Whenever I pass Beira lake in Colombo, I am always drawn to the wooden bridge and temple in the middle of the lake. However, it was often a place I usually hurried by on the way somewhere, as it was in the midst of the commercial part of the capital. Then, one day, my mother asked me to take her there during her birthday week. I think she realized that unless she requested, I might simply go on passing the place without stopping there. Whatever the reason, we finally visited the lovely Seema Malakaya early one morning.
According to the Gangaramaya temple website, the area was once a swamp before being converted to the picturesque spot that it is now. The Seema Malakaya is part of the Gangaramaya temple which is famous for its annual ‘perahera’ (festive Buddhist temple religious procession) during the months of February or March. What I found fascinating is the aesthetic sense of the place, designed by Geoffrey Bawa. Bawa was a renowned Sri Lankan architect whose signature trademark was his emphasis on spaces and natural light.
The meditation hall was surrounded by statues of Buddha by the edge of the water, which was what had attracted me in the first place. There is something very peaceful about being in the midst of water. The pavilion felt like a calm oasis despite its bustling commercial neighbourhood.
For me, what I found most intriguing was that the Seema Malakaya combines aspects of different religions. Built through a donation by a Muslim couple – S.H.Moosajee and his wife – in memory of their son, the pavilion itself combines Hindu deities together with the statues of Buddha.
The smaller pavilion on one side of the meditation hall has a Bo tree, which is from a sapling of the Sri Maha Bodhi in Anuradhapura. The Sri Maha Bodhi is an ancient Bo tree, that is the most important Buddhist pilgrimage spot in Sri Lanka, because it is a tree grown from the sapling of the Bo tree under which Buddha obtained enlightenment. The sapling was brought to Sri Lanka by Sangamitta, the daughter of Emperor Asoka. Surrounding the tree at Seema Malakaya are more peaceful Buddha statues.
At the four corners of the smaller pavilion which has the Bo tree and the chaithya, are the shrines for Hindu deities including Pillaiyar and Murugan.
When one walks across to the other side of the meditation hall, one sees a tiny pavilion with a small wooden house marked ‘Treasury of Truth.’ I was curious about what the truth treasury held and found it locked.
Perhaps it is fitting that the place is always kept locked. Where would humankind be if truth became a way of life for all.
Sometimes, you pass by something beautiful in your own city so often that you hardly bother to take a moment to pause and appreciate its beauty. Something which you would do automatically when you are a traveller exploring another city or country. I am glad my mother requested me to take her there for her birthday because not only did I finally get to explore the place but also create a special memory there with my mother.
[As I am merging my Sri Lanka-focused travel blog with my Perspectives Quilt blog over the course of the coming months, I am transferring some of my favourite posts from there to here]