Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Three Weddings and Kandy

31 January 2018

Our resort hotel in Godakawale seemed to be a popular place for weddings - there were three weddings in the four days we were there.  And weddings seem to be a major occasion here in Sri Lanka!  

We heard and saw a group of traditional musicians one morning, dressed in white or maroon sarongs, various hats, and wearing sort of a metal and chain chest ornamental vest.  Drums, horns, sort of tambourines or something.  We only saw them from the back as they headed over to the main building for the wedding ceremony.

I asked the staff a few questions so I found out the general schedule for the weddings.  Things begin at 9:30 AM, with a wedding tea for the guests.  I suspect the bride and groom and other wedding party members use this time to finish getting dressed.  

We saw a few grooms and groomsmen, dressed in white suits covered in gold embroidery and bead work.  Not a business style suit - more like a matador's outfit, with the below-the-knee knickers and a short bolero jacket over a white shirt.  Truly resplendent in white and gold!  The one bride I saw was in a cream lace sari, with a pearl and gold bead head piece, the kind that is like a necklace pinned to her hair and hanging down to a point on her forehead.  All the wedding guests wore gorgeous bright clothing - silk shirts or tunics and slacks for men, incredibly beautiful saris in all sorts of colors with gold embellishments or red-carpet-worthy evening gowns for the women.  Just wonderful clothing!

Then there is the ceremony, complete with the musicians we saw.  After the wedding ceremony, there's the big reception party, complete with a large meal and lots of dancing.  But this isn't traditional music, we heard modern music, some of it the basic pop rock we hear on the radio everywhere around the world - some American, some British, pretty much the basic international pop rock.

The reception continues until about 4:30 PM.  People come and go, wander around the property, take photos of each other, talk to friends and family.  By late afternoon, few people still remain.  It seemed as if some of the newlyweds spent their first night at the hotel, we saw a few at breakfast the following morning.

Then the couple goes on a honeymoon for a few days.  When they return home, there is a huge welcome home party, again with all the friends and family.  So the wedding celebrations go on for about a week!  

When Richard and I first headed off travelling, I told him that I thought it would be fun to get re-married in every country we visited, just to see what the wedding customs are like in that country.  He of course said no, not happening.  But I think it would have been really fascinating - and I enjoyed our glimpse of Sri Lankan weddings!

On our last night, I had the traditional rice and curry meal and finally took a photo.  This is the meal that I swear could feed a couple or a family with young children - it really is enough food for 2 to 4 people.  I can never finish all of it.  There's the platter of rice.  Moving clockwise, a small bowl of dhal, the curried lentils or peas - so tasty.  To the left is a bowl of curried potatoes and onions; above the dhal, brinjal moju, eggplant curry, my favorite.  To the right, pappadam chips; then coconut sambal, basically shredded coconut with hot red chili peppers; then curried carrots; and finally the chicken garam masala.  An amazing meal, and nothing in that thick yellow sauce that passes as curry in some of the world.  No, these dishes use the same basic spices but in a much lighter sauce.  Absolutely delicious.

So, on Friday we headed off to Kandy, in the central highlands of Sri Lanka.  We arranged a driver with the hotel, and he turned out to be Mr Safari Driver!  We're not sure of his name, names here tend to be long and I have trouble pronouncing them if I don't see them written - but he and I recognized each other, and I asked about the safari jeep license.  We laughed about our adventure that day.

So we drove northward and westward, retracing our drive as far as Ratnapura.  But avoiding the mountains in the south central area, and sticking to the major roads.  We went around Adam's Peak, 2,243 meters tall (7,359 feet); this mountain has a rock formation on its peak that is said to be Buddha's footprint.  We drove past the usual rice fields, tea plantations, and surprising to us, rubber plantations.  Yes, tons of rubber trees grow here, and various companies own plantations to produce the rubber tires used all around the world.

There were also temples and Buddha statues all over.  This is a predominantly Buddhist country.  But there were occasional Tamil Hindu temples, and Muslim mosques.

We also drove through the gem mining region.  Sri Lanka is known for its sapphires, garnets, and other deeply colored gem stones.  These are mined by hand, and we saw a few of the mining operations.  Just little stick and palm frond shacks covering the entrance to the mining shaft or tunnel, with men digging with shovels or hoes.  And running water to wash away the dirt and hopefully reveal gems to bring money to, well, obviously not these workers.  To the owner of the mines, to the gem traders, to everyone except the men and women who risk their lives underground to bring forth these shiny bits of crystalized minerals.  (And yes, I do like sapphires.  I also feel sorry for the workers and how they are exploited.)

Anyway, it was a long drive made even longer with busy roads, children getting out of school, parents walking the smallest children home, and then arriving in Kandy just about at rush hour.  I've included maps showing our route - the dark blue is our route from Colombo to Godakawale and Udawalawe, while the lighter blue is our route to Kandy.  Colombo to Godakawale was about 185 km (115 miles), while onward to Kandy was roughly 170 km (106 miles).  

Kandy is in the Kandy highlands, at about 500 meters elevaton (1640 feet above sea level).  Kandy is the second largest city in Sri Lanka with about 126,000 inhabitants.  (Colombo has some 750,000 residents.  Given that Sri Lanka has a population of 21,500,000 or so, I would guess a large portion of the people live in small towns or rural areas.  So a largely rural population.)

Kandy was home to the last king of Sri Lanka prior to the British colonization.  The Kandyan kingdom made the city of Kandy its capital in the 16th century, but fell to the British invasion in 1815.  It's a lovely city with a lake in the center of town, and the famous Temple of the Tooth - yes, Buddha's tooth is an honored relic in this temple.  

I did ask how a tooth of the Buddha happened to end up in Kandy, and I'm sure there are easy jokes about this juxtaposition of names from an English-speaking point of view.  I never did get a definitive answer to my question.  But Buddha did not visit Kandy, so he wasn't here and lost a tooth.  As with many relics, the tooth was taken posthumously - which increases the morbid factor, at least in my opinion.  Sorry, but human remains relics in any religion absolutely creep me out.

We never got to the Temple of the Tooth, but here's the website if you want more information:

Richard managed to find us a tuktuk driver who had spent about 13 years living in Ohio, of all places - he was back in Kandy driving a tuktuk and building a bed and breakfast business.  Very nice guy, and we could ask all kinds of questions about Sri Lankan culture and life.

Questions like why are there often statues of Buddha at major intersections or crossroads?  Part of it is that people believe the representation of Buddha will help keep them safe as they travel on the busy roads and streets.  Part is as Richard suggested, that Buddha is there to invite everyone to join on the path to wisdom and enlightenment.

Also, there were small shrines, little temples, and various statues that seemed to be randomly placed.  Turns out that most of these are built around the bodhi trees that grow across Sri Lanka.  Buddha meditated under the bodhi tree for five years, and in his sixth year of meditation he reached enlightenment.  Then he continued to meditate under the bodhi tree, in various positions of meditation, to honor the bodhi for being the place where he reached enlightenment.  But one of the more interesting facts about this particular family of trees is that they take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen continuously.  Most trees do this during the day, but at night switch to taking in oxygen and giving off carbon dioxide.  So the bodhi tree is actually a healthier place to meditate if one chooses to do so for a twenty four hour period of time, or even longer.

It was interesting talking to Jayantha, and getting all kinds of information about Sri Lankan culture from someone who grew up here, but also understood our more US point of view as well.

So we did a bit of a tour, going by the lake, and around town.  Saw one of the big Buddha statues.  (There's an even bigger Buddha that overlooks the city, but we skipped that.)  Went past the old Dutch fort and prison built in the 1600s, and still standing down by the train station.  Did a little shopping, visited a batik factory, things like that.  Nothing major, just interesting touring around.

The big yearly event in Kandy is their Perahera, which is a big religious festival in August.  Perahera is a procession or parade of dancers and musicians in traditional clothing, similar to those we saw for the wedding, plus fire dancers, other dancers and musicians, and also elephants wearing ornamental covers rather like blankets and headdresses.  The Kandy Perahera is known as the Festival of the Tooth, paying homage to the temple's relic of the Buddha.  (There are several Peraheras around the country, and this seems to be a uniquely Sri Lankan celebration, rather than something that is common in various Buddhist cultures.)

Because the Perahera is so important to this city, there are various ornamental images of the Kandy Perahera all over the city, from murals on banks and schools to bas relief sculptures on walls by the city center.  The Perahera image is also featured on handmade batiks sold in the market, and in the batik center.  After my two days with the elephants of Udawalawe, it seemed destined that I would buy a few small batiks of the elephants all dressed up for the Perahera.  (I'm thinking they'd make a lovely triptych to hang on a wall.  I'll post photos of these later.)

One of the interesting legends in the Kandy region is the story of Uthuwankande Sura Saradiel, known simply as Saradiel.  He has been called the Sri Lankan Robin Hood.  He lived here during the latter part of the nineteenth century, during the time Queen Victoria reigned over Great Britain and the British Empire, including the distant island of Sri Lanka, or Ceylon in the anglicized form.  

As a young boy, Saradiel worked as a barrack boy in Colombo and learned how to clean, load, and use a gun.  He was caught in the act of committing a theft, and was summarily expelled from the service.  He returned to Uthuwankande, the Kandy region, and began his life of crime.  He made several daring prison escapes, only to be recaptured, tried, and escape once again.  

And yes, Saradiel stole from the British and gave the items to the Ceylonese poor villages.  It took several attempts for the British military and police to finally capture him, where he and some of his gang were tried for murder and sentenced to death by hanging.  But he remains a folk hero to this day, having defied the British invaders and helped the local villagers.  (And of course the British Empire and Queen didn't quite see it that way.)

This article was written by a Sri Lankan author, whose grandfather had some interesting details about Saradiel:

We had a fun time in Kandy, though it was a bit short.  But we wanted to leave in time to head to Kelaniya, a town near Colombo where there is a Perahera on January 30.  

But that story is another blog post, so enjoy the photos below and all in good time. 

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