Saturday Magazine

And life goes Buttala

by Venuri De Silva

Two hundred and thirty kilometres away from the hustle, bustle and dioxide fumes of Colombo exists a paradise, at least for those who love, live and die by nature. No it’s not an eco spa or resort designed to give the feeling of outdoors with the comforts of a hotel. It’s the land of Ranbanda, who is the personification of ‘a man of soil’.

I came across this unique man who lives in a simple clay hut with his two dogs and many chickens for company on a visit to Buttala. Buttala is by all means a beautiful but trying land to live in. The area is bordered by no less than the Menik Ganga, which had depleted to mere trickle by last week. The Monaragala District has many a river running through it with the Kumbukkan and Menik taking topmost place. The land is at most times dry but lush green paddy fields nevertheless pay tribute to its name Buttala or ‘Bath hala’ which is said to have been coined in the times of King Dutugemunu. It is said that his vast armies stationed in the area, had been fed from the abundantly available rice in Buttala. There are many places in the district that have names from the times of ancient kings, especially Kings Dutugemunu and Saddhatissa.

The land where Ranbanda lives is situated at the end of the road which takes you from Buttala to the Yudaganawa Temple. The Yudaganawa Temple is said to have been built on the site of battle which took place between brothers Dutugemunu and Saddhatissa. The Dagaba is the largest in Asia and is said to have been built in two sections, first by King Saddhatissa and followed by King Parakramabahu, the first. It is said that the sound of drums beating on one side of the dagaba cannot be heard on the opposite side. Today it is being rebuilt by the Archeological Department as the ravages of time and treasure hunters had taken its toll over the years. In the coming years it is said that we will be able to see Yudaganawa in its full glory. The Yudaganawa Tank, also built during the same period is a majestic body of water which withstands the drought and still enables fishermen to carry on their livelihood. It is here near the tank that an exquisite stone carving bearing the guardian of water, the seven headed cobra was found and is to date seen mounted near the bund on a concrete pedestal.

Ranbanda lives in the middle of a jungle navigable only by tractor, four weel drive or by foot. There are those who are daring enough go by push cycle but that too is a risk beyond a certain point. On the day we visited the hut situated in Helli Watta in the Lunugala Colony welcoming raindrops greeted us. The road past Yudaganawa is bordered by sugarcane fields, the main source of income in the area besides paddy, with plants growing as high as six feet. The sugarcane is routinely harvested and taken to the Pelawatta Sugar Corporation. Many people from the area work at the sugar factory and it is not an uncommon sight to see tractors filled to capacity with sugarcane on the roads. The canes are so abundant that drivers of these tractors refuse money when you pull out a few canes from the tractors.

The trek on foot to the hut takes around ten to fifteen minutes depending on the weather conditions. On that day, rain in the morning had made the foot path into a pool but all was forgotten with the breathtaking beauty of the surroundings. Majestic Milla, Na, Burma Teak, Jak with many creepers created a canopy with very little sunlight filtering to the ground beneath. On the way we came across a tank, named Jayasinghe Amuna, which is completely surrounded by deep green vegetation that it often looks deeper than it actually is. To reach it we had to battle trees and many Mana ferns but the fight was worth it. The path is also bordered by plantain trees, many kinds growing in abundance.

Ranbanda’s hut is on a little hill bordering a stream that is fed by a spring situated less than five hundred metres away. The water flows filtered by Kumbuk roots into ponds shaded by many trees. The pond right next to the hut is used for bathing while a little up the river water is diverted to the paddy fields. Ranbanda lamented that they could not cultivate paddy this Kanne because the rains had got late. Nevertheless sugarcane, plantains and several types of grain had saved the day.

The hut was small, with the kitchen adjoining. It is here that Thalapa, made of Kurakkan and a curry made with Kollu were prepared by Ranbanda to feed the hungry lot after a dip in the pond. Manioc, freshly pulled from the ground was boiled and served with onions and chillies followed by plantains, matching a meal in any five star hotel. He declined to give us chicken as it was the day after Vesak. Otherwise he said that he would have made a curry out of one of the chickens. Such is survival!

The life here is simple and unhurried. Living is struggle but the people get through it. Many I talked with said that even if they didn’t have money they had their land to cultivate and they will never go hungry. This is the kind of courage that keeps people going year after year through failed crops, not to mention personal tragedies.

Time does not stand still in this land. It only stands still for those who do not appreciate it, for others life goes on very well, changing day into night, some days filled with rain and others filled with drought, crops bearing fruit and others not. Still life goes on, that is Buttala!