We set off to see Anuradhapura on our first morning in Sri Lanka. We were excited to see this UNESCO world heritage site. We knew it was large and we would be able to see only a small portion. As we got closer, the traffic started to get heavy. And there were hundreds of families in all manner of transport. Some walking. Some in three-wheelers. Some on motorcycles and bikes. Every age was represented from very elderly to infants in their parent’s arms. Many were dressed in all white and often barefoot.
We asked Champika what was happening. He told us that it was Poya Day. Once a month, the morning after a full moon is Poya Day and everyone goes to pray. And we mean EVERYONE. Sri Lanka is 70% Buddhist and many businesses are closed on Poya Day.
Families arrive early in the morning and most don’t leave until dusk. Along the path to the Temple were tents featuring free food for the devotees. Many families hung out eating, sleeping and generally resting in between their pilgrimages to the dagobas.
Visitors to these sacred grounds must remove hats and footwear. Mind you in the 90 degree weather we hoped our soles would withstand the hot sand and stones. There were booths for leaving your foot ware to keep safe though many people arrived barefoot and other left their shoes on the floor outside the temples.
Devotees carry a bunch of fragrant flowers as offerings to their gods. They walk around the stupas several times praying.
Especially crowded was the site of the Sri Maha Bodhi tree. This sacred tree was grown from a cutting brought from Bodhgaya in India. High security surrounds the sacred oldest tree in the Sri Lankan Buddhist world. People were offering up robes & bowls for the monks in exchange for blessings.
Several days are needed to see the full site. We saw just a small portion and had the chance to experience Poya Day.
After walking in bare feet on sand, gravel and very hot stones, we had one more stop–Mihintale.