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Sunday, 21 September 2014

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Breathtaking Buduruwagala rock carvings - an ornate wonder

When you enter the forest area, suddenly the placid lake of Buduruwagala is dramatically revealed through a dark arch of a forest canopy. The white skeletons of dead trees which still stand and the variety of birdsí nests on the trees in the tank instil a sense of serenity to the moment.


The Buduruwagala rock depicting a gallery of rock carvings

The water, with its shallow marshy tracts is the perfect feeding and wading habitat for a wide variety of birds. Some of the birds that can be spotted are cormorants, serpent-eagles and ebbs. When the drought prevails in the area, herds of elephants can be spotted in the vicinity of the Buduruwagala tank.

Having turned off to the left from the Wellawaya town, on the A-4 highway which runs to Thanamalwila, Jagath Sirisena, my friend and Range Forest Officer of Moneragala and I were on our third and final leg of our Moneragale tour which was Buduruwagala. We travelled about five kilometres on the Thanamalwila road and turned off to the left at a dusty junction in Buduruwagala, a farming village near Wellawaya in the awe-inspiring mountain range of the Uva Province. From here we tried to find our way to the Buduruwagala rock carvings.

The Buduruwagala rock, a popular tourist destination in Sri Lanka which is featured in all its splendour in travel and photography books, seemed to have the shape of an elephant, with seven sculptured colossal figures in the heart of the jungle. It is possibly one of the most photographed sites in the country.


A Buddha statue

Eventually, we met an old man who, with a wry smile, pointed to us the direction of the beaten track to Buduruwagala, which led us to the unexpected, ornate wonder. I prefer to explore ancient sites by myself and let my thoughts stray thinking about the ancient glory. My friend and I walked along the dusty road to Buduruwagala, drinking in the beauty of the rural community of the area, flanked by drought-stricken paddy fields and farmersí huts as well as some modern houses, inevitable developments due to commercialisation and increase in population.

All around us was lush vegetation and the breathtaking landscape of the Buduruwagala mountain range was attention-grabbing.

As shown in the directions to the site, We walked about 200 meters under the forest canopy and suddenly, through the trees, we glimpsed the huge, elephant-like rock boulder with carvings. During our stay at the Buduruwagala shrine, we experienced a salubrious and serene atmosphere, which was truly breathtaking. I saw several visitors rest under huge trees for a while; they may have probably felt like meditating and resting their minds at this place.

Here we saw a unique assembly of seven figures in high relief, depicting the highly developed artistic skills of 8th or 9th Century sculptors.

The colossal Buddha statue in the centre is 51 feet tall, perhaps the tallest in Sri Lanka, and is carved out of the living rock.

It is flanked on both sides by two groups of three figures. Archaeologists believe that this Buddha is a reproduction of the Dipankara Buddha and the other figures are Bodhisatva Awalokethishwara and his consorts.

These Bodhisattva images have been found elsewhere such as Maligawila, Sithulpahuwa and Weligama in the deep South and are believed to be images of the remarkable creations of the Mahayanists of Ruhuna.

There is a deep dent in the middle of the rock close to the bottom of the Buddha image, which is in the shape of a huge clay lamp and it is believed that oil leaks from the rock cavity.


Buduruwagala rock carvings

A middle-aged person in the Buduruwagala village said that when he was a small boy, he had seen oil leaking from the rock cavity and that he used to anoint his head with oil.

At present, the re is no oil leak and the only evidence of oil having leaked from the spot before is a discolouration. The area is still blackish in colour.

Observing the carvings, we understood that ancient sculptors had used white plaster to cover the stone images to achieve a more refined and artistic value to the carvings. Even today, looking at the Bodhisatva image at the right side of the Buddha image, one notices a portion of white plaster in the stone image, as well as a scanty piece of plaster on the main Buddha statue.

Seeing the gallery of stone carvings on the isolated rock in a silent forest, we were impressed not only by the serene beauty of the images but also the enchanting greenery of the verdant jungle, the waters and shadows of dead trees at the Buduruwagala tank.

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