Our guide book, which shall not be named, had been quite damning about a particular Buddhist temple in the Bentota area. The temple building had been described as ‘Unusually Ugly’ and full of ‘Kitsch Pictures’ and ‘Day-glo Statues’ and was suggesting that it was not really worth a look. Now, anyone that knows Andy and Me also know that we love anything out of the ordinary. Anything described using the adjectives ‘Kitsch’ and ‘Day-glo’ and we are right there. After our visit to the very tasteful Brief Garden, with it’s simple, contemporary almost minimalist lines, we thought a splash of colour and kitsch would be a great contrast. We showed Rowan our book and asked him to take us to the Wanawasa Raja Malhaviharaya Temple, which as it happened, was on our route back to the Shangri-Lanka Villa, so no major diversions needed!
This temple was situated at the end of the road that ran parallel with the Bentota river. Back over the bridge and a left turn and we were heading along the river towards this apparently uninspiring place of devotion and worship. Down a small lane and there we were. A large white building, with steps reaching up from the entrance to the top of the temple where the Stupa sat proud and white in the sun, it didn’t look that offensive nestled in amongst the trees, we had certainly seen much worse architecture than this. We knew that we had to cover our shoulders and take our shoes off when entering a Buddhist temple and Rowan directed us to do this. He was a Buddhist himself and seemed to be well aquatinted with this local temple.
The sun at this point was belting down on us and it was sweltering. We climbed the first set of steps that were in the shade and was met by a short, slightly rotund monk, wrapped in his bright, Jaffa orange robes, his head shaven and feet bare. He introduced himself, his English was very good, apparently he had travelled in the UK at some point in his life. We asked him if we could have a look around and he was happy to oblige.
Ok, so the book was right in saying that there was lots of day-glo and kitsch not very well-made sculptures around the outside of the temple that were a bit like homemade garden Buddhist gnomes, but nevertheless they were quaint and obviously well loved and admired. We followed our monk as he climbed the last set of steps and calmly walked across the tiled upper floor which housed the stupa and a small Buddha in a glass cabinet. The hot sun had heated the tiled floor so that it was like walking on hot coals, we had to tiptoe and hop along quickly, as with every step the soles of our feet burnt a little more. It was painful to stand still even for a couple of seconds and so we had to keep moving…
The monk headed for a door, unlocked it and asked us to enter. As our eyes adjusted to the darkness, he found a light switch, flicked it on and the whole room lit up to reveal a long altar with a small orange buddha in its centre surrounded by offerings of flowers. The walls were painted with a large contemporary mural of characters, children and adults, reds, blues, greens, yellows, it was reminiscent of a Picasso. The ceiling was also embellished with painted patterns and elephants in citrus colours. Everything had that same homemade feel to it, the local community had clearly put a lot of time and effort into the decoration of this unique space.
There was an opening in the wall covered with a net curtain, behind that curtain was the most spectacularly painted, large, reclining orange Buddha. It must have been about 40ft in length and and had a beautiful shiny glow to it. In front of this wonderful object was another long altar, also covered in offerings, candles and hand-sewn, fabric lotus flowers. It was a gloriously kitsch sight to behold. To either side of the reclining Buddha were other Buddhist deities all painted in the same day-glo colours, with orange dominating. The walls were painted with murals depicting the life of Buddha, which our monk explained to us in great detail.
Despite the chaos of the bright gaudy, clashing colours, there was a calmness about this enchanting place of spirituality and meditation. It was fantastic, a sight to behold and had been created with love and devotion.
We hopped back across the firey tiled floor and made our way back down the steps to the monks office. There was an older, tall, slender, serious looking, orange clad monk who greeted us and asked to come into the office to see the ‘museum’. We entered a small room, whose centre piece was an altar full of the most kitsch, plastic, fairy-lit Buddhas and offerings that we had ever seen. The more flashing lights the better it seemed. Serious monk asked us to sign the visitors book and waited whilst Andy, got out his wallet to see the donation was up correctly in the donation box!
We said our goodbyes and tiptoed back down the hot steps. When we nearly reached the bottom we realised that the perimeter of the temple was surrounded by a continuous row of standing, 8ft tall Buddhas and guess what colour they were..?