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Jungle Tales

In 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 British invaders!

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......{short description of image}

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..


The 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....


Although 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"{short description of image} 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...


At 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...

Moving on...

Various 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 time!

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 finally arrived.....


The 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. Fernando 2001

Dog bites Ranji | Exploding Elephant | Modern Fables | Incense & Candlewax | Gamarala stories | Punchi Borella | My Father The Ghost

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