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A Salutary Poem at Vesak from Rabindranath Tagore

Frescoe at Katudampe Temple, Ratgama, Sri Lanka. Photograph (c) copyright Chulie de Silva

13 May was my late father – Benny Kirtisinghe’s birthday. Fathers and daughters bonds are special.  Even a decade after his death memories of him can bring tears to my eyes, as I yearn for the voice, the humour and his presence. This year Vesak comes a bit later than his birthday and am yet again far from Hikkaduwa to have joined in the almsgiving my mother would have held to remember him at the Katudampe temple.

He was not much of a temple goer, neither am I – In my case I wasn’t consciously following him.  Like him I didn’t feel a need for it. I remember rebelling against going to Sunday school in Panadura. He ruled then, that 5 days of school was enough and children needed time to play and read and enjoy chidhood. I skipped and jumped around in joy at the decision. So we grew up for better for worse sans Sunday school. Panadura folk were not amused. They were then and even now regular temple goers. I thought we had a surfeit of Buddhist rituals and prayers at the Walauwa of my great-grandmother Annie Dissanayake. She looked fragile and gentle in her kabakuruttu but no one messed around with her. She till her death remained the “boss lady”. The Moratuwa uncles jokingly used to called her “Annie get your gun” – but then that’s another story.

In 2000 or 2001 when I told him that I was coming to Dhaka he said “That’s Tagore country” bring me a book of him. Then Shahidul’s Amma took me shopping for the book. It was on his bookshelf when he died. I had picked it up after the funeral and ferreted it away. I am glad that I did that, as the tsunami of 2004, couldn’t take it away. Here in Dhaka, I prowled around hungry for that book, for a touch the pages, that he turned, for the passages and poems he read to me, to bury my nose in the slightly musty pages, for the words that would calm my restless heart. ...

And then memory stirred, and trawling my Gmail archives I found a poem sent by my friend Raglan from England in 2006. I thought of it as a wonderful gift then, and wished my father was alive to share it – instead here it is for you. ...

Go not to the temple to put flowers upon the feet of God,
First fill your own house with the fragrance of love...

Go not to the temple to light candles before the altar of God,
First remove the darkness of sin from your heart...

Go not to the temple to bow down your head in prayer,
First learn to bow in humility before your fellowmen...

Go not to the temple to pray on bended knees,
First bend down to lift someone who is down-trodden...

Go not to the temple to ask for forgiveness for your sins,
First forgive from your heart those who have sinned against you...

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