The Big Dipper in Diyabubula, Sri Lanka

Sitting out in the open roof, while watching the family of macaques coming home to roost as the sun came down. Laki Senanayake pointed out at the night skies, “Look, Its the big dipper”.  I turned to my side with my mouth open, totally in awed.

There it was, in the unpolluted night skies, the inverted spoon sparkle so brightly into my naked eyes. It was my first time seeing it as clearly as  when the ancients had seen without all the light pollution fogging out its beautiful blinking lights.

I was privileged to be spending time with a living legend, artist, architect, genius, Laki Senanayake. Later I found out he was famous for his landscape architecture design with the Sri Lankan Architect, Geoffrey Bower.

Diyabubula - home of Laki Senanayake

He shares his gorgeous open space on stilts surrounded by pools of man-made small lakes all over the property with macaques, kingfishers, otters and other wild life making Diyabubula their home. A sanctuary for all,  away from the dry land farmland that surrounded this jungle forested property.

View of Diyabubula from across the lake

Diyabubula is named after the spring that feeds the whole land, bubula as in the bubbles. Amazingly back in the 1970s, this place was once a flat and dry farmland, Laki gradually planted native trees and plants, and over time created a series of dams to create the lakes and ponds that has become the huge feature of Diyabubula. This in turns help feed the trees and the animals that come to gather in this artist sanctuary.

This was an experiment to recreate a jungle and let nature gradually claim its place.  All around the property, Laki has on-going experiments with nature, a palm tree structure that is slowly growing into a home, what he calls Bio Structure where his art work have nature as his co-artist, turning the pieces into its own creations.

Each dawn and dusk, Laki would sit out, in front of the mini lake with his large binoculars looking at birds or with his sketchbook doing what he calls just ‘scribbles’. A group of architecture students just came by in the afternoon and bought all his scribbles of paper. It was pretty common to have large groups of people visiting him and he enjoys the attention from time to time, a break from his routine.

Come dusk, Laki sits on his wheel chair with his binoculars, watching at the various birds flying pass his home

A group of Architecture students from Colombo came visiting Diyabubula, it is quite a frequent affair to this serene sanctuary

Living with nature has its drawbacks, the constant upkeep requires a few assistants who quietly clean and sweep the whole house of leaves each morning, trimming the trees and branches to prevent the jungle from turning over. The macaques had fooled around with the speakers that surround the lake, the speakers wasn’t working. Mani, one of the assistants was busy covering the speakers with garbage bags, after one cheeky macaque ripped out the plastic covering of the speakers.

Laki created these design on concrete to allow water to flow into another series of pools. ‘It reflects the water in moonlight”, when I asked about it.

We discussed about Noam Chomsky and American politics, his favorite conversations de jour as he has downloaded a series of youtube videos. I encouraged him to read the book Confessions of the Economic Hitman, he introduced me to Bird and Fortune, a british comedy sketch show.

The whole house is WiFi connected and has all the modern conveniences (including 5 toilets for a household of 2 “because there are many guests who keeps coming and going”)  along with the ants, mozzies, bats and moths and fireflies and frogs that roam freely in my open windowless bedroom.

Each evening, Laki pours a series of nightcaps and smokes his favorite joint, sharing the favorite salmon mayonnaise on cream crackers with me, while we watched television on the internet.

“Have you seen my crocodile today?”

I shine my torch around to look for its red eyes, the little crocodile came out at night, hiding near his feeding spot.

Laki, for the longest time had always wanted one, and finally someone gave him one after capturing the stray crocodile in a waterway. Laki was getting it to be use to being fed by humans through a series of pulley strings with raw chicken pieces. I wondered if the macaques would know there is a crocodile in the mini lake and stop bathing in it during the dry season. For now the baby crocodile is the smallest creature in the mini lake of giant carps and snapping turtles.

A magical place with a magical genius with such humble attitude to life. So blessed to have spent time here in Diyabubula.

This quiet sanctuary would soon inhabit an exclusive spa hotel where rich tourists would come for their Ayurveda massages. There seem to be tons of these Ayurveda Spa hotels all around Sri Lanka, unfortunately.

The lights come on in the evening, revealing pieces of Laki’s art sculptures surrounding the lake.

Laki calls it his mooncatcher, it traps the light on a full moon reflecting the light into the interior of the house.

Laki’s favorite chair, beside his Bio structure of the double coconut where moss has grown over it.


4 responses to “The Big Dipper in Diyabubula, Sri Lanka

  1. What a wonderful experience you’ve had here. Must tell Piya to include this in her next Sri Lankan itinerary!!! Also love the mooncatcher!!!

  2. What a beautiful experience, and such wonderful artwork.

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