The Temple at Midday


They seem completely dispassionate as the uniformly brown figures move slowly and deliberately across the temple grounds. They show no interest in anyone or anything and their slight frames look as if they eat little each day. They don’t seem to take notice of one another, passing close but with head down and eyes straight ahead.

No, I’m not talking about the monks — but rather the temple dogs.

There must be a dozen or more who make their home here. It’s hard to see why as no one seems to feed them and certainly no one takes notice enough to talk to them let alone stop to pet them. And the dogs seem to take little interest in the people. Perhaps they do look a little enviously at devotees in the shade of their sun umbrellas on their way to the shrine hall.
In the heat of the day they seem to take some comfort in lying on any patch of freshly raked sand wherever shade is cast by the preaching hall or the Bodhi-tree. They lay like they were dead only getting up to reposition themselves when the shade pulls away from them. It must be too hot to make an exertion to reposition themselves deeper into the shade. They move just far enough inside that they’ll have to get up and move again in a few minutes.
Every so often one will not move out of the way soon enough and it’ll be scraped by a car backing in the parking lot. Letting out a piercing yelp, every dog in sight takes a few steps in that direction as they set up a chorus of what may be sympathy or just aggravation. The barking lasts for about thirty seconds but loses its effort quickly as they lapse into indolence again.
It’s hard to see what they can possibly find to eat. No one throws any food away here. Perhaps there are a few scraps left behind the temple after the noon meal but I’ve not seen one carrying any bits of food around. More telling may be that I have not seen even one small dropping. Not in the temple grounds, not along the road nor in the parking lot across the way.
If one wanted to, it wouldn’t be hard to see them as bad rebirths with enough memory to hope by staying close to the temple and listening to the recorded chants on the loudspeaker, they’ll have a better chance in the next round of rebirth.

Having arrived two days prior I was surprised that the city of Colombo had seemed to stop abruptly at the last unheeded stop sign. We turned a sharp corner and left the chaos of the city for the slower pace of the village. If it wasn’t for the fairly busy road running through the temple property you could imagine a more distant time.
In the relatively cool dawn, the sun casts its redness on the damp road. Still in the shadows, flower sellers peel back the outer petals of lotus blossoms for devotees on their way to morning puja.
I’m standing at the back of the parking lot for a morning smoke when I hear a snort somewhere close to my back pocket. I have to step aside as ten water buffalo amble by without a keeper in sight. They seem to know where they want to go as they cross the road, holding up traffic, making their way to a greener field for breakfast I suppose.

All manner of vehicle stop outside the temple gate and occupants leap out and then leap back in. Some jump out of busses and back again while it pauses at the speed bump. They push a few rupees through the fence as they lower their heads and fold their hands in respect and then hurry off. I don’t know what they’re asking for but it could be anything. They seem to need so much.

(not my best photo work but I’ve lost the originals and these are illustrative)

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