Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Dambulla Facts: About Dambulla, Sri Lanka

Buddha Statue in Dambulla Cave, Sri Lanka

The recorded history of the Dambulla Caves goes back over two thousand years to the time of King Valagama (ruled 103 BC and again 89 BC – 77 BC). The king sort refuge amongst the monks living in these caves when he was ousted from power in 103 BC by South Indian marauders who invaded the country. After a gruelling 14 year campaign Valagama finally regained control and in thanksgiving built the original vihara on this site. Since then the site has evolved organically into its present state.

The beauty of the cave temple is its setting into five huge caverns high on a mountainside. Inside are 153 Buddha statues in various reposes, three statues of ancient kings, and four other statues including those of Vishnu and Ganesh. The eyes on some of the statues are interesting. The ceiling and walls have been painted and repainted over the centuries by the resident monks and contain some interesting juxtapose of imagery including those of royal life. 

See if you can spot the somewhat risqué scene in one of the large murals. It is a scene of a king holding court. But if you peer through the doorway in the painting you will see a couple indulging in some intimacy.

Since the ancient site is located on a mountainside there is a rather strenuous climb to the top. Photography is allowed but don’t offend local sensibility by posing with the statues. There is an entrance fee to enter the site.

I found the modern additions at the base of the hill a bit garish and lacking finesse.

Senani Ponnamperuma

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Pidurangala Facts: About Pidurangala, Sri Lanka

Sigiriya as seen from the top of Pidurangala Rock

Located to the north of Sigiriya, Pidurangala is often overlooked. This site has an interesting history closely related to Sigiriya. The site has been occupied on and off for over two thousand years by monks who lived in the caves around the site. It really came into the fore when King Kasyapa (477- 495 AD) who built Sigiriya moved monks living around Sigiriya to a newly refurbished and enlarged monastery here.

There is a small entrance fee to enter the main site. The white temple building was built in the 1930s but houses within it is a cave temple dating back thousands of years. It has objects from various vintages juxtaposed within it reflecting Buddhist, Hindu and even western influences.

The climb to the summit can be broken up into two stages. The first stage has very steep irregular steps leading to a landing. This stage is strenuous but doable by reasonably fit people. (If you climbed Sigiriya you can climb this). On this first landing is located shallow cave with a beautiful statute of a recumbent Buddha inside. This statue was at one time the largest brick statue of Buddha in the world. The head and torso of the statue were damaged by treasure hunters in the 1960s and have been reconstructed.

Reclining Buddha Pidurangala, Sri Lanka

The second stage of the climb starts at the far end of this landing and should only be attempted by those who are reasonably fit and not over-weight. Your size and fitness becomes an issue here because you have clamber up steep boulders and creep through very tight crevices. Once you finally reach the top you will be welcomed by a magnificent vista similar to that on the top of Sigiriya. From almost anywhere Sigiriya looms majestically. You can even see the people climbing Sigiriya. On the top are the nondescript ruins of a dagoba.

The stupa on the left near the entrance to the vihara is believed to mark the spot where King Kasyapa was cremated. 

Stupa, Pidurangala, Sri Lanka