- fallen and reclaimed by nature
By Kavan Ratnatunga
The beauty of Unawatuna bay a few miles east of Galle
in southern Lanka is world famous. Over 20 years ago, the beach
was clean with no tourist hotels to spoil its scenic beauty.
is the Unawatuna I remember from my childhood when each year in
July I would go with my parents for a festival of lights in the
Devale located at the tip of the bay. Each day of the week-long
celebration was allocated to one dayaka of that ancient place of
Devale although primarily Hindu, attracted a strong patronage from
many Sinhala Buddhists as well. Consequently a Buddha statue and
vihara was built in the same premises. Considering Buddhism only
as a philosophy for good living, I have from my childhood had no
interest in religious poojas, however enjoyed this annual trip.
We would light small lamps which would be placed in specially made
spaces in the wall around the temple. Each clay lamp was filled
with coconut oil and burnt a cloth wick placed in it. After sunset
the hundreds of flickering lamps did transform the Devale into a
place of magical beauty at the end of Unawatuna bay, the white sands
of the beach glowing in the soft light of the full moon.
Arthur C. Clarke of "2001: A Space Odyssey" fame, fell
in love with Unawatuna. In his book 'The Treasures of the Great
Reef', he describes it thus: "And always it is the same; the
slender palm trees leaning over the white sand, the warm sun sparkling
on the waves as they break on the inshore reef, the outrigger fishing
boats drawn up high on the beach. This alone is real; the rest is
but a dream from which I shall presently awake."
the fame of a place has its unfortunate price. As tourists discover
it, they start coming in increasing numbers. My father seeing the
danger, purchased the prime property close by and gifted it to the
Devale to prevent exploitation by any hotel. However the bay is
large and illegal constructions on the state beachfront slowly eroded
the beautiful Unawatuna bay.
I visited Unawatuna in 2003 May, I could have wept in sorrow. The
beach was crowded with a long row of boutiques selling anything
from alcohol to massages for foreign guests only, and all the other
vices probably as well in sight of the Devale that it bothered even
my non-religious self. It was not in keeping with our culture. Beer
cans and candy wrappers littered the beach. I wished I had not visited.
I would probably have never bothered to visit again. There was no
reason to do so.
after the devastating tsunami I went back to Unawatuna with my brother
on January 2, . He had visited Unawatuna a few days previously and
was returning with items requested by the monk at the Buddhist Centre.
Very basic items like bedding which had got washed away and mops
and brooms to clean the premises.
Centre had been flooded to about 3 and 4 feet during the first and
second waves and the level was clearly watermarked on the wall.
They were getting the place organized. The books that had not got
washed away had been put out to dry. They welcomed the brooms and
started cleaning. A lot of clothes were being sorted and stacked
in the meditation hall ready for distribution to the tsunami victims.
the beach, it was a scene of utter devastation. The tsunami had
churned everyone's belonging with their broken houses and furniture
and left a big mess. Computer monitors from the Internet cafe lay
half buried in the sand. The sea had eroded about 30 feet of the
beach. The first row of illegal beach huts had been washed away.
The hotels on the landside of the road were now facing the sea.
Although most had been damaged, the owners probably consider it
a blessing in disguise since this rare tsunami had improved their
location on the bay.
beach erosion had made the stream that entered the sea near the
Devale much deeper and broader. I remember wading through it the
last time I had visited. This time we had to cross by walking on
a coconut tree trunk that had been placed over it as a bridge further
up the stream. The Devale had been badly damaged but not destroyed.
The walls around the Devale which used to hold the oil lamps had
fallen as large slabs. Looking at the dislocation of tiles on the
roof one realized that water must have reached almost to the top
of the roof. The Buddha statue in the building behind was intact.
walked up the steps behind the Devale to the Vihara on top of the
rock. It was safely above any damage. We now had an overview of
the bay. Most of it was back to nature. I hope the government coastal
protection agency will strictly impose the 100-metre rule in Unawatuna
bay, and the few remaining hotels visible from this spot will agree
to rebuild further back and be invisible behind the coconut trees.
Unawatuna would then regain its majestic beauty, as the beach slowly
the Vihara we met an engineer who had come to Unawatuna with some
water pumps from a power station. He was helping with a group of
volunteers to clean the drinking water wells of sea water. Not seeking
any publicity, just systematically getting the urgent job done.
in Sinhala translates to fallen. Hanuman the monkey god of the great
Indian epic the Ramayana brought back a whole mountain from the
Himalayas when he could not remember the herb he had been asked
to fetch for Lakshman. Legend states that part of that mountain
broke off and made Unawatuna. Unawatuna has clearly fallen from
beauty before the tsunami, and now lies in shambles after it.
can only hope that when it is rebuilt, the tourist industry will
understand what to leave to nature so that everyone can enjoy again
the beauty of Unawatuna bay with only the Devale visible from it.