1974 when Ranji and myself were young doctors in the remote part
of Srilanka known as Mahiyangana there were a number of
interesting local characters.
Apart from the real locals there
were Mudalalis (or business men) from the south, notably
Bentota, Galle and Matara. Then there were the likes of
us--Doctors, the Government Agent, Chief of Police, Public Health
Inspector and officials of the Forestry Department--the so called
Government Servants who had been posted to this dusty town
purely because we had no choice. Even the "locals" came
from a wide range of backgrounds. There were local Sinhala people
as well as aborigines (Veddhas). Some of the local Sinhalese were
from Kandy and rather proud of their origins, conveniently
forgetting the fact that they were responsible for handing over
the last king of Srilanka, admittedly a despot, over to the
In some ways Mahiyangana was a
melting pot of cultures...Southerners, Veddhas, Government
Servants and Kandyans. The sun beat down mercilessly for 358 days
of the year. It rained continuously for the other seven days! Then
there were mad dogs but that is another story......
Across the wide Mahaweli
River was Minipe, known for its ancient irrigation
scheme from the days of the Sinhala Kings. Further down the river,
on the Minipe bank of the river, was the Buddhist temple of Bulathwelkandura.
This story is about this temple and its chief incumbent..
chief incumbent of this temple was a middle aged, well-fed ,
shyster by the name of Narampanawe Ratanajothi. This
character was well known to the locals who were almost one hundred
percent Buddhist. In fact there were only two Christians in
Mahiyangana: Myself and a local carpenter. (I probably didn't
count as a Christian which left just the one!) The locals had very
little respect for this character and considered it a disgrace
that he was even associated with the great teachings of Gautama
Buddha.They refered to him as Bulatha, an obvious truncation of
the name of his temple but which also happens to be the name of an
ancient mythical giant. Not a very funny nickname but the very
fact that the local devout Buddhists actually refered to a
Buddhist Monk by a nickname said a lot about this character! After
all these were the seventies and people were more respectful than
they are today....
somewhat handicapped by the traditional Saffron robes and shaven
head of the Buddhist Monk he was a bit of a Medallion Man and had
an eye for the ladies. How he managed this was rather interesting.
His modus operandi was quite simple. He generally let it be known
that he was a soothsayer.
Srilankans, both the Buddhists
as well as Christians, tend to be rather gullible and ignorant
when it comes to the paranormal as you may have gathered from
Ranji's story "My Father, The Ghost"
Ignorance is bliss!
There are two advantages in being
a soothsayer. Firstly you get paid for it; not necessarily in hard
currency but at least in the form of dry goods such as rice.
Secondly, it gives you access to gullible women! All it needs is a
few stage effects such as oil lamps, joss sticks, flowers and Pali
mantra... He also had the gift of the gab!
He was a frequent visitor to the
hospital. Hospitals in rural areas tend to be gathering places
anyway and there are of course female nurses in nice starchy white
uniforms and nice young female attendants and labourers in nice
white saris! Good hunting grounds!.... I treated him with due
respect as he was a "man of the cloth"! This of course
meant that he was allowed to visit the wards at anytime of the day
or night. Afterall patients need spiritual guidance...
that time there were several attractive young single women among
the staff of the hospital, notably a young nurse by the name of
Sepalika. She was fair skinned---a distinct advantage in
the tropics as far as attractiveness is concerned---and the name
Sepalika happened to be the name of a local flower known for its
white colour and fragrance. She had light coloured eyes and I for
one, had serious doubts about her ancestory!
She had won a local
beauty contest (Ranji was one of the judges! I had no part in it!)
and the local MP had his eyes on her. She was also slightly
gullible... She once got a walk-on part, lasting all of ten
seconds, in a local film (black-and-white) starring the famous
Ms Malini Fonseka. Since then she suffered from a serious
attack of "stars-in-the-eyes syndrome"!
One day, having
sniffed around her for quite sometime, Bulatha tried his luck with
her at the hospital. According to other members of the staff, he
held her hands and took a long time to read her palms.
Nothing much, but
then Buddhist priests are not allowed to touch women for a start!
This of course
created a major scandal in the hospital especially when Sepalika,
in her naivety, told everybody that Bulatha had invited her to
visit him at his temple! Apparently he had told her that palm
reading was an ancient science that could not be carried out just
like that. He had ancient texts in his temple which he needed to
consult so would she like to come along to the temple one day!
Most of us fell
about laughing when we heard this and poor Sepalika came in for a
lot of teasing especially from myself and my friend Bandara
Pallekumbura, the Public Health Inspector. Most of our
comments, in Sinhala, are unfortunately not translatable!
She did decide
against going to the temple...!
This would have been
a rather tame ending but do stay on...
events overtook us during the short space of one and a half years
that we worked at Mahiyangana. At that time it seemed like a long
We eventually moved
to the General Hospital at Badulla but on one memorable occasion I
came back to Mahiyangana in my capacity as the regional forensic
pathologist or the Judicial Medical Officer. Ranji came
along for the ride.
Having sorted out a
local murder we were taken to the local Police Station for
refreshments. I knew the Police Station and the local coppers
well. I had associated with them during my previous appointment. I
was on familiar territory so I moved around the station and was
surprised to see a flash of Saffron from the Police cell. Closer
inspection revealed this to be a young Buddhist monk, accompanied
by a few other local roughnecks. The young priest was in a
familier pose---for a prisoner! He was standing at the front of
the cage holding on to the bars with both hands!
Inquiries made of
my friends the coppers, revealed that these were the suspects from
the case of arson at the temple. What arson? Which temple?
Well, it so
happened that one of the other incumbents of the temple was a
young buddhist monk (now the prisoner) who had a rather attractive
older sister. It would appear that our friend Bulatha, had had a
lot of success with her and she was generally considered to be his
"Keep" (Kept woman!).
Eventually the young
monk, who apparently was no saint himself, had had enough of these
carry ons, rounded up a few local thugs and launched a seige on
the temple under the cover of darkness--always a good time to
strike. Having stoned the temple first they eventually set fire to
it! Bulatha ran into the jungle largely unscathed and emerged
later from hiding, saffron robe and all, when the Police party
young monk (and his partners in crime) were eventually moved to
the Prison at Badulla as remand prisoners. It so happened
that I was the acting Prison Medical Officer as well. The Medical
Orderly of the prison told me that the young monk was not too
unhappy about his new life in prison. In fact he had said that
life was no different from that in the temple... except for the
alcohol (Arrack)..There was no Arrack available in prison!
I have no idea as to
what happened to Bulatha. I presume he carried on as usual....
NOTE: The temple in question had
no connections with the main temple at Mahiyangana
© Gyan C. A.