Ratnapura – The abode of Samantabhadra

10th May 2018

Dear Samantabhadra

2 Days back in the subshrines of Kataragama Deviyo temple, when I saw the image of a fair complexion god holding red flower in hand with an elephant in background I immediately got curious on guessing who is this ‘very Indian’ god who still doesn’t look very familiar still.

IMG_0736As I enquired about you, I realized the connection of ‘Samantabhadra’ the primordial Bodhisattava with ‘Suman Saman’ the folk diety of Sinhalese Buddhism. For sure both of these icons have got white elephant as a mount. You have been idolized as a perfect practitioner of the key teachings of Lotus Sutra – the most popular version of collection of teachings which form the basis of Mahayana Buddhism followed vehemently in east Asia. You have been known to protect the Dharma from any sort of persecution, perhaps that’s why they say that Gautam Buddha had appointed you as the guardian of Buddhism in the island.

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You are especially renowned for the sincerity of penitence which can help one to move on from one’s transgressions when they may have violated Dharma. As Buddha mentioned during the discourse of cleaning of six sense organs:

“The ocean of impediment of all Karma is produced from one’s false imagination.Should one wish to repent of itLet him sit upright and meditate on the true aspect of reality.All sins are just as frost and dew,So wisdom’s sun can disperse them.”

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It was interesting to hear about the story of your disciple Sudhana in your context when this Indian chap sets out for a journey on his quest to enlightenment meeting 53 masters on the way & you are the final master he meets. (Rather I became more curious about his life for a while as I see some parallels with me!!! ) Your advice to him that wisdom exists only for the sake of putting it into the practice resonates in so many ways with what Sadhguru also tells wrt making things experiential for ourselves instead of just acquiring knowledge.

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Image of Sudhana receiving teaching from his master, Borobdur Temple, Indonesia (Source: Internet)

As I tried to understand your roots, I realized that much before Srilanka identified Sinhalese, Tamils and Veddah as it denizens, there was a concept of four races – Nagas the agriculturists, Yakshas the hunter gatherers of forests, Rakshasas the sea-farers of coastal regions and Devas – the pastoralists of the mountains. You seemingly belong to the Deva clan as few sources claim that your father Menikrala was one of the chiefs of the pastoral communities of the mountain area around Mahiyangana – the place where Yakshas received Buddha on his first visit. Seemingly, you shifted to this side of the mountainous tract in Sabaramaguwa district.

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I can’t help but not overlooking the legend of Maha Sammatha – recalled in the Buddhist chronicles of Srilanka and Burma as the first king of the world and also a Bodhisattva. He is known to be elected by all his people as their chief with their consensus (Sahmati) hence acquiring the name Maha Sammatha. He is known for constituting the order of the city-state, the various duties and offices defined for the state, and the boundaries of armies of their protection. He apparently created the first Dharmashastra (Code of Conduct). While I would just jump to assume him as Manu, but on personal front he is known to marry Manikpala the sister of Vishnu. The wandering mind keeps on wondering if the resemblance in the names Maha Sammata, Samantabhadra and Sumana Saman is just coincidental or there is some substance to it. Rather the Vadiga Putana dance of Srilanka recalls how he had called for priests from Orrissa region to cure his wife who was affected by an evil demon.

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Stucco Image from Mahamadeshwara Temple indicating a marriage facilitated by Blue & Yellow wearing Vishnu (likely for his sister)

 

As I walked from my hotel in the commercial hub of the City of Gems – Ratnapura renowned from time immemorial for the trade of gems, couldn’t help not noticing the lovely tract to the temple alongside the river Kalu Ganga which originates from the holiest and the highest mountain of Srilanka – Sripada.IMG_0940

Unfortunately I have arrived in Srilanka just after the Vaishakh month (Holiest month for Buddhists in May-June lunar cycle which celebrates the event of enlightenment of Gautam Buddha) when the holy mountain is shut for a period of 6 months. It is this mountain which carried your name even before Buddha arrived in the island as Mahavamsha mentions it as ‘Sumanakuta’ the hill of Sumana at the time of Buddha’s visit

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Nevertheless making my mind to visit at least your house in Ratnapura, I felt welcomed by the ancient shrine which was seemingly erected by Deva tribals first to remember  you. Clearly the ancient shrine is mentioned repeatedly in all historical chronicles of the island nation right from the times of Dutugamunu to Parakrambahu. Once again, Portuguese barbarians had destroyed even this ancient shrine quite like many more across the island. I am really taking a liking to the Kandyan King Rajasimgha II who was smart enough to ally with Dutch to oust the barbarian powers like Portuguese from the island and resurrected this temple along with many else.

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The Devalaya gives a strong resemblance to the classical Kerala temples which also have these white walls with red conical roofs. Rather I often wonder given the similar geography of Kerala and Srilanka, it is only natural that both these places claim similarity in temple architecture (conical roof styled), food (Appam being popular in both places) and music (Drums is an integral part of temple tradition of both states)IMG_0873I was thrilled to see the Temple Ratha (Procession Chariot) which mounts the Utsava Murthy (minature statue of chief diety) to carry around during the key festival Esala Perahara (an ancient tradition of month long festival celebrating the rain gods in August-September period). IMG_0913

Inside the key temple where my camera was not allowed, I could sense a meditative calm facilitated with a sequence of drums, chants and silence and then repeat telecast of same. Rather every cycle seemed to take almost 15 minutes – a good enough duration to help me do my Shambhavi meditation. While Upulvan had a bluish theme around his abide, here the theme followed was that of pristine white. Could notice the white walls, white flags and the white flowers on the offering. The Kapuralas (temple priests) were quite kind and fellow devotees even kinder. Keep remembering that Sinhalese lady same age as that of my mother who couldn’t communicate with me but felt deep affection for her co-pilgrim who seems to come off from a faraway land. She gave the bananas post the offering.

IMG_1395While I depart from this calm meditative abode of yours, it feels that this brief rendezvous with you is yet not over. Perhaps, because of my pending trip to the holiest mountain of Lanka – Srilanka where you shall be guarding over (and hopefully watching out for me when I trek up there). But for now, I would take your leave, hoping that I can actualize your key word of advice to Sudhana – to put in practice whatever wisdom I acquire. See you later!!! Till then, Ciaos!!!

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