This trip doesn’t seem to end my amazement at the interconnection of Lanka-India connections and that of Buddhism and Hinduism. Back in India, in many Puranas Lord Buddha is claimed to be the incarnate of Vishnu and then are many Ambedkarite movements which claim otherwise. But things are altogether at a different level one here, when Vishnu is claimed to be a lesser god of Tusita heaven and given the responsibility to be the chief guardian god of Buddhism. It is amazing to see how all the Sinhalese Buddhists worship Vishnu – the chief God of sustenance in your form – the god of the colour (Varna) of Blue Lily (Utpala) in this island nation popularly calling you as Upulvana.
Rather all the more interestingly, in your form the locals keep actually a proper eagle as Garuda (your supposed mount in India) instead of the man-eagle(often portrayed in Hindu temples). It is notworthy how the colour blue keeps reflecting so predominantly in the themes all across – be it the colour of the temple,
…or the colour of the flowers offered to you…
…or even the colour of the holy flags
Now this superbly bright display of colour blue all around does indeed make me curious on how is it that we Indians dont seem to be so hell bent on celebrating blueness of our Vishnu, but the Sinhalese seem to do so. This question led me to find out more about Mayavan or Perumal – the original version of Vishnu celebrated in Tamil Sangam texts who just like Krishna (or Vishnu) has a dark skin (but portrayed in blue), falls in love with a village damsel Pinnai (like Radha) , wins her by controlling seven bulls (which Krishna does for another wife Nagnajiti). Tamil Sangam texts recall that their wider Tamil country laid much more to the south & had been taken over by seas during two instances of strong floods & in the pre-flood era Mayavan was the key god of the pastoral people of the forest lands of Tamilakkam (known as Mullai).
However in that case, I would expected most prominent temple of Vishnu in the more forests part of Srilanka, but here we have you being worshipped in the southernmost tip of the country on an ancient port town. Wasn’t this kind of region designated to Varuna – the sea God as per the Tamil folklore?
This led myself to explore some Sinhalese folk legends, where you are recalled as landing into Lanka from the south diection from the seas taking your place of origin as a kingdom known as Vadiga in India, somewhere between Krishna & Godavari valley. The story recalls a demonic form of Vishnu known as Oddi Raja (probably from Orrissa or Seemandhra region) who had killed his father & came to Lanka (possibly through seas) causing utter havoc, onlt to be tamed by Samanta an earlier life-incarnate of Buddha. The Oddi Raja who had great ‘magic powers’ which could be used to harm people, his powers would now be used to protect the people of Lanka
There is also other versions of the story of Vadiga Putana dance which recalls 7 Brahmins being called from Vadiga area in India to cure the wife of Samanta (the earlier life incarnate of Gautam Buddha) from the ill effects of Buddha but miserably failing in so. Few more, where your character is known as a boy who was abandoned by his royal parents in a jungle only to be raised as cow-herds, only to take over the command of the kingdom as soon as king dies, perennially waiting for his lost girlfriend whom he loses in the jungles.
In Kanda Purana the Tamil version of Karthikeya’s wars against Soorapadma, there are ellaborate descriptions on how Soorapadma the tyrrant king was based in Lanka & Karthikeya deployed an army of people who wanted liberty from him. It mentions cleraly that the worshippers of Thirumal the abstract form of Antaryamin (everything knowing form of God of Sustenance) were routinely harassed by Soorapadma & were ventually rescued by Karthikeya
Are you the Thirumal the abstract everknowing God or Mayavan the dark lord of cowherders, Are you the Mannar the saviour of Naga tribes or or are you the Oddiraja the heart transformed devil converted into Island’s way of living ? Or are you a simple boy of flesh & blood who coudn’t unite physically with her long lost love ? Or you are little bit of all of them? I guess there is no longer any logical way to find that out anymore.
Just like every major Sinhalese Devale (Devalaya – place of worsip of beings known as Devas), this one is also having a newly built Raja Vihara (royal monastery) with the Stupa, Bhikshu Halls, Bo Tree, Image House & Book house here.
It is again quite unfortunate to hear here about the massive destruction of the original Tanaverama temple which stood here as a proud owner of the port town (as entire town was the property of the magnificient temple) before its destruction by the Portuguese. armies post which only few remains are left now.
And again like rest of the island, even this temple has rose again from its ashes. I was personally amazed by the labyrinth of paintings on the walls of the new temple as it contains some 100+ paintings of some zoomorphic gods (mixtures of man and animals) most of which can’t be recognized from the pantheon of Hindu or Buddhist Gods.
As I depart from here, I leave with more questions than answers, more confusion than clarity and more amazement than ever before about the finnesse of our joint cultures where every effort to open one door of mystery opens many many more to uncover. Saying my goodbye to this elephant, I shall say “Hasta La Vista”!!!