A FUNERAL

(The death of King Dutugemunu is a poignant and well-written scene in the Mahavamsa, with everybody’s favorite hero king, who probably half-bankrupted the country thanks to his extensive building projects, being told as ascending into Tusita, one of six Buddhist heavens. But what did everyone else feel? Not everyone cries at funerals, after all….)

The skies were filled once again with ever-drifting clouds that obscured all light from the world once more. The metal-gray was like the bitter taste in the mouths of the people assembled by the now-invisible shadow of the Great Stupa as its domed form stood there in the middle of its construction. But where was the genius who had financed this building spree? Where was the man who would forever worship and respect his foe, the foe who battled him and the House of Magama since his great father’s days? Where was the hero now?

His eyes were clouded.

His ears were now blocked up as they strained to take in the sonorous chanting in the background.

The heroic, broad chest heaved heavily up and down, as if grasping the sweetness of the air around him for the final time before passing into final oblivion.

The chariots of Tusita were fast approaching.

The dull aura hung above the world as he lay on his bed. The linen sheets, the silken pillowcase, the gem-inlaid necklaces and bracelets from South India, the ebony frame of the bed, carved with its makaras and gajasinghas; no richness, no softness, could heal him. Five hundred figures stood, or sat, chanting old Buddhist verses, the same verses they’d learned in the halls of the monasteries he’s made for them. He had asked them to follow him on his wild crusade across rugged terrain. The Sangha of Rohana, the Sangha of Rajarata, the whole Sangha of Lanka, had broken their rules when they took part in this escapade. If only he could hear them! The unwise silently cursed. The wise hung their heads and chanted. What more could they do? It was their job, the job of all five hundred of them.

But there were things that they would never understand.
He had promised them freedom from the alien and his powerful grip. The hero had told them that his life’s mission would be to be the benefactor of the Brotherhood. But words, words they had been! Had he just built those monuments for them, the mighty Maricchavattiya among all other works just to look good in their eyes?
But then he had used them, hadn’t he…?

A few young, treacherous bhikkus wondered and pondered upon this through their chants, their piercing, scrutinizing hawkish eyes on the passing hero. Still, the clouds drew further in. It was like the great man’s reign should be eclipsed forever.A mighty, fleecy giant passed overhead as its formless bulk tried to shut out the last fragments of light that might touch the king’s glassy eyes. And this giant would roar, thunder booming from west to east, and the gods would shed tears as they reflected upon his rule. But could the gods look into his mind, powerful as they were? He could be born among them one day, a young, critical monk mused; they would know the truth. The Sangha would never be the same again with his passing.


6 thoughts on “A FUNERAL”

  1. Hi Vasika! This was an elegant piece of writing… A sad and moving piece which reminds us that death is common to all of us… I liked the references to the surrounding (A mighty, fleecy giant passed overhead as its formless bulk tried to shut out…)Is it a direct translation or did you add descriptions? Could you please tell me who the “Maricchavattiya” were? I would also like to know more about what happened to the Sangha. Even I’ve heard that King Dutugemunu respected his foe. Correct me if I am wrong, but I think he ordered people to be silent when passing his grave…

  2. I wanted it to feel so, to be truthful. And the Maricchavattiya is the same as Mirisawetiya Stupa :), and no, this is not a translation at all. It's my own retelling of a small segment of the man's funeral. Well, the use of the Sangha in the war with Elara was the first instance in our history where the Buddhist clergy became a direct part of military politics and such, a more extreme version of which is happening today.I really have no real respect towards Dutugemunu. His father basically prepared his entire army for him and slaved away to clear a path for the man, and then he's given almost the entire Mahavamsa for being a king who did nothing for the economy. Some kings built their forces with e strength of their backs, not this one.

  3. Loved it. I love funerals and descriptions of them, and its like I was their when Dutugamunu's heart failed him. And yes, we look at hims as a great king, a man who deserves to have his name carved on gold. Yet, we never look at how he failed as a king, as a human. But the way you have spoken about his death and especially that young monks thought, "He could be born among them one day" it just makes you realize that Dutugamunu was just one of us. He did good, he did bad, and once he died, only the good was remembered.

  4. I agree with this. Everyone, even though people whom we think are going to be remembered forever, fail to remember that these idols of theirs are flawed human beings. Granted, I'm no fan of Dutugemunu, but that depends on how people define the word "great". "Great" in the Theravada chronicle of the Mahavamsa meant "builder of hundreds of Buddhist monuments". Dutugemunu in the Mahavamsa actually goes to Tusita heaven 🙂 but this whole passage is fictionalized to make him seem awesome.

  5. Thank you for the information Vasika! 🙂 Whew! History repeats itself, doesn't it? Hmmm…These so called great people are human after all… We came across that fact last month too, remember? 🙂 @Shailee: I like that saying “He did good, he did bad, and once he died, only the good was remembered”…

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