Off the main road:
A day in Naramwala
More than ten long years ago while I was an undergraduate at the
University of Kelaniya a batch-mate from Hanguranketha asked me if I
knew the taste of elixir from heaven (amurthaya was the word he used).
When I shook my head to say no he said it is the combination of a
banana, kurakkan thalapa, kitul treacle and curd. Having never got the
opportunity to find out if this were true or not, until last Saturday I
believed him, completely. But not anymore. Now I know amurthaya
is...well...not the above combination.
As with most things in life this great discovery too comes by,
accidently. A simple, mediocre trip to Giriulla turns into a memorable
journey of thanksgiving, to a quaint temple called the Temple of Three
ponds (Thunpokunu viharaya) an hours drive away from the Giriulla town,
with four other pilgrims. Legend has it that a temple had been built
here by King Mahasen 1700 years ago.
Ready for harvesting
An inscription on a slab of rock on the temple premises mentions the
name of the temple as “Pashana Gumaka Vihara”. About 500 monks had been
resident at the two storied temple building, and in the individual huts
spread on a large area surrounding the temple. The daily meal had been
brought to the temple on carts, and a wooden gong was sounded to summon
the monks from their huts.
A platform of rock stretches from one end of the temple precincts to
the other. Where the rock reaches a stop stands the Bo tree. Under the
shade cast by the leaves sits Susima thero, propounding the virtues of
worshipping the sacred Bo tree, to a dozen devotees seated on mats laid
at his feet.The murmur of his voice and the chorus of the devotees
mingle with the ‘sara sara’ sound of the Bo leaves.
The Nayaka thero, the chief incumbent of the temple stands at the
entrance of the avasa geya, watching the group under the tree. The
saffron robes of his disciple, Susima Thero stands out against the white
attire of the devotees while the wind carries his strong, vibrant voice
back to his mentor and guide the ‘Loku hamuduruwo’. ‘May the Gods accept
the first plate of rice prepared with the first grains of the harvest by
these devotees’ says Susima Thero.
Bo tree at the Thunpokuna Vihara
Unlike in big cities like Anuradhapura and Kandy, where the Harvest
Festival, has been observed since time immemorial here in Naramwala a
‘festival’ to mark the consecration of rice is non existent. In the same
way farmer Kithsiri offered a potion of his harvest to the gods last
Saturday, every farmer comes on his own to the temple as and when his
paddy is harvested to offer a share to the deities. According to the
Chief Incumbent, Panditha thero, the Aluth Sahal Mangallaya here in the
Wayamba province has two stages.
The first is the offering made to the Buddha and the deities when the
grains of rice begin to ripen in the paddy fields. ‘The young grains are
pounded to extract juice which is then mixed with cow’s milk. This
preparation is called Kiri Payasaya’ explains Panditha Thero.
‘The next stage of the Aluth Sahal Mangallaya takes place after the
paddy is harvested and pounded into rice. The rice is cooked adding
coconut milk. The kiribath thus made, is offered to the deities.’
Dr Praneeth Abeysundera, Head, Department of Sociology and
Anthropology, University of Sri Jayawardenepura says even though
individual farmers too may offer the first fruits of their harvest to
the gods, in agricultural societies this ritual is normally observed as
a collective activity. ‘The ritual stems from the concept of
collectivism. In cities like
A sea of golden grains
Anuradhapura, farmers come together and offer the first harvest to
the Sri Maha Bodhi’. In other parts of the country the farmers of the
entire village offer a part of the rice, first to the temple and then to
the deities whom they believe safeguarded the paddy fields from the day
the seeds were planted to the day the paddy was milled and turned into
Back to Kithsiri, his wife, their children and relatives at the
Thunpokuna temple. Not only have they brought Kiribath to offer to the
deities, but rice and curry for Loku Hamuduruwo and Susima Hamuduruwo as
well. When they see us they insist we too partake of the dane.
The meal of white rice, jak fruit curry, thalkola, and polsambol
beats the most sumptuous buffet served in any five star hotel.
Now hold your breath. Here it comes. A blackened pot covered with a
white cloth. Dip a spoon into its dark depths, take out a soft white
bun, similar to the middle part of a plain hopper and place it on your
plate. Pour the white gravy over it. Break off a piece, place it in your
mouth...close your eyes...you are in heaven.
The name of this elixir? Kiri rotti!