At the Bellanwila Buddhist temple in Colombo, a young woman is preparing a basket of fruits as an offering to the Hindu resident god in his shrine which is next to the Buddha’s. She is asking success at exams for her brother. Yet, she is a Buddhist!
-Why don’t you ask the favour from the Buddha?
-We keep Him for prayers and meditation
-And if the Hindu god does not grant the favour?
-We will come back with the same offering as often as necessary… until he does!
Hindus of Tamil origin are a mere 13% of the population of Sri Lanka, but their gods are everywhere, often in their own shrines next to the Buddha. The rituals of Hinduism in Sri Lanka are close to South India’s, with its trances and body piercing and devotees hanging from hooks : the penitence is to impress a deity to grant a favour.
At the Kataragama Hindu temple, two men, accompanied by their families, enter into trance to petition the resident Lord Murugan for good health and prosperity. Watching them repeat the trance inside every god’s shrine at Sella Kat, a few kms away, one can be forgiven for thinking they are devout Hindus. Wrong! They are Buddhists.
If the Buddha and the gods cohabit in such harmony, why can’t humans? A 27 year brutal civil war between the majority Buddhist Sinhalese and the Tamils Tigers ended only four years ago.