Until very recently, the island was characterized by a certain quality of life, not in the typical monetary or materialistic sense but in the nature of the life, which they led in villages and towns alike. This quality is derived and sustained through an intrinsic relationship with nature, which has been in place for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years.
A hidden mystical path in the living rainforest of Sinharaja, which envelops the holy mountain of Sri Pada, divulges this story of belief, culture, and environment. I embarked on this ancient trail in pursuit of the unknown. According to popular folklore, a legendary lion lived in this forest.
The future did not promise mercy, nor did the past promise security. The only way out was through the forest – listening to the insect sounds, tossing away the leeches, following the invisible footsteps, and stepping into the streams of water. I wasn’t only moving harmoniously with all forms of life around me, I began acknowledging that we were all a part of one great family.
I suddenly heard someone repeatedly calling out my name in the background and was instantly snapped out of my fantasy world by my fellow adventurers who urged me to wear my raincoat. It started pouring heavily without any warning and we were soon covered with leeches. Leech rain was something that I had only read about in fictional stories, but by the time I left, I knew what it meant.
The idea of survival was borrowed from the forests and superimposed on the entire island. There is a continuous effort to reclaim the civilisational past, which is inextricably woven with the surroundings. Structures like water tanks and hydraulic systems, dating back to the earliest days of Sinhalese civilisation on the island, still hold the same relevance for paddy cultivation and human settlement.
For the people in these areas, bathing in the lakes is still part of a way of life. Since independence, the political leadership has put efforts to breathe life into the ancient water tanks of the dry zone, supplementing them with modern irrigation techniques.
The country’s new parliament, little outside the capital city of Colombo at Sri Jayawardenepura, embodies this intermingling with nature. Constructed in 1982, on an artificially created island built on a previously flooded marshland, this structure is one of its kind. Its architectural style is inspired by the country’s greatest architect, Geoffrey Bawa. The location symbolizes the importance of water to the country. The structure is defined by the marriage of modernism with the vagaries of the tropical weather. To the best of my knowledge, there aren’t many lake parliaments in the world.
The country has run out of funds to pay for cooking gas, but many households still have a place for cooking with firewood, separate from the modern kitchen. In the hot humid summers, Tambili (king coconut) or Beli fruit straight from the tree is still the go-to drink. The traditional sense of a dominant peasant community has prevailed, when most of the so-called modern techniques, unsustainable by nature, have fallen apart.