For hundreds of years it was through philanthropy that massive religious monuments in the country were built. These are still revered by the people to this day.
While in the days of yore it was royalty that gave patronage to such deeds, these days it is through public support that such monumental ventures become a reality as can be seen by the visitors to the tranquil village of Rambodagalla in the Kurunegala District, where the carving of a nearly 70-feet high Samadhi Buddha statue on a granite rock is nearing completion.
While hundreds of people have contributed to this immense project, two leading businessmen in the country, D. Eassuwaren, Chairman of Eswaran Brothers Ltd and Nandadasa Rajapaksa, Chairman, D.Samson and Sons stand out prominently among them.
The meeting between Mr. Eassuwaren and the chief incumbent of Vidyasagara Pirivena Vihara, Monaragala, Rambodagalla, Ven. Egodamulla Amaramoli Thera who had conceived the idea of constructing a gigantic Buddha statue in the aftermath of the destruction of the Bhamiyan Buddha statues in Afghanistan, can be called a happy coincidence or a pre-destined tryst.
The Thera was grappling with the challenge of finding funds and locating sculptors having received no positive response from any of the people he had approached after the idea initially came to mind. It was then that he read about an impressive statue of the Hindu god Hanuman that had been constructed at Ramboda in Nuwara Eliya.
He decided to visit Ramboda and it was a chance meeting with Mr. Essuwaren there that developed into a bond of friendship and mutual admiration that gave the initial impetus to this ambitious project. Today the shapeless granite stone situated in the temple property has taken the form of a beautifully carved Samadhi Buddha statue.
“When the Thera approached me and started asking questions about the Hanuman statue, I was puzzled as to why he was interested in such details. It was then he told me of his intention to carve out a Buddha statue. When he told me he wanted it to be 50 feet, I jumped out of my chair,” Mr. Eassuwaren told the Sunday Times.
But having overcome the initial shock, Mr. Eassuwaren became the lifeline for Amaramoli Thera to bring this project to life by taking him to Chennai, South India and introducing him to the chief sculptor "Padma Sri" and "Silpa Kalamini" M. M. Sthapathi. A visit to the site by Mr. Sthapathi followed and work began on the statue on September 13, 2002 with teams of Indian sculptors working tirelessly to give form to the statue. The work involved endless hours of manual labour with the sculptors carefully chipping away at the granite rock.
Nandadasa Rajapaksa’s acquaintance with Amaramoli Thera and his involvement in the construction of the giant statue too came about quite by accident.
“It was in May 10, 2008 that a group of 38 of us decided to visit Ridee Viharaya, close to Rambodagalla. After we had finished worshipping there, a friend said a giant Buddha statue was coming up close by and we should visit that site as well,” Mr.Rajapaksa recalled.
Having reached the site and while gazing upon the face of the Buddha in the statue, Mr. Rajapaksa was captivated. “There was so much serenity about the place and I got immediately inspired and knew I had to do my part to support this work,” he said.
His visit was less than ten days before Vesak that year and his company had already finalized the full page advertisements to be placed in newspapers for the festival. “I decided then and there that we would stop the advertisement we had planned and feature the Rambodagalla statue so that people would become aware of this magnificent effort that was underway,” he said.
Since then Mr. Rajapaksa has taken the initiative not only by giving but by promoting the construction of the statue appraising friends and business acquaintances though whom large sums of money have been raised to fund the construction work.
“The initial estimate for the project was Rs 12 million but it will be over Rs 100 million when it is complete,” Mr.Eassuwaren added.
Funding has come from some unexpected quarters with the Indian government donating Rs. 2.5 million, the Bank of Ceylon Rs. 5 million, and President’s Office Rs.2.5 million while many others have also contributed generously.
“One thing that impressed me the most about this project is that it is so transparent and every cent is accounted for. The temple remains the simple structure it was when the project started even though thousands of pilgrims are flocking there now. Amaramoli Thera too remains the simple priest he always was,” Mr. Rajapaksa added.
Mr.Eassuwaren too has been moved by the love with which Amaramoli Thera has undertaken this task. ‘“This is a clear example that if you conceive something in your mind and work toward it and if your thoughts are holy and good and work for the good of the people, things will flow towards you,” he said.
It is expected that the statue will be completed by Vesak Day next year.
For more on the project see their website http://www.samadhibuddhastatue.lk.