Saturday, December 12, 2015

A visit to the Temple in Kelaniya

Sri Lanka eludes like a fist full of flowers. With a fist full of flowers. From on high and from under. The sumptuous ceilings of Kelaniya Temple, the spectacular frescos and luscious friezes. The sculpted greatness of a building at once small and heroic, dimensions tightly bridled and be-ribboned by images flowing, telling, stopping, beguiling, warning. But the people and their offerings. The blind woman given bundles of thousands she can't see. The priests blessing children whose parents have sought blessing and kiss the feet of the priest. The carriers of lit bundles of incense sticks, the statues of Buddhas in repose, in meditation, in starvation, in blessing, in other pasts and pasts before the other pasts and more pasts. 

The processions and the sittings. The holding and the buying. The sand and stone and river and boatman who ferried pilgrims from this place to that place before the bridge was built. Degoda to agoda the smaller shrine across the Kelani River. The elephant in elegant repose whose handlers bathe and scrape her with the side of coconuts and whisper shout to her, "leg up!" "Leg out," in a language common only to them. As she sips water from the flow hosing down her flanks and nearby a cat lies luxuriating on a sunny pillar and we go barefoot on the hot pavement and rough surface of the ancient bund and sample steamed stems of infant palmyrah sprinkled with chili and salt. 

Is it the people the movement or the buildings that affect emotion? Is it the paintings or their quality or the stories they tell? Is it the sumptuous visible world or the sumptuous world that lies above and beneath, invisible?

What about the flow of the Kelani River, the boards we sit on or the boards we put our feet on? What about the growing humidity that blooms from a hot morning sun like the lotus paintings of Solis Mendis? What about the hundreds of pilgrims meditating on the sand? The thousands of oil lamps wicks aflame? The jeweled chair kept deep in the dagoba, its openings closed and garlanded?

How about the camera silent in all this spectacle, opening only once for the chained bathed elephant? Where are commonalities between our worlds? Where are shared vocabularies between our worlds? Where are nouns or verbs we can share outside of translation and inside understanding? How do we find the threshold much less cross it?

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