Sunday, 11 August 2013


<%on error resume next%> Rich tapestry of Buddhist heritage
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Buddama cave temple :

Rich tapestry of Buddhist heritage

Sri Lanka is a land of several kingdoms, there is a temple ruin in almost every corner of the island. These temples have either been built by kings or princes. They speak of a glorious past, when they were at one time the capital of the dynasty. Now these temples are left to wrack and ruin and waiting to tell their sad tale to whoever who will give them a patient hearing. We happened to stop at one of these glorious sites in Siyabalanduwa recently.

Front view of the Buddama cave temple

Entrance to the image house decorated with Makara Thorana

Our destination was the historic Buddama cave temple in Siyabalanduwa. To visit the Buddama temple, Jagath Sirisena, a Range Forest Officer from Moneragala who is a young and avid forest conservator whose forest coverage expands to Buddama, accompanied us on our journey with a detailed background of the area.

The rays of the sun streamed out from the clouds as our bike slowly made its way to the outskirts of the city. Instead of taking the main road, Jagath said that we should take the Mari Arava-Ritigahawatta secondary road to reach Buddama which is the shortest way to the site.

We rode down the Mari Arava-Ritigahawatta road, past maize, peanut and cow-pea fields, turned right at Ritigahawatta junction and rode through another 10 kilometres of picturesque rural Uva-Wellasa to get to Buddama. This region, which in the past was marked by battle grounds and was home to Sinhalese villagers who had fought against the British rule in the 1818 Uva-Wellassa rebellion.

Buddama is a sleepy village bordering the Gal Oya National Park, covering many peaks, mountains and reservoirs such as Wadinagala, Degal Hela, Govinda Hela, Buddama Hela, Ul Hela, Muthukandiya reservoir and Meeyagala mountain range from the North. Chena cultivation is the main livelihood of the people of Buddama and the region is roaming ground for wild elephants, illegal loggers and treasure hunters who ravage the remains of temples and forest reserves scattered over the mountains.

Having travelled a rickety ride of 40 kilometres from Moneragala, we reached Buddama. The historic Buddama cave temple towered majestically to our right, on the foothills of Buddama Hela. We seem to have come at a bad time-nobody was there and the temple was closed.

As we sat under a shady tree in the temple premises, two people came from the direction of the chief incumbent's abode. One of them was Jayasuriya Banda, a secretary of the devotees society of the temple. He said the Bhikkhu was out on official work, but that Jayasuriya was able to speak to them.

Jayasuriya took us around and explained every nook and cranny of the Buddama temple. He first took us to the main rock cave of the temple. It is a drip-ledge cave not much in height and is a repository of Kandyan art. The entrance to the cave is decorated with the magnificent Makara Thorana built by using clay and painted colours flank by mythical deities and lion figures which had been painted in colour in the past now lie discoloured. Entering the dimly-lit main chamber, we had glimpses of a magnificent reclining Buddha statue belonging to the Kandyan period and several small crossed-legged Buddha statues which have also lost their discolour. The main Buddha Statue was believed to have been constructed by King Rajadhi Rajasinghe of Kandy. The rock ceiling of the cave is decorated with beautiful floral designs and the murals on the walls are a rich tapestry of Buddhist Jathaka stories, showcasing scenes from the Buddha's life. Jayasuriya said that the main reclining Buddha statue has been damaged beyond recognition by treasure hunters in several occasion was saddened by the fate that had befallen this statue.

The reclining Buddha statue of the Kandyan period

Will these murals be preserved for future generations?

At present they are so dilapidated that some of the paintings and statues are discoloured and left to the mercy of the elements. The painting do not have a professional approach.

The brush strokes and applying ink clearly show that it is the work of novices. However, we found the same paintings in a small image house in Udaganava temple in Buttala which had the same style as those at paintings as the Buddama temple. It can be concluded that these paintings were a modified form of Kandyan style which had spread around Moneragala.

A new approach to education had begun countrywide with the central point being the village temple. This idea was spearheaded by Ven. Welivita Saranankara Thera during the Kandyan period. In ancient times, to practice writing letters and basic educational activities the Vellipeella (the long narrow clay box strewn with sand) was used by monks to teach pupils.

Archaeological evidence is scant regarding the Vellipeella in Sri Lanka. However, the largest Vellipeela is reportedly found in the Buddama Temple.

Jayasuriya then took us to the Vellipeela in the Buddama cave temple which lies in between two rocks, just a few metres away from the main rock cave. It is 18 feet long and two feet in height this Vellipeella is a unique feature of the temple.

Seeing the Vellipeela we wondered what hardship pupils in the past must have undergone to become scholars unlike today when everything comes at a push of a button.

The reclining Buddha statue of the Kandyan period

The longest Welipille in the temple premises

Pointing towards the rocky mountain, Jayasuriya said that the temple comprising more than 20 caves in the vicinity of the mountain had been a vocational training centre for local craftsmen before it became a monastery, after the advent of Buddhism during the Anuradhapura period.

The early Brahmi inscriptions found in the temple showed that the cave was a donation to Bhikkhus by a teacher named Gupta, a grandson of the village councillor, Vasabha and son of Sumana in the 3rd century AD. Although structures of the temple have been renovated from time to time, the temple is attributed to King Rajadhi Rajasinghe of Kandy.


Uva Viharavansa, a chronicle on historic temples in the Uva Province describes places of Buddhist worship in Buddama even before the advent of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

It was one of the early settlements in the country. The chronicle says that Robert Knox who spent many years in the country as a prisoner of the Kandyan kingdom visited the Buddama cave temple.

History has it that Ven. Nape Buddharakkita Thera, a resident bhikkhu of the Buddama cave temple, was one of the leaders of the 1818 rebellion against British rule.

Jayasuriya Banda said that the present chief incumbent of the temple is Ven. Panamyaye Rathanasara Thera and that maintenance work or constructing new buildings without permission from the Archaeological Department was prohibited and that the villagers and because of the prohibition bhikkhus are obliged to turn a blind eye to the deteriorating state of the temple.

He pointed out that treasure hunters caused extensive damage to the statues and roof leaks resulted in further damage to the ancient murals.

A large number of pilgrims come to see the cave temple, but there are no proper sanitary facilities for visitors. Children from five villagers attend the Dhamma School.

They study under trees as there are no proper buildings. Basic facilities are sadly lacking.

Even pilgrims find it difficult after a trying trek upto the cave temple. We then sat down to enjoy the light afternoon breeze blowing across Buddama village which bears testimony to our rich heritage.

"The Buddama cave temple must be conserved for posterity," Jayasuriya Banda said.

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