By Kavan Ratnatunga
Heritage, natural, cultural or constructed, is inherited
by us from our ancestors and we should endeavour to pass it on to
future generations, carefully preserved in a way that everyone can
enjoy its original beauty.
few weeks ago, on a trip with the Archaeological Society I wondered
why someone had built a Mahayana Temple at Dambulla. I was shocked
to see that it was at the base of the historic rock. The huge golden
statue was clearly foreign and out of place. Below the statue was
a museum and cyber-cafe. The cyber-cafe had closed early that evening
due to the lack of patronage, probably because it cost Rs. 5 a minute.
It clearly catered only for the foreign tourists.
the side there was an entrance with a fake rock surface, which looked
like something from the House of Horror, at any carnival. This was
the entrance flight of steps up the rock. I can just see the tourists
on a rushed trip around the island being shown this new statue and
thinking they had visited Dambulla, ignorant of the glorious temples
and paintings on the top of the rock.
was glad to find that part of the original climb up the Dambulla
rock had been preserved next to the Archaeological Museum. However,
the natural beauty is broken by this huge painted concrete statue.
I say this with no disrespect. A Buddha statue needs to be artistically
built to give that feeling of peace when you are near it. Many knowledgeable
people pointed out the basic errors of even the posture of the hands
of this Buddha statue. Should our heritage sites be for sale to
any rich foreign nation that wishes to stamp its culture at Lankan
sites? How do the temple authorities allow it? I was told that construction
at Dambulla was contracted at Rs 20,000 per square foot. It clearly
seemed the well-known process of over-valued foreign aid.
of Buddhist sites is a controversial issue. For some of us the beauty
is in the structures as they were built, surviving many centuries
of wind and rain. Many see the need to rebuild the sites as places
of worship to their former glory. Ruwanvelisaya is one such clear
example. Early photographs taken in the late 19th century show its
former glory, now buried under concrete.
recent restorations such as at Jetavanaramaya tried to arrest the
decay while preserving the glory of the ancient site. What has been
done in Dambulla is neither. It has neither preserved nor rebuilt
the heritage of Dambulla.