Dagoba in the `Bush Capital’ Australia
Posted on March 11th, 2019

By Panduka Senanayake

A milk white dome with a long conical object pointing skyward from its apex sits partly hidden from view amidst trees and buildings in a dip beside a junction of two main arterial roads, the  Athlon and Drakeford Drives at Tuggeranong in the Australian `Bush Capital’ of Canberra.

Unique to Canberra it is the first Dagoba to be built  in the city comprising Buddhists from other Asian countries. It is situated in the Sri Lankan Buddhist Temple complex at the nearby Jenke Circuit.

The 11 metre tall 6.7 metre in diameter structure was gradually constructed since 2011. Involving both local and Sri Lankan technology the project became a labour of love and devotion for the Sri Lankan community which over the years raised much needed funds through food fairs, donations and other means.

Whereas previous temple structures mostly were completed by qualified builders and carpenters with volunteers chipping in to add the finishing touches such as fitting timber floors the Dagoba has seen the largest number of volunteer participation.

Following completion of the main hemispherical and conical structures by expert builders the finer and intricate details are being added by a legion of men, women and children, learning on the job under the guidance of a monk experienced in such work in Sri Lanka, Japan and South Korea.

As the depositing of relics and unveiling ceremony of the brass pinnacle in February and early March drew near temple supporters were seen in the evening scurrying like ants as they decorated the base of the stupa. They affixed hundreds of figurines of `Vamanas’, elephants, flowering vines and lotus blooms to provide the finishing touches to the Stupa before the grand opening on March 2.

The workers sometimes stopped to seek guidance from a young monk in cement stained saffron robes  wearing a wide brimmed hat and workmen’s boots  moving around the site immersed in the work . The monk Ven Gawaragiriye Inda Sumana thero was the `go to person’  for the final stages of the project and provided instructions to carry out each task.

Often lending a hand but leading by example, the thero with several years of experience in temple construction projects in Sri Lanka was on a mission in Korea when requested to assist at the Kambah temple.

Becoming a monk at the young age of 10 he was attracted to craftwork from watching his father , a craftsman making wooden masks and other items. The many decorations that adorn the Dagoba are cast from fibre-glass moulds made by the thero.

As dusk settled over Tuggeranong bringing with it a welcome respite from the blistering summer heat volunteers who finished their day jobs would move into the temple and  allocated tasks.  With the aid of bright lights some able bodied young men worked to complete the half wall  resembling clouds forming a courtyard around the stupa.

Standing on stools and chairs their mothers and sisters added finishing touches to three cement rings that  formed the `Pesa Walalu’  encircling the stupa above its base. Others worked on several projects as groups of young girls served refreshments before assisting  their elders in whatever work they could engage in. Work went into the night with volunteers taking it in shifts to complete work where others had left off.

It was a project that brought the Sri Lanka community in Canberra together irrespective of their religions.  Following the reliquary ceremony to deposit relics,  one volunteer was heard commenting that he had gathered his `merits’ at the temple and was heading off to the Church service to add some more credits!

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