Fragrance of flowers missing this year | Sunday Observer

Fragrance of flowers missing this year

14 June, 2020
Jayasena plucks lotus flowers in a tank near Wilgamuwa, using a vehicle tube as a boat
Jayasena plucks lotus flowers in a tank near Wilgamuwa, using a vehicle tube as a boat

“This is my lifeblood!” shouted Jayasena, 46, pointing his finger to the vast stretch of water lilies blossoming in a placid wewa (tank) at Wilgamuwa. 

And not so long ago, I heard a sorrowful tale from Jayasena, a farmer by profession, who I met in Wilgamuwa, during one of my visits to the Wasgamuwa National Park. Wilgamuwa is a beautiful farming hamlet, situated on the edge of the Central Province close to Matale, surrounded by the mist-laden Knuckles mountain range and bordering the lush Wasgamuwa National Park. But sadly, this village is considered as one of the Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) affected areas in the country.

Jayasena whispered his sad tale to me standing on the tank bund. Although, it was a picture-perfect scene  to me, it was very depressing to hear his sad tale. He has been living in Wilgamuwa for twenty-five years in the CKD affected region with his five-member family. His father is a victim of CKD, he said, and that he needs extra funds to meet his father’s medical expenses.  Thus, apart from his farming activities, he began to collect lotus flowers from the nearby tank, and using a lorry tube as a boat sold them to people living around the Mahiyangana temple who in turn sold them to the devotees who came to worship in the temple. In fact, Jayasena, makes his living selling lotus flowers to temple flower sellers around the year. The income he gets is barely sufficient for his family to make their living and support his ailing father.

Lucrative business

Today, flowers have become a lucrative business among sellers although it is considered as an ancient form of spirit worship. The life of Buddhists is marked by a deep and active relationship with religion and spirits since time immemorial. When we were children, our parents taught us to worship the Buddha with freshly-plucked blossoms. Even today, it is a traditional, religious custom to offer a basket of flowers to the Buddha whenever we visit a temple. This is only done as a mark of respect, and is a symbolic act which gives us a sense of happiness, peace, and relief. 

Usually, hundreds of low-income families like Jayasena’s who live close to tanks in provinces such as the North Central, Central, North Western and Southern make their livelihood plucking flowers and selling them to devotees who flock to places of religious worship.

Apart from my photographic assignments to Buddhist sites, I often meet flower sellers in their stalls and talk to them about their tough life -style and photograph them in their stalls. All the images here were  captured last year during my visits to many religious sites around the country.  The scenic, placid wewas which dot  the North Central Province and other parts of the country  are full of water lilies and colourful lotuses blooming in pink and white are a sight to behold. But this year, flowers brought tears to the temple flower sellers. Hundreds of tons of water lilies withered in many tanks in the North Central Province as the sellers did not pluck them, due to their  inability to sell them  owing to the closure of temples due to the Covid-19 curfew. 


The sellers, many of them women, earn their daily living by selling flowers to devotees and pilgrims who throng to religious sites to worship. From March to June, many of the major popular Buddhist temples in the sacred cities of Kandy, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Kataragama that usually filled with pilgrims and devotees were mostly empty this year without the usual crowd, due to the Covid-19 curfew. The Vesak and Poson Poya days were also not publicly celebrated. The Government urged people not to organise any pilgrimages to religious sites and also not to hold pujas in the temples on account of lockdown restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

As a result of the lockdown, some hundreds of flower sellers’ daily income was lost and livelihoods shattered. After months of disruption they are finding it difficult to care for themselves and their families.

This year, flowers have not brought any cheer to the flower sellers who are struggling to re-start their business slowly and steadily after the lockdown restrictions have been eased a little. Nevertheless, temple doors would have to be opened to pilgrims for the flower sellers to start their new life