Friday, January 27, 2012

The moonstones of Sri Lanka

The three obvious items at the entrance of any Buddhist structure in Sri Lanka are the Moonstone, Guard stones and the Balustrades.

The moonstone is a prominent feature and has been around since Anuradhapura period - 3rd century. Moonstones are similar to dust mats we place outside the door. Its semi circular with intricate carvings. The moonstones of Anuradhapura  had more elaborate designs. Outer edge has ring of flames depicting the never ending life and the pains and passion associated with it. Next ring has 4 types of animals - The elephant, the horse, the lion and the bull one after the other representing four noble truths of birth, old age, disease and death. The next semi circle are carvings of creeper with foliage reminder of our desires. Next is a line of swans with a twig flower and leaf in their mouth. Its said that the swan is capable of separating milk from water (good from bad). He who is capable of doing this can conquer the four noble truths. The final ring is the floral pattern of lotus. Once you can conquer the truths; you are capable of attaining Nirvana represented by Lotus.


 The Polonnaruwa moonstones are different than those from Anuradhapura. These stones came hundreds of year later and evolved due to the Hindu influence on the island due to Chola invasion. The bull is dropped from the moonstone design as Bull is sacred to Hindus and trampling on the symbol was disrespectful. The Lion too was taken out as it represented the Sinhala race.

The Guardstones and dwarfs. On one side is Padma and the other side Sanka represented by head dresses - a Lotus and a Conch. Finally are the odd numbered steps with dwarfs taking the weight of the stones. It depicts people trampling them - meaning one who does not lead noble life are prone to pains and sorrows. 

Finally is the Blustrades. The below picture  show imaginary creatures on either side just above the 2 figures. These are called Dragon stone (Makara Gala) and its imaginary. Made of six body parts of animals; with each part is the strongest feature of each animal. It breathes a flame of fire. 

Trunk of the Elephant
Jaws of the Crocodile
Ears of the mouse (some call it the ears of the Monkey)
The extruding teeth of the Wild boar
The tail feathers of the Peacock
Feet of a Lion

Monday, January 23, 2012

I Dont Know Nothing

Neha mentioned that she is writing a post. I asked her about what? Her reply was "dunno". And bang on! I told her that I thought I had an idea for a post. She asked me what? I said "Donno" :) So now we have to see who will publish the post first :)

So have we not got "dont know", "nothing" for an answer while having a general conversation. I use it frequently because I genuinely dont know! I dont plan on things, it just happens and I prefer it that way. Few of my friends were cold with me because when they asked me where I was going during year end; I said I dont know and when they figured out I was soaking up in Lanka, they got mad. Now; I really didnt know.

I also dont know about 'What next?' I dont want to think much. Thinking is tough! I just go ahead and act on it. Yeah, I also use 'nothing' lot of times when I am thinking something.  Its not that I dont want to reveal what I am thinking but I am just lazy to explain. I have to confess that many I talk to dont give me DONT KNOW or NOTHING for an answer.

If you notice, these words abruptly stalls a conversation or if not that worse; it puts an end to the topic and we move to another topic. Its an easy way out for me from those holy grail talks. But few are so persistent; they wouldnt leave unless you spill the beans.

Look folks! I am humble. I do nothing and I dont know anything. To be not knowing anything is the most difficult and intellectual thing in the whole world. Thats when you learn and you desire to learn more.

When you know nothing, you dont have to do anything; so ultimately nothing is left undone as you dont know anything :-P

To quote from Oscar Wilde -

I love talking about nothing. It is the only thing I know anything about

Friday, January 20, 2012

Crumbling and Down

So this seems to be the season of break downs, shut down and collapse.

The Kodak moment is finally over. A brand synonymous with film rolls when we had those classical cameras; which limited the number of photos one can afford to waste. It was static; not possible to delete and redo and click photos after photos because you had 16 GB of space on your memory card.

I miss those moments when we were asked to "pose" for the camera - stand still, look straight, smile and then the "Click". Move on!!! Life Rolls on just like Kodak film rolls.

When I thought moral policing was only Mutalik and gang, our Big Uncle Sam seems to be the latest to join the group! Hearing about the SOPA and PIPA? No they are not another soccer association as FIFA! (Now curse me!!) but IP protection act. So are they trying to protect intellectual property or curbing freedom of expression. Well, you know how it works! Introduce something to curb something else - DIPLOMATICALLY and say "We did it for you guys!"

Who knows folks? This may be one last post from me when I can speak my mind. Wish Rajnikanth did something about this. There is a new website from Rajnikanth which works only without Internet! Maybe we should all migrate to that.

Well, I am busy falling sick nowadays! Yeah its that time of the year when you earn some money if you fall sick. Submitting IT proofs! I need to submit medical bills to claim tax-free component of my salary. Now how will I get to save tax on 15000/- if I dont fall sick? Tell me? So I am severely falling sick within the limits of 15000/-

Hmm, I am out now!
B Log Blocked due to Illegal Content!
 I hope you wont be welcomed by such a blaring message anytime!

Sunday, January 15, 2012


After Anuradhapura, we traveled to Polonnaruwa to continue the cultural heritage experience. It was the second capital of Sri Lanka after Anuradhapura; established after defeating the Cholas and reuniting the country under local ruler.

The ruins and the still existing man-made tank which caters to the irrigation systems talks realms of then prosperous kingdom. The tank is so huge that you mistake it for an ocean. The archaeological sites are best preserved; standing tall as witness to the greatness of then rulers.

Not much to write about Polonnaruwa. The pictures will do all the talking. One thing worth mention is the evident Hindu influence in the architecture in Polonnaruwa ruins as the country was invaded by Cholas before being bailed out.

The Satmahal Prasada - One of the best preserved ruins with all its 7 stories intact. Its a square pyramidal with each side having figure of deities. The inside of it seemed to have stairs.

Gol Potha (Stone Book) - 8 meter long and 4.3 meter wide stone slab inscribed by the deeds of Kind Nissankamalla. It records his invasion of India and relationships with far away to what is now modern Pakistan and Indonesia.  

The Vatadage - the circular relic house possess elegance and beauty that I kept taking pictures of it at different angles. Four entry points with Buddhas at all four directions. The shrine is complete with moonstones, guard stones and other carvings. 

Inside the Vatadage. 

Hatadage - the second temple built to house tooth relic. 

Hatadage stands opposite to Vatadage. Vatadage as seen from inside Hatadage. 

The Lotus pedestal and the feet of Buddha ruins. 

Nissanka Lata Mandapaya - Pretty floral altar has pillars which simulate a lotus on stalk. Sacred hall for prayers.

The Thuparama - its the largest Buddhist image house. The vaulted roof of the building is still intact.

The ruins - in the foreground is a statue of Buddha Satva - the future Buddha. 

Shiva devale - Hindu temple built by the Cholas; still open for worship. 

Vishnu devale - the statue of Lord Vishnu remains intact. 

Trade shops - they had a sound economy. 

 Rankot Vihara - Ran means gold. Rankot vihara is a dagoba with golden pinnacle. Though no gold remains now. It was different from dagobas of Anuradhapura as it had temples around the stupa (Hindu influence)

Lankathilake - The image house. The walls are 55 ft high. The 12th century building even to this day tells stories of grandeur of the gone time. It was one of the most splendid shrines and  thus aptly named "Lankathilaka" - the crown jewel of Lanka. The Buddha was originally 41 feet high but sadly only the torsos now stand.

Gal vihara - remains the most impressive and famous of Polonnaruwa. Colossal statues of Buddhain various mudras are carved on the face of granite boulder

Royal Palace - seven stories high with a thousand chambers. What now remains are just the foundations and the wooden stories are all gone. The hole seen in the walls were placeholders for wooden beams.
The stories had access by steps and they were made of pink granites.

The council of chambers - meeting place for king and his ministers.  The rows of pillars are the seats for ministers and the king sat in the middle.

Parakrama Samudraya - 12th century man made tank built by king Parakramabahu in use even today. It covers an area of about 15 sq km. In the middle is a palace built as summer palace.

Finally, food! I would rate this little restaurant in Polonnaruwa had the best food. I liked the way they presented their buffet. Yumm isnt it?

One of the few home stays we stayed around the island. The people were nice and hospitable.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Self Praise

Few of us will cry foul I know! Few of us will exclaim "How proud she is!" But yeah we are so absorbed in what others have to say that we probably forget what we are :)

I cant believe I could ever post something like this about me on a public forum as this; I have always been humble and down to earth person. (Yeah, heard this a zillion times :-P)

Anyway, last evening a very close friend of mine came to meet me with his wife. He has chosen to stick to me for 10 years now; even with my bullish and arrogant behavior. I bet it has not been easy for him; the average life span of a friendship with me is 3 years. I drift away; the reasons are aplenty - they do not match my intelligence, they are boring, they cant talk beyond chicken or movies and so on...Ahem...yes sorry but this is true. It does not end here. They will have to put up with my arrogance, flaunts and bullying.

I can stealthily let someone know how outdated they are with their beliefs or knowledge or take a dig at someone when they talk rubbish. Hold on! I dont do that with all but only with friends whom I think can tolerate my antics. Few of them understand I genuinely want them to learn, few take an umbrage.

Anyway, so people who know me well call me Google (with humble apologies to Google). To spell out a word or to replace a word, to know the specifications of a new car model and its price or recommend the best red wine . I am happy to discuss Chinese influence in Maldives or the sad demise of apostrophe (I get a chance to make fun of myself now as I write...I just noticed I wrote "sad demise". When has demise been ever happy?)

So these few people who call me Google do not know each other but somehow I get tagged like this maybe due to their belief that they will find answers to their queries. Oh yeah I have played agony aunts to lot many as well; sadly people's attention span is so poor that they forget. There is this general belief that techies are frogs in the well; so when people hear to talk they quip "How do you know all these?" and I retort "Why do you think I will not know this?"

Coming back to my friend, I must say he is such a nice guy to put up with my temper and bullying. I have treated him so bad; he was a year junior at college; though we were of same age I would take the liberty of thrashing him; kicking him; slapping him...all in the pretext of bring him to speed! Now he is married its tough for me to play quiet and not bully him in her presence. He still sticks to me is a fact even I am surprised!

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Sacred city of Anuradhapura

The first 5 days were dedicated to ruins, cave temples, stories of how Kings built forts, temples, Dagobas, reservoirs and witnessing the magnificent ruins. Yes, ruins were magnificent; so its not tough to guess the grandeur and prosperous life of people then.

The city of Anuradhapura and Polonnuwara are places to go and witness best preserved ruins of ancient Sri Lankan civilization. Anuradhapura is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and is a world heritage city. It was the capital beginning 4th century BC until 11th century and remained the seat of political and urban life. Its not possible to talk about Anuradhapura in just few sentences; its a legacy.

Our guide was explaining the city plans and trust me! I was mesmerized. Reservoirs and man made lakes to cater to irrigation and drinking water. Self sufficient city with agriculture, universities, hospitals, trade centers, cemetery, temples and living quarters. The city plan was a circle, three divisions - in the center of the divisions were monasteries and temples, surrounded by universities where 3000+ people from all over the world came for learning, hospitals and livings quarters, outside was cultivation lands and outer periphery of man made tanks to serve water to the city.

I chide myself for not bringing the graphical map my guide drew to explain the city. The ruins now consist of Dagobas, pokunas and palaces.

Dagobas are stupas - mound like structures containing Buddhist relics, mainly remains of Buddha used by Buddhists as place of worship. Stupas have a great history about its origin and how it has evolved. Google it :)

Sri Maha Bodhi - was a sacred Fig tree in Bodh Gaya under which Gautam Buddha attained enlightenment. A sapling from the tree was brought to Lanka by Sangamitra 2400 years ago. The original tree is no more; if it were; would be 2900 years old. So this tree is Lanka is the oldest and sacred to Buddhists. They come from all over to pray. The tree is checked for his health regularly and the original branch is supported by pillar as seen at the right corner of this picture.

Devotees chanting in the tree premises. They dress in white while visiting Buddhist temple.

Loha Prasada - Brazen palace; named due to the copper roofing over the sky scraper. Nine stories with 1000 rooms; is known to have burned down only 15 years after it was built of wood. Now the 1600 sq feet site is marked by the presence of 1600 pillars which were foundation pillars.

Ruwanwelisaya or Mahathupa - the center piece of Maha vihara. The citiy had 3 viharas. It guards the traditions of Theravada Buddhism. It stands at 300 ft with a circumference of 950ft and is one of the world's tallest monuments.

A medical chamber in what used to be a hospital. 

Devotees walking around the dagoba chanting prayers. 

The Samadhi Buddha - in a state of deep meditation. The statue is from 4th century AD and its said that Nehru derived great strength from contemplating this statue during  his imprisonment by the British

Abhayagiri vihara - uttara vihara lies in the north; now under renovation. It is one of the most extensive ruins and most sacred to Buddhists. This complex appears to be the center for Mahayana and Vajrayana teachings and hence was seen as more heretical by conservative Mahavihara monks. 

Nuwara Wewa - one of the man made lakes. 

Thuparama - first Buddhist building in Sri Lanka; enshrining Buddha's collar bone. The monolothic pillars encircling the dagoba was once upheld by a circular roof called Vatta Dage(circular relic house) a characteristically Sinhala architectural feature. 

To the east of Mahathupa lies the Jetavana Dagoba. Built at 400 feet was the third largest structure in the world at that time after the two great pyramids of Giza. 

Asanka - guide explaining the planned city of Anuradhapura and the monasteries placements. 

Ruins adjacent to the dagoba - university campus

Kuttam pokuna - Twin ponds. They are functional even now; then built for monks for bathing. Water which is fed through an inlet is purified several times. cool and clean water gushes to the pond through a lion's spout.

Isurumuniya cave temple.

Mihintale - a mountain peak where Arahant Mahinda (Mahendra); son of Asoka met King Devanampiyatissa which inaugurated the presence of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. 

A statue of Buddha atop the hill.

The Maha Stupa 

Maha stupa as seen from distance. 

Two young monks at the Sri Maha Bodhi

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Sri Lanka - Ancient cities of Dambulla and Sigiriya

At last, I made it to Sri Lanka. The vacation was filling with many places to explore and lot of learning as usual. But what really made this one different was the different kind of experience I got with each activity . The personal touch that came with everything - be it food, places or people.

Apart from covering places I so wanted to explore; I did lot of things off track. Explored Dambulla, Sigiriya, Anuradhapura, Pollonuruwa, Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Hikkaduwa, Galle and Colombo :) Thats pretty much whole of Lanka. Didnt go to North or East as I was still not sure if it was safe.

Met few interesting people who shared their stories, watched Kandyan folk dance, visited a Turtle conservation hatchery, got special access to the top of a 18th century Light House at the southern most tip of Lanka. Explored an inaccessible cave on top of a mountain just to follow the tale of Ramayana; met a couple of Indian backpackers, drifted and met them again to have a nice beach party on 31st, searched and found long lost relatives of my husband....A friend introduced us to his friend who was with us throughout the trip; took good care of us and took us to unusual places than we would have gone otherwise. Oh! I learnt some Sinhalese as well :) Managed to click 1600+ snaps; have filtered them to showcase few important ones. T

I was always fascinated by history and culture; I wanted to explore the ancient cities in Sri Lanka - the cultural triangle area of Dambulla-Sigiriya-Anuradhapura-Polonnuruwa. Great stories, fantastic ruins, awesome culture.......magnificent works of art! 

I will let the pictures do the talking

Dambulla cave temple also called Golden temple is a World Heritage site. 5 cave temples hang from a rock 150 m high. These caves have statues and paintings related to Lord Buddha and his life. Seen here is the entrance to the temple complex

The cave temples date back to 1st century BC. 

There are about 153 Buddha statues in different positions in these caves. 

The paintings are detailed and well preserved. 

A Buddha in sleeping position. Sleeping position is symbolically represented by toes aligned, stomach full and palm under his head. 

Inside one of the cave. 

Close up of the paintings on ceiling of one of the caves. 

A Dagoba - a stupa which has relics inside it. 

A Buddha in Passing state - Nirvana. The toes are not aligned, his right palm beside his head. 

Famous Sri Lankan masks sold in a street shop outside the temple. 

Buddha statues amongst pink marbles, quartz and other stones. 

A shop selling antiques; many of them as old as 300-400 years. I was told that these items were got from villages as they didnt want them anymore. These pieces would be grabbed here in India!

Entrance to the temple.

Sigiriya is an ancient rock fortress and palace of King Kasyapa. It is surrounded by remains of extensive gardens, reservoirs. 

Water gardens - symmetric pools and tanks. 

A steep and uphill climb to the summit. 

The famous frescos depicting beautiful females; Mangolian, Egyptian... 

No one knows the identity of these ladies. 

The most famous one!

The Lion gate and final climbing stretch. The body and face of the lion is no more. 

The gardens as seen from the summit. 

The summit - remains of the Palace.