No more joy rides?

By Ishani Ranasinghe
Whatever happened to the 'baby train' that brought many youngsters and adults alike much enjoyment? It sits forlorn in a corner at Viharamaha Devi Park, disused and forgotten.

Every kid loves trains and many remember how a ride in the train was the highlight of a visit to the park.

But for the past few years the train has been abandoned because of a broken engine.
What greets hopeful youngsters who come to the park anticipating a train ride is an overgrown rail track and a few rusty compartments.

Why is nothing being done to repair the train? Commissioner of the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC), Dr. Jayantha Liyanage says the CMC took over the park from the Urban Development Authority (UDA) in January 2002. Even though there was an agreement with the Ceylon Government Railway (CGR) to repair the train, once the UDA took over, nothing happened.

More than a year has passed since the park was brought under the CMC control once again but still the train stands disused. "The compartments are beyond repair because they were neglected for so long. We are once again negotiating a deal with the CGR to repair the engine," Dr. Liyanage says.

How long it will take and when the train will once again start running again he is not certain. What a shame.

Journey through Java

By Ven. S. Dhammika
Borobudur is the largest Buddhist monument in Java. Indeed, it is the largest single Buddhist structure in the world but by no means the only one - there are some forty other Buddhist temples, shrines and stupas scattered around mainly the east end of the island.

Borobudur's size and fame has meant that these other monuments have remained for the most part unknown and unvisited. Java's Buddhist temples were built during the Sanjaya and Sailendra dynasties some of whose kings were Hindu and others Buddhist.

In January this year, I took advantage of some free time to visit as many of these monuments as I could. I started my pilgrimage at Mendut where there is a small modern temple. Next to the new temple is the ancient one. When Mendut was discovered in 1836, it was half ruined and nearly covered in volcanic ash and thick jungle. The famous archaeologist Thaddeus van Erp was given the job of trying to reconstruct the temple from the thousands of fragments that were scattered all round the area. With incredible patience and a good deal of guesswork, he put the whole thing together again.

Walking up the impressive stairway and entering the temple one sees the three largest and most impressive Buddhist images still to be seen anywhere in Southeast Asia, one of the Buddha, another of Avalokitesvara and the third of Vajrapani.

The outside walls of the temple are covered with reliefs depicting Jataka stories. It is wonderful to think that the Jatakas we read today were being read and enjoyed by Indonesian peasants a millennium and a half ago.

I woke up well before sunrise and meditated in front of the Buddha image and set off. Mendut was one in a row of temples situated on the stone paved pilgrim's path that led to Borobudur and I decided to follow this road. At about ten I arrived at Powan, a small elegant temple built in honour of Kuvara, the Mahayana god of prosperity. The windows in this temple are placed high on the walls so that light streams into the interior from above, something quite unusual in Asian temples. Though the image in the shrine disappeared centuries ago, there are lovely carvings on either side of the door.

By noon I had reached Borobudur, and I spent the afternoon looking at the great stupa.

Next morning I followed the road east for a while and after cutting through paddy fields and making a few wrong turns arrived at Ngawen. On the edge of this small village are five temples in a row, each built to honour the five Dhyani Buddhas. The ground level around the temples has risen over the centuries so that now they sit in pools of water.
My next stop was Sewu, some distance away. Sewu originally consisted of a huge central temple surrounded by 240 smaller ones arranged in rows of four. Everything is enclosed within a wall longer than the sides of Borobudur. On either side of the main gate are two impressive stone guardians draped with snakes and holding clubs.

The whole complex is badly damaged and it is hard to envisage what it originally looked like. A clue to its appearance maybe one of the smaller temples, which is almost intact. It has a portico, its outer walls have panels with reliefs on them and the roof is formed by a large stupa. A Buddha image sits in the dark interior. The central temple must have originally looked something like this but on a much grander scale. Archaeologists are considering using this small temple as a model to try to reconstruct the others.

I made my way back to the main road and began walking east. Within a few minutes a car stopped and took me all the way to the turnoff to Candi Kalasan. This huge half-collapsed temple was built to Tara, the consort of Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of compassion. The interior is damp and dark and smells strongly of bat droppings. The two sides of the temple that still stand complete are covered with delicate carvings of makhdras, devas, bodhisattvas and floral designs. The exteriors of this and the other temples were probably originally painted.

As I left, one villager approached me and asked where I was from. We talked for a while and eventually spoke of religion. The man told me that although he was a Muslim he honoured the Buddha and considered Him a great prophet. This sort of all-embracing attitude to religion is common in Indonesia. Over the next four days of my pilgrimage, I visited Sari, Plaosan, Sijiwan and five other more out of the way places.

I had seen all the Buddhist temples on my list but as I still had time and energy I decided to visit one other place, Sambisari, a sort of Pompeii of Indonesia. In 1966, a farmer was digging his field when his hoe hit a beautifully carved stone buried just below the surface. Archaeologists were called in and digging commenced. The more they dug the more they found. They uncovered a perfectly preserved ancient temple. Sambisair was a Hindu temple built in the 9th century. A hundred years later it was covered with volcanic ash from Mt Merapi, some 18 kilometres away. The temple sits at the bottom of a depression some 15 feet below ground level. It consists of one large and three small shrines all surrounded by a wall. All its images still stand in their original places.

I found visiting Java's Buddhist temples an inspiring but strangely sad experience. One has to be impressed by the devotion and sacrifice that was needed to raise these huge monuments to the Buddha and the Bodhisattvas. One is certainly impressed by the skill of the architects who designed them and the artists who decorated them. But one is also perplexed. Why did a religion that was able to motivate people to erect such huge and beautiful structures fade away so easily and so completely? Islam did not persecute Buddhism and Hinduism in Java; history shows that they just quietly gave way to it. I wonder if there is both a message and a warning to modern Buddhists in all these now broken and moss-covered stones.

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