ANCIENT MYSTERIES - Part I
Whenever I peruse the Mahavamsa and the Culavamsa, priceless records that document Sri Lanka's cultural heritage, it marinates my soul in the grandeur and beauty of the islands glorious civilisation. In art, architecture, hydraulic engineering, building technology, irrigation, etc. ancient Ceylon takes pride of place with the classical civilisations of ancient Rome, Greece, and the great Aztec and Mayan civilisations of Mexico and Central America.
And as is often the case with historical records, many questions remain unanswered, and these to us will remain tantalising mysteries. It has been my experience that visiting ancient sites, in many parts of the world, something important occurs - an eruption of unexpected emotion that is as deep as the past is far, but as immediate as the past is ever present. Somewhere deep within ourselves, rests an ancient memory just waiting for the right moment to break free. There are some other memories that linger and on certain ocassions present themselves. Memories seemingly held by the stones and the sites themselves. It is as if the past is seperated by a thin veneer of time, that ocassionally peels off to reveal what lies beneath. I have spoken to guards who patrol the sites by night and know the quiet places and the quiet moments. I have heard stories of sudden visions and ancient rituals . Of voices from a distant past crying to be heard........Something very special is ever present at these archaeological sites and they should be approached with the reverence they deserve. In this article I will deal with two - The Maligawila Buddha and Buduruvagala.
Not far from Wellawaya, there is a group of images carved on the face of a rock at Buduruvagala. The eminent historian Professor K.M.De Silva, who at one time was the Vice president of the International Association of historians of Asia, dated these statues to the 9th century AD. In this complex there is a statue of Lord Buddha in the centre flanked by a Bodhisattva on either side. Thirty two years ago I visited Buduruvagala and was privileged to "witness" and experience a phenomenon which some told me bordered on the supernatural, but which I prefer to think of as spiritual. Let me set the scene. To reach Buduruvagala, one has to branch off the Wellawaya - Ella road and journey along what was then a rough jungle track till suddenly, in a beautiful glade in the forest , one comes across these giant statues standing majestically tall and imposing in a lush jungle setting, in silent splendour as they have stood for over a thousand years. In the stillness of this site amidst the beauties of nature, there is an atmosphere which is mystical and defies explanation. As I came upon the site a cultivator from a nearby plot of land he was working on, noting my interest, came up and introduced himself to me. He said his name was Sirisena, and although his home town was Nuwaraeliya, he often visited this area hoping to start cultivation. We spoke for a long while, and during our conversation Sirisena revealed an astounding fact to me. He told me that every Maha Poya day, the statue of the Bodhisattva on the left of the rock face emanated a sweet scented oil. I must have been blessed by the Gods because by some beautiful coincidence I happened to be there on Maha Poya day. Of course, I decided to test the veracity of Sirisena's words. I went upto the statue and was surprised to see that a liquid substance was oozing from the head of the statue right down to its feet. I touched this liquid which resembled a light oil and then I smelt it. It had a fragrance which I had never experienced before. A pure beautiful scent which soothed the senses and seemed to heal. This deeply moved me and I stood for sometime in stunned silence gazing in awe and reverence at the faces of these statues, spiritually fulfilled and enriched. I then applied the oil on my hands and forehead, and my driver Samarasinghe, and Sirisena did the same.
Sirisena told me that the oil ceases flowing when the Maha Poya day ends. But the mystery deepens. I was informed that every Maha Poya day towaerds nightfall , as Buduruvagala stands silent in its enchanted atmosphere, the sound of drums beating, conch shells blowing, and cries of "Sadhu.....Sadhu" can be heard in the immediate vicinity of these statues. The few villagers listen to these sounds in awe and wonder. There are greater things in life than we dream of in our philosophy, and I hold the belief in this sacred and hallowed place, that these are voices from the past. Across the impenetrable passage of time, they reach out to us through the ages in some way strengthening the bonds between their lives and ours. I left Buduruvagala reluctantly, but spiritually uplifted. Just as these statues are carved out of living rock, their beautiful images remain engraved in my mind forever. I subsequently published an article in the "Daily News" regarding my experience. Today, over thirty years later, I wonder if this phenomenon still occurs, keeping the mystery alive. More archaeological treasures must lie buried in the ruins, which when I visited Buduruvagala were largely unexcavated. I hope one day archaeologists will breathe life into the past of this magnificient complex so that Buduruvagala will come into focus not only for its sculpture, but in the full scope of its history.
Written by : Bernard VanCuylenburg.