Located close to the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, the Pinnawala Zoo apart from being the first open air zoo in Sri Lanka, is the second zoo of the country after the Dehiwala Zoological Gardens. Bringing to life a concept that goes beyond merely caging animals, care has been taken to re-create their natural habitats within a spacious expanse. With a land extent of 44 acres, each enclosure has been allocated an area that is slightly more than 1.5 acres, ensuring that its inhabitants have enough space to roam around freely.
The Mahamewna Amawathura Bhavana Asapuwa or meditation centre in close proximity to Pittugala Junction in Malabe, a suburban centre in the District of Colombo, creates an inexplicable spontaneous impression the moment you set eyes on it. Rising like a colossus with its inimitable structure and art, its enormity makes it a distinctive landmark along the road to Kaduwela. The beginnings of this magnificent edifice were modest. An old house was the first structure that made the meditation centre. That was way back in 2001. Having gathered artisans from around the country, Venerable Kiribathgoda Gnanananda, equipped with only the generosity of followers there, initiated the construction of a new building that stands today.
The Buddha's philosophy that Arahat Mihindu preached 2,322 years ago on a full moon day in the month of June, would soon set in motion the wheel of religious revolution that would dramatically change the lives of the Islanders and infuse a cultural impetus that would absorb, enrich and transform every facet of their existence.
There is a building located near the restored Colombo Racecourse Grandstand shopping mall. It overlooks the scenic Colombo Cricket Club grounds and is adjacent to the National Library and Document Services Board. It's not the prettiest of buildings, having a stark, basically triangular seven-storey central section. But it is what's inside that matters, and which makes this a most significant building on the Island, for it houses the Sri Lanka National Archives, a vital repository of information. It is, as the institution suggests, "The Memory of a Nation".
Just over 400m above sea level, Rakwana is a small town set amidst a mountainous landscape in the Ratnapura District. We entered a small township that serves as the nerve centre lending no hints of the rural charms that lay beyond. We first ventured on the Deniyaya Road, which took a winding course with a few simple houses along the way and a Kali Amman Temple that stood out in the quiet surroundings. The journey soon took on hairpin bends and proved to be a scenic route that revealed expanding views of the town below and the mountainous landscape around. The Deniyaya Road also leads to Morning Side, the east corner of Sinharaja Forest, a patch of secondary forest known for its unique biodiversity.
The moon was the only chink of light in the sky, casting a silvery glow on Colombo's deserted streets, when we boarded the 5.55am train to Nanu Oya. The trusty blue train would take us 206 kilometres into the misty mountains on a track that is over a century old.
Here atop the Kudumbigala Rock experience first hand the ascetic's tranquil way of life. Wrapped in an atmosphere of calm, Buddhist monks, who have renounced even the austere comforts of the village temple, lead an isolated existence absorbed in mediation, seeking the all elusive inner peace. They follow in the steps of their religious brethren who continuously made this rocky habitat their forest hermitage for over two thousand years.
May is the month of Vesak in Sri Lanka, a time for inner reflection. The most important date of the year in the country's Buddhist calendar, May's full moon day (poya) marks the anniversaries of the birth, death and enlightenment of the Buddha. White-clad devotees throng temples for spiritual succor, the sermons reminding them of the most important message the Buddha gave mankind-only by taming the mind can suffering be overcome.
As dusk sets in, the light of the little clay lamps arranged in neat rows at temples glows bright, every now and then swaying gently in the breeze. Their faces lit by the soft yellow glow, devotees stand around these lamps, lighting one by one diligently with a silent prayer on their lips before bowing their heads in reverence and stepping back... Transcending all boundaries, religions and cultures, the oil lamp is used by all, as a mode of paying respect to gods and bringing fortune.
The uphill journey along a perilous rock surface reminded us of the celebrated and oft quoted words of the 17th Century British playwright William Congreve, who in the play, The Mourning Bride wrote that, ‘Heaven hath no rage like love to hatred turned, nor hell a fury like a woman scorned'. As our group of four began the upward exodus to a mountain named Yakdessagala in Gonagala, Kurunegala, in the North-western Province, the mystery of the history of an event that had supposedly taken place thousands of years ago at the summit of this mountain brought to mind Congreve's famed words. The story unfolds like a tragic-drama, from love shadowed by betrayal, tailed by anger and hatred, leading to a tragic death. It was a woman named Kuveni, who had been scorned by her husband Vijaya for a princess from India. Banished from the palace, Kuveni pleaded to remain. Here was a tribal princess who had betrayed her Yaksha people, a tribe that had held sway in the country, to a wayward prince from India, exiled by his father. The narrative continues that a dejected Kuveni returned to her people in the region of Gonagala, only to be rebuked and insulted for colluding with a foreigner to betray them. Crestfallen from such a profound rejection, Kuveni had scaled a mountain, cursed her disloyal husband and hardhearted kindred and plunged to her death. Hence the name Yakdessagala, the stone upon which a Yaksha tribeswoman cursed. The Mahawansa, the ancient chronicle of Sri Lanka narrates a different story.