Gem-studded throne: A gift North | Sunday Observer

Gem-studded throne: A gift North

4 November, 2018
A huge throne exhibited in front of the clock tower at Ratnapura before the plating of silver and studding of gem stones
A huge throne exhibited in front of the clock tower at Ratnapura before the plating of silver and studding of gem stones
A gem merchant from Ratnapura with varied interests is enthralled with the idea of building a bridge of peace between the Sinhala and Tamil communities through his Nagadeepa-Minipalaga Pooja   

An islet off the Jaffna peninsula, known as Nagadeepa or Nainativu is considered as a sacred site by Buddhists. It is an island shrouded in myth and legend and has a history that spans several millennia.

Nagadeepa is a historically important Buddhist temple, said to be the site of Buddha’s second visit to Sri Lanka. The story goes that Prince Chulodara and King Mahodara from the Naga tribe, who were father and son-in-law were preparing to go to war over a gem studded chair after the death of King Mahodara’s daughter (the wife of Chulodara). The gem studded chair had been given as a wedding gift to her by her father. Hearing of this impending war, the Buddha visited Nagadeepa and resolved the conflict peacefully. It is at this site that the Nagadeepa Temple of today lies.

This legendary episode of a gem studded throne has been etched in the hearts of the Buddhists for more than 2,600 years. Hence, the concept of creating an actual gem studded throne came to the mind of Kapila Champaka Athuruliyagama, a 52-year-old gem merchant, living in Ratnapura.

Kapila Athuruliyagama, is a well-known award winning personality, not just in his neighbourhood, Ratnapura, but also in the gem industry. Athuruliyagama has been running his own gem business centre and gem museum called ‘Minipura Gem Museum’ for about sixteen years, in Ratnapura.

A smiling Kapila welcomed my son and me into his office and museum in a building inside the Dutch Fort, in the centre of the Ratnapura city. Housed in the sylvan surrounding is a rare collection of gem stones, antiques found in gem pits, ornaments made from precious stones and old utensils used in gemming during ancient times.

These poignant objects transport you to an era that has gone by. Predicting and perhaps, fearing that the rich cultural diversity of people would disappear in the face of modernity in a matter of time, Kapila, curated this remarkable collection. Standing in his office, one can see a gallery of images hanging on the wall, mesmerising visitors. Some of these master prints were created using early techniques of colour photography.

Kapila is a friendly person, always looking for different paths to approach the public through his passionate vision. His current brainchild is his latest project named Nagadeepa Minipalaga Pooja.

His intention is to build a chair, about 50 cm wide and 100 cm high using precious timber known as ‘Kumbuk’, silver plated and studded with 100,000 gem stones and finally offer it to the ancient Nagadeepa temple in Jaffna. A striking feature of this project is that, after the throne is studded with the gem stones, it would be taken to the Devundara Point (Dondra Head) in the southernmost corner of the country and then back in procession to Point Pedro in the northernmost corner of Sri Lanka.

Devotees around the country can donate their contributions to the throne during the procession. Kapila plans to hand over the gem studded throne to the Nagadeepa ancient temple in Jaffna where a standing Buddha image is being constructed in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

Eventually, it would be a gesture cementing the centuries old friendship between the Northerners and the Southerners. Kapila’s aim is to build a friendship bridge between the Sinhala and the Northern Tamil communities through this meritorious deed.

For this, Kapila expects to receive a helping hand from various organisations and institutions such as, the Sri Lanka Navy, Sabaragrama Mininada Foundation, Municipal Council of Ratnapura, Gem and Jewellery Authority of Sri Lanka, Gem Traders’ Association opposite the clock tower and the International Gem Traders’ Association.

Last week, sitting in his cramped office in the Dutch Fort in Ratnapura, he explained how the idea occurred to him for Nagadeepa- Minipalaga Pooja. Making a three day visit to Jaffna early this year, he was impressed by the courtesy and hospitality shown by the people of the Jaffna peninsula. “I paid a three day visit to Jaffna. First, I hired a three wheeler to visit the remote villages. Although I was adorned with a gold bracelet, gem studded rings, a necklace and had money with me I didn’t feel any trepidation during my visit.

Being a Southerner, alone in an unfamiliar region, I walked freely on the roads, and was not harassed by anybody, instead, they respected me. People in Jaffna are hospitable, and treated me well. I visited lesser known villages, talked to them in Sinhala. Some could speak Sinhala well, while some could not. The villages are fascinating, and not crowded. Most of the houses are closed and only around 25 people live in a village”, he says. “At this moment I felt that we had made a big mistake, and felt sorry for them. Jaffna is a fascinating place. The remoteness still prevails. I don’t think they have any major issues with the Sinhala people. So, I have decided to offer a gem studded throne from the Southerners as a token of friendship,” he emphasised. This elegant throne has been made by a traditional carpenter from Eheliyagoda, with carvings of traditional wooden designs of seven cobra hoods on top and floral designs on the arches, which gives it an antique look. The chair is already completed and now awaits silver plating.

This expensive wooden structure of the throne was nominally handed over to the Nagadeepa ancient temple in a ceremony held near the clock tower in Ratnapura last Tuesday with the participation of Ven.Navadagala Padumakiththi Thera, the Chief Incumbent of the Nagadeepa ancient Rajamaha Viharaya in Jaffna and other distinguished invitees.

The final stage of the throne is the studding of 100,000 gem stones on the silver plated chair. At least 25-50 kilos of silver would be needed for the purpose. Once the work is completed, the gem studded throne will be formally offered to the Nagadeepa ancient temple. The Nagadeepa Minipalaga Pooja would symbolise the friendship and gratitude of the present gem mining community of Ratnapura to the Maninaga tribe, said to have been the ancient community who engaged in the gem industry; and promote a peaceful atmosphere among the Northern and Southern communities in the country,” adds Kapila Athuruliyagama.

Kapila started the first ever gem museum in Ratnapura and published the, ‘Minipura Mini Museum Gem Almanac’ (Manik Litha) and became a well-known publisher of many books and periodicals.

“My aim is to convey the strong message of achieving peace between the Sinhala and Tamil communities through friendship and offering such a Pooja,” he concludes.