Saving Sitha! | Daily News

Saving Sitha!

The spiritual connection of Big Foot Temple

Returning to the inner sanctum’s cold stone  temple steps, I was amazed despite now being wet to feel an enormous spiritual warmth flooding through my body, maybe as a result of the colourful Hindu temple statues that tell incredible stories and make one feels at peace with the world.

Let us explore Nuwara Eliya’s surrounding areas of interest and learn about Seetha Amman’s fascinating history, where a troop of monkeys have made this deeply spiritual place their home.

As the pandemic continues to rear its ugly head people all over the world are looking for spiritual wisdom to help them through these incredibly challenging times. As a deeply religious island that values all life, something that is evident from the excellent leadership to the importance of community and daily spiritual life.

The island is made up of many religions and this has resulted in different styles of beautiful religious architecture like the Seetha Amman temple, where I am told the first Hindu reference to Sri Lanka can be found in the great Hindu epic, the Ramayana, proving their historic position in the island’s extraordinary history. Nuwara Eliya’s Seetha Amman Kovil on the way to Hakgala Botanical Garden near the 83 km post is a fantastic place to visit.

You can find it after having passed Gregory Lake, only five kilometres from the city centre and yet a life time away from busy city life. Here you can sit and contemplate life or learn about the historic conquest of the island by Rama, an incarnation of the Lord Vishnu. The story goes that for the sake of his father’s honour, Rama abandons his claim to the throne to live in exile for 14 years in the forest. One day his wife Seetha was kidnapped by Ravana, and legend has it that Seetha used to hide next to the river behind the boulders, where this temple currently stands today with its big foot prints in the rocks.

As you make a holy pujas of fruits, rice and donations to the Kovil one feels a sense of well being flood through you. The story of Seetha is a romantic one in the great tradition of storytelling. As she meditated at the water and prayed that her husband would come to rescue her. Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god helped Rama to free his beautiful wife and saved Seetha from Ravana. The mighty monkey god was known for his incredible strength and immense power to grow larger. The footprints the priest tells me are the remains of a fight between Ravana and Hanuman. They are deep holes in stone of a size, which hint at a colossal body and the reason the elephant story seems so much more likely depending on your take on the story. Did giant people or a yeti like creature perhaps exist in the past as one can find big footprints in a number of places around the island.

The bare-chested priests, with religious adornments and long hair, stand at the entrance as guardians to this holy of holies and are happy to answer questions about the area’s most sacred temple. Regardless of religion, monks give their blessings to whole families, with pujas on a tray lit by a simple coconut oil lamp and rope like string, circulated with prayers around their hands as special blessings. It’s a joy to wander around barefoot quietly enjoying this mountain temple where Seetha once hid and seems to have the perfect balance with nature and the real world. I watch the monkeys watching me waiting for an opportunity to steal some of the many temple donations of fruit. No one stops them as they are as important as us on the planet, which one can see resonating through the elaborate and beautiful temple carvings.

While monkeys scampered around I made a wish and placed a piece of ribbon on the sacred tree as bang went a rhythmic wooden goat’s skin drum in the distance, and the skies opened with water cascading from the roof of the temple like a waterfall and the shoes I had respectfully taken off by the gate started to float away. So hard was the downpour, that they were swept up with hundreds of other devotees’ footwear looking for a few minutes like a giant rainbow above us before vanishing into a rocky river of mud and fast moving water. Luckily there were steps down the slope to the river bed and I was able, with the help of an old man’s walking stick, rescue my shoes. Stepping past the giant holes in the rock I realised just how big the yellow-framed footprints are in the giant boulder that the temple overlooks. My foot fitted only the back print and I wondered who on Earth could have made such big foot impressions in solid stone marked by yellow paint.

Going round the island I have found many traces of people far bigger than present day humans such as Adam’s Peak with its enormous footprint. Religious groups argue over whether the footprint is Buddha’s or Adam’s. Nuwara Eliya’s Seetha Amman Hindu temple tells an exciting story about a monkey king and princess – like King Kong, with a slightly different plot. Returning to the cover of the temple grounds the old man Sunil, who had lent me his walking stick, seeing my puzzled face, explained that the depressions are most likely the footprints of Ravana’s elephant and looking at them again this seemed more plausible. After all elephants have always played a part in temple life and have been protected due to their spiritual importance in the kingdom of the jungle.

Returning to the inner sanctum’s cold stone temple steps, I was amazed despite now being wet to feel an enormous spiritual warmth flooding through my body, maybe as a result of the colourful Hindu temple statues that tell incredible stories and make one feels at peace with the world. Perhaps it is the architecture of wood and vivid carvings of figures that do yoga and look as if they are floating on clouds, or a gift of a banana leaf-wrapped bounty of sweet raison kitul. This is mixed with the rice made from fresh milk with gee oil and salt. The food mixed with the lyrical sound of the raging water from the storm passing the rocks, overlooked by the giant boulder footprint, was magical. Besides being a very important Hindu temple, it is a masterpiece of Indian art and artisans. The artists are all from Calcutta and like so many other customs and traditions, brought a little piece of India, in their master craftsmanship, to this fascinating hill country station, where people pick up their fresh fruit and vegetables.

As the damp late evening air fills with the smoke of incense sticks and the sound of chattering monkeys is replaced by the dusk calls of the native birds and insect orchestras, one feels at one with nature. Before leaving I make a final wish at the tree at the back of the temple overlooking the footprint, by taking a coin and writing a small message, folding it into a square shape around the coin and hanging it from a ribbon. If women cannot get pregnant, they pray for fertility or land or something as simple as good health. The tree resembles the rainbow colours of the temple and the colourful shoes that nearly got washed away in the storm. For me it represents eternal hope that things will get better for the country and the world and together we can get through this challenging pandemic period.