An oasis of calm for Buddhists in Oman | Daily News


 

An oasis of calm for Buddhists in Oman

Following the exodus of Sri Lankan migrant workers to Middle East countries, mainly after the seventies, employees of various categories in large numbers migrated to Oman seeking employment.

Oman or the Sultanate of Oman as officially called, is a country on the southeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula in Western Asia.

The adherents of Islam are in the majority at 85.9 percent, with Christians at 6.5 percent, Hindus at 5.5 percent, Buddhists at 0.8 percent and Jews less than 0.1 percent. Other religious affiliations have a proportion of one percent and the unaffiliated only 0.2 percent, according to statistics announced by the US’s Central Intelligence Agency.

However, almost all devotees of other faiths had their respective shrines or places of worship located at various regions in Oman except the Buddhists from Sri Lanka. The number of Sri Lankans employed in various projects in Oman increased unprecedentedly and notably after 1977.

The Buddha statue at the temple.

The Buddhist workers used to perform their daily religious rites keeping a small Buddha statue or a picture at their residences or rooms. However, the Sri Lankan migrant employees felt the need for a separate common place of worship for them to carry out their religious activities collectively and unitedly.

A religiously aspiring group of Buddhist workers of J&P Oman LLC situated near Muscat International Airport (formerly Seeb International Airport) established a small shrine house in a room at the project camp. They procured a small Buddha statue and started their daily religious performances at the newly-set up small shrine. The particular initial step of the religious move was made during the 1979/1980 period.

Later, in 1982, a migrant Sri Lankan worker from Wanduramba in Galle named K.G. Thilak made a five-feet-tall Buddha statue. The earliest Sri Lankans who worked in Oman still remember with much religious delight that over 3,000 Buddhists from all over Oman took part in the religious event that held at that small temple in 1985.

However, in 1989, as the camp was closed, the Buddha statue and the items in the shrine had to be kept in a room at the J&P Asaba camp. Nevertheless, the Sri Lankans again started their usual religious observances at the Asaba camp.

During this period, there was a special tree-planting project along the highway from Muscat International Airport to Qurum, a suburb of Muscat. The selected trees for the project were large trees such as ‘Nuga’, ‘Asatu’ and Bo. Taking the advantage of the project, the Project Manager of the said scheme, T.H. Anil Chandrarathna brought a Sacred Bo tree from Malaysia which was planted at the premises at the auspicious time of 5.23 am on the Full Moon Poya Day of November 1993. Since then the new shrine progressed as a thriving Buddhist place of worship with a number of additions and with regular Buddhist festivals, with the participation of increasing numbers of Buddhist devotees in Oman. By this time, the shrine consisted of a small wooden Stupa.

In 1999, for the first time, the late Ven. Maduluwawe Sobhitha Thera was brought to Oman for a public sermon for which many Buddhists in Oman participated. In the same year, remarkably an all-night Pirith chanting ‘Pinkama’ was held in Muscat to which many hundreds of Sri Lankans in Oman gathered. The Pinkama was held in view of the birthdays of Qaboos bin Said Al Said, the then Sultan of Oman and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. Both leaders’ birthdays fall on the same day. The event was sponsored by TV Lanka, the channel which introduced the Buddhist shrine in Oman to the world through a programme telecast over their channel.

The Oman Buddhist temple was gradually moving ahead. Among the improvements of the temple during this period were a new Sermon Hall (20’X80’), a Meditation Hall (40’X20’) and a bigger steel made Stupa.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and Kulathunga Widyarupage, a member of the Dayaka Sabha of the temple in Oman.

Moreover, the Dhamma School which was started in 2004 with six students, now caters to a student population of about 150. The Sri Lankan teachers at the Sri Lankan School in Oman teach at the Dhamma School as well.

However, with the demise of the donor of the land of the temple, the said property was sold and the shrine had to be temporarily shifted to another location. The Buddhists employees of Oman again confronted with a new problem of finding a suitable plot of land in Oman to locate the temple.

Subsequently, Kulathunga Widyarupage who is personally known to Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa met him during a visit to Sri Lanka and explained the predicament they had faced with. Further Ven. Mahamewnave Mangala Nayaka Thera who had visited Oman for a sermon also had explained the need for a plot of land for the temple.

Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa who positively responded to the request, directed the Sri Lankan Embassy in Oman to provide a sufficient space at the embassy premises for the temple. Correspondingly, Sri Lankan Ambassador Dr. Haneefa initiated arrangements to relocate the temple at the embassy premises.

The temple which was initially called J&P Temple was subsequently renamed as Dam Ram Vihara as suggested by the late Scholar Piyasena Rathuwithana. Later, on the instructions of Ambassador Haneefa, the temple was again named as Sambuddha Jayanthi Dam Ram Vihara on account of the 2600th Sambuddha Jayanthi commemoration.

Afterwards in an unexpected turn, the land on which the Sri Lankan Embassy was situated was sold by the owner of the property to a third party. The Sri Lankans in Oman again informed the Prime Minister about the sudden sale of the land. Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa who did not wish to shift the embassy and the temple to another location, instructed the Foreign Employment Bureau to purchase the entire land and operate the embassy and the temple without interruption. The personal relationship of the Prime Minister had with Qaboos bin Said Al Said, the then Sultan of Oman was an added advantage in the purchase of the land in Muscat.

As the Embassy land in Oman became the property of Foreign Employment Bureau, at present Sri Lankans have their own fully-fledged Buddhist temple in Oman.

Sil campaign in Oman.
Bhakthi Gee presentation at Sambuddha Jayanthi Dam Ram Vihara in Oman.

 


Visit Kapruka.com Sri Lanka's Largest online shop. Over 125,000 unique categories such as Fresh Flowers, Cakes, Food, Jewllery, Childrens Toys and other Sri Lankan e-commerce categories. Low delivery cost to most cities here and free delivery in Colombo.