The Buddhas of Bagan

The balloon ride over the plains of Bagan would be an hour-long “wow” as I took in the brick remains of what must have been an impressive capital city some eight or nine hundred years ago. Not agreed upon is just how many people lived here –  estimates range from a likely 20,000 to an unbelievable 2,000,000!  In any case, while all the everyday wooden buildings have disappeared over time, the much more durable religious structures still dot the plains, a testament to the power of belief to motivate people.

a morning view of Old Bagan from above

a morning view of Old Bagan from above

Both before and after the balloon ride I had almost three days to get a good, even if incomplete,  look at the insides of some of the major stupas and temples and monastic complexes.  While the architecture itself is often impressive, the overriding impression I got of the statuary was this – poorly realized Buddha statues which left me cold with their lifeless quality.

Thatbyinnyu overview

Thatbyinnyu overview

The first temple (paya) I visited was the Thatbyinnyu, pictured above. At 61 meters (201 feet) It is the tallest temple in Bagan. I would not get to see the central Buddha statue here since it is located on the second floor – an unusual arrangement for a Bagan temple – and the stairway is closed to visitors.  I did walk around the ground floor corridors and contemplated the Buddha statues which filled the various alcoves. Clearly, a temple without Buddha statues would be an empty space. Here is one I walked by –

Thatbyinnyu Buddha

Thatbyinnyu seated Buddha in “touching the earth” mudra

Freshly painted and showing all the signs that tell me he is the Buddha we know as Siddhartha Gautama – the head bump (ushnisha), the elongated ears, the very position he is sitting in… it does the job.  In all likelihood it is no more than 25 years old and is the result of the restoration and refurbishing campaign that brought howls of protest from art experts the world over.  Wrote one specialist in Asian religious art –

The hundreds of brick images within temples were nearly all renovated during the 1990’s and are now covered in loud colours clashing with the surrounding ancient stucco and murals.

                                           (Stadtner. Ancient Pagan. 88)

another Thatbyinnyu seated Buddha

another Thatbyinnyu seated Buddha

Stadtner writes that five centuries of looters searching for relic boxes contained within the brick and stucco Buddha statues means that most had been smashed open before the British even arrived. Prime areas to search were the head, the centre of the chest, and beneath the figure. Murals and paintings survived simply because they did not contain what the looters were looking for.  Instead, they would be covered over by the whitewashers!

seated Buddha with painted Bodhi Tree behind him

seated Buddha with painted Bodhi Tree

Thatbyinnyu seated Buddha in alcove

Thatbyinnyu seated Buddha in alcove

Most (99%!)  seated Buddha statues in Myanmar show the historical Siddhartha Gautama at the moment that he became the Awakened One, the Buddha.  Sitting under the Bo Tree, he has survived all of Mara’s attempts to deflect him from his course. Finally, in response to Mara’s army of demons who claim to bear witness to Mara as the one who should be sitting in Siddhartha’s spot, Siddhartha touches the earth and it roars in his defence – “I am your witness.”  Mara disappears and the World Saviour has arrived.  The hand gesture or mudra is known the “touching the earth”. (Bhumi-sparsha mudra) 

Old Bagan's Mahabodhi Temple

Old Bagan’s Mahabodhi Temple

A short walk from Thatbyinnyu is the above temple, a recreation of the original Mahabodhi temple in Bodh Gaya at the very spot where Siddhartha Gautama became the Buddha. In niches around the external perimeter were these rather crude Buddha figures with one in a standing position. I am not sure what they are made of – wood or stucco covered with gold-coloured paint.

seated Buddhas in external niches of the Mahabodhi Temple

seated Buddhas in external niches of the Mahabodhi Temple

Inside was the main Buddha statue; in Bagan of eight hundred years ago that meant a seated Buddha figure. This statue definitely fills the space and you wonder if the proportions of the original did not leave a bit more headroom.

Mahabodhi Temple's main Buddha image

Mahabodhi Temple’s main Buddha statue

You could wander for days in Bagan and peek into hundreds of minor stupas and temples.  I passed by these two lounging locals on my way to yet another temple entrance.

cattle in the fields of Old Bagan

cattle in the fields of Old Bagan – watching the world go by

recently repainted inner shrine statue in Bagan

recently repainted inner shrine statue

central statue of a minor Bagan temple

central statue of a minor temple

Somehow I found myself down by the Ayeyarwaddy River and on the platform of the Bupaya, I was looking at a reconstruction of the original since the massive July 1975 earthquake (8 on the Richter Scale) that hit the Bagan area had destroyed the one that was there before. (See here for a before picture.)

Bagan's Bupaya

Bagan’s Bupaya and the Ayeyarwaddy River in the background

Later I would find my way to the Shwe-zigon just as dusk was approaching.  If the Buddha sculptures I had seen during the day were uninspiring, then the Shwe-zigon bowled me over with its beauty. It is a stupa – while there are steps leading up its sides, there is no “inside”. Instead, four temples, one at each cardinal point, serve the purpose of shrine rooms.

Bagan's Shwe-zigon at dusk

Bagan’s Shwe-zigon at dusk

As I went around the stupa, the one shrine room I did look into is in the photo below. I am not sure what the spikes coming out of the Buddha’s head represent. It may well be a halo and not spikes at all. At least it was spared the flashing neon halo that some buddhas have had installed around their heads.  The statue is in the “have no fear” mudra – the open and raised right hand with the left hand also opened. While not as common as the seated “touch the earth” mudra that you usually see, it is the most common standing mudra.

one of the four standing metal Buddhas at Shwe-zigon

one of the four standing metal Buddhas at Shwe-zigon

And then it was time to head back to the hotel and a good night’s sleep. The next morning we would be getting up extra early – 5:00 a.m – for a balloon ride!

lacquered umbrellas in Nyaung-U

lacquered umbrellas in Nyaung-U on the way home

Click on the following link to see what floating over the plains of Bagan at 7:00 a.m. would look like!

Ballooning Over the Plains of Bagan 

After the balloon ride it was back to the hotel for breakfast – i.e. something more than the bubbly white wine and croissants served in the balloon landing field not far from New Bagan!

Bagan - bronze seated Buddha

Bagan – small bronze seated Buddha statue  in  a shrine room

After the balloon ride, it was off to see our last stupas and temples- with visits to Gubyauk Gyi and Dhammayan-Gyi and finishing off with the grandest of them all, the Ananda Pahto. The small bronze above may have been the the finest single Buddha figure I saw; since bronzes were not at all common in the Bagan of eight hundred years ago, the piece is probably of fairly recent times.

another clumsy Buddha statue

another clumsy Buddha statue – Kubyauk-Gyi (Myinkaba)

The above figure, with arms almost as wide as its waist, has an almost cartoonish look about it; it looks like it has been recently installed or repainted. The statue below sits in an alcove which has not been completely restored. Sections of the wall reveal the bare brick underneath the stucco covering.

Kubyauk-Gyi (Myinkaba) Buddha

Kubyauk-Gyi (Myinkaba) Buddha

Dhammayan-Gyi seated Buddha statue

Dhammayan-Gyi seated Buddha statue

double Buddha Statues at Dhammayan-Gyi

unusual double Buddha Statues at Dhammayan-Gyi

Of all the large scale  Buddhas I saw at Bagan, I was most moved by the ones I saw at the Ananda Pahto Temple.  While they are not the ones that originally filled the space, they do so majestically.  The four wooden Buddhas stand about 9.5 meters high (30 feet)  and  are the only major temple Buddhas in Bagan which are not in the seated position; this leads Stadtner to conclude that they are not original  and likely date back to the Konbaung period (1752 – 1885 C.E.).

The Four Ananda Standing Buddhas, gilded with fine gold leaf, are located in the niches of the central cube of the temple.  See below for a drawing of the pahto.

bagan-paya-from-le-huu-phuocs-buddhist-architecture

Drawing of The Ananda Pahto from  Buddhist Architecture by Le Huu Phuoc.

It was the George Luce who assigned the name of a particular Buddha to each of the four statues. He related them to the Buddhas of the present age or mythological unit of time known as a kalpa, In the Buddhist myth there have already been four Buddhas with the fifth – Maitreya- yet to come; Luce places one in each of the four niches.  So Kassapa is supposedly in the south niche with Kakusandha in the north. This leaves  Konagamana in the east and in the west we have the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama. More recently scholars have questioned Luce’s entire explanation since there is no evidence associating various Buddhas with the cardinal points. The various mudras they exhibit also do not provide any reason for associating them with one Buddha and not another. However, the guidebooks seem to like the explanation and it has taken on the status of  fact thanks to constant repitition!

one of Ananda Temple's four standing Buddha statues

Luce’s Siddhartha Gautama facing west

third of four Bagan Ananda Buddhas

the south facing  Ananda Buddha

standing Buddha at Ananda Temple

north facing Buddha at Ananda Temple

another of the four wooden Buddha statues at Bagan's Ananda Temple

the east-facing Buddha statue at Bagan’s Ananda Temple

Baan is really all about the stupas and temples. If you are going to be spending a few days in Bagan, you will definitely get much more out of your visit with a good guide. Most will be able to take you to the highlights; some will be able to deliver more than the usual patter and provide more considered insight.

A great book to read beforehand is the 2013 second edition of  Ancient Pagan: Buddhist Plain of Merit by Donald M. Stadtner. Stadtner. PaganThe insightful text draws on the author’s forty years of study of Burmese art and architecture and is beautifully illustrated by the photos of Michael Freeman, a top-notch photographer. The book focusses on thirty-three key structures; you’ll have had an incredible visit if you can see most of them during your stay!  In spite of my occasionally negative comment in this post, Bagan is absolutely worth the visit.

Ballooning Over The Plains of Bagan

Previous Post: “Mingalaba” From Myanmar, Land of The Golden Pagodas!

As far as the eye can see brick and stucco structures – stupas, temples, shrines, monasteries – bear witness to a remarkable moment in history  on the east banks of Myanmar’s Ayeyarwady River.  Time has not been kind to many of these buildings; nor have the relic hunters over the ensuing centuries who smashed their way into hundreds of stupas and seated Buddha figures looking for relic boxes. In 1975 a major 6.6 earthquake hit the Bagan area – one of an estimated 400 since 1900 – and did significant damage to many of the structures.   In spite of all this , and in spite of the clumsy and the often just-plain-wrong attempts of recent renovators of the Bagan Archaeological Zone to spiff up the structures, what one sees is still magical.

balloons over Bagan's Dhammayan-gyi

balloons over Bagan’s Dhammayan-gyi with the Ayeyarwady River in the background

Myanmar Ethnic Groups and general location

click on to enlarge

Some  Historical Context:

Turn back the clock 750 years and we would be in the capital city of a thriving kingdom which controlled the agricultural wealth of the Ayeyarwady River basin. The city – Bagan (referred to in older books as Pagan).  And the people? They are the  Bamars – again, formerly referred to as Burmans or Burmese.  They speak a Sino-Tibetan language and had migrated  into the Ayeyarwady River basin from the Himalayas to the north about 1500 years ago.  Over the next five hundred years as they grew in power,  they conquered and absorbed the Pyu and Mon societies they found and incorporated elements of those cultures into theirs. One of those things was Theravada  Buddhism, which was merged with the pre-Buddhist animism that they practised. It involved the worship of many spirits or nats and to this day there is a major centre of nat worship nearby at Mount Popa, a very common day trip for visitors staying in Bagan.

Bagan thrived from about 1000 C.E. to 1300 C.E. and a succession of Bamar rulers commissioned an astonishing number of religious structures. These buildings celebrated the Buddhism they had embraced after their entry into Myanmar.  Not only were the buildings seen as evidence of the power of these rulers in this world, but it was also believed to earn its royal builders merit (or karma) for the next life. To make their positions irreproachable, kings would sometimes reveal genealogies which showed that they ultimately were of divine origin.

Ananda Temple -  the Buddha Konagamana facing east

Ananda Temple – the Buddha Konagamana facing east

It is this world that a modern visitor to Bagan tries to get a handle of.  Overwhelmed by the sheer number of potential stupas and temples to visit – and by the  unfamiliar history and names which were never a part of any western history class! – a highly recommended thing to do is the forty-five minute to one hour balloon ride over the 65 square kilometers (25 square miles) of the Archaeological Zone.  It certainly does not come cheap – it is currently $320. U.S. – but those who are able to rationalize getting a ticket  are almost 100% agreed that it was one of the highlights of their trip to Myanmar.  I know – I overcame my reluctance and am really glad I did!  Here are some pix of a very memorable hour that I spent early one February morning floating over the ruins of the once-capital of the Bamars.

Bagan at dawn - balloons being readied for the ride

Bagan at dawn – balloons being readied for the ride

There are three  companies offering a balloon ride over Bagan’s Archaeological Zone: Golden Eagle Ballooning, the newest of the three, having started in late 2014; Oriental Ballooning, a 2013 start-up; and Balloons Over Bagan, the pioneers of hot air balloon operations, not only in Bagan but in all of Southeast Asia. It started in 2001 and currently has 10 balloons.  While I am sure  all three outfits do a fine job, I went with the originals.

balloons being prepped at dawn

Bagan – balloons being prepped at dawn

After a 5:45 a.m. hotel pick-up we were driven to a field on the southwest end of Nyaung-U where the balloons were being readied by some of the 100 local staff in their employ.  The baskets of our  balloons had room for sixteen guests as well as the pilot. In our case it was a very personable English guy by the name of Mike who had everyone laughing – and then seriously listening to his safety instructions – in short order.

Baan balloons rising over the start point

Bagan balloons rising over the start point at Wetkyi-in

Over the next hour we would float our way south and east until we landed in a field near New Bagan. Mornings are the preferred – and often only – time that the balloons go up. The heat of the afternoon and its impact on wind currents makes it much more difficult to pilot. The balloon season coincides with winter – November to March – and tickets can be scarce.  Many have booked the ride long before they arrive in Myanmar; I requested a ticket two days before and  luckily scored a last-minute spot.

satellite view of the plains of Bagan from Nyaung-U to New Bagan

satellite view of the plains of Bagan from Nyaung-U to New Bagan

The ride was remarkably smooth and the pilot provided a concise commentary as we flew over various landmarks.  In the image below, I am looking back at Shwe-Zigon, perhaps the single most impressive stupa (the Bamar term is paya) on the fields of Bagan. Later that day as the sun set we would pay it a up-close visit.

Baan - looking north towards Shwe-Zigon

Bagan – looking north towards Shwe-Zigon

early morning mist and smoke rise over Bagan fields

early morning mist and smoke rise over Bagan fields – Htilominlo and Dhammanyan-gyi in the distance and a stupa I can;’t identify in the foreground!

balloons from two of the three companies floating over Bagan

balloons from two of the three companies floating over Bagan

one of 3000 minor temples on the plains of Bagan

one of 3000 minor temples on the plains of Bagan

farm buildings on the plains of Bagan

farm buildings on the plains of Bagan

Bagan balloons and temples in the morning mist

Bagan balloons and temples in the morning mist

the countless spires of Bagan!

a few of the countless spires of Bagan!

The distinction between a stupa (paya) or temple (pahto) is that the former is essentially a solid relic mound placed over some object considered sacred (strands of the Buddha’s hair is a common one in Myanmar) while the pahto can be entered.  While the Shwe-zigon is a stupa, the structure below is a temple. Later that day we would visit a number of temples and stupas and see the paintings and statues contained within some of them.

visitors enjoying the view from the temple's rooftop

visitors enjoying the early morning view from the temple’s rooftop

balloons over Bagan in the morning

balloons over Bagan in the morning

morning balloon ride over the stupas of Bagan

morning balloon ride over the stupas of Bagan – Ananda in the centre & Thatbyinnyu to the right

the green balloons of Oriental Ballooning

the green balloons of Oriental Ballooning to go along with the yellow and ochre ones

looking down at the Htilominlo Temple

looking down at the Sulamani Temple

side view of the Htilominlo

side view of the Sulamani Pahto

looking back at the Htilominlo with the Ayeyarwady in the distance

looking back at the Sulamani with the Ayeyarwady in the distance

stupa as viewing platform for morning visitors

stupa as viewing platform for morning visitors

Bagan morning scene from our balloon

Bagan morning scene from our balloon

The Ananda Temple with the Museum and Ayeyarwady in the background

The Ananda Temple with the Museum and Ayeyarwady in the background

The Museum, Thatbinnyu, and the Ananda Temple

The Museum, Thatbinnyu, and the Ananda Temple

approaching Dhammayan-gyi Temple

approaching Dhammayan-gyi Temple

Dhammayan-gyi

Dhammayan-gyi

I read somewhere that an estimated six million bricks with an average size of 36x18x6 cm. were used in the construction of the Dhammayan-gyi, one of Bagan’s larger temples. Multiply this by a thousand and you have some idea of the impact of dedicating the economy’s resources to this massive building campaign for almost three centuries.  It brings to mind the similar focus in ancient Egypt on the construction of increasingly ambitious funeral mounds for their god-kings. Whether for Bagan itself, or from Bamar villages up or down river, fired bricks arrived to create on the fields of Bagan a very visible attempt at gaining spiritual merit for the next life by contributing to the construction of edifices honouring the Buddha in this life. Even villagers could contribute with their humble donation of fired bricks. And as in ancient Egypt, a closer look at the architecture reveals a increasing complexity and sophistication of buildings over the 300 year time span.

morning light on the east face of Dhammayan-gyi

morning light on the east face of Dhammayan-gyi

looking north from the fields of New Bagan

looking north from the fields of New Bagan – one of the resettlement subdivisions

In 1990 villagers living in the archaeological zone – and particularly in Old Bagan – were forcibly moved a few kilometers to the south to what has become New Bagan (Myothit to the locals).  The stated intent was to protect the monuments from potential looters and treasure seekers, who were selling bits and pieces of the temples and their art work to tourists.  Admittedly, it did also  clear the area for the development of international tourism.  You will find in Old Bagan these days some upscale hotels; the budget and mid-range ones will be found in New Bagan and in Nyaung-U.

paths leading to farm in fields near New Bagan

paths leading to farm in fields near New Bagan

the fields of New Bagan from our balloon

the fields of New Bagan from our balloon

farmer and oxen at work ploughing the field

farmer and oxen at work ploughing the field

new settlement for locals displaced from the Archaeological Zone

new settlement for locals displaced from the Archaeological Zone

balloons over the fields of New Bagan

balloon landing in the fields of New Bagan

balloon landing in the fields of New Bagan – field workers watch the proceedings

Are you nuts!   $320.U.S. for a balloon ride? How can you justify this while all around you there are people who don’t even earn that in a month?  We floated down onto a field in which local farmers were working the soil of Bagan as they have been for the past thousand years. What could they have thought as we settled down? Perhaps they do not even react anymore since it has become an everyday occurrence in their world over the past decade. Near them were other locals, young men working for Balloons Over Bagan whose job was to anchor the balloon on landing and then packing it all up carefully for the return to base camp, where they would get things ready for the next flight.

The image below has a dozen of them, all in uniform and a part of a team just like the farmers. The company employs about one hundred locals to make the business work. The few non-locals would seem to be the pilots and mechanics, although I was told that some are receiving the necessary  training so that they can work their way up in these areas too. Clearly the balloon business is opening up opportunities for the Bagan’s next generation.

Back to the $320.  Subtract the unavoidable government tax of at least 10%, the cost of the pretty pricy balloon and its upkeep, the salary of the skilled and probably difficult to find pilot, the well-trained mechanics, the ground crew, the insurance, the semi-annual safely checks and certificates necessary to stay in the air…well, you get the picture. In the end, while the company founders are undoubtedly being rewarded for their initiative and business skills, your money is going to all sorts of people who live in Bagan and are better off thanks to the opportunity that Balloons Over Bagan has provided them. And what do we get?  An incredible view of  one of Asia’s cultural wonders.  It’s right up there with Angkor Wat and Anuradhapura and Xian.

the pilot and a dozen landing crew guys at work

the pilot and a dozen landing crew guys at work

Our memorable flight over the plains of Bagan over, we stood in the field and watched as the crew rolled up the balloon and got everything back in the support vehicle. There was  enough time to chat with our basket mates while we sipped on a glass or two of champagne and sampled the croissants.  By 8:30 we were back at the hotel and telling those who had chosen not to go about our “wow’ experience.

Useful Links:  

Stadtner. PaganThe ultimate guide to the Bagan Archaeological Zone is Ancient Pagan: Buddhist Plain of Merit by Donald M. Stadtner with photography by Michael Freeman. It is solidly researched and  very readable, as well as liberally illustrated with high quality colour images. I read it before I left for Myanmar but it was one of the last things I took out of my duffel before I left. Why? It weighs 1.5 lbs!  An ebook version would have been great to take along.

The website Asian Historical Architecture does a well-researched examination of the most significant of Bagan’s stupas and temples.

Google Balloons over Bagan and you will find lots of info on the company and on the experience in general.  Check out this tripadivisor link – over 140 reviews with an average of 5 on 5.  That says it all!

Next Post: The Buddhas of Bagan

“Mingalaba” From Myanmar, Land of The Golden Pagodas!

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Mingalaba – “greetings to you” in the Bamar language!  Recently I spent three weeks  in Myanmar, escaping at least a bit of an unusually cold Toronto winter. As well as a week on my own to explore Yangon and some nearby … Continue reading

Down Wabakimi’s Pikitigushi River From Cliff Lake

Previous Post: Up Wabakimi’s Raymond River To Cliff Lake

Cliff Lake is one of Wabakimi’s – and the Canadian Shield’s in general – premier pictograph sites. We spent some time paddling along the perimeter of the lake and checking out some dramatic stretches of vertical rock face – and found all the rock paintings which Selwyn Dewdney had highlighted in his classic study of the mostly-Anishinaabe (i.e. Ojibwe)  pictographs of the Canadian Shield. (See here for some pix and discussion of what we saw.)

Cliff Lake pictographs - south end of lake

Cliff Lake pictographs – south end of lake

But it  was time to move on. We were down from twenty to three days of food,  and while it definitely meant a lighter load for the remaining portages,  it was also a sign that our trip was almost done.  We were about 27 kilometres from the take-out point at the Bear Camp on river right of the Pikitigushi just above the logging road bridge.

We had originally arranged for a shuttle back to our vehicle at the Mattice Lake headquarters of ML Outfitters  from there on the Thursday. However, a couple of emails sent via my Spot Connect from Cliff Lake had requested that the pick-up happen a day early. We now had a day and a half to knock off the last 27 kilometers!

Tuesday, August 13  (Day 17)

distance: 16 km.

weather:  a sunny day with a bit of a wind from the W

portages: 4 – 90 m; 525 m; 300 m.; 265 m.; 150 m.   See maps below.

At the south end of Cliff Lake, just across from the best-preserved collection of pictographs on the lake, we left Wabakimi Provincial Park and entered Whitesand Provincial Park. (The stretch from Bad Medicine Lake down to the north shore of Pikitigushi Lake is all within the boundaries of Whitesand P.P.)   We also dealt with the  first of the five or six portages on this section of the Pikitigushi. Over the next couple of days we’d do another four, with the 1400-meter haul from Derraugh Lake to Pikitigushi Lake as the longest and mushiest.

Cliff Lake to Gort lake

Cliff Lake to Gort lake

Gort Lake to Pikitigushi Lake

Gort Lake to Pikitigushi Lake

The portage out of Cliff Lake is a 90-meter carry on a pretty obvious trail which takes you up and over a small hill to a put-in on the edge of a small pond.  A quick paddle across the pond and you get to experience for yourself the Bad Medicine Lake portage – and to decide whether it deserves its reputation!  (See here for some fond canoe tripper reminiscences!)  It is undoubtedly an easier portage if you are coming at it from the north.  What we found was a 525-meter trail that starts off rather steeply but dry.  After a dramatic middle stretch where you are walking on a ridge just a few meters from the edge of the gorge, the trail  takes you to a challenging and winding descent to the lake itself.

Cliff lake  -Bad Medicine Lake Portages

Cliff lake -Bad Medicine Lake Portages

The last few meters involves an almost vertical drop to the shore.  Here is a shot – I should have stepped back a few more feet to get the complete drop in – but it’ll give you an idea of what it looks like.  We actually had lunch at the top of the final drop.

the south end of the 450 meter Bad Medicine Lake portage

the east end of the 450 meter Bad Medicine Lake portage

A bit more time and we might have tried walking up the river through the mess of bush you see in the pic below in search of a photo that would show some of the 20 meter drop in elevation from Cliff Lake to where our canoe was sitting.

the 'Gushi as it comes tumbling into Bad Medicine Lake

the ‘Gushi as it comes tumbling into Bad Medicine Lake

The pics below shows the north side (river left) of the impressive gorge that runs the length of the portage.

the shoreline across from the put-in on Bad Medicine lake

the shoreline across from the put-in on Bad Medicine lake

looking down to the east end of Bad Medicine Lake from the put-in

looking down to the east end of Bad Medicine Lake from the put-in

Instead of bushwhacking a bit upriver, we headed off for the next portage which would take us out of Bad Medicine and into Ratte Lake.  The take-out is on a sandy beach on river left; 265 meters later we were at the other end.   Shortly afterwards we paddled by a cow moose and her calf as we approached Ratte lake.

Down Ratte Lake and through a meandering narrow-river section and we were back on a more open stretch – the two-part Gort Lake.  At the south end of Gort Lake just above the rapids we went on shore to check out a potential campsite; it was serviceable but we didn’t feel like stopping for the day yet so we pushed off again. The rapids themselves rate a Class 1; it was an easy run into Wash Lake.  As we paddled down the lake we passed an established campsite – fire pit and all – on the east shore (see map above for approximate location).  It would have been a good place to stop – but we pushed on! First, we paddled by the shell of the downed airplane at the south end of Wash Lake –

airplane shell at the bottom of Wash Lake

airplane shell at the bottom of Wash Lake

If you know the story of this plane and wouldn’t mind sharing it, write it up and I’ll insert it right here!

On river right about 1.5 kilometers SE of the airplane comes the portage out of Wash and into Derraugh Lake. It is a 150-meter carry on river right. Our map indicated a campsite at the put-in but we weren’t seeing anything that resembled a place to put our tent for the night so we headed down Derraugh Lake.  We stopped twenty minutes later at the site indicated on the map above.  With a bit of trimming, sawing,  and rearranging we created a nicely sheltered spot tucked into the bush with a sloping rock face patio.

the view from our Derraugh Lake patio

the afternoon view from our Derraugh Lake patio

Max getting the breakfast fire going

Max getting the late afternoon fire going

You can barely see the tent and tarp behind the canoe in the pic below.  The chores done we’re getting ready for a cup of coffee!

Derraugh Lake Campsite - definitely tucked away!

Derraugh Lake Campsite – definitely tucked away!

Wednesday, August 14  (Day 18)

distance: 10 km. over three and a half hours – with half of that for the portage!

weather:  another beautiful sunny day in the Greater Wabakimi Area

portages: 1 – 1400 m.

(The Chuck Ryan post of their 2009 trip has some pix of the last day’s brief paddle here. He and his partner Dave Phillips had also camped on Derraugh Lake on their final night.)

We paddled to the end of Derraugh Lake and looked for the portage take-out. We were in the general area where prospectors had located a 200-meter gold-bearing quartz vein in the mid-1930’s.  In fact, it had been a J.E. Derraugh, then the vice-president and manager of Jedder Gold Mines Ltd., who had made the discovery. Nothing ever became of what  they were hoping would be another Red Lake gold strike but now we do have a Derraugh Lake.

One wonders what the previous – i.e. Ojibwe – name for the lake would have been. In some cases, we have reverted to the older Ojibwa names –  for example, before the 1930’s the Pikitigushi River was still known as Mud River and Pikitigushi Lake as Round Lake.  The two lakes on this stretch that I am most curious about are Cliff Lake and Bad Medicine Lake – their Ojibwe names might reveal something about their significance to those who used to paddle these waters. Just to the west of Derraugh Lake are two small lakes – one  named Haile and the other Selassie – also named in the 1930’s when the Ethiopian Emperor embraced his moment of statesmanship on the world stage –  but before he became Bob Marley’s Jah Rastafari!

Back to the Gooseneck Rapids portage – an hour and a half later,  by a unanimous decision,  the Trip Highlights Committee had awarded it  the prize for “the most poorly maintained portage”.  Finding it was problem #1 – it was a bit further up from the rapids on river right than we thought it would be.

Pikitigushi River -  Gooseneck Rapids

Pikitigushi River – Gooseneck Rapids

Our portage routine has Max take two packs right to the other end and then come back half way for the other two that I have dropped off while I go back for the canoe.  I still have no idea how he was able to sniff a trail all the way to Pikitigushi Lake out of the dense bush we walked through!  If fact, after I dropped off the packs and went back for the canoe I ended up getting lost as I tried to redo the “trail” I had just walked twice! Long stretches were also quite mushy and we were happy to see the end of it.

Given the state of the portage, we wondered what locals were doing to get up or down the river on this stretch.  Perhaps staying on the river instead and lining their way down? Looking at the Google satellite image below, perhaps locals make use of the McKinley Road running up the west side of Pikitigushi Lake and put in somewhere above the rapids.

Update: We came through this portage in July of 2013.  Since then, in August of 2014      to be exact, Phil Cotton and the Wabakimi Project Crew have given the portage some of their tender, loving’ care – so the trail should at least be easier to follow for the few years!

Derraugh Lake to Pikitigushi River take out point south of the Lake

Derraugh Lake to Pikitigushi River take out point south of the Lake

Once on the shores of Pikitigushi Lake it was an easy paddle to the south end of the lake and then 4.5 kilometers down the river with the beginnings of the  high sandy banks that undoubtedly gave it its first English name, Mud River.

the end of the trip - not the high sand banks on the other side

the end of the trip – note the high sand banks on the other side

Not in the picture – (we kinda stopped taking pictures at this point! See the CIIcanoe post for the visuals!) – is the  Quonset Hut which the Bear Camp owners (the Boucher Bros.) make use of to store vehicles and equipment.  We walked up a gravel road to the large clearing on the side of the road to Armstrong Station. Set up were maybe a half-dozen canvas tents on wooden platforms as well as a few trailers. We had arrived the day before the opening of the season’s bear hunt and there was a bit of activity since the first of the guests had already started arriving.

It would have been possible to arrange a shuttle into Armstrong Station with the Bouchers. However, we already had a Mattice Lake Outfitters shuttle set up. Not too long after we arrived, so did Annette Elliot  and we were on our way.   It is a little under 40 kilometers back to Armstrong Station from the take-out point at the Bear Camp.  Another ten kilometers to Mattice Lake and we were back to where we had started our canoe trip around the northern perimeter of Wabakimi Provincial Park. If you’d like to go back to the start of what was a truly excellent adventure, the post Canoeing Wabakimi’s Misehkow River is where it begins.

the-road-from-armstrong-station-to-the-pikitigushi-river

The Logging Road from the Pikitigushi River to Armstrong Station

Not attempted but still an intriguing possibility for a future trip is the stretch of the Pikitigushi from the Bear Camp to Mud River on the CN rail line and then maybe  all the way to Windigo Bay and Lake Nipigon. It looks like it would take a good day or two and it is difficult to say exactly what you’d deal with since information on rapids, log jams, and portages is pretty scarce.

Before we decided to drive up to Mattice Lake, we had thought of taking the VIA train from Toronto to Armstrong Station for the start of the trip and then, at the end, waiting at the Mud River train stop for the eastbound VIA Canadian as it does its run from Vancouver back to Toronto. However, this time the convenience of having our own vehicle and not being bound to an exact extraction date won out over the luxury of not having to drive 4000 kilometers! Next time the calculations may lead to a different conclusion.

A 1939 report by the Ontario Government’s Department of Mines on the geology of the area included this paragraph on the nature of the river from the Mud River CN stop up to the lake –

1939 description of the Pikitigushi River below the Lake

A bit more research led to a provincial government report by Ontario’s Department of Mines from 1909 (see here for the full text) which describes in greater detail the portages mentioned in the above quote.

P.155 of the 1909 Annual Report  by Ontario's Department of Mines

The first (but fourth in the above description since they are coming up the river) of these portages would be the one around the rapids where the logging road crosses the river.  It is a 500-meter carry from the Quonset Hut up the road  to the clearing where the Bear Camp accommodation can be seen and then over the logging road and down to the put in.

lower Pikitigushi portages - 500 meters - logging road portage

The longest portage would be one which eliminates almost thirteen kilometers of potential trouble. In exchange, it looks like you’d get to do a 1500-meter carry over a trail I haven’t found much information on. My Garmin Topo Canada map has a broken line marked in from the pond to the river; so does the Federal Government’s 052 I 07 Pikitigushi Lake topo map.

The Lower Pikitigushi's 1500 meter  Long Portage - Satellite Shot

The Lower Pikitigushi’s 1500 meter Long Portage – Satellite Shot

The satellite image above shows significant clearcutting has occurred in the area contained within the big bend.  A more-in-depth look of the loss of forest cover over the decade from 2002 to 2012 can clearly be seen here.

the-lower-pikitigushi-river-twists-and-turns

lower-pikitigushi-river-to-cn-tracks-and-via-stop

lower-pikitigushi-river-to-cn-tracks-and-via-stop

The 1:50000 topo 052 I 07 also indicates rapids/falls about 4.5 kilometers from the CN tracks.

See here for a Canadian Canoe Routes forum thread I started before the trip asking for info on the stretch of river from the logging road to the CN tracks. Also, check out the Wabakimi Project’s collection of canoe route maps – three of which we have bought over the past five years.  Volume Five, filed under future releases,  will include essential info on the Pikitigushi.

In the meanwhile …

If you’ve got any more current information on the last section from the logging road to the CN tracks at Mud River, let me know and I’ll update the above map with the new info – rapids and falls, log jams, portages, swifts, and other other useful info for next summer’s paddlers.  Use the comments section below or email me at true_north@mac.com

Some Useful Links: (Clink on blue text to access info)

The Federal Government 1:50000 topos for this stretch are available for free download here –  Linklater Lake 052 I 10 and Pikitigushi Lake 052 I 07.

For another trip report – and lots of pix – on this section of the Pikitigushi, see the entries for Days 20 and 21 in CIIcanoe’s (aka Chuck Ryan) epic 21 Day Canoe Trip To The “Little North”. Finding his report on-line is what gave us the idea to take on the 350-kilometer route ourselves. We are really glad we did.

The VIA train only passes through Mud River three times a week either way during canoe tripping season.  For the westbound VIA “The Canadian” train schedule see here –  and here for the eastbound one. It would be necessary to purchase your ticket before you set off on your trip since it is no longer a flag stop.

Once we got up to Mattice Lake , Don and Annette Elliot of Mattice Lake Outfitters handled all of the logistics and park permits.  We left the vehicle in their parking lot (totally safe) and flew up to the Misehkow River start point on one of their de Havilland Beavers.  At the end of the trip we were picked up at the Boucher Bear Camp on the Pikitigushi for the 50 kilometer ride back to our vehicle.  I’d highly recommend MLO. They’ve been doing this for a while and know what they’re doing. They do have all sorts of other services that they offer – see here for the full list.

Laurence Mills of www.wabakimimaps.com has a map set entitled Pikitigushi River.  It details a 175-kilometer route that goes from the Little Caribou Lake put-in up to Whitewater Lake and then down Whiteclay Lake before it goes up the Raymond and down the Pikitigushi Rivers to the logging road take-out.  We bought the Kopka River map set for a previous canoe trip and were quite happy with the level of accurate detail on the laminated 8.5″X11″ sheets.

Viggo Checks Out Toronto’s First Real Winter Snow- December 2014

one happy Icelandic Sheepdog

one happy Icelandic Sheepdog

The first touch of winter came in much more gently this year.  Instead of the drama of 2013’s “Snowmaggeddon”, the ice storm that knocked out electric power for whole sections of Toronto and had tree branches crashing down on vehicles and sidewalks, we just got seventeen centimetres of snow.

I took advantage of the fresh snow covering to let Viggo do some off- leash rambling down along the stretch of the Don River which runs through our Riverdale neighbourhood.  Knowing that meeting cyclists and joggers is close to zero makes it that much more enjoyable as I walk with my Icelandic Sheepdog on the riverside trail.

Here are some pix from our walks – starting with the overcast first morning of snow. We walk up our Riverdale Street to Broadview, head for the footbridge that goes over the Don Valley Parkway, and then take the steps down to the trail that runs along the river.

the Don Valley Expressway on a snowy morning

the Don Valley Expressway on a snowy morning

Viggo coming down the footbridge to the Don River valley trail

Viggo coming down the footbridge to the Don River valley trail

underneath the Riverdale Footbridge

underneath the Riverdale Footbridge

the Belt Line tracks crossing the Don

the Belt Line tracks crossing the Don

 

Viggo waits at the tunnel underneath the Belt Line tracks

Viggo waits at the tunnel underneath the Belt Line tracks

Where In the world is Viggo?

Where In the world is Viggo?

 

Viggo's trail through the bush to the river

Viggo’s trail through the bush to the river

Viggo on the river bank

Viggo on the river bank

Viggo in the snow on the banks of the Don

The snow fell most of the first day.  We returned the next day – and as the pix will show – the snow had stopped falling and the sun was out. So were the kids making use of two of the city’s best hills for snow sliding.

the south end of the Broadview hill

the south end of the Broadview hill

The Broadview Hill - most sliders have yet to arrive!

The Broadview Hill – most sliders have yet to arrive!

Viggo being chased by a Bernese

Viggo being chased by a Bernese

Viggo stirring up the snow

Viggo stirring up the snow

We headed over the bridge to the steps that take us down to the valley trail. I looked over to the other excellent sliding hill – the one by the Riverdale Farm – and could see a few kids already at play.  Here is what my camera captured as i pointed the lens at the sun!

downtown Toronto in the background and the hill by the Riverdale Farm

downtown Toronto in the background and the hill by the Riverdale Farm

on the valley trail - Viggo looking for the ducks

on the valley trail – Viggo looking for the ducks

Viggo in the snow by the river

Viggo in the snow by the river

ducks heading south on December 12!

ducks heading south on December 12!

the Riverdale Footbridge as dusk approaches

the Riverdale Footbridge as dusk approaches

looking south from the Riverdale Footbridge

looking south from the Riverdale Footbridge

 

tobogganners on the hill by Riverdale Farm

tobogganners on the hill by Riverdale Farm

Mike, Viggo, and Clarence - the chase is on!

Mike, Viggo, and Clarence – the chase is on!

Viggo meets his buddy Clarence as we near the Broadview Hill

Viggo meets his buddy Clarence as we near the Broadview Hill

the sun sets on another great day in Riverdale

the sun sets on another great day in Riverdale

 

the dusk  view from Broadview

the dusk view from Broadview Avenue near the Rooster Coffeehouse

On thing about the sun in December – when it sets it sure does so in a hurry.  As we approached our front steps I looked back up the street and saw a stunning red sky. The afternoon’s ramble was done.

looking towards Broadview  from the front of our house

looking towards Broadview from the front of our house

 Update:  Well, so much for the snow! It stayed for less than a week. And the forecast for Christmas Eve? Plus10°C and rain!  So we can forget about that postcard “white” Christmas.  It looks like we’ll have to wait until the New Year for the next installment of snow.  Here are some other pix of our walks along the river and the neighbourhood on following days –

mud, water, snow - what's not to like!

mud, water, snow – what’s not to like!

Viggo on duck patrol on the Don River

Viggo on duck patrol on the Don River

A little secret revealed here – to get Viggo into the picture I sometimes toss a treat in the spot where I want him to be.  Well, this time the treat got lost in the snow and the Veegs is looking none too happy about it. He got a replacement morsel!

Viggo is not amused - no treat to be found!

Viggo is not amused – no treat to be found!

The Broadview Hill a week later - snow all gone!

The Broadview Hill a week later – snow all gone!

Viggo at Withrow Dog Park a week after the snow fall

Viggo at Withrow Dog Park a week after the snow fall

the neighbourhood skating rink - the only ice around!

the neighbourhood skating rink – the only ice around!

kids playing on the Canadian version of the  "field of dreams"

kids playing on the Canadian version of the “field of dreams”

Colombo’s National Museum – Some of What You’ll See

Previous Post: The Buddhist Baroque of Colombo’s Gangaramaya Vihara

Colombo Map - National Museum and neighbourhood

 

Sri Lanka's National Museum

Sri Lanka’s National Museum is located at the south end of Viharamahadevi Park not far from Galle Road and the Fort and Pettah districts.  As the repository of many of the moveable artifacts from the area where the country’s pre-modern history was played out ( the so-called “Cultural Triangle”), it houses some impressive examples of Sri Lanka’s cultural legacy.

the entrance to Colombo's National Museum

a seated Buddha figure awaits at the entrance to Colombo’s National Museum

The collection is housed in a Neoclassical-style building which goes back to British times, having been built in the early 1870’s and opening its doors in 1877. From a humble initial collection its holdings now number over 100,000 artifacts.  None is more dramatic than the very first one you see as you approach the entrance lobby.

the seated Buddha in meditation pose at the entrace of Sri Lanka's  National Museum in Colombo

the seated Buddha in meditation pose at the entrace of Sri Lanka’s National Museum in Colombo

An unadorned seated Buddha carved out of limestone awaits  – exuding both serenity and strength. Created in the Anuradhapura area around 1300 years ago, it survived the collapse of that great Sinhala capital. The elongated ears, the curly hair, the bump on the top of the head (the ushnisha), the hands in the classic meditation mudra (position) – but no attempt by the artists at creating the folded monastic robes that other Buddha figures sometimes are provided with.

looking up to the Buddha at  the main entrance

looking up to the Buddha at the main entrance

The ground floor is divided into a number of rooms or galleries – each with its own theme.  What follows is a highly selective – that should probably read “subjective” ! – sample of exhibited sculptures that caught my eye. Room 1 deals with the island’s pre-history; rooms 2 and 3 have a number of eye-catching Hindu and Buddhist statues of various sizes; rooms 4 and 5 concentrate on the more recent Kandy kingdoms before the British established complete control of the island in 1815. A second floor was not open for public viewing when I was there; a verandah on the ground floor has more examples of stonework rescued from various ancient sites on the island, but many are in poor shape.

I spent a very enjoyable hour and a half with the artifacts – mostly in Rooms 2 and 3! –  before I returned to the seated Buddha in the front lobby. The lighting and the glass, which is  often between the lens and the various artifacts,  can pose a real challenge to someone intent on taking better pix; I ended up shooting everything with a 35 mm prime lens on my Sony dslr; the results were – as you will see – so-so!

the Hindu goddess Durga.- from Anuradhapura 10th C jpg

the Hindu goddess Durga.- from Anuradhapura 10th C

One thing the collection brought home was the presence of Hindu religious objects among the ruins of the ancient kingdoms.  Clearly the notion of an ancient Sri Lanka staunchly following the conservative Theravada path is the result of modern Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism and not really a true reading of the past.

the Hindu god Surya - a sculpture from 10th C Anuradhapura

the Hindu god Surya – a sculpture from 10th C Anuradhapura

The Vedic deity Surya holds a lotus in each and; behind him is the solar disk (partly broken off) associated with this sun god.  Not far from this piece from Anuradhapura, with its three major Buddhist monasteries, was this depiction of the multi-armed Hindu goddess Durga, a consort of the god Shiva, one of the three gods who make up the HIndu “Trinity”  – the Trimurti – along with Brahma and Vishnu.

another Durga sculpture from 10 th C C.E. Anuradhapura

another Durga sculpture from 10 th C C.E. Anuradhapura

The standing Buddha below, unlike the one in the entrance lobby, has been provided monk’s robes (which may show the influence of the Graeco-Indian Gandhara style of Buddha depiction). He stands there very solidly and stiffly with his right shoulder uncovered – an apparent trait of Sinhala Buddhas.

bronze standing Buddha figure from Kurunegala

bronze standing Buddha figure from Kurunegala

Anuradhapura was not only the home of the conservative Theravada school; to the north of the ancient city was the Abhayagiri Monastery which embraced a more liberal kind of Buddhism – the Mahayana school which would become so popular in China and Japan. The statue below depicts one of the three major bodhisattvas, the one associated with “Protection”. Along with Avalokitessvara (“Compassion”) and Manjushri (“Wisdom”) and a number of others, this bodhisattva is recognized for selflessly postponing his own nirvana so that he can help others get closer to the goal first.

Bronze solid cast Vajrapani Bodhisatva figure from Kurunegala - 800's C.E.

Bronze solid cast Vajrapani Bodhisatva figure from Kurunegala – 800’s C.E.

I was surprised to find this silver alloy cast figure of Tara among the gods and buddhas. I had always associated her with Tibetan Buddhism but given that Buddhism had barely arrived in tibet when she was being created in Sri Lanka, I need to do more research about her story.  She is regarded as a bodhisattva with the quality of compassion, which connects her with Avalokitesvara.  This may help explain why in China the male Avalokitesvara became the female Kuan Yin.

silver cast Tara figure- 700's - 800's C.E.

silver alloy solid cast Tara figure –  800’s – 900’s C.E.

A better photo of a better sculpture of a standing Buddha figure, his right hand in the abaya  (“No Fear”) mudra. Like the one above he wears his form clinging robes with the right shoulder bare.

bronze solid cast - from Medavachiya near Anuradhapura - 9th C C.E.

bronze solid cast – from Medavachiya near Anuradhapura – 9th C C.E.

The  next two pieces were two of the ones I spent some time appreciating. The first depicts Buddha seated on a lotus in the meditation mudra (his hands resting in his lap). The ushnisha as flame of fire on the top of his head is a touch that would find its way to Burma and Thailand  in the centuries to come.

Seated Buddha from Veheragala near Anuradhapura - 9th C C.E.

Seated Buddha from Veheragala near Anuradhapura – 9th C C.E.

The next piece – while not as imposing –  rivals the Buddha in the front lobby for skill of artistic execution. The pose was oft copied by other Buddhist sculptors and painters in other lands. (See here for one of my favourite Chinese depictions.)

Avalokitesvara bronze from Veheregala near Anuradhapura - height 49.8 cm.j 800's C.E

Avalokitesvara bronze from Veheregala near Anuradhapura – height 49.8 cm.j 800’s C.E.

Below on the left is a standing Tara figure; on the right is a guard stone taken from Polonnaruwa, the capital of a Sinhalese kingdom for a couple of centuries after the collapse of Anuradhapura. Three cobras provide a hood for the central figure, who is holding a tree branch and a vase (the punkalasa or pot of plenty). At his left foot is a dwarf figure.

female standing Buddha figure - info not recorded

female standing Buddha figure – info not recorded

Guardstone from Polonnaruwa - 12th C CE

Guardstone from Polonnaruwa – 12th C CE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More evidence of Hindu – as in Tamil – presence in  the Cultural Triangle a thousand years ago can be found in the following images, beginning with a skillfully done version of Shiva as Nata Raja, the Lord of the Dance, his dreadlocks flowing as he dances on the dwarf of ignorance.

Shiva - the Lord of the Dance

Shiva – the Lord of the Dance

More Hindu imagery followed with the following  stone sculptures.  One was of Nandi, a bull figure associated with Shiva.

stone sculpture of Nandi

stone sculpture of Nandi

The Hindu god Ganesha, son of Shiva and Parvati, was also represented with a number of sculptures.  Two of them are below, both depicting a seated elephant-headed figure and bearing a number of similarities, including a rather full belly.

Ganesha in stone - 12th C Polonnaruwa

Ganesha in stone – 12th C Polonnaruwa

another Ganesha stone sculpture - gneiss - 12th C CE.

another Ganesha stone sculpture – gneiss – 12th C CE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then it was back to the Buddha. First I contemplated this rather dour seated Buddha exhibiting all the usual characteristics.  And then I found a display that finally made clear to me how Sinhala and other artists through the years had been able to maintain such uniformity of form in spite of the fact that each Buddha was made on its own.

seated Buddha in meditation posture - Polonnaruwa 12th C C.E.

seated Buddha in meditation posture – Polonnaruwa 12th C C.E.

Navatala Plumb Scale System used to create seated Buddha figure

Navatala Plumb Scale System used to create seated Buddha figure

diagram of Caturmana system applied to a seated Buddha figure

diagram of Caturmana system applied to a seated Buddha figure

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Navatala system applied to buddha figure

Navatala system applied to buddha figure

I returned to the entrance lobby and the seated Buddha with a newfound appreciation of the “science” behind drawing the Buddha out from a large chunk of limestone.

one last shot of the seated Buddha at the entrancne of Colombo's National Museum

one last shot of the seated Buddha at the entrancne of Colombo’s National Museum

And that was my quick tour of the National Gallery – not a long one and certainly not one that did justice to all the rooms – but it had been worth the visit.  I should mention that the entrance fee was 500 rupees and there was in all likelihood an additional 100 rupee fee for camera privileges.

It was followed by a late afternoon walk through Viharamahadevi Park up to the Town Hall, passing the large modern take of the seated and gilded Buddha on the way.  Odel’s Department Store was still open so I dropped in and did some gift shopping. It had been a very enjoyable day in Colombo and I was glad that I had left three days in my travel plans to explore parts of the city.  See below for some other related Sri Lanka posts:

 Seema Malaka: Colombo’s Serene island Buddhist Vihara

Buddhist Baroque: Colombo’s Gangaramaya Vihara Complex

The Ruins of Ancient Anuradhapura – Part One

The Ruins of Ancient Anuradhapura – Part Two

 

 

 

Seema Malaka: Colombo’s Serene Buddhist Island Vihara

central Colombo - Seema Malaka on the small lake just south of Beira Lake

central Colombo – Seema Malaka on the small lake just south of Beira Lake

It began with a pleasant early morning walk from my guesthouse (The Wayfarers’ Inn) on Rosemead Place in Colombo’s Cinnamon Garden District.  I walked on the path which traces the northern edge of a beautiful green space called Viharamahadevi Park. The previous afternoon I had visited the National Museum on the south side of the park; today I was headed to the Gangaramaya Vihara or Temple.  The map below will make clear my destination –  the east side of the small lake just below Beira Lake.

Seema Malaka and Gangaramaya Vihara Complex

Seema Malaka and Gangaramaya Vihara Complex – click here for the interactive Google map

Colombo’s Fort District is perhaps 1.5 kilometers to the north and Galle Face a little less. Both seem a world away from this serene little corner of the city.  My first destination was the structure you see in the image below – a set of three pods built in the 1980’s on a  design by Geoffrey Bawa, Sri Lanka’s most famous contemporary architect.

Seema Malaka on BeiraLake in Colombo

Seema Malaka on Beira Lake in Colombo

Known as Seema Malaka, this serene “island” is part of the Gangaramaya Vihara complex about two hundred meters away. The vihara’s  monks are ordained here.  It also provides a place for other rituals as well as an everyday meditation retreat.

Seema Malaka - the entranceway

To reach the central pod, you walk across a wooden pontoon bridge past the footprint of the Buddha and the reclining Buddha figure you see in the image above. Note the coins left by merit-seeking visitors in the footprint’s indentation!

Thai Buddhas line a Seema Malaka wall

Thai Buddhas line a Seema Malaka wall

Saving a visit to the central pod for later, I turned to the left and visited the second of the pods – the one with the Bo Tree and a number of Buddha statues large and small. Often in my viewfinder were the bronze Buddha statues donated to the Vihara by the government of Thailand. They illustrate nicely the various mudras (hand gestures) used by Buddhist artists to convey the Buddha’s story.

approaching the Bodhi tree buddhas at Seema malaka

approaching the Bodhi tree buddhas at Seema Malaka

the Bodhi tree Buddha at Seema Malaka

the Bodhi Tree Buddha at Seema Malaka

Seema Malaka's Bodhi Tree Buddha

Seema Malaka’s Bodhi Tree Buddha in the meditation (dhyana) mudra

For a moment I let the various Buddhas slip from my consciousness as I looked northwest to the ring of high-rises, a sign of better economic times for Sri Lanka now that the brutal civil war that scarred a generation has ended.

looking towards Galle Road and Downtown Colombo

looking towards Galle Road and Downtown Colombo]

And then it was back to my meditation on the bronze Thai Buddha and their mudras. This spot is a serene little island that lends itself perfectly to contemplation – and photography!  I was there at about 9:00 a.m.; it would have been nice to return near dusk for the very different light that a setting sun – and the lights of the city beyond –  would have provided.

refocussing on the Buddhas!

refocusing on the Buddhas!

Seema Malaka- three Buddhas, three mudras

Seema Malaka – three Buddhas, three mudras

Thai Buddhas and the dagoba

Thai Buddhas and the dagoba or stupa

Finally I approached the steps that lead into the main shrine room – the large building covered with the blue roof. The image below shows the moonstone and the two guardstones that mark the entrance. Spend any time in Anuradhapura or Polonnaruwa and you will become very familiar with these classic Sinhalese architectural touches! The fearsome nagaraja figures, each with a halo of six cobra heads, stand guard.

concrete version  of classic Sinhalese architectural elements - guardstones and moonstone

concrete version of classic Sinhalese architectural elements – guardstones and moonstone

Seema Malaka - interior of main shrine room

Seema Malaka – interior of main shrine room

On the way out of the shrine room I passed by the third and smallest island pod. With its signboard reading “Treasury of Truth”, it serves as a library for the monastic community and was not accessible the morning I was there.

Seema Malaka - wooden bridge to small pod

Seema Malaka – wooden bridge to the smallest pod – “The Treasury of Truth”

Once over the pontoon bridge and past the parinirvana Buddha figure and the gigantic footprint – over a meter long – I looked back and I thought -“That was a great way to spend an hour”.  An hour and a half later I would have to revise that thought to include what was coming up – my visit to the main Gangarmaya Vihara complex just around the corner.  I didn’t know it yet but if the Seema Malaka was Zen, then the main vihara was Buddhist Baroque to the max.

 the Seema Malaka from the entrance

the Seema Malaka from the entrance

Next Post – Buddhist Baroque: Colombo’s Gangaramaya Temple Complex  The image below is of the vihara’s large central Buddha statue…

the main shrine of Gangaramaya's Temple

the main shrine of Gangaramaya’s Temple

Buddhist Baroque: Colombo’s Gangaramaya Temple

panorama of the Gangaramaya temple front

panorama of the Gangaramaya temple front – click on image to enlarge

To say I was overwhelmed does not even come close to capturing the initial breathless moment of stepping inside the main temple at the Gangaramaya Vihara complex.  I had just walked over after spending a very restful hour contemplating the mostly Thai Buddha sculptures at the stunning Seema Malaka.  As the image below slows, it is built out onto Beira Lake on three connected platforms. As a modern “take” on Sri Lanka’s forest monasteries designed by Sri Lanka’s renowned contemporary architect Geoffrey Bawa, it has an almost Zen-like feel to it.

Seema Malaka on BeiraLake in Colombo

Seema Malaka on BeiraLake in Colombo – used for various monastic ceremonies by the main temple – the Gangaramaya which is perhaps 300 meters away

Passing through the open gate I took off my shoes and sun hat and headed to one of the two side doors of the main temple.  To my right as I approached the door was a Chinese bronze statue of Kuan Yin and an even larger bronze of the Hindu deity Ganesha, the son of Shiva and Parvati. The elephant-headed god is known as the remover of obstacles and the patron of those about to embrace a new beginning.

Kuan Yin and Ganesha bronzes in the Gangaramaya courtyard

While I am not a believer, I am still moved when I visit holy places, whether humble village shrines or massive cathedrals and stupas. What I experienced as  I stepped into the Gangaramaya temple  I can only call Buddhist Baroque.  It is the opulent grandeur of ten thousand Buddhas looking at you thanks to effort of the temple planners to have artists and sculptors fill up every available space with different aspects of the Buddhist narrative. I’d never seen anything like this before  in my limited travels through the Buddhist world.

Gangaramaya Temple - one wall

Gangaramaya Temple – side view of seated Buddha…see two pix down for front view

I spent over an hour in the temple, inhaling the atmosphere and taking in all the details. It was all but empty most of the time I was there and I was able to take my time framing shots of the various tableaux and shrine areas.  I made major use of my ultra-wide angle lens – shooting mostly at the 35mm equivalent of 15mm – and the digital spirit level of my Sony dslr helped prevent the keynoting effect. At other times I just accepted the inevitable distortion as I framed the shot. I upped the iso to 3200 or 6400 and avoided the use of flash.

pointing my camera up in the Gangaramaya Temple

pointing my camera up in the Gangaramaya Temple

looking up at the second massive bodhisattva figure

looking up at the second massive bodhisattva figure

another Bodhisattva figure - perspective correction in Adobe Lightroom!

another shot of the above Bodhisattva figure – this time after using perspective correction in Adobe Lightroom!

Buddhas and bodhisattvas at the Gangaramaya Temple

Buddhas and bodhisattvas at the Gangaramaya Temple

two small Buddhas in Dhyana ("meditation") Mudra

two small Buddhas in Dhyana (“meditation”) Mudra

Buddha and bodhisattvas - a different angle

Buddha and bodhisattvas – a different angle

close-up of Buddha figure in abhaya (%22fear not%22) mudra

close-up of Buddha figure in abhaya (“have no fear”) mudra

Gangaramaya ceiling sculpture

Gangaramaya ceiling sculpture above the side door I entered

close-up of ceiling corner buddha

close-up of ceiling corner buddha

 

the Buddhist equivalent of angels hovering around central figure

the Buddhist equivalent of angels hovering around central figure

meditating monks and bodhisattvas at Gangaramaya temple

meditating monks and bodhisattvas at Gangaramaya temple

the main shrine of Gangaramaya's Temple

the main shrine of Gangaramaya’s Temple

the temple's central Buddha figure in "2earth witness" pose-

the temple’s central Buddha figure in “earth witness” pose

parinirvana Buddha figures in front of the main seated Buddha sculpture

small parinirvana Buddha figures in front of the main seated Buddha sculpture

The Buddha depicted at the moment of his enlightenment, with his right hand touching the earth in what is called the Bhumisparsha (“Earth Witness”) mudra or posture. the Buddhas at his feet are associated with the moment of his death at the age of 80, when he slipped off into what is called parinirvana.

Chinese Buddha and bodhisattvas

Chinese Buddha surrounded by disciples and  bodhisattvas

two of the figures from the above image

two of the figures from the above image

I continued my clockwise tour of the temple complex grounds by stepping out of the shrine room and into a large courtyard with a stupa (called a dagoba in Sri Lanka). More buddha figures lined the stupa and the surroundings. Guardstones – with depictions of the Nagarajas or Snake Kings – and the moonstone in front of the altar emphasized the classic Sinhalese style of Anuradhapura.

dagoba at the Gangaramaya Temple complex

dagoba (i.e. stupa) at the Gangaramaya Temple complex

main shrine at the Gangaramaya dagoba

main shrine at the Gangaramaya dagoba

side view of the Gangaramaya stupa

side view of the Gangaramaya stupa – with copy of the famous bronze statue of Avalokitesvara – see here for a Wikipedia-sourced image

The mini-stupas above and the ones you see below are done in Borobudur style.  The bronze seated Buddhas in various positions.  One is the Vitarka (“discussion”) mudra, with the index finger and the thumb of the right hand forming a circle. the other is the Dhyana mudra which we have seen already; it has the two hands placed together in the lap and is associated with the Buddha in a state of meditation.

mini-dagobas in the Gangaramaya courtyard

mini-dagobas in the Gangaramaya courtyard

Thai bronze Buddhas with Borobudur stupas

Thai Buddhas - row on row

Thai Buddhas – row on row

Chinese bronzes inside the artifacts collection room

Chinese bronzes inside the artifacts collection room

As i wandered around the room of artifacts, I noted Buddha figures that seemed to come from all over. I am guessing that the one above is from China and the one below in from Japan. Who they are exactly i cannot say.  The intellectualized Buddhism that I have been attracted to throughout my life is devoid of the statues and rituals and the Jataka stories that are the bread and butter of Buddhist artists.  My loss!

I am intrigued by the symbolism behind the eight-armed Buddha below, holding an axe (maybe to cut through ignorance?), a dharma wheel, a flag of victory,  perhaps a conch, and symbols of the moon and sun – but what does it all mean? What is the story behind it? Let me know in the comments section below if you are familiar with the details.

eight-armed seated Buddha figure

eight-armed seated Buddha figure

just a few statures of the massive Buddha collection

just a few statures of the massive Buddha collection

The temple is active in community affairs, providing technical training courses to over 7000 students daily at the various schools it has established. Its website details a new project to be launched in the Hambantota district on the south side of the island.  Given that the current President of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa,  is from this region, he and the head monk have even more to talk about than the temple’s general contributions to the community.

photo of current Sri Lankan president and head monk of Gangaramaya

photo of current Sri Lankan president and head monk of Gangaramaya

overview of back of artifact collection room

overview of the back of artifact collection room

Along with the massive elephants tusks, the temple complex also has its own elephant, appropriately named Ganga.  She is nine years old and has spent the past seven years at the temple, after being born in the Kattaragama district. For the past three Februarys she has appeared in the annual Nawam Perahera, a procession of monks and elephants carrying sacred relics  which makes its  way through the streets of this area of Colombo.  Google Nawam Perahera and you’ll be treated to dozens of colourful images of the event. The day I was there, Ganga was apparently off for a walk with her mahout in a nearby park. Some visitors are distressed on seeing her chained to a pillar on a very short metal leash. Others don’t seem to see the chains and are delighted by her presence!

display cases and elephant tusks at Gangarama Temple complex

display cases and elephant tusks at Gangarama Temple complex

My visit to Gangaramaya was an unexpected highlight of my visit to Sri Lanka. I entered the gates not knowing anything about the temple. i emerged over an hour later dazzled by the rich – and yes, sometimes a hodge-podge and sometimes kitschy,  collection of Buddhist statues and images. And while I am sure I missed most of the symbolism and identities of the various figures as they looked sympathetically at me, it was still a great experience.

Now I know what Japanese tourists with a solid Buddhist background must feel like as they stand in the middle of the Sistine Chapel and try to make sense of all the awe-inspiring Biblical images from the Old Testament they are surrounded by!

Useful Links:

The Temple has its own website and provides ample evidence of an extensive community outreach program.

Trip advisor has a string of comments from visitors to the temple complex. See here for a variety of views and the overall score.  It currently ranks 8th for things to do in Colombo!

Wikipedia has a short article on the temple, as well as more links which delve deeper into certain related topics.

Obviously the more you know about Buddhism before you wander into the temple, the more you will recognize and appreciate.  Two things that will help you along are these:

  1. the basic life story of the Siddhartha Gautama who became the Buddha; and

  2. the various poses used by sculptures to convey various moments in the Buddha’s story.  See this Wikipedia article on mudras for a quick introduction.

 

A Return Visit To Temagami’s Diamond Lake Pictograph Site

Max framing the north arm of Diamond Lake

Max framing the north arm of Diamond Lake from the previous night’s tent spot

All images enlarge with a click; all blue text leads to more info with a click.

The portage from Bob Lake to Diamond Lake done, we had originally planned to paddle up the north arm of the Lake that same afternoon to check out the pictographs.  Having done a less-than-satisfactory job of documenting the rock painting site on our last visit in 2009, this time we planned on doing better!  However, the wind and the waves had their own agenda, so we ended up camping on a small island at the south end of the arm. We hoped that by the next morning there would be less wind and no rain.

Morning came and the weather for the next three hours would be the best of the entire five days of our early October trip.  We paddled the 2.6 kilometers to the pictograph site on the west side of the arm on completely calm water.  In my thoughts was the withering conclusion about the meaning of the Diamond Lake pictographs delivered  by Canada’s then pre-eminent archaeologist David Boyle over a hundred years ago.

The Annual Archaeological Report for 1906 (Being Part of Appendix to the Report of the Minister of Education Ontario)  included an article titled “Rock Paintings At Temagami District”. Near the end of the article attributed to W. Phillips but with Boyle as the editor,  he writes this –

David Boyle on the meaning of the Diamond Lake pictographs

overview of Diamond Lake Pictograph Site

overview of Diamond Lake Pictograph Site

This article (published in 1907) represents the first scholarly record of  the Diamond Lake pictographs.  Doing the recording was a W. Phillips, a “temporary Assistant” in the Archaeology Department at the Ontario Provincial Museum. As the Museum’s Superintendent, Boyle had sent Phillips up to Temagami to check reports of rock paintings. Here is Phillips’ own account of his visit –

Phillips Quote - Boyle Article 1907

The Diamond Lake Pictograph Site - view from the north

The Diamond Lake Pictograph Site – view from the north

As Phillips noted in his report,  the ochre markings are spread out over a ten-meter length of the white quartzite surface.  Overhead ledges protect the painted markings from the worst of the run-off water. They face east/southeast and are thus spared the worst of the winds from the NW. The above photo shows the site from the north end with the dot in the circle as the last of the pictographs.

Diamond Lake pictographs - sketch from Dewdney's book

the northernmost Diamond Lake pictographs – sketch from Dewdney’s book

It would be fifty-three years before the next visitor from the museum  (now named The Royal Ontario Museum) would arrive.  It was Selwyn Dewdney, then at the start of his decade-long quest to document the pictograph sites of the Canadian Shield.   The Diamond Lake Site would be #40 of the more than 260 he would eventually visit.  In the 1962 first edition of the book Indian Rock Paintings of The Great Lakes he writes the following –

Dewdney on Diamond Lake Pictograph site

Diamond Lake - Lady Evelyn South Arm

Diamond Lake/Lady Evelyn South Arm – clink on the image to enlarge

Some time before Dewdney visited the site (in 1942 to be exact), a local lumber company had built a dam just north of the pictograph site at the point where Diamond Lake flows into the south arm of Lady Evelyn Lake. This point – once known as Lady Evelyn Falls but, thanks to massive flooding when another dam raised the water level of Lady Evelyn Lake itself,  is now referred to as the Lady Evelyn Lift-Over and is the subject of an insightful  Ottertooth article. The writer (Brian Back) writes this of the dam at the outlet of Diamond Lake –

Lady Evelyn Falls Dam 1942This would explain why parts of the Diamond Lake pictograph site were under water when Dewdney visited in 1959.

Discovering Rock Art In Ontario's Provincial ParksSince Dewdney, with a few exceptions, there has been very little discussion and research of the Diamond Lake pictographs – or of the pictographs of the Temagami area in general.  One exception is Thor Conway, who as a young archaeologist visited the Diamond Lake site with Dewdney in the mid-1970’s and who continues to publish material on pictograph sites all across the Canadian Shield area. His book on the Agawa Rock pictograph site, for example, stands as the definitive study of that Ojibwe rock painting location.

Conway first visited the Diamond Lake site in 1974. As luck would have it, the previous year the dam had been destroyed by a work crew from the Ministry of Natural Resources and the water had come down to its natural level.  Two years later he was there again with a CBC film crew.  Also along for the visit were Dewdney and Gilles Tache,  a Quebec archaeologist also focussed on the pictograph quest.  During their visit they were able to determine that water levels were lower by about 4.5 feet (1.37 meters) from where they had been on Dewdney’s 1959 visit. The  dynamiting of the dam in 1973 made that much of a difference.

 Conway’s book Discovering Rock Art In Ontario’s Provincial Parks (2009) has a chapter on the Diamond Lake pictographs. Even though the book is impossible to find, the one chapter that Conway provides as a sample of the book’s contents is the one on Diamond Lake!  Click here to read at least some of that chapter.

We approached the pictograph from the south.The following sequence of images follow the ten meters of rock face from south to north.  In doing so we followed the order in which Phillips presents his drawings of the various pictographs.  The site begins with some indecipherable ochre marks and ends with the most well-known of the Diamond Lake rock paintings. Conway has counted 77 individual ochre marks or paintings; we were not as successful!

ochre on rock at Diamond Lake

ochre on rock at Diamond Lake

The pictographs begin with a few barely discernible ochre marks at the south end of the site.  They were “painted” with a mixture of ground hematite and perhaps fish oil or bear grease and then applied to the rock surface, not with a brush,  but by finger.  The figures are usually no more an inch  (2.5 cm) wide and up to five or six  inches long.  As I mentioned in another pictograph-related post, people are sometimes disappointed when they see them.  In the grand scheme of things, these are admittedly  very simple physical expressions of the values and beliefs of a paleolithic culture.  However, they speak to anyone who has experienced the rugged beauty of the Canadian Shield.

The photo above is of the first of them, three ochre marks of which what may be a star pattern or a figure with outstretched arms is the most visible.

T mark and other ochre marks at Diamond Lake

T mark and other ochre marks at Diamond Lake

The next evidence of ochre comes just a meter further north.  Still visible is what looks like a T.  It is with this pictograph that Phillips began his drawings of the Diamond Lake pictographs; it is #1 in his inventory.  There is an ochre smudge above and to the right of the T but it is badly eroded.

Phillips - Plate IV top

Phillips – Plate IV top

Diamond Lake - ochre slash

Diamond Lake – ochre slash

We have now moved up about four meters of the site. So far these is very little to make sense of. We were now looking at what seems to correspond to pictographs #2 and #4 on the top of Phillips’ Plate IV above.  The ochre marks in between may be #3. It is impossible to say from the image below. Are we are looking at crane footprints being used as a clan emblem or are we are looking at rudimentary Thunderbird images?

Diamond Lake  - Thunderbird pictographs

Diamond Lake – Thunderbird pictographs or Crane footprints?

And then we come to the core of the site – the stretch beginning to the right of the deep cut into the rock face. The first pictograph we see is of the moose.  It is #6 on Phillips’ Plate IV (see below).   Underneath the moose body is evidence of an impact – from a bullet or a hammer-head perhaps.  Conway states this in his book –

Conway on Diamond Lake pictograph vandalism

a view  of the moose pictogrpah and surroundings

It would seem that he locates the “removed” pictograph in the space below the moose painting.  His assumption seems to be based on something Dewdney saw in his earlier visit. He is not the only one to make this claim of a removed rock painting. In a transcript of a CBC radio program called Morning North,  “Backroads Bill” (Bill Steel?) makes this comment in “Glimpses of the Past”:

Backroads Bill on Diamond Lake vandalism

It is also possible that the slab of rock just broke off from the rock face and fell into the water below,  Seeing a copy of the supposed Dewdney drawing or description would help.  However, if a painting has indeed been removed I am left wondering why Phillips did not include a drawing of it on Plate IV.  All of the Phillips drawings from #4 to #7 are visible on the rock face. If there was indeed a painting below the moose image, he would have included it along with all the others.

Update: A visit to the Ottertooth forum turned up a 2006 thread  (click here)  which discusses this very topic – scroll down the thread a bit from Ed’s initial post and you will find the following statement from Ed – and then a whole lot of response!

Screen Shot 2014-11-27 at 9.55.57 PM

The space underneath the moose pictograph is identified as the claimed location of the missing pictograph. Do continue reading the thread on  page 2 where you will find Brian Back’s summation of the evidence. Included is a photo from 1954 – five years before Dewdney – which shows the area around the moose pictograph looking pretty much as it does now.  So just what did Thor Conway and Backroads Bill think was vandalized? Very interesting!

Diamond Lake Pictograph Site - The Core

Diamond Lake Pictograph Site – The Core

To the right (i.e. north) of the moose painting are three other clearly visible pictographs. On the Phillips Plate they are numbered #7 (the six vertical lines, often referred to as tally marks but – who can say for sure?),  #9 (a puzzling construction we called “the half banana”), and #10 (usually interpreted as a canoe with 6 paddlers, and interpreted as a sign of strength and power or of a hunting party).  Looking more closely at the panel, other faint and lines can be seen, with the highest one looking like Phillips #8 with the five fading vertical lines. All that is missing these days is the moss!   Click on the image below to enlarge it and see for yourself.

Phillips Plate IV bottom

Phillips Plate IV bottom

Diamond Lake - overview of the next three pictograph panels

Diamond Lake – overview of the next three pictograph panels

Diamond Lake - moose and vertical lines paintings

Diamond Lake – moose (#6), the stick figure (#5)  and six vertical lines (#7)  paintings

canoe pictograph - Diamond Lake

canoe pictograph – Diamond Lake

Then we arrive at the last three panels of the site as pictured in the shot below.  Plate V (see below) of the Phillips drawings contains all of them.  (If Plate VI, which I included here, also records further Diamond Lake pictographs, then we did not see them.  More likely it is the record of the Lady Evelyn South Arm pictograph site.  See the end of this post for an explanation of what has happened to the Lady Evelyn site since Phillips and Ryder visited in 1906.)

the Diamond Lake Site - the Three Northernmost panels

the Diamond Lake Site – the Three Northernmost panels

Dewdney devotes very little space to the Diamond Lake pictographs in his book. The one quote above, along with the sketch of the core of the site,  and the quote which follows is pretty much all he had to say.

Dewdney on Diamond Lake pictographsLooking at Phillips’ Plate V, #14 would represent the “clumsy heron”, #11 the maymaygwayshi, and #19 the circle with the center.  Perhaps included in his catch-all phrase “stick figures” is #16.  It is surprising that he did not identify it as the horned snake of Anishinaabe myth.  #17, looking very much like a square root symbol,  is another stick figure. Not mentioned by Dewdney are the three dots, what looks like a canoe with two paddlers, more crane or heron footprints, and other impossible-to-say-what marks.

Diamond Lake Picto Drawings Plate V_

Diamond Lake Picto Drawings Plate V_

the lost nearby Lady Evelyn Picto Drawings Plate VI

the lost (i.e. flooded)  nearby Lady Evelyn Picto Drawings Plate VI

Diamond Lake pictographs - crane and bird tracks

Diamond Lake pictographs – crane and bird tracks

horned snake pictograph at Diamond Lake

horned snake pictograph at Diamond Lake

Diamond Lake - the last two panels

Diamond Lake – the last two panels

the northernmost grouping of Diamond Lake pictos

the northernmost grouping of Diamond Lake pictographs

Diamond Lake Pictographs - northernmost grouping

Diamond Lake Pictographs – northernmost grouping

As if to point out the problem of saying exactly what it means, Dewdney concludes his comments on the site by noting this about the circle with the dot –

Dewdney diamond lake rock painting quoteEnding the statement with an exclamation point does point out that these two inventories, both from the mid-1800’s, come up with different meanings.

one last look at the Diamond Lake Pictograph site

one last look at the Diamond Lake Pictograph site

Already noted was David Boyle’s statement near the end of the 1907 article “Rock Paintings At Temagami District”.   He wrote: “It would be utterly vain to look for any interpretation.”  In spite of that, he could not resist offering an interpretation and  ends up proving his very point!

David Boyle on Diamond Lake pictographsRather than see the site as it is – associated in Anishinaabe tradition as the home of the maymaygwayshi and other powerful medicine spirits to which a number of shamans came over an extended period of time – he sees it as a tablet on which one person has written a “sentence” or two using the pictographs as script.

This one person, he writes, has written a “story”. Boyle is able to state quite categorically that the first sentence ends near the top of Plat VI!  Oddly enough, the article ends with that assertion.  I flipped the page, expecting to see a continuation somewhere but that statement is it – a peculiar way to end the article.  To conclude, Boyle seems to be victim of the notion that the pictograph site represents an application of  a coherent Anishinaabe writing system. It is almost as if he sees the cliff face as another birchbark scroll.

There is no Rosetta Stone – in spite of the conflicting mid-1850’s inventories of symbols and their meanings left by Schoolcraft and Copway –  to help us unravel the meaning of the Diamond Lake pictographs.  However, those who have visited have given us more insight into the nature of pictographs and their significance.  Boyle’s “utterly vain” can be amended to “much is still puzzling”.  Thanks to more recent visitors  we can now better see elements of the Anishinaabe world view in the ochre, from possible references to the their clan (doodem) system and their religious beliefs.

As we paddle past the dramatic quartzite rock face, the least we can do is stop and appreciate the fact that maybe two or three hundred years ago Anishinaabe shamans stopped at this same spot. As a part of a vision quest, perhaps, or as a visit to the home of the maymaygwayshi for powerful medicines,  the rock paintings were part of the ritual.  From their birch bark canoes they reached out to the rock and created enduring marks with their specially prepared mixture of finely ground hematite and fish oil.  While we will never completely understand the significance of all the ochre paintings, we still stop and for a brief while enter into another world.

Useful Links:  

Just click on the blue text to access material.

You can access the pdf file of  W. Phillips’  “Rock Paintings At Temagami District” from my Dropbox folder.  If you want to see where it came from,  look here – The Annual Archaeological Report for 1906 (Being Part of Appendix to the Report of the Minister of Education Ontario) published in 1907.

the 1962 first edition of Selwyn Dewdney’s Indian Rock Paintings of the Great Lakes   is available for online reading or download.  It documents the first 109 sites he visited.  A second edition of the book came out in 1967 with documentation on an additional 155 sites. By this time his quest had taken him far beyond the field of study as stated in the title!

Thor Conway’s Discovering Rock Art In Ontario’s Provincial Park can be purchased directly from the author.  Five pages of the Diamond Lake chapter are available as a sample.

The Thor and Julie Conway article on the Lake Obabika pictographs – “An Ethno-Archaeological Study of Algonkian Rock Art in Northeastern Ontario, Canada” – provide excellent background to the Diamond Lake pictographs, which are briefly mentioned in the article published in issue #49 of Ontario Archaeology in the mid-1980’s.

Brian Back’s  Ottertooth article “The Lady Evelyn Lift-Over”  provides excellent historical summary of  the impact of dams on water levels on Diamond Lake and Lady Evelyn Lake.

Dewdney mentions Cuttle lake in his discussion of the Diamond Lake rock paintings. Grace Rajnovitch’s article “Paired Morphs At Cuttle Lake” is in the Jan/Feb1980  issue of Arch Notes, the newsletter of the Ontario Archaeological Society. It includes drawings from one of the panels and provides a point of comparison.

George Copway’s The Traditional History and Characteristic Sketches of the Ojibway Nation can be read online or downloaded in various file formats.  Pages 132-134 provide examples of pictographic symbols.  Copway writes – “An Indian well versed in these can send a communication to another Indian, and by them make himself as well understood as a pale face can by letter.”

Another collection of Diamond Lake pictograph photos can be seen at the temagami.nativeweb.org site. The pix show some of the pictos from a better angle than our shots do. Go here – Ancient Pictographs at Diamond lake in Temagami                How ancient they are is an open question. My guess would be no more than four hundred years.

Finally, I wonder whatever happened to the film footage shot by that CBC crew in 1976.

The Ruins of Ancient Anuradhapura – Part Two

Previous Post: The Ruins of Ancient Anuradhapura – Part One

 

Our tour of the Abhayagiri Monastery precinct done, we headed directly from one stupa to the other – from the Lankarama for the Thuparama. I will admit that on reviewing my pix in my Lightroom image processing app, I did not initially notice the transition and wondered  why I had thirty shots of the Lankarama!   Closer examination of the pix of the two stupas cleared up a classic Duh! moment!  In case you are not coming from Part One of this look at ancient Anuradhapura, here  is what the Lankarama just north of the Thuparama looks like:

Lankarama and pillars

Lankarama and pillars

There are three circles above the base of the stupa; there are few shrines surrounding it and no pillars scattered about on the platform.  Meanwhile, the Thuparama looks like this –

Anuradhapura's Thuparama - up close

Thuparama – up close

The root word “thupa” is the Pali equivalent of the Sanskrit “stupa”; as the info board below states, the Thuparama was the first of the brick relic mounds built in Anuradhapura and it is believed to hold the right collarbone of the Buddha.The Mahavamsa, literally “The Great Chronicle” of the ancient kingdom of Anuradhapura, draws a direct connection between the location of the Thuparama and the Buddha himself. In the very first chapter we read that on the Buddha’s legendary third and last visit to the Blessed Isle of Lanka –

…the Great Sage proceeded to the site of Mahameghavanarama, which today we call Anuradhapura. The Savior, along with his disciples entered into meditation, and thus consecrated the site where the sacred Bodhi Tree would be planted during the reign of Devanampiyatissa. Likewise the place where the stupa of Thuparama in Anuradhapura would one day be built. 

Thuparama signboard

We were now in the part of ancient Anuradhapura called the Mahavihara. The “Great Monastery” was the first of the three monasteries which flourished in the city thanks to the patronage of the ruling dynasty; the monks of the  Mahavihara also promoted the most conservative interpretation of Buddhist doctrine. As in the Christian world,  doctrinal rigidity  would result in some leaving the Mahavihara and setting up a more liberal approach to the Dharma. It was to the area just north of the city – at what would become Abhayagiri  – that these dissident monks went to found a new monastery.  Just as interesting to ponder and appreciate as the physical ruins of Anuradhapura is the intellectual architecture of the various “takes” on Buddhism that were debated here. Visiting scholars would take in the discussion  and export it to their homelands,  from China and Japan to Thailand  and Kashmir.

Thuparama and platform

Thuparama and platform

The vatadage is thought be be an architectural structure unique to Sri Lankan Buddhism and while the wooden roof has not survived, the pillars do give a clue as to how it would have worked.  It seems likely that the pillars that we see standing were put back up by restoration crews in the past hundred years.

A model of the Vatadage of Anuradhapura's  Thuparama

A model of the Vatadage of Anuradhapura’s Thuparama

Thuparama pillars on the platform

Thuparama pillars on the platform – evidence of a former vatadage

 

Anuradhapura - Thuparama and Buddhist flag

Thuparama and Buddhist flag

Fluttering all over the Anuradhapura site – and indeed all over Sri Lanka – are colourful flags characterized by six vertical bands. The five colours and the composite of all five colours symbolized in the sixth band are said to represent the six colours of Siddhartha Gautama’s aura which came from his body at the moment he attained Enlightenment and became the Buddha. This Wikipedia article provides images of the flag as it is used in various other Buddhist countries.

offerings in front of Thuparama shrine

offerings in front of Thuparama shrine shown in the image below

Thuparama overview

Thuparama overview

humble stupa in the vicinity of the thuparama - exact name unknown

humble mini – stupa in the vicinity of the Thuparama – exact name unknown

Sometime around 12:30 Mahinda pulled up to a roadside stand where we had a cool drink and a quick rice and curry. I was definitely starting to sag a bit thanks to the heat – but twenty minutes later we were on our way to the #1 attraction of the ancient city – the Sri Maha Bodhi or Sacred Bodhi Tree.

a rice and curry stop at the junction

a rice and curry stop at the junction

My  approach to the Sri Maha Bodhi was from the walkway that runs down the middle of the map (see below). Leaving a visit to the stupa on my right for my return, I headed down the path.   When you are almost at the entrance to the Sri Maha Bodhi, you pass by (on the right) the ruins of what was once supposedly a nine-storey monastic residence housing a thousand monks and attendants. Given the bronze roof it used to have, it is called the Brazen Palace.  All you see now are pillars, lots and lots of pillars!

Mahavihara:Jetavana area

Mahavihara:Jetavana area

the walkway from the Ruvanvalisaya Stupa to the Sri Maha Bodhi

looking down the walkway from near the Sri Maha Bodhi to the  Ruvanvalisaya Stupa

the Brazen Palace - some of the many pillars

the Brazen Palace – some of the many pillars

chimps guarding food source from a dog

chimps guarding food source from a dog

The walkway ends at a guardhouse/entry gate – some residual nervousness about Tamil Tiger bombers in evidence here? –   and into the grounds of the Sri Maha Bodhi temple complex I went. In seeing the actual Bodhi Tree – believed to have grown from a shoot taken from the very tree under which Siddhartha Gautama became the Buddha – it would undoubtedly help to be a devout Buddhist. Otherwise, it really is an underwhelming experience. As the pic two down show, the actual tree is inaccessible behind gates and walls. My experience in Bodh Gaya underneath the original – or not – Bodhi Tree was completely different, a most definitive feeling that I was somewhere significant.  The fact that there were three hundred Tibetan Buddhist monks there that evening chanting their sutras may had something to do with it.  Still, in the context of Sri Lankan Buddhism, this is Ground Zero, the very centre of their Sinhalese Buddhist faith and should be taken as such.

the trunk of an impressive tree within the Sri Maha Bodhi grounds

the impressive trunk of a tree within the Sri Maha Bodhi grounds

The Sri Maha Bodhi and temple

Temple and The Sri Maha Bodhi

 

pilgrims facing the Sri Maha Bodhi

pilgrims facing the Sri Maha Bodhi

doors into temple - closed for lunch

doors into temple

visitors inside the Sri Maha Bodhi Temple

visitors inside the Sri Maha Bodhi Temple

external shrine at the Sri Maha Bodhi temple

flower offerings at a shrine at the Sri Maha Bodhi temple

flowers left in front of Buddha images at external shrine area at Sri Maha Bodhi

flowers left in front of Buddha images at external shrine area at Sri Maha Bodhi

close up of Buddha statue at Sri Maha Bodhi Temple

close up of Buddha statue at Sri Maha Bodhi Temple

seated Buddha at external shrine area at Maha Bodhi Temple complex

seated Buddha at external shrine area at Maha Bodhi Temple complex

THE GUARDHOUSE AT THE ENTRANCE OF the Sri Maha Bodhi complex

Guardhouse – entrance (and exit) of  the Sri Maha Bodhi complex

My visit to the Sri Maha Bodhi complex done, it was back down the walkway to the Ruvanvelisaya Dagoba that I had walked by on the way up. From afar I could already see the workers on the steeple of the dagoba, clinging to the bamboo ladders.

approaching the Ruvanvelisaya Dagoba from the walkway from the Sri Maha Bodhi

approaching the Ruvanvelisaya Dagoba from the walkway from the Sri Maha Bodhi

watching the workers on the steeple of the dagoba

watching the workers on the steeple of the dagoba

western tourists approach the Ruvanvelisaya Dagoba

western tourists approach the Ruvanvelisaya Dagoba

approaching the Ruvanvelisaya Dagoba base terrace

approaching the Ruvanvelisaya Dagoba base terrace

elephant heads on the wall surounding the Ruvanvelisaya Dagoba

some of the hundreds of elephant heads on the wall surrounding the Ruvanvelisaya Dagoba

As I watched them scamper down the ladder – no safety harnesses, no shoes, no nothing to stop a fall – I held my breath.  It brought to mind an image from the day before when I had come up to Anuradhapura from Colombo on the train.  At one of our stops I glanced out the window to see a rail crew doing some construction; all the workers were wearing flip-flops as they did the shovelling and hauling away of some gravel.  The only guy wearing shoes looked like the boss!  And now these guys on the stupa using the same techniques that their ancestors had two thousand years ago as they came down the bamboo ladder.

workers descending bamboo ladder

workers on  bamboo ladder

close up of workers on bamboo ladder

 

 

 

 

 

 

one last look a the Ruvanvelisaya Stupa

one last look a the Ruvanvelisaya Stupa

stray cat siesta near the Ruvanvelisaya Dagoba

stray cat siesta near the Ruvanvelisaya Dagoba

By this time I was ready to join the cat in the pic above for an early afternoon nap.  But wait, there’s still a bit more! Off we went in Mahinda’s gas-powered chariot to the next “must see” site.  It would be our sixth stupa of the day – the Mirisavatiya Dagoba about a kilometre to the west of the Sri Maha Bodhi Complex I had been at an hour before.

pathway leading to the Mirisavatiya Dagoba

pathway leading to the Mirisavatiya Dagoba

the Mirisavatiya Dagoba up closer

the Mirisavatiya Dagoba up closer

Leaving our sixth stupa of the day, we now headed south to the  Vessagiriya Monastery area, where massive boulder  formations provided cave-like shelter used by monks who used to live there.  Also hinted at in the surrounding ruins were the other building associated with a monastery –  an image house, a refectory, a dormitory.  In the pic below you can see Mahinda’s red tuk-tuk in the shade on the top left; meanwhile it is 1:30 and I am being fried on top of the rock formations that overlook the site.

ruins in the Vessagiriya area

ruins in the Vessagiriya area – and staircase going up to the boulders above

some of the boulders at Vessagiriya

some of the boulders at Vessagiriya

 

Vessagiriya boulders

Vessagiriya boulders

shady pathway at Vessagiriya

shady pathway at Vessagiriya

Isurumuniya info sign

Below are a couple of rock carvings you see from the steps to the entrance of the rock temple. they are carved into the rock face above the pond. Both exhibit a certain playfulness and naturalness.  According to this source their style shows  “the influence of South Indian Pallava sculptural art of the seventh century”.

carving of seated man with horse at Isuruminiya Vihara

carving of seated man with horse at Isuruminiya Vihara

Isurumuniya rock carving of an elephant head

Isurumuniya Vihara rock carving of an elephant head

The two following pix are all that I took in my brief visit to the Vihara. I didn’t even think of framing a decent shot of the admittedly modern stupa now found at the site. “Stupa-ed out” is the nonsense word that comes to mind to describe how I was feeling. I walked back down from the viewing platform by the stupa to the parking lot where Mahinda was waiting and really without knowing if there was yet another site to head to said, “That’s it for today, Mahinda. Let’s head back to the guesthouse.”

evidence of written scripts  at Isurumuniya Vihara

evidence of written scripts at Isurumuniya Vihara

my last stupa shot of the day - Isurumuniya Stupa

my last stupa shot of the day – Isurumuniya Stupa

We were not the only ones who were done.  As we were heading back we passed groups of students heading home.  And each time we can to a major intersection there was yet another in-your-face billboard reminder of the existence of Sri Lanka’s “President-For-Life”. I am still waiting for news that, like the kings of old, he has commissioned the construction of a new stupa.

end of the school day in Anuradhapura

students on the way home at the end of the school day in Anuradhapura

a king in the making - the inescapable Presidente of The Blessed Isle

the inescapable El Presidente on two billboards at one intersection

While I was beat at the end of it, the day had been worth it. All told, I spend $50. US for the ticket and for Mahinda’s services for the six hours he drove me from site to site. He had quoted me $20 US; with the $5. tip he ended up getting a bit more. it would have been nice if the day had been cheaper – or free! – but it isn’t so I just accepted the fact and went from there.

Now budget travellers will undoubtedly balk at the notion of spending $50. for the day’s sightseeing. They can walk if they want but given how I felt – and I was being driven around – i cannot imagine how one could see even a half of what I did by foot. The bicycle is another option – bike rental may be in the $7. to $10. range. A bit more and you have a tuk-tuk!

And, as I mentioned in Part One, you could try to see the site without paying. You would have to avoid certain obvious sites like the Sri Maha Bodhi and some of the stupas – and you would have to plead ignorance or be defiant or indignant way more than I would want to waste my energy on.

My quick one-day visit to the site of ancient city was an excellent introduction to the glory that was ancient Anuradhapura. The level of technological accomplishment  attained by its inhabitants puts it on the list of great cities of the ancient world.  I also left curious about the intellectual ferment that on occasion led to monks battling monks about what the Buddha really said.  At one and the same time,  I was reminded about how little I – Mr. Ancient History teacher! – know and how wrong, in the case of the nature of Sri Lankan Buddhism, I was on what I thought I knew. Just wait – I will soon be learning that I am wrong on Mahinda Rajapaksa too! Let me know if I am…

a stele exaulting the leadership of Mahinda Rajapaksa

a stele exaulting the leadership of Mahinda Rajapaksa – click on to enlarge

For other posts on sites in the “Cultural Triangle” see also:                                            

Sri Lanka’s Dambulla Cave Temple – A Buddhist treasure Trove   

 and

Before Machu Picchu Was – There Was Sigiriya