Spiritual Explorer: The Final Days Of The Kandy Kingdom
The city itself is embodied by its greenness. Not the trash littered in the side streets, or piled out front of houses burning in smoldering heaps – this is all too obvious. You can feel the smog enveloping you on hot days sitting in noontime traffic. It’s a thin shroud, a foul odor that claustrophobia is inevitable. Stray dogs are as present as the uniformed officers with their white gloves and eyes hidden behind aviator lenses, sweating under the hot sun as they direct traffic.
The honking horns begin to take an almost melodic quality somehow after nearly becoming immune to their chaotic, loud symphonies. Sometimes it sounds like music; other times a language of the roads that I speak too little of to decipher. There is the grand temple, so stoic near the lake inviting all inside the calm of its gates. Buddha sits high on a hill overlooking a world he helped to shape, and people who worship him here. His gaze seems limitless, and shrines dedicated to his honor are tucked in every conceivable place that might come to mind. Just there on the train platform, mounted on the wall, he wears orange with hands resting upon his lap, midway up the hill I walk nearly every day, encased in glass with flowers in varying stages of decay lid at his feet.
But still, for all this it is the green that embodies the city. Everywhere, even wreathing through, past, over, and under the cement, the flora and fauna are present and as much alive as the people. Instead of a clash between concrete and jungle, there seems to be a kind of harmony between them. The dense foliage is as much home to living creatures as are the man-made structures it surrounds. Monkeys flit across the rooftops looking for food, tiny squirrels, every sort of bug one could imagine they are all here. Once the seat of the final autonomous Sri Lankan kingdom to resist colonial incursion, the city of Kandy has retained a sense of reserved noble dignity. Knowing none of this before my arrival, and having the slightest clue as to what I might find, somehow I’ve come to discover a place among the many I’ve seen that I truly feel I was meant to experience despite how serendipitously I came to be here.
The demise of the Kandyan Kingdom came by way of the necessary strokes of pen to ink the Kandyan Convention in 1815. The result of the agreement left the rule of the land to the British military officers whose higher command in the low-lying coastal regions whose primary interests were economic rather than social. The agreement stipulated that the preservation of Buddhist culture, and some systems of local governance, but effectively the reign of its Kings had come to an end.
The strength of that deeply rooted ancient culture can still be felt here in Kandy in a much different way than other places I’ve so far visited. It is a site of pilgrimage for Buddhists from all over the world to come pay respect and give prayer in the Temple of the Buddha’s Tooth. For example, the law here reflects that homage paid to the Buddha in ways like the illegality of liquor sales after 11pm everywhere in the city.
I confess that in most places I might feel as if that were an incursion on my free choice, but I’ve come to find that it’s one of the things I enjoy most. In the States, where I am from, such a law would be violently protested. I personally, before coming here, might have rallied against such a thing: I’ve always felt that the survival of the human spirit necessitates the ability to have certain freedoms. How one chooses to display that freedom is, of course, up to them, but the stricter in law and demand a place is I’ve always felt that as repression.
I came to see things differently during my time in Kandy. I respect the underlying motivation of that particular law, and the sensibility of the people here which is tempered by the cultural and spiritual significance of their city. I’ve never felt more welcomed by a people than here.
I’m not entirely sure where my path will lead me after this, but I have come thus far and recognize that it has been a blessing to be here. There are certain things that I have come to be sure of in this world, and many that I question, but I can say for sure that there are good people in the city of Kandy, and it is a heartwarming notion to be there and feel close to them.
As the country heals itself after such a time of long conflict, the city of Kandy in particular strikes me as a necessary place and region to help facilitate the growing bond among the people. There exist so much potential for growth and progress here, but as a culture still deeply rooted in a great many of their ancient practices and beliefs, it is difficult to navigate which elements to carry forward and which to leave behind.
To view another culture and people objectively without dissociation necessitates the ability to sift through truths, half-truths, and even lies. While there is much written of this place from the perspectives of “outsiders” that shapes the impression of this country and people they are coming into an period of peace, with which also enables more ability to proceed beyond differences and have a voice in international dialogue that isn’t so marred by war.
Some places in Sri Lanka are modernizing rapidly. Different from the colonial period, modern international influence does not come with soldiers but loans, building contracts, and the promise of economic revitalization often at the expense of one’s heritage. Culture risks bland, staleness for the reward of modern technologies, clothing, breakfast cereals, and popular culture. Conservatives bemoan their children’s desire to discard the style and mannerisms of their recent past for instead the newest Apple product or at least even the counterfeit version while advertisers wrack their brains for the best ways to push the latest fads.
This is not particular to Sri Lanka: in many countries such is the case from China, to Mexico, Turkey, and others I’ve been so much has been the same. The people of this world want to be happy, to feel secure, free to make their own choices without marginalization and unafraid to demand this if necessary from those they have chosen to let lead them. There is a need for love, brotherly and sisterly love and appreciation, respect, and those common courtesies that make the many things that are asked of us at least bearable.
I will perhaps return to the city of Kandy, but at the moment I cannot say. A large part of me feels as if my life there makes sense. Perhaps I was lead there unknowingly and perhaps I will be lead back. If this is so dear reader then hopefully as I leave now writing to you I will write to you when I return.