Posted on April 6th, 2012


As a community of very devout Theravada Buddhists, the simple folks of Pathegama professed to follow the pure Hinayana (Lower Wheel) form of the doctrine that the Gautama Buddha meticulously elucidated in his sacred suttas (the Pali discourses he delivered after his Enlightenment) that together with vinaya (disciplinary code for monks) and abidhamma (the later commentaries on what the Buddha taught) constitute the Tripitaka (Three Baskets).

However, the truth was that most villagers would have been hard put to accurately explain the Four Noble Truths as the gist of BuddhismƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬‚that samsara (wheel of existence) is coterminous with dukkha (suffering/sorrow), that the dependent variables encompassing tanha (greed/craving) are the cause of this dukkha, that the way to end this suffering is to escape the samsara, and that the way to do so is by following the Exalted Eightfold Path.

Although most villagers wanted to accumulate a sufficient quantity of merit through doing good deeds (like almsgiving) with the ultimate goal of escaping samsara by the shortest cut, they werenƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢t too conversant with the Exalted Eightfold Path as the means to eradicate tanha. ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ However, they invariably repeated the five precepts at every religious gathering, as well as a daily routine at home, perhaps with only a faint idea of what the Pali stanzas meant. The gap between the Dhamma (the doctrine) and its practice in the village was too wide.


Considering this state of affairs, if one were to weigh the merits acquired by devious means and the sins comitted by contravening the precepts, the latter category showing the greater balance, most of those devout people, far from escaping samsara by the shortest cut, would have had greater access to one of the four infernal regions with less effort and through a much shorter route!

I suspect that it was the motive of exiting the woes of samsara quicker that prevailed on the villagers to take a keen interest on the preparations to hold a Nethrapinkama, a meritorious celebration associated with inserting the eyes on a new Buddha statue, at the village Buddhist temple about one kilometer west of our ancestral home.

This was a small temple compared to the townƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Agra Bodhi Vihara, just east of Kushtarajagala. Situated along the footpath that branched off the main gravel road to Massalapitiya on the boundary of a long stretch of rice paddies, the village temple contained a sanctum, which housed the Buddha images and the altars; a number of stone pillars; a dilapidated bower, which served as the living quarters of the resident monk; and a Bo tree.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

The temple began holding special religious observances for three months preceding the eye-inserting ceremony.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Offering to the Buddha and the gods were made every evening, and a representative gathering of villagers participated in these ceremonies. Visiting monks delivered religious discourses (bana) every night.

Fancy fairs held in the temple premises almost every day helped to raise funds for the eye-inserting festival.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Moreover, volunteers visited homes to get as many donations as possibleƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬‚both in cash and kind.

My mother donated Rs. 50 when Danny Mahattaya brought a collection list to our place and convinced her of the necessity of the leading families in the village helping this most worthy cause.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Mother had a false sense of pride and a weakness to be soothed by flattery.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Though she was normally close-fisted, these qualities and the desire to cut short the woes of samsara probably provoked her to give way to generosity.

Arrival of D-Day

On the eve of the much-awaited ceremony, Hene Achchi (Grandma from Hena), the better half of my grandfatherƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s older brother, brought the news that the organizers had not been able to find a person who could donate an expensive piece of cloth to cover the muhunu mandala (sacred face) of the Buddha statue after the insertion of eyes.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Such was motherƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s religious fervor that she immediately undertook to provide this requisite at any cost.

Mother got up in the wee hours next morning, assiduously cleaned the kitchen and applied a fresh layer of clay on the floor.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Then she went down to the Ovita (waterhole) to bathe.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Having finished her ablutions, she encased herself in a white dress and hung a white canopy over the hearth.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  These were the preliminaries that preceded the preparation of milk-rice, which mother intended to offer to the Buddha soon after the insertion of eyes.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  She cooked the milk-rice with sandalwood.

With the first rays of the sun creeping in through the foliage of trees, mother sent Ariyasena Maama, the oldest son of Hene Achchi, to Matara to bring the piece of cloth she had undertaken to provide with instructions that he should return by the earliest available bus so that he could be back in the village in time for the big event, which was scheduled for the auspicious time several minutes prior to noon.

It was a busy day for mother.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  When the auspicious hour was drawing near, mother and Hene Achchi started off to the temple carrying the milk-rice in a silver bowl and a couple of trays of flowers.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  I trailed behind them.

The temple was already crowded with devotees when we went there.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  They were all dressed in white and carried various offerings to the Buddha.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  They gave vent to their religious ardor with frequent cries of ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Sadhu, Sadhu, Sadhu.ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚

The loudspeaker blared that the devotees should be patient, that the Member of Parliament was expected to arrive any moment, that the devotees should keep off the sanctum where the Buddha image was kept till the insertion of eyes was over, and that the M.P. (the most distinguished devotee!) would do the first offering.

The announcer was Siriwardana Iskole Mahattaya (Schoolmaster Siriwardana), the village orator.

There was a general belief among our villagers that the person who was lucky enough to make the first offering to the Buddha soon after the insertion of eyes in the Buddha statue, could acquire a quantity of merit equivalent to that acquired by Sujatha when she made the first offering of milk-rice to the living Buddha just before His Enlightenment.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  No wonder that everybody aspired to make the first offering in order to attain Nirvana by the shortest cut!

Now, that privilege would go o the M.P.!

Four people guarded the four doorways of the sanctum to prevent the ordinary devotee from making the first offering.

The new village headman bearing the avian epithet Myna and his beloved wife were already inside the sanctum with their offerings obviously to follow the most distinguished devotee, who had yet to turn up.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Myna was on intimately good terms with the residing monk and that was perhaps the reason why he received access denied to others.

Angering the Gods

When the auspicious time came, it was not the Member of Parliament but a messenger who turned up. Siriwardana Iskole Mahattaya announced that some urgent business of the state had prevented the redoubtable Parliamentarian from attending the festival but that the ceremony would go on as planned.

So the artist inserted the eyes on the Buddha statue at the auspicious time and covered the muhunu mandala (sacred face) with the expensive cloth brought from Matara by Ariyasena Maama.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Religious cries filled the air.

By this time, mother had quietly gained access to the doorway, which was being blocked by Danny Mahattaya.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  She then crept into the exclusive sanctum together with her offering.

It was now the most crucial moment.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Who was to make the first offering?

The new village headman apparently had the notion that this right was unquestionably his.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  So he bestowed a demoniacal look at mother when he noticed her in the sanctum and issued a verbal threat that she should not dare to make the first offering.

But when Myna turned his back to get a tray of flowers, mother lost no time in dashing off to the altar and making the first offering of milk rice to the Buddha.

Religiosity soon turned to confusion.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  The furious village headman took the residing monk into task for allowing things to come to this pass.

Still fuming, the headman beckoned to Bus Mahatun (Bus-driver Person), a village chandiya (tough), and muttered some instructions, whereupon the latter advanced toward mother and imperiously questioned her as to why she thought of kicking up a row on this most noble occasion, in a language most suited to address those quadrupeds who are reputed to bark at the moon.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Bus Mahatun himself was behaving like one such quadruped.

By now, mother herself was at the height of her fury.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  She delivered a delirious harangue concerning her genealogy and related matters that qualified her to do what she did.

Perfectly all right.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  These were irrefragable facts, admitted Gunapala of Lindagahawatte, another village chandiya (tough), who probably was convinced of motherƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s reasoning.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Gunapala expressed the opinion that she was the most suitable person to make the first offering the same way that Sujatha was suitable to make the first offering to the living Buddha.

Gunapala requested mother to light a coconut oil lamp and urge the Satara Varam Deviyo (Four Guardian Deities) to punish those who disgraced her on that solemn occasion.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Mother was about to do exactly that when the artist appealed to her not to proceed inasmuch as the Four Guardian Deities were undoubtedly present at the spot watching what transpired.

Thus, the Nethra-pinkama ended up in utter confusion.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 


What happened subsequently should not go unrecorded.

On the same day, Bus Mahatun was admitted to the Galle Hospital following injuries he suffered when he fell from the top of a ladder. He was confined to the hospital for a long time because of the uncommon suppuration of his wounds.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Once, when Loku Maama visited the hospital, the repenting backslider had confessed his belief that all his suffering was the result of his own misbehavior egged on by Myna at the eye-insertion ceremony.

What happened to Myna was most interesting.

Ariya, the most notorious son of Atha Kota, had returned to the village after serving a prison sentence following a cattle theft.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Apparently, he was well fed in the prison for he looked so hog healthy.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  I suspect that he was ruminating on how he should test his physical stamina when he happened to see Myna proceeding toward Pelawatte perched on his bicycle. Probably, Ariya also might have reasoned that His MajestyƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s police functionary in the village was a good target to show his displeasure with imperial justice.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

When Myna came to the point where Ariya was ruminating, the latter had mustered all his pugilistic strength to punch on the equally hog-healthy body of the new Ralahamy, the symbol of imperial law enforcement in the village. According to witnesses, Ariya had plucked Myna from his perch after delivering several apologetic blows, taken him to the verandah of Pelawatte, tied his untangled knot of hair around a verandah post, and used him in the manner of a boxer using a punching-bag.

When Piyasena Bappa of Udagedera happened to pass this pint, the screaming functionary had most humbly appealed to save him from certain death.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Feeling sorry for the victim, Piyasena Bappa had stepped in to stop the one-sided show when he observed that the headmanƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s bowels had gone out of control involuntarily letting it discharge a heap of the natural material that comes down the alimentary canal.

A crowd had already gathered around Pelawatte when the rescue operation ultimately succeeded.

Many villagers theorized that this public disgrace that befell Myna was the result of the wrath of the Satara Varam Deviyo (Four Guardian Deities).

Not many days after this incident, Myna, the village headman, cut his knot of healthy hair thus preventing its further use by prospective assailants.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Yet people continued to call him Myna.

Whether the route to salvation was shortened or lengthened for those who participated in the Nethra-pinkama is anyoneƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s conjecture.

[Note: The original version of this Village Sketch by Arcadius appeared in the CDN Saturday Magazine on 7 Aug. 1965. Arcadius revised it in 2012. This is the work of a Ceylon-born rural lad who used his mastery of English to give the global literati direct access to the principal characters of his birth-village in the mid-20th century. All 28 articles in this series will be released this year in a book titled VILLAGE LIFE IN THE ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”FORTIES: MEMORIES OF A LANKAN EXPATRIATE (Bloomington, Ind.: iUniverse) ]

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