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Temple Excursions Around Kandy, Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is adorned with countless temples & numerous stupas. Not surprisingly around the royal city of Kandy, we find many temples set in delightful landscape. Temples in & around the Royal City of Kandy, taken together make up a treasure trove of medieval Sinhalese Buddhist art & architecture.

Dodanwela Devale (shrine) Dodanwela shrine is set in idyllic surroundings among massive Na trees (the national tree of Sri Lanka) with their distinctive red leaves & white fragrant flowers. An avenue of these trees takes us to a medieval wayfarer's inn called ambalama (a pillared & sheltered resting place for travellers & pilgrims), behind which is the shrine.

Embakke Devale (shrine) Embekke Devale dedicated to God Skanda, the Kataragama deity, is famous for its fine woodcarvings. The shrine believed to have been built by King Wickramabahu the third of Gampola in 1351 AD., is a treasure trove of medieval wood carvings. The timbered roof of massive proportions revealing the excellence of classic carpentry of the Kandyan era is supported by intricately decorated wooden pillars. The fine decorated pillars are said to have originated in the palace of the royal city of Gampola, which was demolished by the Portuguese. The village of Embekke, even today is well known for its skillful craftsmen who are devoted to the art of wood carving, metal work-silver, brass & bronze cast.

The multitude of wooden pillars enlighten us with numerous designs of Kandian images taking prominence: wrestlers, dragons, dancing girls, musicians, horsemen, soldiers, peacocks & entwined swans. The carvings are not limited to the wooden pillars. Doors, doorways, rafters & beams of the shrine too are elaborately decorated with an assortment of fine carvings: among the numerous carvings are foot soldiers & cavalry as well as breast feeding mother with her infant. Then again the composite figures of elephant bull, elephant lion & birdman are among the carvings of bestiary. The panel of arch rivals, the elephant & the lion engaged in a duel, stand out among several hundreds of exquisite carvings.

Gadaladeniya Temple Gadaladeniya, a temple complex atop a rock outcrop, was built during the reign of Bhuvanekabahu the fourth in 1351 AD. The brick superstructure, shaped like a stupa, has an octagonal base. The inscriptions on the rock by Buddhist monk Dharmakirti date the temple to 1344 AD. In the entrance are figures of musicians & dancers, & at the foot of the steps to the main shrine there is a moonstone & two gajasinha (elephant-lion) balustrades. The principal gilded image of the Buddha (18th century) is framed by elaborate dragon arch (Makara Torana). The original Buddha statue was destroyed by the Portuguese in the 15th century. A shrine for Hindu god Vishnu is included on one side of the entrance.

Brass ornaments At Kiriwavula village nearby, craftsmen cast brass ornaments by the ancient lost-wax (cire-perdu) process.

Galmaduwa Vihara temple Galmaduwa Vihara, a stone built temple is of singular interest as it exhibits features not found in the other buildings of the Kandy period. It is of curious composite design: encircling the dome is a structure consisting of seven diminishing storeys, revealing a Tanjore influence, while around this is a rectangular wall with arches that betray western influence. There would have been an even older dagoba on this site before the Galmaduwa Vihara was built.

Handagala Vihara temple Handagala Vihara, a cave temple located under a boulder, was built during the late Kandy period. It houses a large reclining statue of the Buddha & a dagoba. On the walls of the exterior & interior, & on the cave-roof, are paintings of the period, some of which were painted over in the 20th century. In addition, a few poorly preserved traces of paint probably dating from the 5th century indicate that the temple was already in use during the classical Sinhalese period. These may be among the earliest paintings in their island.

Lankatilaka Vihara Lankatilaka Vihara is situated on the top of hill of grey gneiss, where we find inscriptions by King Bhuvanekabahu the fourth (1347 AD) & King Vickramabahu the third (1351 AD) narrating the construction of the temple. A long magnificent flight of steps cut into the rock takes us to the temple. The view from the summit is glorious with tea plantations & surrounding hills brought closer to the sight. According to the legend, when a monk reported the sight of a golden bowl floating on the surface of a nearby reservoir, the king took it as an auspicious sign & wasted no time in having the temple built close to the reservoir. The present imposingly solid-looking building of two stories was originally four stories high. It was renovated & the tile roof added in 1845. Even from a distance you can see this elegant roof standing out at the end of the rock.

The main building of the temple is the innermost Buduga or image house with Buddha statues. It is surrounded by six shrines or devala representing six Hindu & local deities, i.e. Hindu God Ganesh, Hindu God Skanda, God Vishnu, Goddess Pattini & local divinities Maha Sumana Saman & God Vibishana. Among the statues are lovely low-relief carvings of elephants. The walls & ceilings are covered with well-preserved frescoes, some of the oldest & best examples of the Kandyan style..

Medawala Vihara Medawala Vihara is a 14th century temple. This building fell into disrepair, however, & the present temple was built in the 18th century by King Kirti Sri Rajasinhe. One interesting feature is an image house built with timber & wattle & daub that is raised above the ground on short stone columns. Inside is a seated image of the Buddha in front of a decoratively carved & painted wooden panel with representations of a Bo-tree, gods, disciples & dragons. On the side walls are depicted a line of disciples, Jataka tales (stories of Bodhisattava in 550 previous births of Buddha), scenes from the Buddha's life following the gaining of enlightenment & the 16 holiest places (Solosmasthana) for Buddhists in Sri Lanka.

Nalanda Gedige Nalanda Gedige is a curious composite of Buddhist & Hindu architecture. But then again it features typically Buddhist layout & decorative scheme: moonstone, dragon arches, dancing dwarfs & other traditional themes.

The temple is set in very peaceful surroundings which are particularly enchanting, especially after rain when there seems to be water everywhere. The temple is noted for its stone carvings of sexual subjects, which are very similar to the famous Khajuraho carvings of Chhatarpur district, State of Madhya Pradesh in India, 85 miles (620 kilometres) southeast of Delhi.

Aluvihara Monastery Aluvihara Monastery occupies a number of caves pocketed within the boulders & crags in a picturesque valley about 8km north of Matale. The various caves of the impressive site have different functions & contrasting moods. Several are beautifully painted with frescoes, one contains a large reclining Buddha, also brightly painted, & one is dedicated to the Indian Buddhist scholar Buddhagosa.

It was in these caves that the Buddhist doctrines were first committed to paper -or rather Ola leaf- in the first century BC. The Tripitakaya was written in an ancient script called Pali on long leaves of Ola palm which were then loosely bound to make books. They were the lifetime's labour of 500 Buddhist monks. Much of the library was destroyed by the British in 1848, after a Sinhalese rebel leader took refuge in the caves. The work of replacement of the lost manuscripts continues today, & you can see monks painstakingly filling Ola books in a scriptorium. The first of the three books of the Tipitake was completed in 1982.


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Photo Gallery

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Embakke Devale (shrine)

Gadaladeniya Temple

Lankatilaka Vihara

Lankatilaka Vihara

Nalanda Gedige

Nalanda Gedige

Aluvihara Monastery

Aluvihara Monastery

Aluvihara Monastery

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