Beyond the blissful lotus: Faithfulness to duty and determination | Sunday Observer

Beyond the blissful lotus: Faithfulness to duty and determination

“The earth laughs with flowers”. Yamuna and the other stall-holders
“The earth laughs with flowers”. Yamuna and the other stall-holders

The magnificent Kirivehra situated in Kataragama, was built by King Mahasen in 6 BC. For centuries this Buddhist edifice has been venerated by thousands. One of the ancient traditions in Sri Lanka is to offer lotus flowers as an act of worship, thus almost every temple has a bevy of women selling these flowers. The famous poet, Ralph Emerson once opined, “The earth laughs with flowers,” which shows the impact of the natural blossom on the mortal mind.

On a recent visit to Kirivehra I encountered Yamuna, a shy woman selling her flowers. My friend Nalin Chandra, an ardent Buddhist had purchased some flowers from her humble kiosk. It was then that I was awakened to the plight of these poor, forgotten, rural women.

Yamuna is a widow, who told me, “After my husband’s death I was left helpless. It was the late President Premadasa who initiated this flower selling project for us in 1988, and we remember him with gratitude”. Since then Yamuna has single handedly raised a teenage daughter Madhu, with the income from the flower stall. There are 10 stalls that line up the shady promenade leading to the temple.

Yamuna and her friends - Leela, Suramya, Anula, Sriyani, Rohini and Shanthi are the stall - holders. The women are a closely knit fraternity and watch out for each other. Having gained their trust, I was able to understand the issues faced by these innocent rural women.

They pay a monthly rental of Rs 675 for the stall and make an income by selling six lotus flowers for Rs100 or one large lotus for 25 rupees. The flowers are kept fresh for two to three days and then fade away. Excess rains in December tend to drown the flowers in the pokuna.

These women who live in a nearby village walk about two miles to work, carrying their breakfast. They begin at 6 am, and some days at 4 am depending on the pooja time of the temple.

On some days they earn Rs 10,000 which is a day of top revenue for them, but on some days they don’t even make Rs 1,000. To supplement their income they also sell coconut oil and oil lamps along with packets of incense. Yamuna says, “We have to be aware of the monkeys, who come and steal the tender lotus to eat. We have to be alert and chase them away”.

On our way to the temple Nalin and I observed a large crocodile slithering in the water of a nearby brook, yet another dormant threat.

During times of heavy rain the small stalls offer no shelter from the pouring rain. During intense spells of rain the lotus flowers are low in supply.

These rural women are subject to many difficulties, yet they serve the thousands of devotees who visit the temple, offering a radiant smile. Their faithfulness to duty and their attitude of determination is an example to many other women.