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The saffron robe

Darshi Ranmuthu


It has not been long enough for me to forget how I used to scamper through the paddy fields; how I scrambled up the mango tree in front of our house and swam in the snarling river with a pebbled bottom. It is not long enough yet to stop thinking of flying kites in the fields of yellow stubble.

I have been swaddled in this robe too long. Everybody needs a break to stretch out. Where is mine?

This is my first temple – I mean the first one I have lived in. It is not like living in a house. In a house there are no Bodhi1 to treat or statues that pretend-eat offerings.

I sleep in a separate kutiya2, a room in the Avasa Geya3, the special house for the priests. There are also special words that you use in the temple and when referring to monks and Buddha. I eat dane4 instead of food, and sit in an asana5 instead of a chair.

There are dāgoba6tall round, white structures – and a Bo tree beside the shrine room. When the Bo trees cannot hold their leaves anymore, due to the wind’s rage, the ekel7 broom gets to move. My hands get blisters. Wind is my enemy now. Actually, I am not allowed to have enemies. I am learning to become a monk, a leader; to go to houses to preach Dharma8, so that people will nod at what I say, whether they hear me or not.

My biggest problem is this saffron robe – holding, tucking, putting it over my shoulders. There is nothing underneath.



I still can feel the blow on my head from a boy at school that knocked me down. Others remarked on me not having a father. When I asked my mother, she did not even know. I asked only because others wanted to know.

My mother decided to ‘offer’ me to Śāsana 9, the world of the monks, before I got into trouble with my soaring anger.



There is no dane from people today. Our helper, Udenis, has cooked a lentil curry. I go to the tap outside and clean my face and hands.

My mother said on the first day at the temple, ‘At least there will be something for your tummy.’ She worked hard until the sundown to sate my increasing appetite. I want to close my eyes before nightfall because I do not like to sleep without her beside me.

‘Sudheera, feed the dog and the cat,’ Loku Hamuduruwo10, the chief monk, almost yells.

‘Feed the dog and the cat,’ I whisper to Udenis.


The temple’s main hall is occupied on Fridays for extra tuition. Tall, mature children come to these classes. Sometimes I hear what the masters teach them. I am supposed to stay in the kutiya doing my Thripitaka11 reading, or meditating by the Stupa12, but I try to understand what I hear.

‘The Convention on the Rights of the Child affirms rights of children all around the world. Right to free education, freedom of thought, conscience and religion …’

I wait for that class every Friday afternoon. That is the time Loku Hamuduruwo takes his longest nap.



At home, I fought with friends in the thicket for fallen cashews and mangoes in someone else’s garden. Now I have enough mangoes to eat from the garden here. But it is not as fun as having to wait until they fall down.



Loku Hamuduruwo says he is going out on some important mission today. There will be only Udenis and me. After puja13 and dane I have to sweep the Bo leaves.

I take the broom. Due to the roaming, roaring wind, the constant fight between me and my robe does not seem to end. A storm begins to swirl in me. I look at the field beyond the broken fence. I move closer.

The grass looks brown in places – shaped and flattened by children and the adults who sometimes play volleyball.

I see a boy wandering like a draft with his kite – a caterpillar with goggle-eyes.

The boy moves backwards, holding the caterpillar above his head. Now he runs forward. The trees stay still and the caterpillar crashes to the ground. He picks it up and moves faster across the field. Now the caterpillar eats the clouds. I lean on the fence, my foot on one rail.

The boy holds up the caterpillar again, moving slowly towards then away from the fence. He looks at me and smiles. I put my foot over the fence. I look at the Avasa Geya. I move quickly to the boy. He looks surprised. We talk. We talk about the temple and about kites. He thinks it would be fun to be a monk because there is no hard work and you get free food from the people.

He runs away from me with the kite. Its goggle-eyes smile. I feel the breeze. The coconut leaves wave in the trees. I hold my robe. The kite is a little bit higher than it was.

I run to catch the boy. I run straight. I run in circles and in triangles. He runs faster and the kite twirls in the mischievous wind. Now I am close to him. I feel like I am a falcon when I spread my arms. I am a rival of the wind. The sky is blue and happy, and I am floating with the scattered clouds. Suddenly, I feel the wind kissing my whole body. This is not right. I take my eyes away from the clouds to see myself.

I am not saffron anymore. I move my hands to cover my front.

‘Sudheera!’ I hear Loku Hamuduruwo yelling from far.

Where is the boy? Where is the kite? Where is my robe?

I hide behind a lantana bush in the corner. I see my robe caught on a lower branch. Loku Hamuduruwo is approaching. I am not sure if he is going to grab me first or my robe.

I want to scream, but monks don’t scream. I stay still, like a Bo leaf after a tempest.




1 Bodhi is the venerated term for Bo tree.

2 A little room/hut/cottage

3 A special house for priests

4 Alms giving – food and other offerings to others as an act of virtue

5  Is traditionally defined as a “comfortable seat” that is the seated posture used for meditation.

A dome-shaped shrine containing relics of the Buddha or a Buddhist saint

7 A broom traditionally made from the dried stem of the frond of a coconut tree.

8 A term used for Teachings of the Buddha

9 Is a term used by Buddhists and Shaivites to refer to their religion or non-religion

10 Chief Priest

11 Thripitaka is the book of Dharma similar to Bible in Christianity

12 Is a mound-like or hemispherical structure containing relics (śarīra – typically the remains of Buddhist monks or nuns) that is used as a place of meditation.

13 Is a prayer ritual performed by Hindus to host, honour and worship one or more deities, or to spiritually celebrate an event.


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