Wellaweediya Cemetery on Sea Road in the coastal town of Negombo is the most atmospheric graveyard I’ve come across so far in Sri Lanka. Its aura of spooky otherworldliness is despite it being only walking distance from one of the biggest tourist drags on Sri Lanka’s western shore.
Mind you, the weather conditions on the afternoon I visited the cemetery probably helped the mood. The sky was melancholically dark. Nervy gusts of wind kept whipping up and dying again, each one punting leaves, litter and wisps of sand and dust a few yards further along the ground. It seemed just a matter of time before the clouds were rent asunder and thunder and lightning started raging over the seafront. This gave the place a sense of tropical desolation – like it wasn’t located in a Sri Lankan beach resort at all, but on a Caribbean island in some voodoo or zombie horror story.
You couldn’t have asked for a more Gothic way of entering the cemetery – through corroded gates that were topped with evil-looking barbs and flanked by a pair of forlorn stone angels whose wings had been largely broken off.
Inside, one thing that unsettled me was how the ground was mostly composed of sand. I usually associate cemeteries with soil – firm soil, solid enough to hold things in the ground. This sand looked anything but solid. It was heaped into long V-shaped mounds before each cross or headstone, which rather morbidly mapped out the dimensions of the coffins and bodies a little way underneath.
Across the sand was strewn a lot of debris – scraps of paper, pieces of string, lengths of ribbon and shreds of greenery, which presumably were remnants of disintegrated wreaths and other grave-decorations. But more recent tributes to the deceased remained intact. There were arrangements of ferns and fronds, often wilting and resembling sprawling green crowns, and orchid-like flowers, whose colours the elements had bleached to a faded pink.
The graves were marked mostly by crosses. Some were made of wood but coated in a thick, treacly black paint. A few were covered in small, pale-coloured tiles. Standing at the end of an occasional grave-mound was a miniature shrine, a glass-fronted case containing a religious figure – the glass commonly misted and sickly-looking with condensation.
One disturbing sight was a grave where the mound of sand had been dug into. A large hole in the mound’s side showed that something had been burrowing into it. Unless, that is, the hole had been made by the grave’s occupant burrowing out.
Finally, while I was there, Wellaweediya Cemetery was infested with crows. They were happily using the crosses and gravestones as perches, climbing frames and stepping stones. And needless to say, their loud non-stop cawing cranked the graveyard’s atmosphere several notches higher on the ‘creepy’ scale.