The Kingdom of Gampola

Between two Kingdoms: Gampola

Anuradhapura was the ritual and administrative center of the island’s chief kings from the 3rd century BC until the destruction of its infrastructure by imperial Cola invaders from south India, in the early 11th century CE. The Colas established their new power base in Polonnaruva, about 80 miles to the southeast of Anuradhapura. They maintained their position for many decades into the eleventh century, before the Sinhalas captured Polonnaruva and turned it into their own capital.

For more than two centuries, first under the Colas and then under the Sinhalas, Polonnaruva was an impressive royal capital, until it was sacked by the invader Magha, from Kalinga (modern Orissa in India), in the early 13th century.

The Sinhala kings abandoned their splendid capital and began to retreat in a southwesterly direction situating themselves in a series of backwater capitals.

The 14th century A.D. of Sinhala history was a period of political and economic atrophy.

The magnificent capital at Polonnaruva in the northern dry zone had been abandoned for the last time in the final decade of the 13th century, and a strategically defensive retreat, or «drift to the southwest», commenced with the new Sinhala capitals subsequently founded and lost: first at Dambadeniya but then at Yapahuva, Kurunegala, Dedigama, and Gampola. The political fortunes of the Sinhalese were not revived until the 15th century reign of Parakramabahu VI (1415-1467) at Kotte (southeast of Colombo).

The Muslim traveller Ibn Batuta who visited Sri Lanka in the middle of the 14th century reflects in his account the fragmented condition of polity at this time, with none of the rulers he encounters in sole control of the island.

The entire 13th through 15th century marks a period of great social turbulence and political instability throughout the island and with it, the increasing political enervation of Sinhala kings. At the same time, this was a period of unprecedented migrations of peoples from various regions of south India. Their presence further abetted Lankan cultural fermentation, the increased mixing of Hindu and Buddhist elements seen, for example, in the architecture and ritual practices of the Gadaladeniya and Lankatilaka temple complexes constructed during the Gampola period of the 14th century. (J.C. HOLT)

The medieval Kingdom of Gampola (1341-1415)

After the death of King Vijayabahu V of Kurunegala, Bhuvanaikabahu IV became king in Gampola.

The latter half of the 14th century was a period of insecurity. The Tamil kingdom in the North rose into power and began to be a grave menace to the Sinhalese people living in the south, causing them to be on the alert at all times to check the invasions occurring at intervals.

The Gampola kingdom covered the Central, the South and the South-West Ceylon, including numerous petty rulers.

The inauguration of the period was marked by the building of Lankatilaka and Gadaladeniya viharas, two monuments of considerable size. The importance of Lankatilaka and Gadaladeniya temples lies in the fact that they are the first Buddhist monuments that thoroughly integrate the presence of Hindu deities with the worship of the Buddha.

This period also witnessed a marked development in the sphere of literature, both poetry and prose.

Though the kings of Gampola were not powerful warriors, they had a high calibre for art and culture and have made significant contributions to art.

Alapalawela

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Pic. Prasanna Upajeewa

King Parakramabahu of Dambadeniya, pleased with the fact that he had recovered from a fatal illness after doing pujas (offerings) to the deity of Devinuvara, decided to send pandurus (donation) and gifts to Devinuvara in thanks. He sent one of his officers, Devapathiraja, along with others to Devinuvara in a perahera (procession) with gifts, including a sannasa (King’s Edict) declaring the dedication of some villages to the devalaya: Paddawela Debage, Patunugama, Alapalawela and Dampalgoda from Mayadunu Korale, villages which belonged to Queen Sunethra’s pattuwa (land).

Hendeniya Vihara (Galgane Vihara)

Situated in Udu Nuwara is the rock cave temple called “Hendeniya Vihara.” Also called “Galgane Vihara” it lies along the Kandy-Daulagala Road. Local traditions say that this Len Vihara (Cave temple) was built at the request of Henakanda Biso Bandara (consort of King Vikramabahu III) of the Gampola period (1357-1374), and served as her resting place when she visited Lankatilaka Vihara and Embekke Devale in the vicinity.

Henakanda Biso bandara

From the fruit of a large beli tree (Bael fruit / Aegle marmelos) in Beligala Viharaya near Kegalle, a beautiful girl was born to the sound of thunder. Accordingly, she was given the name Henakanda Biso Bandara. Brought up by the elders of her village, she moved to Udanuwara in the vicinity of Embekke and Vegiriya devalayas. She either married King Vikramabahu III of Gampola and died from being strangled by Skanda (Kataragama Deviyo), who had wished to make her one of her goddesses; had un unwilling affair with Skanda, who then struck her dead with the kapa (Tree) of the Vegiriya devalaya; married a Kotmale noble and died shortly after the nobleman’s death; or simply died after living a life of charity and miracles. As diverse as these oral versions appear, they all agree that after her death, her corpse was placed in a kahata log and floated down the river to be found at the place that is now the « water-cutting » site for the Vegiriya Natha devalaya. She is now locally workshipped as a boon-conferring goddess revered for her chastity and devotion (J.C. HOLT).

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Pic. Prasanna Upajeewa

There are three temples at the premises:

A cave shrine (Galgane viharaya) attributed to the 14th century but much renovated. The entrance to the cave shrine is through a stone door-way, the jambs of which have been decorated with floral and vegetative designs as at Vegiriya. The Buddha image on a vajrasana (thunderbolt pose) of stucco placed therein is reported to be of the 14th century. A number of protective devas are painted on the wall of the cave overhead and behind. The image house which is centrally placed, is flanked by two little devale, a Vishnu devale on the right, and Kataragama on the left.

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Pic. Prasanna Upajeewa

The second viharaya, built by Wahala Bandara, a local chieftain, during Rajadhirajasimghe time (1782-1798) stands a little way off to the left. It belongs to the Kandy period (18th century). The entrance has the usual makara torana, and is protected by large guardian deities, one on either side.

The makara torana is an example of masterly ancient stone crafts: executed above the lintel of the stone doorway. The ‘Hansa-Puttuwa’ motif (entwined swan) is etched below the makara thorana, while above its lintel, it has been edged in blue. This makara thorana is a typical archway with a pair of makaras in the shape of some mythical aquatic species with an elephant trunk, crocodile body, and feet terminating in fish tail, symbolic of water fertility and life.

On both sides of the stone doorway are two figures of cobra kings, in part human. Behind the two heads of the guard stones lie the multi-hooded cobra heads. The decorative artistic treatment of the stone lintel with a red background is typical of Kandyan art and sculpture.

Within is a small seated Buddha image of bronze, a gift from the king. Two standing images, constructed of kirti mati (white clay) stand on each side of the main image. Above the makara torana are more guardian deities. A peculiarity of these is that on each side, three of the devas’heads are of animals: an elephant, a garula (mythical bird), and a horse. Also on the right is a mural of Vishnu, on the left one of Sakra. There is a gallery of “Suvisi Vivarana” comprising 24 statues of past and future Buddhas.  A life-size portrait of King Rajadhirajasimha is depicted on the side of the wall of the image house.

The new image house (cave temple) on the same architectural lines of the ancient image house was built in 1952, while the Buddha statues and mural paintings were completed in 1986. The makara torana concept is faithfully portrayed along with the other artefacts including the golden Buddha statue enclosed in a separate glass enclosure. All the artistic motifs found in the Parana Vihara are well reproduced without any flaw. This new image house has been skilfully constructed into a rock cave shelter (like the one in the Parana Vihara) in the boulder. It is 45 feet long , 47 feet wide and 19 feet high. The roof has been painted a sky-blue with white cloud-effects, which give it a rather modern touch.

Moon Stone

The moonstone is another masterpiece. Unlike the moonstones of the Anuradhapura – Polonnaruva periods, which have rows of elephants, oxen, flowers, horses and the like, this particular moonstone is simple, sans any such elaborate carvings.

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Pic. Prasanna Upajeewa

It has only a surrounding band ending in ‘Liyana Vel’ motifs. The shape of the moonstone seemed semi-circular up to the 13th century. Thereafter with the progress of time, the semi-circular design turned out to be a full circle by the 14th century as seen in the Parana Vihara. Such moonstones date back to the Gampola, Kandy periods, mostly to the reign of Rajadhirajasimha 18th century AD.

The ancient image house has standing and seated Buddha statues of gilded gold. The murals adorning the cave ceiling depict Jataka stories.The reclining Buddha statue displays a beautiful halo (Budures Valalla). There is also a Poya Ge and a Seema Malaka (Chapter House).

Embekke Devale

Embekke Devalaya in Udu Nuvara, Kandy District, while being dedicated to God Skanda popularly known as Kataragama or Mahasen is a repository of Sri Lanka’s traditional wooden architecture and wood carving. The Unesco has identified these marvelous but elaborate carvings on wooden pillars to be the finest products of woodcarvings to be found in any part of the world.

A local deity called Devata Bandara is also worshipped at the site.

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Pic. Prasanna Upajeewa

The devale at Embekke is a shrine which has become very popular on account of the traditions connected with it regarding Skanda, the god of Kataragama, Vikramabahu III, King of Gampola and Henakanda Biso Bandara, his Queen. The date of the erection of the shrine appears to be 1371-72 AD, during the reign of Vikramabahu III. There is no doubt that the three-storied building of the original foundation – as recorded in the epic Embekke Varnanava (The Embekke Eulogy) written by Delgahagoda Mudiyanse, an authoritative Palm Leaf Manuscript from the Colombo Museum containing 52 verses – disappeared in course of time and that some time during the period of the kings of Kandy, a restoration was effected employing some highly skilled artisans.

The shrine consists of three sections, the sanctum or gharba, the digge or dancing hall, and the hevisimandapa or the drummers’ hall. It is the drummers’ hall that has drawn the attention of the visitors to the site, because of the slendid carvings on its ornate pillars and its high-pitched roof.

The carvings which adorn the wooden pillars, as well as the entrance porch of the devale (the vahalkada which is said to be older) are some of the best examples of wood carving of the Sinhalese people. The skill of the ancient masters is to be seen most of all in the medial panels of the pillars and in the crossing brackets, with their drooping lotuses, which form the capital of these pillars.

Pic. Lionel Wendt
Pic. Lionel Wendt

Here are displayed, in low relief, the conventional Sinhalese designs – the swans, at time single, at times with heads entwined, the double-headed eagle, the woman growing out of the vine, a Bacchanalian figure in characteristic pose, a wrestling pair, dancers and soldiers, men and women in fluent and graceful movement, floral designs of many combinations, based chiefly on the lotus, no one design resembling another in the whole collection of designs.

Of particular importance to the folklorist is the figure of a Woman feeding a Child which is the folkloristic expression of the artist’s life experience at his household. The artist had wanted to express his own family exposure along with the teacher – pupil artistry of the set constructs of the Narilatha (flower in shape of a woman), Wrestlers, Soldiers, Horsemen, Sanda Kinduru (combination of a female figure with the lower part of the body of a bird) etc.

The roof itself has singular features. The rafters all slant from above towards the incoming visitor and are caught together and kept in position by a Madol Kurupawa , a kind of giant catch-pin the like of which we do not have elsewhere. The ‘Madol Kurupuwa’ is one of the finest examples of medieval carpentry excellence. It is a wooden pin (this Madol Kurupuwa) which holds together 26 rafters at the hipped end of the roof of the digge of Embekke Devale. The giant pin is carved with pathuruliya, patha motifs.
Among the carvings, there are 125 series of decorations, 256 liyawel (Decorative leaf work), 64 lotus designs in Pekada ( flowery designs of Lotus and Binara flowers peeking at the edges), 30 decorative patterns on timber, roof members, making a total of 514 such exquisite carvings.

Among the ancient objects that are treasured in the devale are the door-ways of the Sandun Kudama (Sandalwood Room). which is supposed to have been brought down from the palace of Vikramabahu with the pinnacle seen now on the top of the sanctum and the two tusks seen in front of it. The palanquin presented to Rajasimha II by the Portuguese and tambora drum and ornaments presented to the devale by Ehelapola Maha Adikaram are also treasured here.

On the grounds of the devale there is also an old Vee-atuwa or a paddy store resting on stone-pillars and reminiscent of the ancien Tempita Viharas.

Thus the Embekke Devale, apart from it’s being the abode of Mahasen/Kataragama inheriting the traditional divine worship with it’s own esoteric overtones it is also a repository of history ,the culture, the folklore and the ingenious craftsmanship of yore demonstrated up to the Kandyan Period.

Embekke ambalama

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Pic. Prasanna Upajeewa

A little distance away about 1/8 mile lies another assembly of stone pillars on which are carved the very replicas of the wooden pillars of the Embekke Devale. There are altogether 16 numbers of such columns in the base, with two octagonal sections above and square blocks in the centre and the end with carvings on four sides. It is believed that the wooden beams of the roof had rested on carved wooden capitals (Pekada),  which are no longer to be seen in the site.

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Pic. Henry Cave (1908)

The roof had been covered with flat tiles. Rope design, entwining swan, berunde bird, dancing girl are some of the creations found on these stone columns, quite akin to the woodcarvings at Embekke Devale. The villagers still remember the existence of this Ambalama with the wooden roof about 100 years ago. The original state of the roof is shown in a photograph that appeared in Henry Cave’s ‘Book Of Ceylon’ published in 1908. The Ambalama is 27 feet long and 22 feet wide, built on a platform with four monolithic columns in each corner, which is seven feet in height. This building is also called Sinhasana Mandapaya. In ancient times, the king and his royal entourage used to rest here and watch the perahera when it was held.

Vegiriya

The shrine at this site is popularly called Vegiriya devale since a temple attributed to Lokesvara Natha has been built alongside a temple of the Buddha.

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Pic. Prasanna Upajeewa

That Vegiriya was the abode of forest dwelling monks in the pre-Christian era is attested by Brahmi inscriptions found at the drip-ledge of a cave known as Vavul-gal-lena (stone cave of bats) on the hill against whose cliffs have been constructed the cave shrine.

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Pic. Prasanna Upajeewa

An inscription dated 1415 mentions two earlier royal grants made to this temple by Vikramabahu III of Gampola and by Bhuvanaikabahu V, both of the 14th century.
A legend relates that King Bhuvanaikabahu’s horse had knelt before this cave, which on further exploration revealed an image of a deity within. This, its says, was the origine of the devale.

Both temples are in one cave converted into a shrine room and separated from each other by means of a partition wall.

Two moonstones have been placed at the entrances to the two shrine rooms. Each contains a lotus with two bands of petals of which the inner forms a full circle but the outer is slightly cut off by the baseline. The rim of the moonstone is occupied by a floral motif in the centre, from either side of which figures of a bull, a horse and an elephant respectively are shown. The two elephants are shown sprinkling water on the lotus and are standing almost at the base with their backs turned towards it, their feet falling at the compartments of the hamsas.

The front vestibule of the vihara is roughly boarded-up and unpretentious, but from within this hall a carved stone doorway, over a beautifully carved moonstone leads to the cave interior. At the far end of the cave is a sedant Buddha image, flanked by two smaller standing images, all facing forwards. Further to the right, on a raised stone platform, is a small cetiya with its pinacle almost touching the roof of the cave. The inside walls of the cave are painted with the 24 suvisi Buddhas, and other representations, while the roof has large floral designs.

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Pic. Prasanna Upajeewa

The image of the Buddha and the stupa may be of the Kandyan period.

The Natha devale has a separate entrance.

The image of Lokesvara Natha (Avalokitesvara), a Bodhisattva, identified by Paranavitana as one belonging to the Mahayana pantheon, is of clay or stucco, as well as of his consort Biso-Bandara (Tara). There is no doubt that the deity is Avalokitesvara who is also called Lokesvara Natha.

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Pic. Prasanna Upajeewa

The image is 6 feet in height, either of clay or stucco, painted white and seated on an asana (2 feet high). The deity is in maharajalila (royal) or lalitasana (relaxed) pose. His left foot is firmly placed on the ground and the right leg hangs down from the asana. The left hand is firmly placed on the asana as in the bronze figure at the Boston Museum.The right hand displays the vyakhyana mudra.

Bracelets and armlets are shown and an upavita (sacred threat) has been carried from the right side of the waist and over the left shoulder. The garment worn below the waist resembles those on the stucco images of deities at the Lankatilaka vihara.

The resemblances in the drapery being most striking as in the case of the standing images of Upulvan and Vibhisana at the last mentioned shrine.

The Vegiriya figure has the upavita while the Lankatilaka ones do not have it. The costumes and ornements are the same in all. Above the waist the body is bare except for necklaces and other ornaments. The cloth is held fast to the body by a series of ribbons. The hem is allowed to fall over the lap to resemble a lotus petal. A girgle hangs down from the waist down to the ankles. A cloth is worn but the outlines of the legs are clearly visible. This is so probably because the hem of the cloth has been carried upwards and tied from behind in the likeness of a loin cloth. The folds of the drapery civery the legs are shown by a number of ridges.

The head-dress of the image is elaborate. It is conical but shows no Dhyani-Buddha.

The modeling has been executed by a talented sculptor who knew the canonical iconometrical proportions of the human body. Local tradition in the 14th century was perhaps not in favor of a Dhyani-Buddha in the head-dress – for by this time in Ceylon, Avalokitesvara had lost his Mahayanist character and become absorbed into the popular religion. The contemporary Tisara sandesa refers to an image of Natha at Doravaka devale (now non-existent) and the description of the deity as given in this text may be compared with our image.

The matted look of the hair may not be distinguished since the deity wears a head-dress and it is probably the jatamakuta (crown made of matted locks of hair) which is here referred to as matted hair. Though the eyebrows do not show traces of blue it is likely that they were so coloured. The present coating of white paint may date from the Kandy period, during which time there was some kind of restoration, as attested by the wooden pekada on the pillars now supporting the roof. The cord hanging down from the shoulder is the upavita.

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Pic. Prasanna Upajeewa

The succo (or clay) image of Tara is the most beautiful specimen of its kind. Popularly called Biso-Bandara, she sits in lalitasana pose to the right of Lokesvara-Natha, displaying the abhaya mudra by the right hand and keeping the left hand on the left leg.
Her head-dress is elaborate and made up of four stages, almost conical in shape. As in the image of Lokesvara-Natha, there is no figure of a Dhyani Buddha in the head-dress. The right leg is placed on the grond and the left, which is bent and kept on the asana, protrudes out of it at the ankles. The asana is of the same type as in the case of Lokesvara-Natha but of slightly lesser height.The two asanas are at distance of about one foot of each other. The height of the figure is proportionately less when compared with that of Lokesvara-Natha. The combined height of the pedestal and the image is six feet – the image alone measuring 4.5 feet in height. Below the hair-dress is a tiara. The eyes are open, and the face is pleasant with a trace of a smile as if the deity is appearing to bestow protection to supplicants. Instead of ear-rings she wears flowers and round her neck is a neck-lace. The upper part of the body is bare and the breasts, which are not heavy as at Buduruvegala, are not pendulous. The nipples may be compared with those on the figure from Gan-Aramaya-vihara (Colombo Museum). The lower part of the body from the waist below is draped in a rich attire comparable to a pair of trousers of European fashion, the girdle in three courses at the waist being only the ornament of ancient character. The drapery is not loose but clings to the body and is indicated by means of a series of circular folds from the ankles upwards. A similar attire below the waist is worn by the female deities (i. e. consorts of Upulvan, Saman and Vibhisana) at the Lankatilaka devale, Handessa.

Outside, across the rather small courtyard, is the second devale, dedicated to Pattini. It is on the boulder behind this devale that the ancient rock inscription may be seen.
The bodhi tree shares its maluwa with an equally large na-tree. There is no cetiya outside.

Lankatilaka

« Perched on a hight rock, with its many gables, high peaked roofs and finials, its projecting eaves and its stone platform – the resemblance srikes at once of a Norwegian church. »

Henry Cave, Book of Ceylon, 1908, p. 337

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Pic. Prasanna Upajeewa

The majestic Lankathilake Vihare, believed to be one of the most magnificent architectural edifice in the Gampola kingdom, was built at the crest of a large rock named “Panhalgala” overlooking the Hantane mountain range in the Hiripitiya hamlet in Udunuwara.

King Buwanekabahu IV who reigned from 1341 to 1351 A. D. chose Gampola as his kingdom and constructed this Viharaya with the help of a South Indian architect Sthapati Rayar and a powerful local personage, Senalankadikara. The date of the building, according to the rock inscription is 1344. As at Galadeniya, the influence of his school of architecture has been considerable, showing hre some Dravidian and Burmese influences (Cultural contact with Burma too was strong during this period). According to Paranavitana, though, it is structurally descended from the ancint Sinhalese architecture of the Polonnaruva period, unlike its neighbour, the Gadaladeniya vihara, which is primarily Dravidian with concessions to Buddhist requirements of worship.

The base of the building which is its only stone (granite) component apart from the door-frames, the rest of the building being of brick, rests flatly on the uneven rock giving a pleasing appearance of being buit into the rock rather than on-to the rock. Granite and brick have been used in the building unlike in the contemporary monument at Gadaladeniya, which is essentially of stone. The uneven rock in which the Vihara is built might have presented a serious obstacle to the architect who found means of overcoming the difficulty by laying the foundation and levelling it with large blocks of granite.

According to the rock inscription, there were originally 4 storeys, though only one remains functional today. The second remains but is not functional. It is believed that the upper storeys have collapsed with passage of time. The height of the building especially on the summit of a rock would have been a possible cause of collapse. It is very likeky that reconstruction work was carried out under the patronage of kings who flourished in later times. The first storey rests on the base of the un-moulded stone. Its own walls show supporting elephants (heads aand fore-legs) alternating with broad pilasters, an arrangement somewhat similar to that on the walls of the Vijayotpaya at the Gadaladeniya vihara.

On ground plan, the monument is cruciform, and is comparable to the Ananda temple at Pagan, Burma. The main shrine room is surrounded, as though on an afterthought, by five devales whose shrines open on to a common corridor running on its three sides.

Pic. Prasanna Upajeewa
Pic. Prasanna Upajeewa

The entrance door to each devale is usually kept closed except on special days when the lay-custodian, the Kapurala, will let one in, through the devale entrance facing west. The five devales are not separate but run one into the other, each deity being enshrined in a recess in the wall: Upulvan (in the west), Saman (in the north), Vibhisana (in the south), with Ganesh and Skanda in the east on either side of the main vihara entrance. The corridor ceiling is a half-arch which seems to rest on the mouldings of the inner wall which form the outer wall of the main shrine room of the vihara. That this inside wall of the devale corridor was originally meant to be an outside wall is obvious from the presence of mouldings on it, a feature not usually found on an inside wall. Though it may have been an after-thought of planning, its construction was carried out as the same time as was the origial vihara. This is borne out by the text of the contemporaneous rock inscription alongside, which mentions specifically the deities whose shrines lie within.

The main entrance of the building faces east, separated from a precipitous decline by a drummers’hall (which at one time contained a secondary shrine room and an image of the founder Senalankadikara, that is supposed to have been gifted to the temple by his spouse), thatched with flat roof tiles, as opposed to the ordinary half round tiles, used to cover the central part of the roof and to create beautiful patterns. Farther out to the right are steps cut into the rock face leading down to the valley below. To the left is the cordoned-off rock inscription.

The temple entrance itself is through a magnificent makara torana with gajasingha balustrades on either side of the steps leading to the entrance, and a moonstone as the first step. Immediately within is an anteroom connected by a narrow corridor to the main shrine room. Two large lion paintings and two figures of guards facing each other decorate the two walls of the corridor.

The main image house contains a huge sedant Buddha image (twelve-foot high) in the samadhi posture, and under another makara torana. Both this colossal image and that at gadaladeniya vihara do not show the serenity one has come to expect from the classical period Buddha images. On either side, are two standing images. On the two sides of the walls and on the ceiling are exquisitely painted scenes from Susivi vivaranaya or the lives of the 24 previous Buddhas.

Lankatilaka vihara exemplified a Polonnaruva style, modified by Burmese influences. The style of this monument is a continuation and development of the Sinhalese architecture of the Polonnaruva period, influenced to a great deal by a Burmese example. The modification of the original design to include devales withinh the shrine was due to an attempt to combine the workship of the Buddha with that of the gods of popular Sinhalese religion. Therefore the Lankatilaka while beoing a continuation of the architecture of the Polonnaruva period, is a modification of the latter on account of certain Dravidian and Indo-Chinese influences.

Though Visnu is the main god of the devalaya, there are also images of Kataragama, Ganesa, Saman, Vibhisana, and Kumara Bandara, believed to be the most powerful and potentially dangerous deity. A small Dadimunda devalaya flanks the Lankatilaka shrine, and a ritual area for Huniyam is at the rear of the Dadimunda devalaya. The kapurala estimates that about fifty people comme on kemmura day.

Gadaladeniya

This great stone vihara was built during the time of Bhuvanekabahu IV, the rock inscription giving the date of 1344 AD as the date of the completion of the building. Its founder was a monk, Dharmakirti, and the chief architect employed was Ganesvaracarya, a South Indian.

This vihara is famous as the residence of the celebrated scholarly monks such as Dharmakirti II and Vimalakirti I who composed literary works which have come down to us.

Standing on bare rock and somewhat aloof, it is constructed almost entirely of stone (except for the sikhara, dome, which is of brick).

The vihara

The entrance faces the east, and has an imposing stone frontage with an entrance porch and gaja-sinha (mythical elephant-lion figure) balustrades with a moonstone as the first step. Each corner of the porch has a set of 3 stone columns: the middle pillar which is the tickest, in Kandyan style (alternate square and octogonal sections), and two slender octogonal columns running up on either side of it.

The general style of architecture is South Indian (Vijayanagara) but with concessions to its function as a Buddhist temple in a Buddhist country.

The sikhara or dome, for instance, is stupa-like in shape and is topped by a hataras kotuwa (four-sided boxe), while the main shrine room is altogether Buddhistic, with the devale holding an obviuously lesser ranking on the side, as is seen in many early Buddhist shrines in Sri Lanka where devales co-exist.

Along the base is a panel of drummers, dancers and animals carved in bas-releif, while the capital atop each column shows an inverted lotus flower sculptured in the round, with a couchant lion on the top.The roof of the porch itself consists of «3 or 4 massive stone labs resting firmly on the columns below.

Within the vestibule and at the far end of the shrine room is a large sedant Buddha image in dhyani posture (meditation) seate don the vajrasana (adamantine throne), with four other standing images flanking the main image, two on each side. The main Buddha image sits under a makara torana. It looks as though of tarnished bronze but as it has been palstered and painted ver its structure is uncertain. The four standing Buddhas with right hand raised in vitarka posture (discourse), and all with siraspata (lyre-shaped aura) on their heads, are on his flanks: two in a recess on either side of the sedant image and facing forwards, and two slightly taller ones farther forward against the side walls, and facing each other. These two are of the same date as the main sedant image, while the ones behind it are probably of more recent origine.

On the right is the devale dedicated to the deity Devi-raja or god-king Upulvan. After the 14th century, Upulvan became identified with Vishnu. The devale faces south, and has its own entrance doorway across the mandapa (open hall) on the opposite side. Both the patima ghara or shrine-room and the devale share the same mandapa.

The 2nd and 3rd storeys of the building are non-fonctional and serve merely as a flat roof supporting the sikhara and the dome of the devale. The roof may be reached from outside the building by way of a stone stairwy. The dome of the sikhara is octogonal in external appearnce and has an east entrance (now barred) into a hollow interior which used to contain a sedant Buddha believed to have been destroyed by the Portugueses. The dome over the devale is the smaller of the two, with four facets and four false entrances or recesses. Both domes today terminate in finials. From the sixteenth century onwards the shrine lay in desolation up to the time of Saranankara Thera, the author of the Buddhist renaissance.

There are numerous references to paintings in the inscriptions of the period but these have since been replaced by others when whitewashing and plastering work was carried out in the reign of Parakramabahu VI and in the eighteenth century. There however remains of paintings on the dome of the sikhara, which may be contemporary with the original construction of the shrine. The gift of the white elephant by King Vessantara may be identified from the outlines as are now available.

Drummers’ hall

The building on the left is the drummers’hall, an unprepossessing structure, while further forward and to the right of the temple is another building with Kandyan-style verandah pillars functioning as a second devale.

The stupa or Vijayotpaya

GADALADENIYA
Pic. Prasanna Upajeewa

By the side of the vihara is a dagoba built on the rock. According to tradition, Parakramabahu V, who followed Bhuvenakabahu IV to the throne at Gampola, constructed a roof over this dagoba as a means of protection against the weather with the aid of four pillars. Poularly it is called Vijayotpaya after the mythical palace of Indra. The present roof is probably of the Kandyan period or perhaps even later. The Vijayotpaya is a solid cube of stone with the covered stupa atop it. Its four sides have been recessed to accomodate four Buddha images. These recesses have been converted into shrine rooms by the erection of side walls and a roof. On either side of each projection is an elephant head (and fore-legs) making eight in all, while the roof over each shrine room bears a small stupa. Altogether a most unusual arrangement for a stupa.

A wooden tiled roof has been added in recent times to the flat granite roof of each shrine room.

Opposite the devale entrance is a stone inscription cut on the rock face, but quite a part of it has been deliberately obliterated by vandals.

Gadaladeniya remains a fascinating historical site by its architectural significance as reflecting Hindu-Buddhist conflations of the 14th century, and as the temple was home to the famous Theravada bhikkhu, Ven. Dharmakirti, a veritable spokeperson of orthodoxy, who vociferously critiqued the worship od deities in Theravada tradition during that time.
In addition to the various Hindu and Buddhist motifs found within its design, the pillars holding up the canopy over the main entrance contain descending mythic scenes of Krishna, Natharaja (Siva), and Parvati on one side, and descending anaconic (nonanthropomorphic) references to a bird, a lotus blossom, an another floral design on the other (« Buddhist ») side.

References in our Library:

Holt, John Clifford (1991). Buddha in the Crown. New York: Oxford University Press.
Holt, John Clifford, Editor (2011). The Sri Lanka Reader.Durham and London: Duke University Press.
Mudyanse, Nandasena (1965). The Art and Architecture of the Gampola Period. Colombo: M. D. Gunasena.
Mudyanse, Nandasena (1967). Mahayana Monuments in Ceylon. Colombo: M. D . Gunasena.
Seneviratne, Anuradha (1983). Kandy. Colombo: Central Cultural Fund.
Weerekoon, Lloyd (1990). Raja Maha Viharas of Kandy. Colombo.

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Suriyakantha Center for Art & Culture