There’s nothing like a challenge to unify disparate ideas or odds and ends that just tickled your fancy at the time. Ailsa’s done just that with her ‘Contrast or Nonconformity’ challenge this week. As chance would have it – or as I prefer to think of it: with Sri Lankan serendipity – all five photographs were taken in/of/from temples here on the island.
Many years ago, at the end of one of my ‘long’ holidays, Mo and I caught the overnight bus to Kataragama. Somehow we had felt the need for a parting visit to Sri Lanka’s most beloved of temple complexes – to walk under the elephant and crack a young coconut at the Kovil, to lay lotus at the Buddha statue and yes, to sit a while at the Mosque (while my friend took the opportunity to go inside to pray, something Sri Lankan Muslim women otherwise do from home).
At the last minute I was persuaded to wear sari; not only that, to allow myself to be photographed in it. You see, the sight of pale-skinned western women with their towering broad-shouldered physiques and fair (in comparison) hair, has always filled me with dismay. Somehow even the most graceful of us look awkward and out-of-place in contrast to the exuberance of even the most strictly draped sari. And yes, there I was, stiff as a board, taking it all so seriously – in contrast to the merriment that characterises most visitors to this sacred pilgrimage site with the holiday air in the deep south of the island.
There’s a straight-laced, school-marmy side to me – for all my egalitarian laissez-fair beliefs – that sometimes surprises me by the vehemence of my response to certain things here. The other day, up on Nagadeepa, I couldn’t stop an explosion of disgust at some photographs and billboards I saw there. “Do these people have any idea just how offensive their blatant politic-ing might be to others?”, I wondered. I refrained from making an international incident of it by asking the four Indian gentlemen who were just ahead of me, but you can be sure I sat down for a quiet chat with the young man having a drink in the shade.
Yes, even young people find it offensive when the temporal world of politics invades the spiritual space of temple precincts, even if the temple isn’t one of theirs.
I did take photographs, but as you might have guessed by now, I try to keep politics out of this space – and since almost all of you will be unable to read the slogans daubed across the rocks at the foot of this simple little temple on the road up to Anuradhapura, I submit it as an example of the temporal invading the spiritual. As political posters go, this is quite beautiful, in its way, with the graceful rounded characters of Sinhala akuru in simple white paint, still, the contrast couldn’t be more blatant.