The Craft Village – Heritage in the city

In a country that boasts of a voluminous history and a rich cultural heritage that spans across 2,500 years, the National Crafts Council plays the role of the guardian that preserves and develops the local arts and crafts, making sure they continue through relentlessly into the unforeseen future. In striving to preserve 19 sectors of handicraft ranging from clay work to masks, cane and Batik to leather and lacework, the Craft Village at Battaramulla is one of 
the Crafts Council’s most impactful initiatives.

As you enter the premises you leave the city behind at its large gates and are greeted by the welcoming shade of expansive trees. Scattered on acres of land are little houses 
resembling those of a typical 
Sri Lankan village. In each of the little coconut leaf thatched mud huts sits a craftsman and his apprentices working away on their different 
objects d’art.

As I crossed the threshold to one that particularly caught my eye, 
I was greeted by an elderly man who welcomed me heartily into his makeshift home of crafts. As I began admiring his brass handiwork, 
he sat back down at his workshop taking two little tools worn from age and started working on a beautiful brass platter. Having admired his brass bells, ornaments and wall hangings among a host of other products, which included elegant reed ornaments and cane furniture that were attractively displayed 
at the stall nextdoor we slowly slipped out to visit the creator of Dumbara items.Each and every story of each 
individual craftsman is woven, sculpted, carved or coloured in the tones of their respective arts and crafts. The dainty lace work from the coastal areas of the Island bring with them the wonder of the 
quaint technique of knitting lace. Carved masks fascinate the viewer either by the powerful, exaggerated expressions captured in the details or with the droll expressions 
depicted on less imposing masks. Apart from the masks the Craft Village houses traditional arts and sculptures associated with thovil ceremonies.

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Parama Kanda : Beyond the Ages

Travelling along the Chilaw Road in Anamaduwa – a small town in the Puttalam District – the temple is approached by the narrow gravel road named Vihara Mawatha. Just midway along the path a high-rise of gargantuan boulders filled the sky and earth around us, offering an inkling of the temple’s whereabouts. Soon enough a signature arch of the temple 
entrance appeared  just beyond and we instantly stepped into a veil of stillness. Even in the sultry afternoon the cool shade of trees offered an oasis for our wandering feet.

The diminutive nature of the new structures did little to obstruct the antiquity found at every turn. Our first site of interest was the image house sheltered within a cave of one of the large rock outcrops. Within were aged murals of Buddhist imagery and statues of hues and tones that have been likened to 
those of the Anuradhapura era. Tracing the walls along the corridors we find a replica of the Thonigala rock inscription, the original of which is located a short distance outside of the temple premises. This stone inscription of the 1st century BC is one of few isolated records that give credence to the temple’s antiquity with its references to the temple. Scrawled in clear neat lines the odd Brahma letterings of the replica did little to enlighten us. According to the Chief Priest at the temple its translation by historians finds mention of a leader, Watta Gamini Abhaya, more commonly known as King Walagamba, the founder of the temple and his heir Tissa, and both of whom functioned as active patrons of the temple. It also includes a King’s decree which declares that the taxes from water and fisheries in two surrounding cities must be made towards the temple’s benefit and for bare necessities of the clergy.

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Down the Valley Up the River

Making our way through the many peaks and valleys of the knuckles Forest Reserve, our vehicle slows down to cross a small bridge over a river at the bottom of a valley in the shadow of Mount Maningala. Given the area’s abundant tree cover, the river is only visible to us for the few seconds we are crossing the bridge before we are to make the steep climb up the next mountain laid before us. Many of such features in Knuckles are visible this way-hidden pockets of beauty tucked away into a landscape dominated by enormous mountains and never-ending expanses of trees.

The view of the river is the sort that would only occupy a few seconds of admiration as you travelled to your pre-planned destination, that is, if you weren’t already focused on the massive peaks elsewhere. So we disembark at the Telgamu Oya, and what would normally be a fleeting notion of beauty turns out to be a world in no short supply of features and secrets of its own. Though sections of the river would surely be visible from some of the trails that wind their way up the mountainsides, we decide to get up close and personal, hopping along the river’s many stones as our path, abandoning plans and trails as the very sort of thinking that causes us to skim over a place like this in the first place. We leave intention with the vehicle and take off our shoes.

 

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An Enchanting Melody

The stark beats of the Thavil signaled the beginning of the pooja and all around the kovil gathered near the main shrine. Positioning myself, so that I could observe both the intriguing playing of the Nadaswaram and the pooja, I felt myself slowly being captured by the harmony that swirled, drawing me into the rhythm that encircled the periphery of the kovil.

The Nadaswaram consists of seven finger-holes while the five additional holes at the bottom are utilized as controllers. Equipped with a range of two and a half octaves akin to the flute – the sound that arises is both intense and powerful. Unlike the flute, the technique used when playing the Nadaswaram involves not just the partial closing and opening of the finger-holes, but also breathe control. As I stood there watching the Nadaswaram player labour through the beautiful notes that kept flowing out of the instrument I was indeed able to understand the complexity and the talent required to play this enchanting instrument. The player’s fingers moved over the finger-holes very deftly while he tried to maintain breath control in order to perfect the resounding notes.

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Majestic Encounter

It was in the early hours of the morning that our journey began at the Wilpattu Wildlife Reserve. With a guide and trekker at the helm, the jeep growled along the red dust road. Already an eager anticipation took hold with eyes cast every which way. Just a few minutes had passed and the jeep jerked to an abrupt halt. What followed next was something that none of us ever anticipated. Our trekker whispered as he pointed in the direction of a watering hole about 20 feet away. In a moment’s silence we all caught sight of the spotted velvety coat slithering amidst the overgrown greenery. Scrambling and chaos ensued inside the jeep – precious seconds could be all we had.

There were two of them, two young male leopards, probably teenagers our guide surmised. Beyond the watering hole they huddled together. It was evidently a restful start to the day. From this point on, time stood still. Judging by a display of playful affection we gathered they were two siblings scouring the wilderness together. The watering hole may have drawn them here, however, they showed little interest so far and instead pawed, nosed and nudged each other. With our prying eyed feasting greedily on this rare sight, we couldn’t help but wonder if our presence was felt. At times they appeared to glance our way-brief moments in between stretches, yawns and lounging on branches amongst a range of lazy antics. However, neither strayed too far away from the other.  

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Festival of Lights – The Buddha Rashmi Pooja

The Buddha Rashmi Pooja, a religious and cultural festival is a concept of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and will commence on May 5, 2012 on Vesak Poya Day, with precedence to religious observances. Thereafter, the illumination of the festival will be initiated at the Seema Malaka by dignitaries led by the President following which the “Vesak Kalapaya” or the festival zone will be open to the public from seven in the evening till the early hours of the following morning.

The public can thus observe the variety of exhibits from intricate designs of the lanterns, to craftsman-ship of vibrant pandols, among the many displays throughout the seven days. The Vesak Kalapaya will include Pittala Junction, James Peiris Mawatha, Navam Mawatha, Perehera Mawatha and Galle Face.

The zone would also host picturesque displays aloft the Beira Lake and the Seema Malaka. As is customary, the illumination of individual regions of the Vesak Kalapaya will be undertaken by the Armed Forces, while, organizations, institutions, and individuals may greatly contribute towards bringing to life the festival zones – be it in designing, or sponsoring a creation.

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A Special Veneration at the Buddha Gaya

Described as a peaceful and idyllic setting in the hallowed texts, the Buddha Gaya sits beyond the Neranjana River and from its banks unfolds the final journey of Prince Siddartha towards enlightenment. Identified as the very place where he attained enlightenment, the vajrasanaya at the Buddha Gaya or the seat of enlightenment from which he vowed to never rise till he attained enlightenment and the Bodhi tree that offered its shelter, remain preserved for worship at the Buddha Gaya to this day.

Adjacently stands the characteristic structure of the Buddha Gaya Viharaya at 170 feet high and which has become a symbolic representation of the Buddha Gaya and shelters an image house, within which is a golden Samadhi (seated) Buddha statue. The sacred precincts around the temple mark locations of significance for pilgrims where the Buddha spent seven weeks following enlightenment. While pilgrims flock to these sites for religious observances, with the Sambuddhatva Jayanthiya commemorated this year to mark 2600 years since this religious incident, the Buddha Gaya holds special significance.

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It’s Bubbling at Nelum Wewa

Sevanapitiya in Polonnaruwa, a discreet town that falls along the A11 route, held a simplistic charm favored by its restful surroundings. We had our eye open for Nelum Wewa for locals had aroused our curiosity about hot water springs situated in the region. Soon enough a signboard directed us away from the main road and its welcome shade. Our first encounter was a false alarm as the calm waters of Gal Wewa tank first emerged. Travelling along its bund we continued on to reach a second farther up. At its banks fisherman were wrapping up for the day, their boats stationed against a flourish of water hyacinth at its bank.

This was Nelum Wewa or Bora Wewa as its signpost indicated. Judging by its name one would expect to see lotuses in bloom or as Bora Wewa – a muddy pond of water, but neither displayed itself and instead here was a glistening lake that stretched into a horizon of captivating landscape that included the Dimbulagala rock to heighten the beauty of the surroundings. The fisherman pointed us to the hot water wells and they were in fact away from the embankment set along a sandbar amidst the water. which could only be reached by boat.

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Matara Fort – A Breath of Dutch Ceylon

Matara-believed to be named after the Nilwala River that flows through it. – is a bustling coastal city located in the south. Renowned as an ancient citadel of pre-colonial Sri Lanka, it is famous for the Dutch architecture that prevails. Of all the structures, the most prominent is the Matara Fort, considered as the second most important fort for the Southern Maritime Provinces during the Dutch rule of Sri Lanka.

It is believed that the Portuguese built a fort in 1595, with the help of King Don Juan Dharmapala who ruled the kingdom of Kotte. Nevertheless, the fort that exists now was built by the Dutch around the year 1645 and handed over to the British in 1796 – hence the year that can be seen as a faded etching atop the entrance. The ramparts and the gateway constructed by limestone, granite and coral are well preserved, but the southern bastion facing the seaside has been removed in order to grant easy access to the town along the seaside. A modern clock tower has been built atop the remaining rampart.

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