Happy, sad, Bieber…I’m feeling it all.
I came to Kandy just in time for the Buddhist holiday of Vesak full moon poya, which marks Buddha’s birthday, the day he reached Enlightenment, and his death. Happy Buddha’s birthday, everyone!
The lake at the center of Kandy was beautiful even before they lined it with white paper lanterns which extend throughout the town, the grand buildings hung their own multicolored displays, and a line of beautiful red lotus flower lamps floats in a path to the island in the center, which is a spectacle of colored bulbs in the dark water.
Children and adults performed traditional songs from stages and the backs of flatbed trucks, a crowd all dressed in white packed the lakeside path, and I stood a couple feet from a parade where half a dozen elephants were dressed in red or gold robes, walking with dignity among a swirling cacophony of traditional costumes and dance.
Music, food, wafts of incense, and tangible excitement in the air. And over it all hung a full moon.
But the one I love is…….nevermind.
Crying in a crowd is always awkward, but I just stood between the others looking out over the lake and don’t think anyone noticed.
It was the worst of timing.
But it’s a two-day festival, and today I got out of town to walk between three nearby temples.
Embekka devale is a 14th century Buddhist temple with a Hindu annex that is famous for the intricate wood carvings. I stood next to them as a flock of Sri Lankan girls peaked at me and giggled like I was Bieber, smiles gigantic, and their teacher was just the same. Then I sat by the entryway to have an extended interview with a local couple, and a man in the town made me laugh out loud after insisting I come chat with him in his incredibly spare home.
Lankatilaka is also 14th century, 1344 C.E., Buddhist with Hindu sections, and is reached by climbing steps cut into the side of a steep granite slope. The temple itself was beautiful, and the fact that the large building
is actually only the remaining one and a half floors of what was once a four storey building kinda blows my mind. I stood out of the rain and talked about Obama with a young monk is bright orange robes, and drank the sweet rice drink with cinnamon and cardamon that he gave me and could be spelled something like “sou sou”? He asked for my email.
Gadaladeniya was also built in 1344 C.E. (what was in the water that year?) and is a stunning work of stone architecture, the largest stone temple (and structure) in Sri Lanka. A gold-covered Buddha knows the answer under an impossibly large single-stone roof, and the nearby stupa is one of the very few that you can go inside. The resident artist showed me around and seemed pleased as peaches when I complimented his work, a shy smile that just wouldn’t quit. He shook my hand three times.
Before, between, and after each one was a gorgeous walk through Sri Lankan countryside where adults smiled, showed me their work, and were glad I am enjoying Sri Lanka. Multiple people asked for my email, I gave away two business cards, and the mass of pictures I have of smiling faces is only a fraction of the people I talked to.
And the kids…oh man, the kids.
Big eyes peered up at me, and when I said hello or gave them funny looks they would laugh out loud, often follow me for quite a ways, and wave goodbye to me for as long as possible. The bus stop group all wanted pictures with me, the Muslim trio thought it was awesome when I said “salaam alaikum” to them, and the front yard group brought out a chair for me to sit in to watch them play cricket, then insisted I take a turn, and screamed cheers at my hit.
There is a tradition called “dansalas” where people give free food and drinks to everyone, and I stopped to drink tea with a rural family, ate spicy chickpeas handed in through the window of the bus, and had a cop take me by the arm and haul me off for a cup of sweet fruit juice, his smile so big it must have blown off his mustache.
The hospitality of the Sri Lankan people was the perfect opiate for a broken heart too aware of its impossibly close brush with Happiness, which all fell apart an instant too soon. Side effects to this level of hospitality may include unstoppable smiling, cultural experiences, and improved relations between nations.
And temporary memory loss.