defy wrath of waves
Christopher Torchia, Associated Press, Jan 2, 2005
Lanka -- Legs folded, smiling serenely, several Buddha statues
of cement and plaster sit unscathed amid collapsed brick walls and other
tsunami debris. To many residents, the survival of the 10-foot-high
figures is a divine sign.
Associated Press Associated Press
A Buddha statue sits amid the rubble in the tsunami-destroyed downtown
area of Galle in southern Sri Lanka. Several Buddha statues of cement and
plaster sit unscathed in the center of Galle.
“The people are not living according to
religious virtues,” said Sumana, a Buddhist monk in an orange robe who
sheltered from the sun under a black umbrella. “Nature has given them
some punishment because they are not following the path of the Lord
Buddha. The people have to learn their lesson.”
He said unseen powers protected a nearby
statue of Buddha, which sat near a bridge at the edge of this southern Sri
Lankan town’s bus terminal, where massive waves swallowed up bystanders
and shoppers, and swept cars and buses into buildings.
The window panes of the glass case
surrounding the statue shattered, but the foundation held firm in the
torrent of water that killed thousands in the area, and nearly 30,000
throughout Sri Lanka.
The island nation is about 70 percent
Buddhist, and there are large concentrations of Christians, Hindus and
Muslims as well.
Tolerance and interaction among the faiths
is high, and some people in Galle occasionally pray to other faiths,
despite the ethnic strife in northern Sri Lanka between the Tamil
minority, which is predominantly Hindu, and the mostly Buddhist Sinhalese
In other places, religious icons weren’t
spared when the earthquake-spawned tsunamis hit the coasts of more than a
dozen countries last Sunday.
In southern India, a 100-year old Hindu
temple in Kerala state vanished into the sea and a temple in another part
of the state collapsed, killing dozens of devotees who had come to perform
The Maw Tin Zun pagoda on Myanmar’s
coast suffered minor damage, though the ancient city of Bagan was not
affected, hoteliers there said.
In downtown Galle on Saturday, few people
entertained the idea that the Buddha statues survived the enormous power
of the waves because they were solidly built. A statue of a politician
from Galle who briefly became prime minister, and a statue of a soldier
symbolizing government troops who died in the civil war with Tamil rebels,
“The Lord Buddha is a blessed person, so
the statues were protected,” said U.M. Husain, a municipal worker who
survived the floods by climbing onto a table, and then clinging to a grill
in a wall when the table floated away.
Buddhist beliefs oppose killing of any
animal, and some believers said the Indonesian earthquake that triggered
the devastating waves occurred one day after Christmas, a time when many
animals were slaughtered for feasts. They also said that massive floods in
Sri Lanka last year happened during feasting at the end of Ramadan, the
Muslim holy month of fasting.
The waves flattened the walls around one
Buddhist temple near the beach, and furniture and other property inside
were damaged or swept away. Yet small Buddha statues set into a wall
behind glass cases survived. Residents said another statue was protected
by a crumpled bus that drifted next to it and absorbed the brunt of the
A block inland, worshippers filed into a
Hindu temple of moss-covered walls and statues of gods in animal forms.
The aroma of incense was pungent, and smoke wafted through the dark
interior. Curled up, a mangy dog slept in a corner.
Nimala Ubeysiri, a Buddhist who visits the
high-walled Hindu temple complex once a week, said its survival in the
tsunami was also a sign of divine protection.
“The message for us is that all the
people in the country have to be united, forgetting about their
differences,” she said.