Thursday, April 19, 2018

Uva Province of Sri Lanka, still portrays the impact of Mahayana Buddhism

Mahayana style Buddha / Buduruwagala
The Buddha, or the "enlightened one," was born Siddhartha Gautama to  Princess Mahamaya and King Sudhodhana in the 6th century B.C. in Lumbini, modern-day Nepal. Although born a prince, he realized that conditioned experiences could not provide lasting happiness or protection from suffering. After almost thirty years of spiritual search he went into deep meditation, where he understood the nature of the mind. He achieved the state of unconditional happiness; the state of enlightenment, or Bodhi by the river Neranjana in Gaya. For the rest of his life, the Buddha taught anyone who asked how they could reach this state. Ever since his parinirwana or demise at the age of 80 the Dharma, his teachings has been preserved and preached to the people of Asia major by the Sangha; his disciples or the community practitioners who was entrusted with its broadcast. 

However with time his teachings were divided into two branches the Threravada and Mahayana. Regardless of the branches all Buddhist believe in the Buddha as the teacher, the Dharma as his teachings and the Sanga the community of practitioners of the Dharma. This means that all Buddhist regardless of the branches believe in the Thripitaka, the Pali canon the Buddha’s teachings as originally recorded hundreds of years after his passing.

Both Theravada and Mahayana believe in Arharts; the enlightened persons who have escaped the cycle of birth and death and exist in Nirvana, the ultimate goal in Theravada.  Mahayana believes in the “Bodhisatva Path”.  This means that all monastics and laypersons can follow this same path and become Bodhisatva’s, which are enlightened beings that freely choose to stay in the cycle of birth and death also known as Samsara.  They stay in Samsara out of great compassion to save all beings despite having to continuously exist in the world of Samsara. Theravada also believes in the compassion to save all beings, however they do not promote the Bodhisattva path to achieve it. Theravada, does not have any additional schools like in Mahayana. In Theravada there is only one set of views on all these topics while Mahayana provides additional “Dharma gates” that people can use towards liberation.  However Theravada believes these additional Mahayana sutras and teachings are not canonical. Therefore not legitimate.

Buddhism reached Sri Lanka in the 3st century BC and was established as Theravada based in the Mahavihara in Anuradhapura. It is noted that some monks separated from the Mahavihara and established the Abhayagiriya with the royal patronage of King Valagamba in the 1st century BC. There has been evidence to the presence of Mahayana influence even in the 3rd century BC with the arrival of Vaithulyavada from India.

The significance of Mahayana in the Buddhist sculptures in this land is related to the 8th and 9th century during the reign of the Kassapa and Dappula brothers in Anuradhapura. But its presence is mostly related to the Rohana Desha. In today’s terms in the Ruhuna and the Uva Province. The Chola invasion in the 10th century and the formation of the Polonnaruwa Kingdom is said to have had a lineage to Mahayana which later was overridden with the Shiva devotion.

Buduruwagala Buddha flanked by the Awalokatheswara and Goddesses 
The Mahayana influence in the country is but clearly depicted in the Buduruwagala site before the Polonnaruwa Era which don’t seem to have continued in the Polonnaruwa Kingdom.

Buduruwagala situated in Wellavaya in the Monaragala District, consists of seven statues sculptured on a rock cut relief during the 9th -10th century  A.D. It is believed that these statues were created by Mahayana Buddhist in Rohana, during the Anuradhapura period. Iconographies of various Buddha, Bodhisattva, and the strength of Bodhisattva, regional gods, and gods of Hinduism has been introduced by the Mahayana traditions. The main Buddha sculpture in Buduruawagala is said to be the tallest of its kind in Sri Lanka and is flanked by six smaller sculptures three to a side that relate to Mahayana notations. It could be said that on behalf of worshiping the Buddha, people also used to worship and believed in Bodhisatva and gods introduced by the Mahayana tradition in Buduruwagala.
Buduruwagala / Wellawaya

The other significant sculpture though isolated and further away from the province of Uva is the Kushtaraja Gala in Weligama. This image of Avalokiteshvara also sculptured in a relief of the rock is thought to be of the 6-7 century A D and depicts very clearly the Mahayana concept that prevailed during this era. There are other folk stories on the image as that of a prince from a foreign country ailing from a skin disease had come on a pilgrimage to Agrabodhi Vihara and had constructed this image on a vow made to God Vishnu. The other is that a prince from Sri Lanka with a skin ailment had built the statue after getting cured by making a vow to Agrabodhi Vihara. As there is evidence to identify that this statue is of Natha Bodhisatva, the folk stories could be accepted to some extent for the reason that there was a belief that this Bodhisatva had healing powers.

Pic Courtesy:www tlc lk                                                                        Kushtarajagala Weligama

Awalokatheshwara Natha / Weligama
Pic courtesy; www.lanka-excursions-holidays
The colossal free standing Buddha image at Maligawila and the freestanding image of Avalokiteshvara Bodhisatva in Dambegoda in Okkampitiya also in the Monaragala District in the Uva Province is said to have been completed in the same period. They are also classic example of the influence of Mahayana worshiping of the people of Rohana then.

Maligawila Buddha colossal

Dambegoda Awalokitheswara statue

Mahayana Buddha / Dowa Bandarawela

Unfinished Dowa sculpture

Finally the unfinished Buddha, sculpted on a rock relief in Dowa Bandarawela again in Uva province could be noted as the culmination of this practice of Mahayana worship that took root in the Rohana then. The Chola invasion which brought about suffering and anarchy in the country, but upheld the Mahayana tradition and the worship of Shiva may have had a negative impact on the practice of Mahayana. We do not see its development as seen in the 8th and 9th century in the country since the Chola invasion and the formation of the Polonnaruwa Kingdom.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Downpours, Floods, Saltwater and Folly Canals........ [මෝඩ ඇල]

The topography of Sri Lanka is unique of its central massif that radiate perineal waterways to the flat low lying lands beyond. The landmass from the North-West to the South–East via the North of the country is named as the dry zone. The precipitation from the North-East monsoon is inadequate for agricultural needs in this area and is supplemented with irrigation water. On the contrary the South-Western landmass that receives a bountiful precipitation from the South-West monsoon is very much smaller resulting in intermittent flooding and is named the wet zone of the country. Therefore much of this landmass along  the coast are low lying flood retention marches and is utilized for low yielding paddies which needs to be drained to be productive.

History records that the human population which was mostly confined to the dry zone within the North Central areas, have now shifted to the much wetter South-West of the country since the 10th century and the colonial period. These areas today are of a very higher population density.

The Dutch who controlled the maritime regions before the British, made use of these wetlands by constructing a network of canals linking the larger water bodies in the South Western coast from Matara, Galle and Kalutara all the way to Colombo. They used these canals to transport the export commodities from the interior of the land to their ships in the port of Colombo. These connecting canals also acted as conveyance of excess water in one area to flow over to other areas, thereby mitigating the flooding that took place in these wetland.

Once the British took control of these areas and their subsequent rule over the whole island they opened up land routes for communication and conveyance and the Dutch built canal system went in to disuse. With no maintenance the canals were overgrown and the flooding of the lands now became a hazard to public life. Even the low yielding paddy cultivation in these areas was almost abandoned. 
The flooding in the City of Colombo however did concern the British who had a city development plan. They incorporated a flood mitigation system for Colombo which linked the Beira Lake in the City with the Weras Ganga in the outskirts of Colombo. The North of the city was made flood safe with a series of earthen bunds on the left bank of the Kelai River. 

However it was only after the formation of the Irrigation Department in the year 1900 in the aftermath of the Great Ceylon Flood of 1897 did flood studied commence on a scientific background. The whole of the South-Western region was also taken up for planning and mitigation.

The heavy precipitation experienced in 1947 resulted the back waters of Kalu Ganga flowing over to the Bolgoda South Lake resulting in the town of Panadura being flooded for several weeks. The matter was brought up in the Legislative Council by the influential Hon Susantha de Fonseka the member for Panadura and the first flood protection scheme in the region commenced to protect the town of Pandura. This was by providing a lock gate structure on the ‘Kepu ela’ [meaning a manmade canal] that connected the Kalu Ganga with the Bolgoda South Lake.

Kepu Ela’s [කැපූ ඇල] or Dug Canals

The geography of the West and the South–West of the county that is referred to as the wet zone consists of five major rivers. The Kelani, Kalu, Bentara, Gin and Nilwala. All commencing in the central massif and are affected by the precipitation of the South–West monsoon. Kelani and Kalu have larger catchments to that of Gin and Nilwala.  Bentara is a river with a smaller catchment commencing at a much lower elevation than the others. The Kelani River which in close proximity to Colombo has been confined by flood bunds built during the British to protect the city. The Kalu Ganga spreads its flood waters in a northerly direction into two interconnected large water bodies named Bolgoda South Lake and the Bolgoda North Lake. The north lake is linked with the Weras Ganga in the Greater Colombo area. The south lake has its sea outfall in Panadura which was  blocked by a sand bar as the head of water was insufficient to generate a regular flow out.  These closed up sea outfalls opened naturally only with the increase in water levels during flooding. This rise in the water head caused great hardship to the people in the area. The most economical solution then was to provide additional sea outfalls to these water bodies for quicker drainage during flooding. These were  man-made canals connecting low tracts by cutting through some high ground all the way to the sea.

Post Flood Drainage Canals

Flood control engineering interpret these man-made canals as ‘Post Flood Drainage Canals’. The canal flowing under the Thalpitiya Bridge on the Galle road in the southern boundary of Panadura, known as the Thalpitiya Canal is one such Post Flood Drainage Canals. It is no longer functioning and is blocked permanently by a heavy sand bar at the sea outfall . Today with the advancement of Engineering Sciences, Groin Structures built up with large chunks of granite placed according to wave study research done on scale models, keep the sea outfalls open continuously and the rising water flows out preventing flooding. Today the Pandura town is protected from the back waters of Kaluganga by closing the lock gates on the Old Dutch Kepuela linking the Kaluganga to Bolgoda Lake and a Groin functioning at the Pandura sea outfall. The lake now has a defined high flood level and the water mass is used for recreation and other economic benefits accordingly. 

From Kalu Ganga to Gin Ganga

The story of the area between the rivers Kalu Ganga and the Gin Ganga are but different. The low lying area between them including the Bentara Ganga catchment is a very large landmass measuring over 67 kilometers [42 miles] along the coast. The Dutch Canals in this area is nonexistent today. The flooding of the two bounding rivers have been arrested separately today. The lower reaches of the Gin Ganga has flood bunds built in the 1970’s with Chinese technology and assistance. Therefore much of the precipitation received during the monsoon collect up in three large natural water bodies and a few smaller water-bodies across this stretch. Again these three large water-bodies have solitary sea outfalls in each which naturally close up during the inter-monsoon period for the lack of sufficient headwaters to keep them open to the sea. 

Bethara Ganga has its flood retention area named the Dedduwa Lake, part of which is the Lunu Ganga. Lunu Ganga is famed today with its relation to the late Architect Geoffrey Bawa who turned the Lunu Ganaga and its surroundings as his private living by maintaining the natural landscape. Dedduwa Lake also had its excess water drained out through two post flood drainage canals during the 1970’s. Two diesel driven flood pumps pumped out water to the sea at Athruwella and Kaikawela from these post flood drainage canals. These pumps are no more as the paddy cultivation in these areas were terminated with the high cost of inputs. The cost incurred on pumping water by mechanical means became futile. The pumps were dismantled in the mid 1980’s. 
Madu Ganga is the largest natural fresh water lake in the country spreading around the towns of Kosgoda and Balapitiya. This waterbody is an expanse of 915 hectares with 36 habitable islets. Though it is called a Ganaga [River] it is very much a stagnant water-mass with over fifteen canals draining into it but with only a single sea outfall at Balapitiya. This outlet also consist of a Groin made out of granite boulders which maintain a permanent high flood level providing relief to the people living around its waterline.

Further south is the Randoma Lake which is linked by a man made canal to the Madampe Lake that drains out to the sea at Ambalangoda. Again a Groin structure controls the sand bar forming providing a permanent flow out for the drainage water.

An extent of approximately 15 kilometers of water logged lowland located between Ambalangoda to Hikkaduwa is slightly below sea level. This area has its only sea outfall at Akurala which has not been functioning due to the damage caused to this landmass by coral mining for the lime industry that thrived in the area in the 1960 /1970 era. No human settlement is significant in this area due to the deep excavations that are now filled with saline water. 

The Thelwatte Lagoon in this area was noted as a Bird Sanctuary in ancient maps but not anymore. It is all ruined due to coral mining. The Asian Tsunami of 2004 devastated this stretch of land due to its elevation being below sea level. Weragoda Canal which is manmade, drains in two directions to the Madampe Lake and the Hikkaduwa Lake taking up the excess precipitation falling in this area to be drained to the sea. 

The Hikkaduwa Lake in Hikkaduwa had been a burden to the people with the flooding which was arrested initially with a post flood drainage canal constructed at Duwegoda. This canal became abandoned with the large groin structure that was constructed incorporating a Fishery Harbour in the 1960/1970’s.

The flooding of the Ratgama Lake is now controlled with the Gin Ganga having its own flood bunds preventing the spillover finding the way to the Ratgama Lake. The Ratgama Lake has its outlet at Dodanduwa which has a sand bar which needs manual breeching during heavy rains.

Closer to Galle the Canal reaching the sea at Mahamodara is also termed Kepu-ela which again is a post flood drainage canal meant to drain out the Wackwella mash which was once a flood retention area of the Ginganaga.

Galle city itself is built up on a drained out marsh by the Dutch and the city is surrounded with very many canals all named Kepu Ela. The levels in these canals have been so designed by the Dutch; when the high tide flows into the canal from under the famous Butterfly Bridge of Galle, the city drains get flushed out to the sea twice a day.

Folly Canals[මෝඩ ඇල] and Saltwater Intrusion.  

The flooding that was triggered off with the monsoon rains in these area were eventually controlled with dedicated projects designed for the rivers and the low head waterbodies being provided with Groin structures at the sea out falls. The Irrigation Department pioneered these projects under its Project for Drainage and Reclamation which concluded by the end of 1970’s. 

However a new scenario was now taking place. The high tide in the sea spread into the water bodies through the open Groins and saline sea water turned the once fresh water to brackish water. This affected the aquatic culture and the habitat. It was to be beneficial commercially while being detrimental on the environment. The salinity in the paddy lands increased and needed government assistance to rid the salinity and protect the lands from salt water intrusion.

The Irrigation Department now extended its Flood Protection Schemes to Salt Water Extrusion Schemes. The Madampe Lake and the Hikkaduwa Lake that had the most of the adjoin land under paddy cultivation was taken up under this scheme. Gated structurers were built across water ways which were closed during the high tide and raised earthen bunds constructed on the periphery of the paddies preventing salt water intrusion. 
None of these projects are functioning now as the cost of production is not compatible with the low yielding varieties of paddy. Tourism around these water bodies is a thriving economy today.

Madu Ganaga today is a leading tourist attraction

These abandoned network of canals, bunds other structures done for the pump houses etc. are today concealed in the undergrowth. The new generation who knew nothing of the flooding then are ignorant of the services these canals and structures provided in the bygone era.  

It is obvious for anybody to inquire as to what purpose these canals running across the villages are meant to be, with no flowing water in them but an environmental and health hazard.  People today call them as Moda Ela’s මෝඩ ඇල or Folly Canals.

Folly Canals have a very ancient history. The first of its kind was the Wellawatte Canal in Colombo bordering Dehiwala. This is also a post flood drainage canal done in 1872. As the canal did not function proper due to a mess up on its bed levels it was dubbed the ‘Layard’s Folly’ after the then Government Agent who initiated the project.

Likewise all these post flood drainage canals in these regions are dubbed as Moda Ela’s මෝඩ ඇල as they do not perform any service either during a flood or otherwise today

However I was involved in a pilot project that the Galle Construction Division of the Irrigation Department undertook to re-grade the Duwegoda Canal in 1981. Once a post flood drainage canal taking flood water from the Hikkaduwa Lake to the sea across the Hikkaduwa town between hotels. The re-grading cost was enormous with no direct cost benefit to the people or production.  

So not all of these canals were Follies then, as called today. They did serve to ease off the flooding about a 100 years ago while technology and innovative designs have made these canals to be obsolete today  reasoning them to be called Follies. 

But in Galle there is but a curious canal done during the Dutch functioning to this day named the මෝඩ ඇල….. this is but by the name of the Dutch Engineer who designed it.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

From Lincoln to Glenwood Springs on the California Zephyr

Train travel has always fascinated me from childhood and I was very fortunate in having had the opportunity to travel in luxury comfort on the California Zephyr. The Amtrak’s train from Chicago to San Francisco. A journey scheduled for 51 hours and 20 minutes. The California Zephyr is said to be one of the most scenic travels in North America as it runs abreast through the Nebraska Plains to Denver; climbing the American Rockies passing the snow-capped Sierra Nevada to Salt Lake City, and then through Reno and Sacramento into Emeryville in San Francisco.

However our journey was from Lincoln in Nebraska to Glenwood Springs in Colorado; almost a 14 hour run  passing Denver in Colorado. Glenwood springs is a famous holiday destination, so named after its hot springs which now has been converted into a large warm-water swimming pool. The Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park are new additions for tourism, incorporating the breathtaking limestone formations in two caves of different ages.

The journey started just after midnight when we got to our seats in the dark assisted by the train conductor as the other travelers were in deep slumber; we too had no alternative but to catch some sleep reclined on the fully adjustable seat.

Denver was reached by the early hours, just breaking the dawn. Much of the travelers departed and the train did have a long layover as the crew also had a routine changeover. The journey from Denver to Glenwood Springs through the Rockies is a marvelous experience and for the railway, a definite challenge in laying such a track through craggy land.

I have been on the Canadian part of the Rocky Mountains before and the significance on the American section of the Rocky Mountains is that this section is much greener and the land itself is  very much in use while the Canadian section is more rugged and barren.

A glass hooded observation coach is located towards the center of the train to enjoy the scenic beauty of the passing landscape. This has common seating for travelers to take turns to enjoy the pass through the Rockies and other views. The train snaked through multiple tunnels and high embankments on an average speed up the Rockies to reach the famous ski-town; the Fraser-Winter Park Colorado. It was now springtime and off-season but was with a significant snow cover due to its high altitude.

Scenic Rockies

Fraser Winter Park Ski Station 

Discarded ski used as a significance to the location.


Moorlands and Recreational Fishing

The climax of the journey came when it was announced over the public address system that everyone should get back to their allocated seat as the train would be reaching the longest tunnel on the line which took almost 10 minutes to pass. This being a safety regulation and thereby no doubt the climax of the journey for us.

The tunnel is called the ‘Moffat Tunnel’, after David Moffat the person who spearheaded its construction. It cuts through the Continental Divide and was a fascination no sooner the aspect of the Continental Divide was to be seen. The waterways that were flowing towards us before entering the tunnel are now flowing with us once outside of the tunnel. We are now on the other face of the Rockies. Thus the Rocky is named the Continental Divide of the North American Continent. Before the Moffat tunnel was constructed the railway had to climb the Rollins Pass on a very steep and unsafe gradients. Work on the 6.2 mile [10 km] tunnel commenced in 1922 and the first train passed through it in 1928.

Maffat Tunnel and the old Rollings Pass

Travelling along waterways leading to the Colorado River, passing moorlands graced by cattle, horses and Lama we reach Glenwood Springs after a journey of almost 14 hours. It was to be a bright and sunny mid-day in Glenwood Springs.

Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park

The park sits on the mountain overlooking Glenwood at an altitude of 7100 ft. Its limestone cave system was discovered in 1800. However the caves were opened to the public only in 1895. They were closed on the onset of WW1 in 1917 and are said to be the first such caves to have been lit by electric bulbs. It is interesting to note that some of the ancient bulbs that Thomas Alva Edison patented are still retained to amuse the visitor. The caves were reopened in 1999 with the ownership transferred. Today a set of gondolas have replaced the motor bus ride up which was initially by horse back.

Only a limited number of visitors were permitted in a cave tour at one time due to the limited space for people to pass and the need to maintain the humidity within and for the safety of the visitor. Therefore the long wait for the cave tour had to be compensated. As a result additional amusement were introduced by the year 2005. Additions of an Alpine Coaster zip-ride, a giant power screaming swing and 4 D Theater became major attractions adding to the caves which apparently turned out the Iron Mountain be called the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park.

Glenwood Spring turned in to a large warm water swimming pool and water tunnels

Gondolas to go up the Iron Mountain

Fearsome rides on the giant screaming swing 

Cave Brain

Cave Bacon


Stalactites and Stalagmites