Anuradhapura: Where ancient wisdom blossoms | Daily News

Anuradhapura: Where ancient wisdom blossoms

From a sacred sites tour of the first Kingdom we realize that inspiration from Nature like the beautiful Bo leaf, when folded in half, one can see the architectural inspiration behind the Buddhist Stupas.

Sri Lanka’s first city Anuradhapura is where the sacred tree Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi is found, stoic and beautiful for pilgrims to absorb in this holiest city. Over 2200 years ago, Sangamitta Thera brought a branch of the sacred Bodhi tree under which the Buddha attained Enlightenment. to Anuradhapura from Bodhgaya in India. The tree was planted by the then reigning monarch, King Devanampiyatissa and is the oldest recorded Bo tree in the world. Fold a Bo leaf and you will see how nature inspired the architectural design of the area’s magnificent temple Stupas and be at one in this very special place, where you can contemplate life and de-stress from daily life.

At the temple entrance buy flowers and leave your shoes behind, and try to leave enough time to talk to the erudite monks, based at the most sacred site on the island, who say: “all Sri Lankan Buddhists believe in the Sri Maha Bodhi. The tree has many special qualities like the way that only one leaf falls at a time from the South Branch, but from the other branches three leaves fall simultaneously.”

In 337 BC the city was made the capital of the country by King Paundukabhaya, who started the irrigation works and tanks that have made the area so inhabitable, and are still great places to cool off and watch the local farmers grow rice, still fed by these ancient watering systems. At one time, the city was ranked alongside Nineveh and Babylon for its colossal proportions, with avenues that artists occupied and areas where foreign merchants had their houses and traded in fine materials and artisan products. Most impressive is the enormous Lovamahapaya, situated on the processional way that leads to the tree, an extraordinary ruin with countless rows of tightly packed granite columns, originally seven storeys high and housing more than 3,000 monks.

At dusk, looking at stars twinkling overhead, including the constellation Anuradha which the city is named after, you really appreciate why the monks who are lucky enough to be sent here feel deeply privileged to live in the grounds of this most sacred ancient city. “I try and solve people’s problems by advising them to meditate, conduct a normal life and most significantly worship the Sri Maha Bodhi,” says Ven. Rawaela Piyatissa Thera.

Hiring a bike or doing a bike tour with a knowledgeable national guide is the best way to explore the first Kingdom at a social distance and if you are into cycling you can go on and enjoy more of the nature in the surrounding countryside and organise a traditional Anuradhapura cooking class. After picking the ingredients from the home garden or going to the market you can learn how to cook using firewood instead of a cooker and see step by step how to prepare all the ingredients for cooking the old fashioned way in terracotta pots with coconut spoons, as the villagers believe this is much better for your health than using metal pots. You will certainly notice the difference in taste as it is closer to nature and fun making spices on a grinding stone, which is the best thing for your health as it is as fresh as it gets.

My teachers explain as we chop up vegetables holding the knife steady with my feet squatted on the floor – it was not as easy as it looks - and the cutting speed is an art form that leaves nothing to waste. So as I sliced and diced on the sharpest and largest cleaver I have ever used, I learn as I cook the different curries that the food is not only medicinal adding more ginger to combat colds, but also meditative as it slows everything down so you enjoy all the layers of ingredients that go into each pot. Descaling the fish is even harder than scraping the skin off the vegetables with a Sinbad the sailor type knife, but nevertheless fun as it makes you appreciate the work that goes into the meal even more. We talk as flakes of scales flick in all directions about how important the coconut is to the Sri Lankan kitchen and in fact instead of just using wood I am also cooking off coconut coals, which are also used to drive mosquitoes away as they do not like the smell of the smoke.

Lunch is served in the shade of the garden on wanna leaves and is made up of an average of six curries, the number depending on how much time you have and what you would like to learn. My village feast was accompanied by curry leaf juice created with a “mirisgala”, a grinding stone that is used to crush the leaves and make the juice by hand. The meal included delicious fried sardines Sri Lankan style and curried sliced mullet fish in a rich spicy sauce with home-made curry powder. These were accompanied by a range of vegetables cooked with coconut milk anda bitter gourd sambol sautéed and fried infused with red onion, tomatoes, lime juice, salt and pepper, which took away the bitter taste. There was a delicious dhal curry with turmeric powder that makes it look as yellow as the sun, along with cinnamon, green chilli and a sprinkling of curry leaves, which are good for your digestion.

After your village feast you can rest and enjoy the sounds of the insects and bird life before heading off on your bike and finding a great spot to watch the sun setting over this historically spiritual spot, where traditions and religion are beacons of hope to the world.