Sri Lankan Monks Mark Tsunami

Face the Nation guests, Sept. 5, 2010 - Laura Tyson, Mark Zandi, Gretchen Morgenson
At a 300-year-old Buddhist temple near where the Asian tsunami swept up to 2,000 people aboard a train to their deaths, dozens of monks chanted blessings Friday at an all-night ceremony to help the wandering spirits of those killed three months ago.

As night fell on this southern coastal area devastated by the Dec. 26 tsunami, women wearing white saris sat on mats and prayed with folded hands, some holding the holy Lotus flower and burning incense sticks. Monks chanted hymns continuously throughout the night for the spirits of the dead to be reborn.

Special prayers were planned this weekend for residents of Peraliya, a village close to the Janagangarama temple, which was annihilated when waves described by survivors as big as elephants smashed into Sri Lanka's coastline.

It was in Peraliya that the entire Queen of the Sea commuter train was washed away, reportedly killing 2,000 people in the single worst tragedy of the tsunami. Some were passengers while others were villagers who clambered atop the train, trying to get above the rising water. More than 850 bodies have been recovered.

"We may not have a home, but we will do anything to ensure that the spirits of our dead relatives get better life," said Chandra Gamage, a 58-year-old women whose small village nearby lost 38 people. She would not say if any of them were her relatives.

On Friday, she collected donations from other villagers and cooked meal of rice and bean curry and fed 12 monks to invoke their blessings. The monks were also served ice cream and fruit.

Sujatha de Silva, who lost a close friend in the disaster, was visiting another temple near the capital Colombo to offer gifts to the monks and take part in a prayer ceremony so that her friend is reborn to a better life.

"This is very important for us, the three-month period, when we try to invoke as many blessings as possible for those who were dear to us," De Silva said. "We don't know if they are reborn so we take no chance and take part in the ceremony to help the spirits to return to life."