IN THE TEMPLE OF MAHAYASU
The temple stood with majesty, surrounded by thick trees towering above the land-scape. Its (the temple’s multiple) domes and peaks reflected the moonshine. (I could see) hundreds of steps leading to the inner court, with glowing torches on either sides. Engraved on the walls were scenes from the holy scriptures. In several corners of the temple could be seen bells, huge and shiny. By the great door priests were gathered, talking amongst themselves or with the laymen who had come to relax, converse or offer their daily contributions. It was so quite all around with only occasional sound of night birds. I stood speechless as I saw the beauty of the temple structure and the life around it. I had come to the mother temple of the mahayasus.
Someone came up to introduce himself as the local preacher of a little village nearby the temple. “Welcome to Galaliteya …” he said nicely. “The door (of the temple) is open to everyone of good will,” he cheerfully explained. That of course gladdened my heart, for I had thought that this temple might be opened only followers. He then lead me towards the temple’s court. By now everyone’s attention was aroused by the presence of a stranger. I felt rather uneasy … and to be polite I smiled at several faces, which to my relief responded. “Would you tell me what have brought you here?” … my guide asked me as we climbed the steps. Then I explained that as a historian I was interested to hear of a religious community who professed to follow the teachings of Christ. Especially since Galaliteya had never been approached outsiders it was, I found, most unusual of them to have existed for a considerably long time. He nodded, and then enthusiastically explained: “Yes, we follow Him and His beautiful teachings here”. Then he went on to lecture me on the history of the mahayasus. This was what he said as we walked along the illuminated corridor, with me admiring the heavenly paintings on all of its sides. “There came to our shore the followers of St. Thomas roughly, about 650 years after the birth of the church. They called themselves sannyasis. At the time there were already hindus, buddhists and animists living in the country, with Buddhism of the Theravada sect being the official Jnanadwipa.” From what my guide could tell me I understood these christian brothers proclaimed the good news, which they said must be brought to all corners of the world. They began working and followers came from all classes. 90 years later the first religious center was built on mount Nasitameru and 20 years later the followers of Mahayasu became more numerous when King Wiravastu declared himself a mahayasin, after his coronation. It was this king that built this mother temple in Galaliteya in honour of the great teacher Nilakandam … and of course to the glory of Mahayasu. My guide smiled and then sighed when he had finished telling me the outline of mahayasin history.
We arrived at a strong wooden door, plated with colourful stones depicting various religious symbols. There were praying men, fishes, crosses and wheels. Two monks who happened to be in attendance opened the door for us. That was when I realized that my guide, who had not told me his name, was a man of great importance amongst the mahayasis. We entered a room so beautifully decorated . Its round wall was carved with trees, animals, men. Symbols of the mahayasins were depicted in many places. Painted figures of the disciples and many great teachers crowded the walls facing a huge altar at one end (of the room), besides which stood an icon-like painting of the smiling Jesus (no doubt following the mahayasin version). In the middle of the altar-table was an open big scroll. It seemed to be the center of attention, since it was surrounded with potted flowers, candles and joss-stick incense. On the open scroll I could see some strange characters. My guide told me that the scroll was of the four gospels. Several monks could be seen standing and chanting curious sounding psalms. There were also some laymen kneeling on the floor and uplifting their hands in adoration. The whole atmosphere reminded me of some outlandish eastern ritual. If it had not been for the picture of (strange looking) Jesus on the wall I would have thought they were hindus or Buddhists. I felt at a loss, being a stranger in the middle of this mahayasin service. The whole thing seemed incredible, not to mention improbable, to me. This heavenly blend of Christianity and eastern culture overpowered me with a sense of greatness, splendour and unity.
As we walked out of the inner chamber, through another door, I saw a beautiful silk hanging on the wall. Watching it carefully I realized that the four figures depicted there were of Gautama Buddha in four different mudras. Seeing my astonishment my guide explained that it was a gift from a Buddhist monastery in Matyarum, the northern capital of Jnanadwipa. He went on telling me about Gautama Buddha being respected amongst the mahayasins as a holy teacher. After passing through some darkened corridors we came to a garden on the other side of the temple. My guide who was very friendly, and who by now had put me completely at ease, told that I could either spend the night in the temple’s guest-houses or at his place about five kilometers away. Seeing the possibility of further discussion and better acquaintance with this wonderful man I opted to come with him. We then walked to a nearby river and found a ferryman who could take us down to Garajagan Siva village. It was nine o’clock and the temple courts were almost deserted. Apparently all religious activities has stopped now. As we were walking down the road the cold breeze freshened me, who had been inside the temple for quite a long time. The moon was full and in its pleasant light. On the river journey I could see the silhouettes of monkeys hanging and moving about on the trees. Here and there were houses with tiny lights illuminating their doors. I immensely enjoyed the quietness of the night, while my guide was chatting with the ferryman in subdued voice. At last we reached a muddy bank where we stopped. The village there was in darkness and looked sleepy. My guide walked easily on the slippery path, stopping now and then to wait for me. Then he stopped at a walled area, which seemed to be a monastery. A young novice opened the wooden door for us. My guide took me straight to his dining room and insisted that I had a light dinner with him. As I was pretty hungry I did not argue much about it. Soon we were served with some delicious vegetarian food and sweet-smelling tea. During the meal he told more about the mahayasis. He said that they accepted our ‘version’ of the Bible, although the old testament was not read much. However they also had an apocryphal book of St. Thomas’ life and his mission, which they held to be true. To this sacred collection was added numerous accounts of famous mahayasins and thousands of sayings from many teachers and masters. To answer my curiousity, about the church’s relations with the Buddhists, he explained that the first Christian sannyasins did not find the the buddhist teachings to be in conflict with the fundamental Christian principles (for living). So although there were theological differences concerning God and creation, they had agreed that the ultimate goal was one. To their thinking Gautama Buddha and His doctrines meant a lot for the salvation of mankind, through the perfection of conduct, before tre Christian message came. Following such premises the personality of Buddha Gautama began to be revered in all Christian households through-out the land. Even to this day sayings of the Buddha were still read from the Sutta Pitaka to illiustrate mahayasin sermons and teachings. My guide told me if I would care to read their books and observe their rituals I could find many buddhistic elements in mahayasin religious thinking. This obvious syncretism puzzled and amazed me greatly, although at the same time I found quite exciting. But before I said anything about it I thought I had beteer find some more facts first. I ended my meal reluctantly for I still wanted my guide to tell me more about many things about his people and beliefs. However I could not really refuse when he offered to show me my bed-room. “Call me Truna,” he told me his name before we went to sleep. According to my watch it was already eleven thirty. A few minutes later I lost consciousness.
Sharp chirping voices of birds woke me up at about five o’clock in the morning. It was dawn. The pale light of the sun entered through the window and created shapes on the wall. I heard the rushing sound of the river and the noise of moving water splashing against the river banks and stones. A rather faint chanting came from somewhere in this monastery. I stretched my body and got up slowly. There was a small and curious type of washing room. After dressing I left my room and started to find my way round this simple compound. From nowhere a young novice came and greeted me. He tried to explain what was going on in this early hour of the morning. Since my knowledge of the language seemed insufficient for me to understand him, he finally just signed me to follow him. He brought me to a little chapel where reverend Truna, my guide from last night, was performing the morning service. All the monks and novices were standing in neat lines in front of an elaborately decorated wall. The same sort of picture I saw in the temple, that showed the kind face of Mahayasu smiling, was hanging on that wall. I stood up at the very back and tried to bring my wandering thoughts in focus. This lasted for about twenty minutes. Then the congregation began to disperse to all directions. An old monk came up to me and smiled most kindly. “ Did you sleep well my son?’ he asked as he came closer. “Yes reverend father, thank you” I answered him. “Come and follow me” he intoned his invitation. “we will walk around the garden before break-fast.” I nodded. Then we went out to the garden. Weybridge, Surrey, 1978.
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