VESAK

All those months after the wave of terror and flames had struck and then withdrawn, we were allowed back to go about and search the wreckage for any belongings. The whole enemy force had been taken down and the threat was finally over. I took a little detour, a harmless trip down to the beach. “Well, the whole bombing raid is over, isn’t it?” I told myself as I trudged heavily up the dunes and finally skirted round a palmyrah grove as I headed towards the surf.
It was such an old, well-used path, but the pain in my gut told me that everything had changed for the worst.

The waves were rolling around calmly as I kept looking out there.

Small boats had been put out again, the storm that had been here, the ceaseless tsunami of thunder and fire, had claimed hundreds. This was not the tsunami of the Mahavamsa, for men could be worse than hallowed deities when it came to enraged killings. Ah, how the memories keep coming back! I could almost see the fishermen returning triumphantly on that very important day in the middle of the year. It was like their physical clocks were set on cue for it. The celebration during which they brought no catch, but still bounded happily onto the beach to embrace their wives and children, worship their elders, visit the temple with their meager amounts of flowers and lamps. I well remember Sita, my little sister, as she would run every day up the beach and the forest. Here, she and her friends would go about the important business of picking all the flowers that they could possibly hold. The old frangipani offered enough shade for us all, and we gathered under it after school, just to listen to the songs of the sea.

I sat down heavily as I wondered about the festival of Vesak.

We had always been celebrating the triple miracle, the Birth, Enlightenment and Parinibbana of the Buddha, my over-religious grandmother with far more zeal than I. She had always acted like a woman a third of her age, running to the temple on her walking stick, always trying to make a bigger offering to the priests, it was, admittedly strange. Until that one day.
The dull thunder of gunfire and the screams of the dying had torn through the air that day, and the fires had risen sky-high as my world collapsed that fateful Vesak day. My grandmother had gone to temple. And well, you can probably guess the rest…my relatives, my father, all there, but at least some of had managed to leave our flowers, our white clothes, everything behind. But why did this happen? We had prayed, we had done good, we had done everything that the Buddha taught us, but why on a Vesak of all days did the people whom I love so much, have to leave me?

Quickly I held my head.

A spur of energy that felt almost like the cold touch of a drifting ghost, fluttered by me, and I walked quickly to the forest path, to get away from that nightmare. When the enemy boats launched themselves out and attacked, firing at everyone, taking no prisoners, killing before asking questions. Those men were demons! Well, I’m not stupid.
We’d all heard about the war in the north, but could it ever reach as far down as where we lived? This was some cruel quirk of fate, no more, no less. And today. “It’s Vesak.” The voice that came out of me sounded lifeless and dull as I looked back. An old, stooped man was making lanterns, in my favorite “atapattam” or octagonal shape. Maybe this was not what we should be doing, lighting up lamps and dressing in white and crowding up in a bana hall on just one night.

Perhaps we remember the Buddha’s Triple Milestone by actually following his teachings.

I couldn’t smile though, at this revelation. I couldn’t, and I never ever would.

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6 thoughts on “VESAK”

  1. "Perhaps we remember the Buddha's Triple Milestone by actually following his teachings," is I think my favorite line. Its amazing how you have brought in the grandmother going to the temple and wanting to make the biggest offering. And yet, Vesak was the day their lives crumbled to the ground.While we shouldn't suddenly remember the abandoned temple and unlit oil lamp on Vesak and even other full moon days, can't we at least not kill, not harm on that one day?

  2. I wanted to do something different with a Vesak story, hence the day that the family's life crumbled was a Vesak day during a bombing by the LTTE. Also, the line you quoted refers to Pratipatti Pooja, not the Amisa Pooja of lighting lamps and offering flowers, but actually living by the Buddhist philosophy.

  3. Kudos on a totally different take on a Vesak post, Vasika!! Even I really liked that line; “Maybe this was not what we should be doing, lighting up lamps and dressing in white and crowding up in a bana hall on just one night.Perhaps we remember the Buddha's Triple Milestone by actually following his teachings.”And then saying that the speaker couldn’t and wouldn’t smile at that revelation was really… powerful and effective. Well done!I really liked the expressions “tsunami of thunder and fire” and “men could be worse than hallowed deities when it came to enraged killings”… Your gloomy stories continue to touch our souls. Keep it up! 🙂

  4. All we need in fact are dark versions of all the religious festivals that take place in our society. Someone has to shake the beauty out of their foundations once in a while. Now, I mentioned that line in, only because Lord Buddha himself said that a person who remembers him and his teachings is someone who lives according to that philosophy. Which very few people do these days.

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