29 April 2023

On sweeping close to one's feet

Jayanath Bodahandi (Bodhi), the eldest in his family, would have been just out of school when his father, an illustrator at an advertising agency, passed away. Bodhi could draw and the kind people at the agency offered him a job.

There was a problem. Bodhi lived in Balapitiya and the salary would hardly cover expenses such as rent, food and bus fare. There was a solution. The hamuduruwo of the village temple arranged for him to stay in a temple in Colombo.

Bodhi returned to the temple late after his first day at work to find there was no food for him. The loku hamuduruwo had explained that it wasn’t a rich temple frequented by wealthy and generous laity; it was not possible to provide meals.  

Bodhi went to sleep hungry. He was up early the following morning. He decided that this arrangement wasn’t working. He had just enough money for the bus to Balapitiya. So he went to work. No, not to the advertising agency. The temple.

He picked up an idala (ekel broom) and started sweeping the temple premises. As he was finishing, he noticed the loku hamuduruwo watching him. When he was done, he kept the idala aside, went up to the loku hamuduruwo, worshipped him, thanked him for allowing him to stay and told him that he had decided to give up on his job and return home.

The loku hamuduruwo understood Bodhi’s predicament. He dissuaded the young man: 'thiyena vidihakata kaala imu; yanna ona naha (you don’t have to go; let’s manage with what we have).'

Years later Bodhi said that in retrospect the exercise of sweeping the temple compound was like an advertising campaign.

It was a simple act. An act of gratitude for something simple that he received — a roof over his head for one night. It led to a career in advertising that saw him become a creative director at a top agency and then starting off on his own.  

Two things reminded me of Bodhi’s story, a poem and a photograph. First, the poem.

පා අවට විතරයි
පිරිසිදු කළේ ඉදල
අතුගෑවිලා මිදුල

Essentially: the ekel broom sweeps around or close to the feet, but it is an entire compound that has got swept.

The poet throws soft light on the simple and commonplace and makes visible profound truths, as is evidenced in most of the poems in the collection, Suminda Kithsiri Gunaratne’s sixth, Prisma (Prisms).

And the photo: that of a hamuduruwo, idala in hand, sweeping the compound of the Buddhangala Monastery in Ampara, apparently belonging to the Digamadulla Kingdom, 4th Century BC. Buddhangala, although located deep in the jungles around Ampara, was brought back to life, so to speak, by a brave young hamuduruwo in 1964, Rev Kalutara Dhammananda Thero. I am not sure if it is this hamuduruwo who is captured in the photograph, but most certainly the complex developing to what it is now owes much to the fact that the Thero had focused on sweeping close to his feet.

On a tree close to where the hamuduruwo is sweeping there’s a board with the following line from the Dhammapada: ‘Appamado amatha padang — nopamaava nivanata hethu ve,’ which can be loosely translated as ‘timely action, i.e. without delay, paves the way to nirvana.’

That which needs to be done right now, then, needs to be done with absolute integrity of the faculties, with composure, dedication and unwavering resolve. Large and complex extents, physical and otherwise, get cleared thereby.

Bodhi was sweeping the area close to his feet; the entire compound got swept . Rev Kalutara Dhammananda Thero was sweeping the area close to his feet; and now people know there's a place called Buddhangala in Ampara. The hamuduruwo in the photograph is sweeping the area closest to his feet; it’s an example, a study in concentration that throws a lot of light on right conduct.

Tharindu, in his photographic endeavours, is essentially covering or rather clearing nearby-ground; he ends up clearing vast areas of the mind, his and (at least) mine.  Suminda uses pen as an idala. He removes clutter, keeps things tidy. He is in fact casting a thin ray of light on the mind’s prisms which duly disperses and shows things in their true colours.

All sweepers. Focusing on that which needs to be sorted in the here and now. The rest follows. 

['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is a new series. Links to previous articles in this new series are given below]

Other articles in this series:


Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California

To be an island like the Roberts...

Debts that can never be repaid in full

An island which no flood can overwhelm

Who really wrote 'Mother'?

A melody faint and yet not beyond hearing

Heart dances that cannot be choreographed

Remembering to forget and forgetting to remember

On loving, always

Authors are assassinated, readers are immortal

When you turn 80...

It is good to be conscious of nudities 

Saturday slides in after Monday and Sunday somersaults into Friday 

There's a one in a million and a one in ten

Gunadasa Kapuge is calling

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California

Hemantha Gunawardena's signature

Pathways missed

Architectures of the demolished

The exotic lunacy of parting gifts

Who the heck do you think I am?

Those fascinating 'Chitra Katha'

The Mangala Sabhava

So how are things in Sri Lanka?

The most beautiful father

Palmam qui meruit ferat

The sweetest three-letter poem

Buddhangala Kamatahan

An Irish and Sri Lankan Hello

Teams, team-thinking, team-spirit and leadership

The songs we could sing in lifeboats when we are shipwrecked

Pure-Rathna, a class act

Jekhan Aruliah set a ball rolling in Jaffna

Awaiting arrivals unlike any other

Teachers and students sometimes reverse roles

Matters of honor and dignity

Yet another Mother's Day

A cockroach named 'Don't'

Colombo, Colombo, Colombo and so forth

The slowest road to Kumarigama, Ampara

Sweeping the clutter away

Some play music, others listen

Completing unfinished texts

Mind and hearts, loquacious and taciturn

I am at Jaga Food, where are you?

On separating the missing from the disappeared

Moments without tenses

And intangible republics will save the day (as they always have)

The world is made of waves


The circuitous logic of Tony Muller

Rohana Kalyanaratne, an unforgettable 'Loku Aiya'

Mowgli, the Greatest Archaeologist

Figures and disfigurement, rocks and roses

Sujith Rathnayake and incarcerations imposed and embraced

Some stories are written on the covers themselves

A poetic enclave in the Republic of Literature

Landcapes of gone-time and going-time 

The best insurance against the loud and repeated lie

So what if the best flutes will not go to the best flautists?

There's dust and words awaiting us at crossroads and crosswords

The books of disquiet

A song of terraced paddy fields

Of ants, bridges and possibilities

From A through Aardvark to Zyzzyva 

World's End

Words, their potency, appropriation and abuse

Street corner stories

Who did not listen, who's not listening still?

The book of layering

If you remember Kobe, visit GOAT Mountain

The world is made for re-colouring

The gift and yoke of bastardy

The 'English Smile'

No 27, Dickman's Road, Colombo 5

Visual cartographers and cartography

Ithaca from a long ago and right now

Lessons written in invisible ink

The amazing quality of 'equal-kindness'

A tea-maker story seldom told

On academic activism

The interchangeability of light and darkness

Back to TRADITIONAL rice

Sisterhood: moments, just moments

Chess is my life and perhaps your too

Reflections on ownership and belonging

The integrity of Nadeesha Rajapaksha

Signatures in the seasons of love

To Maceo Martinet as he flies over rainbows

Sirith, like pirith, persist

Fragrances that will not be bottled 

Colours and textures of living heritage

Countries of the past, present and future

A degree in creative excuses

Books launched and not-yet-launched

The sunrise as viewed from sacred mountains

The ways of the lotus

Isaiah 58: 12-16 and the true meaning of grace

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville

Live and tell the tale as you will

Between struggle and cooperation

Of love and other intangibles

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions

The universe of smallness

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills

Serendipitous amber rules the world

Continents of the heart