Mirror Magazine


The story of a lantern
Thousands and thousands of Vesak lanterns will transform the city this week. Ishani Ranasinghe meets some of the people who are still intent on keeping the flame alive.

Little kids look forward to Vesak and of course, to the making of lanterns. My young neighbour has been preparing for this ever since the school holidays began, figuring out how the lighting was going to work and all the other little details. What amazed me was how he was preparing the structure of his lantern… he used straws to make the frame and pasted the paper on. I am yet to see the final result but by the looks of it, it promises to be one of the most eye-catching displays in our neighbourhood.

Vesak, we know, inspires creativity in the minds of all. We need no further proof than to see the amazing Vesak lanterns that are on display. Some are so big and so intricately designed that even the casual passer-by cannot but stop and look at them in awe.

Hoping to get some insight into the making of these elaborate 'Vesak kudus', I went in search of the people creating these masterpieces.

Orugodawatte has one of the most sought after Vesak lanterns in town. Known to many as "Ratmalane Pahan Kuduwa" this is the work of Mr. Gunasena Kurukulasuriya with the help of a few of his employees. The lantern which is about 60 feet tall has over 200 figures, 10, 000 lights and about 180 small Vesak lanterns attached to the main one. On the main frames there are a few drawings that depict the story and at the bottom a miniature version of the Kandy Perahera encircles the main frame, rotating beautifully.

Mr. Kurukulasuriya has in the past exhibited his lanterns at different locations. This is his 34th creation. "I first started it in Ratmalana, but people wanted me to have it in other places as well," he said, adding that it also had to be a place convenient for everyone to view the lantern.

Each year he strives to make a lantern that is better than the one he created the previous year. "I also want to give the people a message," he says, which is why his lanterns are designed around a particular Jathaka story each year. It takes him one whole year to get the stuff ready and to build such a magnificent creation. Looking at the intricate designs on the lanterns and the special care taken over every little detail, it is not surprising that it takes so much time. This year's creation is woven around "Siri Dalada Watha". Once the basic design is done, three months before Vesak the items are brought to the location, (in this case Orugodawatte). Thereafter all the final touches and the lighting are done there.

The total cost of making this elaborate lantern at times even exceeds Rs 30 lakhs and at times even after charging the public for viewing this they can't cover the cost. After Mr. Kurukulasuriya's creation is shown to the public during the Vesak season, the whole lantern is burned. They then preach bana and have an alms giving.

"Before making preparations for the next year's lantern I usually go to Kataragama and distribute some dry rations," says Mr. Kurukulasuriya, who also makes donations to schools to help them in various ways such as prize givings, building their school grounds, etc.

At the other end of town, the "Ratmalane maha Pahan Kuduwa" is being put together at the Ratmalana railway grounds. For 12 years, Mr. S. Maithripala Silva has been overseeing the making of this lantern. The design of this lantern, which changes every year, is innovative and is done by 17-year-old Dilan Kumara.

This year the lantern that stands tall is held upright by three elephants. There are about 160 small lanterns attached to the main one. Under the structure there is a pond and water cascades down from the small lanterns creating a very beautiful picture in the mind. It has not yet been completed, but once it is done it will undoubtedly be a grand sight.

Building it for the past five months, they exhibit it for about three weeks following Vesak and about two weeks for Poson. The total cost of this project is about Rs 12 lakhs and they too issue tickets to the public to cover the cost. They follow the same procedure once they have finished exhibiting it.

Yes, creativity does spark within people when it is Vesak and sometimes it is the same instinct you had in you as a child.

This Vesak as we look around, the lights from a thousand Vesak kudus will brighten the city and they wouldn't be there but for the painstaking effort of so many dedicated hands.

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