04 July 2023

Every mountain, every rock is sacred

Sketch by Tharindu Amunugama

There’s controversy brewing over the building of a temple atop Bathalegala. Environmentalists claim that such constructions will have a detrimental impact on flora and fauna. Some say it’s ‘visual pollution,’ since it is an artificial construction that scars views of a natural landscape. The view from what is clearly the loveliest stretch of the Colombo-Kandy Road, between Mawanella and Kadugannawa would be scarred.


Any human intervention that involves any kind of construction on any landscape is a scar it could be argued.

On the other hand, the fact that few if any have vented at other kinds of construction raises questions regarding selective angst. There’s been hardly a whimper about the planned construction of a road to an illegally constructed church in Pallekhandal within the Wilpattu National Park. There’s been some noise over the construction of hotels in similar landscapes, but nothing like the shouts and screams over this particular construction.

Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Bathalegala was ‘christened’ as ‘Bible Rock,’ probably by some Englishman. Perhaps it’s just because Bathalegala can be seen whereas, for example, the Pallekhandal Church is not.  

Those involved in the construction claim a legal right. The objectors would want such claims examined and, even if authentic, revoked. How things unfold is left to be seen.

So there’s religion. There’s ecology. There’s politics. There are clearly ego issues here. There’s perceived wrongdoing; desecration according to some of a touch-me-not landscape which others would call out the humbuggery of selectivity. It’s complicated. Nevertheless, the young poet Lahiru Karunaratne who says so much with so few words offered an apt comment in the following poem:

මහ සෑයකි
උඩට නොනැඟද
මල් මිටක්
පාමුල පුදනු හැකි…

A splendid chaityaya
is the mountain
to which flowers can be offered
even without climbing the summit
but at its very base…

People find succour from religion in many ways. For some, it’s prayer. For others, devotional song. For still others, deep reflection on the tenets of the particular doctrine. People have beliefs and beliefs are often at odds with one another. These are all subjective. No one has some kind of divine authority to order religious practices in terms of worth. Perhaps it is high time that laws pertaining to what can be and cannot be built, where and where not are reviewed. 

There are places of religious significance in all kinds of places — deep in the jungles out of deliberate need for seclusion or simply because the jungle has reappropriated territory, on top of hills, stand-alone rocks and mountains, in valleys lush and lovely. You find them by rivers, reservoirs and the ocean.

Religion and doctrine, let us not forget, are not coterminous. Both mean different things to different people. Lahiru is right, as far as I can understand Buddhist philosophy and in terms of my preferred religious practices. He could be dead wrong in someone else’s bible, so to speak. For the record, when I reached the summit of Bathalegala more than forty years ago with some friends, 'worship' of any kind was not in my mind. If at all, what was venerated was the silence, the calm, the view, a sense of achievement but more than all this, good times with friends.

And now, having read Lahiru's poems, I feel compelled to say that reflection cannot be harmful. Reflection on the politics, the economic factors, the environmental concerns, names and naming. Reflection on the transient nature of all things. Most of all.

Tharindu Amunugama, for whom vandanaa is about feet and gaze, and who gives meaning to notions of connectivity by taking and sharing photographs, recently posted a sketch on Facebook.

‘A quick sketch,’ he said. A sketch that speaks of forest monasteries and hidden trails. It was inspired, he said, by a drip-ledge cave temple in Nathagane. Nathagane Aranya Senansanaya is located in the Kurunegala District and at the foot of a 350m high range of hills. Also known as Mundakundapola Nuwara with a history that goes back to the 2nd-3rd century BC, it is speculated that it has at different times been a fort, a palace and a temple.

Time passes. Names change. The meaning of things get altered. We make mountains out of molehills and reduce monumental issues to ‘brushable’ specks of dust. Mountains are tropes. They are sacrificial altars. They are temples too.

Gaze is a flower, insignificant for some, meaningless for others, but an offering nevertheless. I prefer to stand with Lahiru Karunaratne. I prefer to meditate on impermanence.


['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:

Manufacturing passivity and obedience

Precept and practice

Sanjeew Lonliyes: rawness unplugged, unlimited

In praise of courage, determination and insanity

The relative values of life and death

Feet that walk

Sarinda's eyes

Poetry and poets will not be buried

Sunny Dayananda

Reunion Peradeniya (1980-1990)

What makes Oxygen breathable? 

Sorrowing and delighting the world

The greatest fallacy 

Encounters with Liyanage Amarakeerthi

Beyond praise and blame

Letters that cut and heal the heart

Vanished and vanishing trails


A forgotten dawn song from Embilipitiya

The soft rain of neighbourliness 

The Gold Medals of being

Jaya Sri Ratna Sri

All those we've loved before

Reflections on waves and markings

A chorus of National Anthems

Saying what and how

'Say when'

Respond to insults in line with the Akkosa Sutra

The loves of our lives

The right time, the right person

The silent equivalent of a thousand words

Crazy cousins are besties for life

Unities, free and endearing

Free verse and the return key

"Sorry, Earth!"

The lost lyrics of Premakeerthi de Alwis

The revolution is the song

Consolation prizes in competitions no one ever wins

The day I won a Pulitzer


Ella Deloria's silences

Blackness, whiteness and black-whiteness

Inscriptions: stubborn and erasable 


Deveni: a priceless one-word koan

Enlightening geometries

Let's meet at 'The Commons'

It all begins with a dot

Recovering run-on lines and lost punctuation

'Wetness' is not the preserve of the Dry Zone

On sweeping close to one's feet

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