Road to enlightenment
Tom Beer -- Interior Design, 1/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
Sri Lanka is an island of Buddhas. You'll find them everywhere. Ancient and modern, stone, wood, bronze, and plaster, in home shrines and vast temples—the Buddha is both a holy image and an everyday sight. A detour off the palm-fringed road that hugs Sri Lanka's south coast takes you to one of the most impressive Buddhas of all, the 132-foot-tall colossus at Veherahena.
Though Buddhism has flourished here since the third century BC, the Veherahena Buddha is recent. Construction began in 1956 during the outburst of devotion accompanying the 2,500th anniversary of the Buddha's death. Characteristically Sri Lankan, this is neither the jolly deity of China nor the beatific figure of ancient India but an impassive sage in the samadhi, or meditative, posture. The statue is protected by a five-story structure, its long halls and underground shrine covered with 20,000 colorful cartoon-style panels depicting the life of the Buddha and incidents from his 550 previous incarnations.
The temple attracts a constant stream of pilgrims offering jasmine blossoms, betel nuts, or oil lamps. And once a year, during a full moon, lucky visitors get to witness the perahera, a joyous procession of musicians, dancers, and elephants.