies and humble monks.

Mulgirigala (also known as Mulkirigala) was built on a 205 meter (673 ft) high, very steep natural rock, surrounded with four other large rocks. Caves are found on each of the five rock levels of the complex.

The big rock on which the temple was constructed is a massive natural rock that stretches tall and wide, similar to the Sigiriya rock.
That is why this site is known as Punchi Seegiriya -Little Sigiriya by the locals.

The exact date of the construction of the cave temple is unknown, but there is an ancient inscription carved into the rock, that dates back in the Buddhist calendar to the 2nd-1st century B.C.

It says:
“The cave of Upasona, a monk of the Majhima lineage, is given to the Sangha of the four directions, both present and absent.”

The temple was hosting Full Moon Poya day festivities on the day of our visit.
Lines of devotees came to the temple, bringing with them candles, flowers, incense, fruit, milk, rice and sweets to offer to the Buddha.

Of course, the major beneficiaries of these offerings, as always, were the wild monkeys.
Outside one of the caves, I saw a couple turn back and refuse to enter, afraid of the monkeys that were coming in and out of the cave, helping themselves to the offerings and growling at people.

I was not about to miss visiting any of the caves, so I swung my camera in the air and growled back at the monkeys, who yielded long enough for me to get in.
After we left, they were back inside, collecting lotus flowers and fruit, and baring their teeth at timid visitors.

In the temple courtyard there is another one of the many Bodhi trees found in the courtyards of both Hindu and Buddhist temples throughout Sri Lanka, grown from the saplings that were germinated from a cutting from the original Bodhi tree in India, under which the Buddha had achieved full enlightenment.

In the 18th century, the Mulgirigala rock was confused with Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak) by the Dutch, who believed that the tombs of Adam and Eve were located here.

According to the ancient chronicles, most caves were turned into temples in the third century AD.

After that, the temple received royal patronage by numerous successive kings, and in 461-479 AD, a Stupa was added to the temple.

Stone stairs, which were carved into the vertical rock face and which were actually quite fun to climb, were created in 1747-1782, and provided easier access to the upper caves.

The Lower Vihara Compound consists of seven temple caves (viharas), and was constructed on five compounds, or flat platforms.

The complex consists of a small museum, a pilgrim’s rest house, tombs, and a very large reclining Buddha on the rock.

There is also a small painted pagoda found inside the cave.
Many paintings decorate the walls and the ceilings of the caves.

If our photos in this post look repetitive, they are not.
They are taken in different caves with different statues.

Other terraces and platforms have more stupas, in which we met priests who blessed us and tied colorful bracelets made of plain thread on our wrists, as well as more caves and a Bodhi tree.

There are also very old and very large free standing lamps, ornately decorated and now encased in glass.
Once they were temple candelabra or lamps, that were lit by pouring coconut oil down a long brass tube, capped with a small funnel.
They have ornate animal legs and are studded with symbols.

On the top there is a bell tower, a Bodhi tree and a stupa.

The oldest cave is large, and the old statues are behind glass.
The wall and ceiling paintings are more elaborate, and depict royal kings queens, and divine beings.

Throughout the caves, there is a large collection of paintings and sculptures. Most paintings depict episodes from the life of the Buddha, and some from the Buddha’s previous incarnations, told as part of the Jataka stories.

In this temple there are lots of paintings of one of the famous past incarnations of the Buddha, known as the Vessantara prince.

In his incarnation as Vessantara, he was a compassionate prince, who gave away everything he owned, including his children, thereby displaying the virtue of perfect generosity and selflessness.

The story is very famous, with slight variations in other parts of Asia.

The name of this prince is different in Tibet, where he is known as “Prince Arthasiddhi,” and in China as Taizi Xudanuo jing, Prince Sudāna, while the prince is known as “Shudaina-taishi” in Japan.

The tale of Prince Vessantara is celebrated as an annual festival in Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Cambodia.

It is believed that this incarnation, in which he lived as a privileged prince who was full of compassion and love, is what led the Buddha to be able to achieve full enlightenment in his next incarnation.

A Jataka Story about how asking others for too much, can lead to hatred and loss

There was a time when some monks would go out begging, using the alms to build better cells for themselves.

The begging became so rampant, that people would run away from them as soon as they saw them in the village.

Once a senior monk went out for alms and noticed that people were running away from him on seeing him.
He called for a meeting of all the monks and learnt that the people felt troubled by the incessant pestering of the monks.

He scolded the younger monks and told them the following story:

Once there lived two brothers who had decided to renounce the world on the death of their parents.
The elder brother took up a hut at the Upper Ganga and the younger brother took up his hut in the Lower Ganga.

Once the king of the serpents, Manikantha, left his palace and was strolling on the banks of the Ganga after assuming the form of a human.

He saw the younger brother and they started talking and soon grew fond of him.
In due course, they were inseparable.
The two met frequently and whenever the serpent king left, he would cast off his body and embrace the ascetic within his folds and hold his hood over his head for a little while.

Then, when his love was satisfied, he would let go of the ascetics body, bid him farewell and return to his palace.

While the ascetic enjoyed the serpent king’s friendship, he feared the parting act and this fear took a toll on his health.

He began to lose weight and soon was very thin and disheveled.
When his elder brother saw him one day and asked him about this failing health, the younger one told him all about it.

The elder one then asked him, if there was something that the King serpent was very fond of, like an ornament or something.
To this the younger one mentioned a special jewel the king serpent loved.

The elder one suggested that the next time the serpent came and sat next to him, he should beg for the jewel, and the next day stand at the door and beg for it and the third day, stand at the bank of the river and beg for it.

Next day as soon as the serpent sat next to the ascetic, the monk begged for the jewel.
The king immediately got up and left the hut without saying anything.

As advised, the next day, the king left even before entering the hut and on the third asking, the king went back into the river and before leaving the king mentioned that he would not visit him anymore as the jewel was an important possession.

The serpent further said that what the monk was begging for was very important for him and all his prosperity was due to the jewel and that he would never part with it.

The monk was asking for too much!
With this, the serpent plunged into the water, never to return.

Later, when the elder brother visited the ascetic, he noticed that his brother had become even more pale and weak.

Upon questioning his brother he discovered that his brother missed the serpent king too much.

To this the elder brother surmised that one should never beg from those who are dear to them and excessive begging makes one hated.
He then talked with his brother about the ill-effects of asking for too much.

The two brothers then spent the rest of their lives, working hard to become worthy of attaining spiritual enlightenment.

Wishing you peace and a never ending light,
Tali