Sri Lanka - Legs folded, smiling serenely, several Buddha statues
of cement and plaster sit unscathed amid collapsed brick walls and
other tsunami debris. To many residents, the survival of the 10-foot-high
figures is a divine sign.
"The people are not living according
to religious virtues," said Sumana, a Buddhist monk in an orange
robe who sheltered from the sun under a black umbrella. "Nature
has given them some punishment because they are not following the
path of the Lord Buddha. The people have to learn their lesson."
He said unseen powers protected a
nearby statue of Buddha, which sat near a bridge at the edge of
this southern Sri Lankan town's bus terminal, where massive tidal
waves swallowed up bystanders and shoppers, and swept cars and buses
The window panes of the glass case
surrounding the statue shattered, but the foundation held firm in
the torrent of water that killed thousands in the area, and nearly
30,000 throughout Sri Lanka.
The island nation is about 70 percent
Buddhist, and there are large concentrations of Christians, Hindus
and Muslims as well.
Tolerance and interaction among the
faiths is high, and some people in Galle occasionally pray to other
faiths, despite the ethnic strife in northern Sri Lanka between
the Tamil minority, which is predominantly Hindu, and the mostly
Buddhist Sinhalese majority.
Seated on pedestals, the Buddha statues
in Galle have soft, broad features. Their hands lie in their lap
in a traditional pose required for meditation. Their eyes are heavy-lidded
and their lips are pursed in faintly discernible smiles. Their robes
are orange; one has a painted backdrop of mountains.
In other places, religious icons weren't
spared when the earthquake-spawned tsunamis hit the coasts of more
than a dozen countries last Sunday.
In southern India, a 100-year old
Hindu temple in Kerala state vanished into the sea and a temple
in another part of the state collapsed, killing dozens of devotees
who had come to perform prayers.
The Maw Tin Zun pagoda on Myanmar's
coast suffered minor damage, though the ancient city of Bagan was
not affected, hoteliers there said.
In downtown Galle on Saturday, few
people entertained the idea that the Buddha statues survived the
enormous power of the waves because they were solidly built. A statue
of a politician from Galle who briefly became prime minister, and
a statue of a soldier symbolizing government troops who died in
the civil war with Tamil rebels, also survived.
"The Lord Buddha is a blessed
person, so the statues were protected," said U.M. Husain, a
Muslim municipal worker who survived the floods by climbing onto
a table, and then clinging to a grill in a wall when the table floated
Buddhist beliefs oppose killing of
any animal, and some believers said the Indonesian earthquake that
triggered the devastating waves occurred one day after Christmas,
a time when many animals were slaughtered for feasts. They also
said that massive floods in Sri Lanka last year happened during
feasting at the end of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting.
The waves flattened the walls around
one Buddhist temple near the beach, and furniture and other property
inside were damaged or swept away. Yet small Buddha statues set
into a wall behind glass cases survived. Residents said another
statue was protected by a crumpled bus that drifted next to it and
absorbed the brunt of the waves' pressure.
A block inland, worshippers filed
into a Hindu temple of moss-covered walls and statues of gods in
animal forms. The aroma of incense was pungent, and smoke wafted
through the dark interior. Curled up, a mangy dog slept in a corner.
Nimala Ubeysiri, a Buddhist who visits
the high-walled Hindu temple complex once a week, said its survival
in the tsunami was also a sign of divine protection.
"The message for us is that all
the people in the country have to be united, forgetting about their
differences," she said. [ASSOCIATED PRESS]