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Ranjith had to climb the coconut tree three times a day to tap the toddy to make treacle for the Adhisthana Pooja. The whole process of tapping toddy, bringing it down and into the waiting arms of his wife, without letting the pot touch ground, heating it over a fire, in batches, in a specially constructed canopied and carpeted hut took approximately
40 days.

What’s more being Christian Ranjith has taken over the task of providing the treacle to make the sweetmeats offered to the Ata Wisi Buddha (28 Buddhas) at Ruwanweli Seya, with much pride and gratitude. He carries out all the ritualistic preparations that are demanded by any Buddhist who engages in such an activity, including being
vegetarian. Armed with a tapping knife washed in turmeric water, clad in white, with white mask and head cover to boot, every morning Ranjith climbs the coconut tree to tap toddy.

Such is the sense of unity created by this unparalleled untainted Adhisthana Pooja, the resolve of which is ‘May Arhants come into being in this world by the thousands’. The Adhisthana Pooja will be held from 4 pm August 26 to 10 am August 27, at the Ruwenweli Maha Seya. It is essentially an Ata Wisi Buddha Pooja consisting of 26 poojas and will be attended by over 5,000 bhikkus irrespective of Nikayas, reveals KAI Udayanga, Advisor to the Nisalavila Foundation, responsible for the organization of this meritorious endeavour. The estimated cost of the Adhisthana Pooja is 40 million with 50 committees working together to ensure that things run smoothly.

Nisalavila Foundation

The Nisalavila Foundation was formed one and half years ago with the objective of establishing the Nisalavila Aranya Senasana. Their first undertaking was restoring an aranya in Kahathilagama, Polpithigama, believed to previously have been inhabited by Arhants.

“It was a harsh environment, but was ideal for meditation,” says Udayanga. According to Udayanga, the aranya lacked an access rout which was the main reason for its abandonment.The members of the Nisalavila Foundation hoped to provide the basic utilities to make the aranya more liveable.

An informal trust fund was established among friends and acquaintances to raise funds to the endeavour, with each person agreeing to bare a certain amount of expenses each month. The organization under the name Nisalavila was established later. Donations started coming in by the thousands and people flocked to offer their services free of charge to build a stairway, basic amenities and 16 meditation chambers.

Currently, 21 bhikkus live in this Aranya Senasana. “This is not a charity,” says Udayanga, describing Nisalavila Foundation. “Its sole objective is to provide whatever amenities the Sangha requires.” Untainted, unparalleled

A key word resonating throughout the preparations for the Adhisshthana Pooja is ‘Noindul’, which roughly translates to ‘untainted’. It means that all the offerings are produced in an untainted, supreme and unsurpassed manner.

“This is the literal meaning,” says Udayanga. According to him ‘noindul’ can be interpreted as ‘Noinda wu ul’ (not set on spikes). “The Buddha has taught that Raga (lust), Dvesha (hate) and Moha (delusion or ignorance) are like spikes that we rest on. The uninitiated believe that they are luxuries, only those who are privy to the Four Noble Truths identify them as spikes.”

They learn to reject these spikes and are ultimately set free from them by attaining Arhanthood. Udayanga explains that in this sense ‘Noindul’ or ‘Noinda wu ul’ means not set on spikes that are Raga, Dvesha and Moha. “It is hoped that this pooja, made for the multitude of virtues of the Buddha, is not consumed by any who are fettered by the spikes that are Raga, Dvesha and Moha.

Hundreds of artisans and craftsmen from Ratnapura, Gampola, Kandy, Gampaha, Kalagedihena, Matara and Walasmulla have come together to make this meritorious endeavour a success. Making the 28 Buddha life-size statues in record time has proved a challenge for foremost artisan in the field, Sathyajith Ranganatha. A statue he would normally charge Rs 250,000 was provided for Rs 85,000.

The Sesath offering is also promised to be unparalleled. But making Sesath to the guidelines provided by Nisalavila Foundation was no easy task. Consequently, a special awareness programme on Sesath-making and the merits of Sesath offering was conducted for the benefit of the residents of a village in Matale, where the Sesath are made. Traditional Sesath are produced with palmyra shoot byboiling and then drying them. “But none of the palmyra shoot could be placed on the ground, plus all the people involved had go vegetarian for months on end,” explains Udayanga.

What was used as a community centre was converted for the production of Sesath, washed with turmeric water, canopied, screened and mats laid on cloth carpet. All the craftsmen involved had to enter this building masked and head covered after washing their feet in turmeric water.

Symbolism

Palmyra shoots were boiled with white sandalwood powder. A lotus pattern adorns the finished product to symbolise the Buddha unsullied by defilements as a lotus is unmarred by mud. Sandalwood powder pasted on the lotus pattern symbolises the Buddha’s purity of thought, deed and word sans unwholesome roots of thought. The Sesath is finally studded with a stone, in the hopes that the minds of the people may shine bright by Arhanthood, like the stone studded in the middle of the Sesath.

Lighting one million lamps require 1,000 litres of oil. The extraction of oil, over many days, is done by those who have remained vegetarian for at least seven days before, while chanting stanzas of Buddha’s virtues. In fact, all offerings from treacle to the Muthu Kuda (decorated umbrella) are made while chanting stanzas of Buddha’s virtues.

“While one chants stanzas of Buddha’s virtues one’s mind is cleansed of unwholesome roots of Loba, Dosa and Moha. The aura emitted by such pureness of mind, referred to as Cittaja rupa kalapa is absorbed by surfaces in the ordinary world, referred to as Utuja rupa kalapa. By chanting stanzas of Buddha’s virtues we hope to imbue the oil that is produced, with benevolent Cittaja rupa kalapa,” explains Udayanga. Udayanga revealed that the produced oil will be chanted over again by erudite monastic bhikkus. All devotees will be provided with a package that contains a small vial of oil, wick and paper plate. It is hoped that when this is ultimately lit it will in turn emit a benevolent aura.

Preparations

Huts, rooms or work stations where the offerings were cooked, sewed or made were canopied, carpeted and screened with white cloth and where food items like sweetmeats are concerned even covered in netting to prevent exposure to insects. None of the offerings such as bowls, Sesath, sweetmeats and clay lamps were set on the floor. New racks were specially built to house the offerings till the day of the Adhisthana Pooja.

Specially constructed chambers will house the 28 Buddhas. Twenty eight palanquins will be made to convey the Kiripidu Pooja (offering of rice cooked in milk) to these chambers. “Each chamber is 19 feet long 15 feet tall and has a diameter of seven feet,” reveals Udayanga. He informed that they have almost completed work on one such Buddha chamber. These will be taken to Ruwanweli Seya just prior to the Adhisthana Pooja and fixed there.

The 28 decorative parasols will be covered with 400,000 flowers. The organizers had to plant 200,000 plants of marigolds in a five-acre paddy land in Ata Bage, Gampola to obtain the required quantity of two million flowers.

Procession

The 28 Buddha statues will be transported by vehicle procession in a specially built 40-foot Ransivi Ge (housing), deposited in their respective chambers in a procession over a 300 meter Pawada and white canopy. “This is in fact the first procession of the Adhisthana Pooja,” informed Udayanga. This will be followed by Ashta Pana (eight types of drink), Chathumadhura (a mousse like honey dessert) and lotus Pooja commencing in procession from Thuparama. All the pooja will be accompanies by a sermon on the meanings of the
respective poojas.

The organizers hope to make an offering of light by lighting ten million light bulbs from Thuparama to Sri Maha Bodhi to Ruwanweli Seya and beyond.

Meaningful

“Every form of pooja, from lighting an oil lamp to offering flowers or an incense stick, has special meaning,” says Udayanga. He pointed out that most people reject such pooja as offerings made to a clay statue. “But these offerings are made for the virtue of the Buddha. This virtue existed then, exists now and will prevail to exist.”

For example, he explained that Paawada (cloth carpet) translates to ‘Paha weda’ and symbolizes ‘weda paha kirima’, ending or all ‘work’ or activities done through the five senses. It translates to ending the usage of five senses. Consequently, the offering of Pawada is made for the virtue of subjugation of the five senses.

“Arhants do not react to rupa (external form), shabda (sounds), ghanda (smell), rasa (taste), passa (could yield to touch) with Raga, Dvesha and Moha,” explains Udayanga. In this sense Pawada is compared to this virtue of Arhants that act as a carpet that separate the putrid ground that is Raga, Dvesha, Moha. “This symbolises that fact that their being is untouched by such kleshas.”

And it is in the hope that devotees would attain such a supreme state
of Arhanthood, that an Adhishthana Pooja of such magnitude is organised.

Adhishthana Pooja (18) Adhishthana Pooja (16) Adhishthana Pooja (15) Adhishthana Pooja (14) Adhishthana Pooja (13) Adhishthana Pooja (12) Adhishthana Pooja (11) Adhishthana Pooja (10) Adhishthana Pooja (9) Adhishthana Pooja (8) Adhishthana Pooja (7) Adhishthana Pooja (1)


Meanings behind the offerings

Adhishthana Pooja (6)Light offering

This offering (Aloka Pooja) is made by lighting 100,000 oil lamps using virgin coconut oil. The coconut oil for this offering is prepared using coconuts plucked from trees without letting them fall on the ground so as not to harm any creature by their fall, but are plucked
only by hand.

The workers engaged in this wear masks and headgear observing strict hygienic conditions. The workers engaged in the process of making oil single-mindedly devote themselves to this holy ritual.The refuse from this extracting process is not allowed to be consumed by any creature until this light offering is completed.

Adhishthana Pooja (2)Lotus flower offering

100,000 lotus flowers are offered for this pooja. The lotus springs from putrid mud to form a fragrant and beautiful flower, unsullied by the same mud. The lotus flower symbolizes the Buddha who relinquished all his cravings and attained enlightenment and taught his disciples the way of ridding suffering.

Adhishthana Pooja (4)Jasmine flower offering

In this pooja,100,000 jasmine flowers are offered. The unique feature of the jasmine flower is that despite its fragrance, it does not produce seeds. Similarly, a person who attains nibbana is never reborn. The jasmine flower symbolizes the nature of nibbana.

Joss stick offering

In this pooja, one hundred thousand joss sticks are lit. The offering symbolizes dispelling all the malicious desires with the help of wisdom. The black colour of the joss stick indicates evil inclinations in a person and the flint in the stick indicates the burning of urges. The scent produced by the joss stick indicates the pious feelings in a person gained through discarding of evil desires.

Offering of Kiri Pidu (rice cooked in milk)

Rice cooked in pure coconut milk is offered as pooja. It is offered in 37 bowls to indicate 37 factors towards nibbana.

Adhishthana Pooja (3)Pawada offering

The earth indicates the evils committed through mind, body and word. The pawada (cloth carpet) is symbolic of preventing a person from being fettered by such defilements.

Sesath offering

Offering of a Sesath indicates giving up of lust for possessions and help develop benevolent thoughts.

Offering of medicine

One hundred and eight medicines are offered on white lotus flowers in this pooja to ward off 108 mental and physical maladies a person may be afflicted by. In turn, it is meant to bestow 108 beneficial effects on a person.

Offering of Ashta Pana

These eight medicinal drinks are filtered ten times andoffered to the Buddha in eight bowls placed on a layer of white lotus flowers. The eight bowls represent the eight-fold path to attain nibbana.

Chathumadura pooja

Chathumadura consists of butter, ghee, jaggery and bee honey. These four sweets represent the Four Noble Truths that eliminate craving.

Swarna Sankha Pooja

Swarna Sankha Pooja is a sound pooja made by blowing conchs. One hundred and eight conchs are used for this pooja. It represents the serenity of the Buddha’s
teaching.

Offering of streamers

A circular Buddhist flag is draped around the Ruwanveli Seya. This flag reflects the serenity afforded by the Buddha’s teaching which dispel craving.

Offering of canopies and umbrellas

This pooja is called Muthu Kuda and Udu Viyan pooja. This indicates the protection afforded by the Buddha’s teaching by dispelling misconception.

Adhishthana Pooja (5)

ANANDA ELKADUWA