The blue waters of the Kandy Lake had a soothing effect on my restless mind. Early one morning my family members and I paid a visit to the Sri Dalada Maligawa with a bowl of milk rice as an offering to the most venerated Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha. Entering the Maligawa, my mind was [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

What is happening to Kandy, the world heritage town?


The blue waters of the Kandy Lake had a soothing effect on my restless mind. Early one morning my family members and I paid a visit to the Sri Dalada Maligawa with a bowl of milk rice as an offering to the most venerated Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha. Entering the Maligawa, my mind was full of “Maitree and Karuna”.

No more greenery: Present view of the surroundings of Kandy Lake

We waited in the long queue of pilgrims to offer our “Kiri Ahara” with great veneration. But my mind started to seethe with anger when I saw another group of pilgrims, perhaps affluent people, entering the shrine room through the main entrance. The white clad security officers were escorting them with their kith and kin to the shrine room. Why can’t they take these V.I.Ps to the shrine room through the ground floor entrance without disturbing the minds of poor uninfluential pilgrims?

I thought of taking a walk round the Kandy Lake to get some solace and walked a few metres from the ‘ulpenge’ towards Mahamaya primary school and sat on a garden bench by the side of the pavement by the lake bund. The view of the blue water with the silhouettes of the Maligawa and trees around was a soothing balm for my disturbed mind. I looked around expecting to rejuvenate the pleasant memories of my childhood but the greenery I expected to see was not there. Instead there were towering buildings and reddish brown spots. There is no more green cover around the lake, especially on the slopes of Wales Park, Malwatta Temple area and Dharmaraja Hill.

My first memory of seeing the Kandy Lake was of accompanying my mother as an eight-year-old to the residence of a leading lawyer at Lake Round near Malwatta Temple. That was around 1956. We came to Raja Veediya from our village by bus and from there we took a rickshaw. The rhythmic note of cicadas (Rahaiya) was the only sound I heard. No blaring of horns. It was calm and cool with only a few rays of the sun peeping through the dense canopy of leaves.

Then my memory went back to my school days at Dharmaraja primary school. The school was at the Natha Devala premises in the cool shade of the Bo trees in an ideal environment suitable for education with a Buddhist background. Our teachers would take us for walks around the lake when we were idling after the term tests. A juicy” Bulto” from Bandaiya’s Tuck Shop at school provided energy for the whole trek. We saw turtles piled up on each other at the lake island, diving cormorants and schools of fish. We were asked to draw the scenery we saw on our way round Kandy Lake and most of the drawings were full of greenery. Our English teacher at senior classes explained the meaning of the word salubrious.

Now, I cannot see any greenery around the lake especially at the Wales park and Dharmaraja slopes. Sporadic destruction at the periphery of Udawattakele has been started. Towering buildings competing with the height of the Maligawa are sprouting up. The reddish spots I saw are the newly tiled roofs of the luxuriously refurbished monasteries of custodian monks of Dalada Maligawa after chopping off the huge ancient trees around the place.
I walked towards the Ampitiya end of the lake, noting the refurbishment of the eroded banks of the lake with gabion walls. There is a new silt trap to collect incoming silt from “Peris watta”and Ampitiya area. That the authorities have taken much effort to maintain the natural beauty of lake when doing any refurbishment is commendable.

I walked round the balance section of the lake bund. The immediate vicinity of the lake round has been cleared. The age-old trees are gone, replaced by all types of concrete buildings of various hues and heights. There was a massive traffic jam from Mahamaya hostel to the Boat house end. The blaring of horns made my ears hurt, the billowing smoke from vehicles made me cough. I was sweating profusely when I came up to the bathing spot of the monks and sat on the garden bench placed near the bank and looked towards the Maligawa.

It was an eye-catching view. The Maligawa stood majestic against the green background of Udawattakele.The well maintained island on the lake with colourful foliage looked like an everlasting ornament offered to the most venerated temple. A glowing tribute should be paid to the curator and the staff of the Royal Botanical Garden for maintaining this masterpiece in a very attractive manner. No more turtles could be seen as in the past.
Kandy was declared a world heritage site due to the sacredness and beauty of the Dalada Maligawa, the beauty of the Kandy Lake, the serene salubrious environment around and the virgin forest in the area. But now it is changing into a shanty town. If immediate action is not taken, this irreversible conversion will be complete within another five years.

As a layman I wish to offer a few suggestions to stop the further deterioration of the environment of Kandy. The area from the boat house end towards Ampitiya should be declared a restricted zone for any construction or development. A semi-circular area of about 2 km radius would be appropriate. Stop all ongoing construction. A monitoring body comprised of respected politicians, representatives of the Maha Nayakas and knowledgeable honest officers of various disciplines such as Engineering, Architecture, Archaeology, environment etc. should be appointed to oversee all development work and approve any new construction in this restricted area.

No industrial ventures should be allowed in the area. Construction of only buildings with not more than two storeys should be allowed. Restrict any new construction as far as possible. All constructions should be compatible with ancient Kandyan architecture. All Government institutions in Kandy town should be shifted to Pallekele and Peradeniya areas. No liquor and gambling should be allowed at the existing hotels in this restricted area. Only vegetarian food shall be allowed in these hotels.

Public interest in Kandy other than religious interest should be diverted to other suitable other locations as far as possible.
These suggestions may not be pragmatic but should be food for thought in venturing a strategy to bring back Kandy to its ancient glory and beauty.

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