October 29, 2012
Darkness surrounds me as I’m awoken by the rhythmic sounds of chanting in the early morning hours. I lie awake for some time, and make out the sound of rain falling; eventually my alarm alerts me that five am has arrived, and it is time to rise. After wrestling with my mosquito net, I escape my bed and begin to don white clothing.
Barefoot, I step out into the rain and begin my walk to the temple. Along the way people try to sell me flowers and incense to offer at the temple. Countless people, all of whom are clad in white, surround me.
Today is Poya, a Buddhist holiday in Sri Lanka which commemorates the full moon day. Poya Day is a public holiday, and most institutions are closed today. Grocery stores cannot sell alcohol or meat on Poya.
The early morning is quiet, save for the sounds of rainfall and chanting. I pass through the metal detectors at the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, Sri Lanka, then make my way through the monetary towards the main temple. Walking down a long path I approached the Temple. After wiping my feet I enter the main building, where two temple workers beat a drum and play a conch shell. The sound of their music reverberates through the halls. Walking up a flight of stairs I am shown to the queue by a man clad in white robes, who turns out to be a member of the police force. I shuffle up towards an open door, which is attended by several monks. For a few brief seconds I am allowed to gaze into the room, and see a brilliant gold casket. The gleaming stupa shaped vessel is a series of domes of diminishing size. Inside is a tooth of Buddha, which is said to have been snatched from the flames of his cremation in 438 BC. Kandyan kings built the Temple of the Tooth in 1687, as apart of the royal palace. The relic for which this temple was built makes it one of the most important sites for Buddhists across the world.
After a few brief seconds I have to move on, and exit the procession line. Once out, I join dozens of families who are sitting on the ground in prayer. For a good while I sit silently and watch the devout offer their prayers and gifts. There is an indescribable energy in this room, as an endless line of devotees silently files into the room. Sitting there is incredibly peaceful, so much so that I was compelled to meditate. Several minutes later I rose and walked down a set of stairs into another chamber of the temple. Walking into another room I am greeted by a monk clad in saffron robes, who tied a piece of white string around my right wrist.
I spent some more time exploring the temple before exiting, and I had returned to my hotel by about 6:30 in the morning. Vap Poya Day is celebrated in the month of October in Sri Lanka, it commemorates when the Sri Lankan ruler, King Devanampiyatissa, established the tradition of Buddhist Nuns in the country.
My first Poya day was a great experience, it differed drastically from my experiences at a Tibetan Monastery. I look forward to celebrating eight more of them during the course of my Fulbright.