Adam’s Peak (2243 m) in Sri Lanka is a key feature in the novel Padma and the Elephant Sutra. Once thought to be the highest mountain on the island (actually Pidurutalagala at 2524 m). In fact, it was once considered by many as the tallest mountain in the world. Even the Dutch thought so (perhaps not the best example), when they ruled over the island.
The mountain was used as a way marker for Arab sailors and later Roman and Chinese. on the so called Silk Road of the Sea. Apparently, it could be seen eight miles out, long before land was spotted. Surrounded by dense cloud forests, the green column was witnessed soaring up beyond the clouds into the heavens.
It is considered sacred in many religions due to the impression of a giant foot marked on a huge boulder on top of the peak.
In Buddhism, it is the left foot of Buddha. Made during one of his visits to the island, left to remind people of his teachings. Also, prior to the unification under Buddhism it was the home of Saman (the rising morning sun), the mountains indigenous guardian deity accompanied by a white, bejewelled elephant. Saman went on to become one of the guardian of Sri Lanka, and Theravada Buddhism
In the Hinduism of northern Tamils, it is the mark made by Shiva, when appearing in his Nataraj form to perform his ecstatic cosmic dance. Also the legendary mount Trikuta the capital of Ravana mentioned in the Ramayana.
Muslims and Christians in Sri Lanka ascribe it to where Adam, the first ancestor, set foot when exiled from the Garden of Eden. Or, to Catholics, perhaps St Thomas the Doubter.
The mountain, known as Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak is an anglicised version of the Portuguese name Pico de Adam), is also known as the Mount of Jewels. It is no coincidence that Ratnapura (the City of Gems) is only sixteen kilometers south-west, one of the world richest gem mining areas. As the mountain and surrounding peaks eroded from millennia of monsoonal weather, lots of its trove washed down the tributaries flowing from the mountain – rubies, topaz, garnets, cats eye, aquamarine, Alexanderite and sapphires ranging from yellow to blue. Perhaps Sinbad’s Valley of Diamonds in the Arabian Nights
The precious and semi-precious stones found in Sri Lanka, particularly from the sacred mountain, is another significant feature of the novel. In the book, the Crystal Cavern built by humans and elephant under the direction of ad-Om began with the belief that the real footprint is set in jewels beneath the rock. There are also many caves around the mountain including Divaguhawa, an unidentified cave where the Buddha is said to have rested after creating the footprint. This has reputedly been recently identified. Here
View of the peak from Horton Plains.
Also in the book elephants use the mountain as a place to worship their ancestors. Certainly, until Europeans (notably the British) began hunting the elephants to near extinction, they were a common sight in the range and foothills of the mountain. Major Skinner, the British Chief Engineer, recounts seeing elephant droppings at the peak in 1840. The elephants were well known to inhabit much of the mountainous central region. In the book, elephants use Horton Plains (a level, grassy region high in the southern range) for their Great Gathering. This would be their view of the peak described in the book.
Perhaps the strangest feature in Padma and the Elephant Sutra is the shadow pyramid. The inspiration for this comes from the pyramid shadow which appears at sunrise. It lasts only a short while and when there is a low mist the shadow seems to hang in mid-air.
As the morning sun rose higher, the conical mountain’s shadow cast its familiar pyramidal shape, tapering out to the surrounding hills. Chaddanta waited until the pyramid formed, a three-dimensional mirage, hanging in liminal space. She would not have long to command the tribe. The eye in the pyramid open, the cleft between spirits and mortals bridged, now was the time to fix the chord. She slipped her trunk into the hollow log and blew.
The book Padma and the Elephant Sutra can be downloaded Here
All photos downloaded from Creative Commons.