The Real North Diaries Embracing The Real Vavuniya

Harmony. Unity. Togetherness… In this universe, our lives and destinies intertwine together as one strand of life. Being unique while also being equal is something that we hold dear to us and those two qualities are what creates balance within us. It is perfectly balanced as all things should be and like the famous yin and yang, we do our best to keep this balance without tilting the scales. Good and bad, life and death, love and hate, these are all two sides of a coin which need to be balanced. When all of this is balanced, only then can we embrace who we truly are. This balance and harmony, is what I was able to embrace in the Real Vavuniya.

Vavuniya is the central point of the North which connects you to all the other districts. This is very fitting considering I’m going to be talking about the harmony and balance of Vavuniya. This district is teeming with life from a vast variety of ethnicities that engage in business with each other in unity and peace. The community themselves are very good sales people.

During my travels around the city, I could see that the town was very artistic due to the ton of textiles that is produced in Vavuniya. In addition to this, the Palmyra industry is very prominent here just as much as the other districts. It is clearly evident that Palmyra trees are the lifeline trees in the Northern Province. Kurumankadu has a plethora of Palmyra based products such as buckets, bags, boxes, winnowing fans and punnet. These are incredibly high quality and the immaculate craftsmanship shows from how durable and beautiful the products are. These are the same products that are shipped to Colombo and sold in shops.

The more I explored Vavuniya the more I found that every place there is to sightsee does not come easy. It’s all an adventure that truly sets your soul free. Vavuniya was known as the ancient meditational hub of the Northern Province. There are so many places that Buddhist monks use for meditational purposes which you will find as you explore. Vavuniya is famous when it comes to Buddhist significance in the North. My first stop was the Madukanda Sri Dalada Viharaya. This is the first Dalada Maligawa that housed the sacred tooth relic of Lord Buddha as soon as it was brought to Sri Lanka by Hemamala and Dantha, from India. These magnificent ruins are surrounded by lush forests and also has the Madukanda Walawwa, the last ancient Walawwa close by. Within the jungle that surrounds the ruins, you can find moonstones a plenty. In addition to this, the famous Thonigala inscriptions is also in close proximity, which was my next stop.

The Thonigala Inscriptions (not to be mistaken for the one in Anamaduwa) is an ancient inscription that talks about the grain distribution of ancient Sri Lanka. It dates back to the 1700s and it has faded making it difficult to read but it is still considered one of the most important inscriptions in Sri Lanka.

From there, it was onto the Isinbassagala Temple. Built by King Devanampiyatissa, Isinbassagala translates to ‘The rock that the sage came down from’. The old stupa that was on top of the rock had been destroyed but a new stupa has been built in the same place, on top of a beautiful rock.

The temple consists of a beautiful dragon entrance, ancient ruins, a statue of the king and a sacred Bo tree which is customary in every Buddhist temple. Next up was the Handagala Kanda ancient cave temple. This temple is located atop a hill and is filled with 45 ancient caves with drip ledges. The temple itself is located at a height of almost 300 feet above the surrounding area. These 45 caves have been used by Buddhist monks for meditation. It has beautiful frescoes and statues of Lord Buddha. It is increasingly clear that most of these Buddhist heritage sites seemed to have been used for meditation to attain inner peace and balance with the universe.

After exploring the city and its inner works, I figured it was time for a bit of nature to make my whole trip holistic. First up was the Kallaru Bridge Lookout Point. The Kallaru river is a beautiful little stream that passes through Vavuniya. It is a prime location for bird watching ast dawn and later in the evening. There is a lookout point that people can use to enjoy the beauty of their surroundings.

The Tantirimale Tempe was our next stop. While this is one of the lesser-known temples of Sri Lanka, it spreads across a large area of land and needs at least one hour to an hour and a half to explore the entire complex. As is customary in all Buddhist temples, there is a stupa and a Bo tree. There are multiple runes carved into the rock and contains two statues of Lord Buddha. Dating back to the 3rd Century BC, it is believed that the sacred Bo tree was kept at Tantirimale for a night before its journey to Anuradhapura.

The Maha Kachcha Kodiya Temple has a lot of history behind it. It is known to be the birthplace of one of the ten giant warriors, Nandimithra. He along with the other 10 were instrumental in King Dutugemunu’s war against the Chola King Elara. The name Kachcha Kodiya is derived from a flag made of red kachchiya that was planted there in honour of Nandimitra’s feat and the victory of the war. This temple also contains the Sri Pathula Gala and Yupa Gala which were used for worship before statues of Lord Buddha were created. There are 23 drip ledged caves in the area that show, monks have been using the area for meditation.

Our next stop led to the exact birth place of Nandimitra which were the Iru Pothana Ruins. While it is full of ruins that have immense archaeological value, this place too, is full of small caves which suggests that monks in search of enlightenment and inner peace used these caves for meditation and pondering the teachings of Lord Buddha. This area was Nandimitra’s home. He knew it like the back of his hand and he used his knowledge of the area to find a place for the armies, warriors and King Dutugemunu to have meetings and to discuss strategy. Kimbulgala Rock and Cave was found and used for this during the Battle of Vijithapura where they were fighting King Elara. In addition to this, the cave has drip ledges carved into it which signifies that it was used for meditation purpose by monks. I could see the whole of Vavuniya as I stood atop this rock allowing the surroundings to fill me with peace and serenity. I couldn’t help but smile as I felt calm and content, as if finding inner balance within me.

The Kandasamy Kovil stood out with its explosion of vibrant colours. With all its shades of yellows, reds, oranges and blues, it was truly beautiful with a masterfully carved Gopuram. Dedicated to the god of war, Murugan, many devotees from around the island of Sri Lanka visit this kovil during its festive times. There is a charming wedding hall next to the kovil which provides a very picturesque setting which incorporates heritage and beauty together. It’s almost as if it’s symbolic to the harmony of love, marriage, religion and culture. A beautiful intricate unification of all of these ideas and virtues under one roof.

Since the Sivan Kovil was just a five-minute distance from Kandasamy Kovil I decided to pay it a visit. It has been around for only 25 years and is in the Vavuniya town. The entire Kovil is grey and white with beautifully carved Gopurams. It is very easily accessible to the villagers and many locals visit the Kovil in the mornings and evenings to carry out their daily prayers. During its busiest hours you might even get a glimpse of a pooja.

During the Lent season in April, many pilgrims from all over the island visit Kalvari church to participate in the Way of the Cross. The journey has 15 stops that are marked by life sized statues. While some were destroyed, they have been rebuilt now and are back to their former glory.

From here it was to the Archaeological Museum. This museum is under the Department of Archaeology and is a treasure trove of artifacts such as some beautiful statues of Lord Buddha, Hindu gods and goddesses and Roman Catholic items of worship. Most of these items have been carbon dated back to the 5th to 8th Century

Sampattodal Kulam is one of the many tanks in Vavuniya. What makes it different is the amount of rare bird species that arrive here. If fortune favours you just as it favoured me, you’ll be able to witness the lake covered with water lilies that make it look like a beautiful violet carpet with little blemishes of yellow. Another prime location for birdwatching is the Vavuniya tank. This is the largest tank in the town of Vavuniya and is home to many travelling bird species that come here to rest before continuing on their journey. You can also find fishermen of multiple ethnicities fishing in harmony. The Pavatkulam Tank unlike the others require a boat ride for you to fully experience the wondrous flora and fauna of the tank. It is also a great place for those engaging in pesca tourism.

Another marvel is the Yan Oya Dam. While this is a recent reservoir project in the island, it provides 20,000 acres of paddy cultivation and is an incredible irrigation system. The dam can hold up to 149,000- acre feet of water. The Yan Oya itself is the fifth largest river in Sri Lanka and the dam is built around this.

Vavuniya is indeed a whole new experience altogether. It teaches harmony and unity wherever you go. You can find so many ways in which people live in harmony not only with each other, but with the nature around them. You’ll always find people of different ethnicities engaging in activity with each other. Even architecturally, Vavuniya is sectioned. You will find a huge mosque, a church a kovil and a temple all in close proximity of each other which show not just physical harmony and balance but also spiritually. It is truly wonderful to see people seeing everything and everyone around them as equals. They don’t see race, religion or ethnicity. They don’t see poor or rich. They see humans. They see unity. They see harmony. They see balance with the physical, natural and spiritual worlds. They see peace. This is what we as people should strive to be. This is what true humaneness and being a community is all about. This. Is… the Real Vavuniya.