Rocky Marvel at Buduruvagala | Daily News

Rocky Marvel at Buduruvagala

Rock reliefs at Buduruwagala site.
Rock reliefs at Buduruwagala site.

Tucked away in a serene jungle terrain just 6.4 km southeast of Wellawaya in Monaragala District is an archaeological site which is known to Buddhists in Sri Lanka as ‘Buduruvagala’. The name of this place is derived from the words - for Buddha ‘budu’, for images ‘ruva’ and for rock ‘gala’ thus meaning it in English ‘The rock with Buddha images’. If you travel on Thissamaharama – Wellawaya Road, a signage board with images can be seen on the wayside directing you to this ancient place.

Back then, it was entirely covered in dense forest with no access path until it was later discovered. If you have read the book Discovering Ceylon by R. L. Brohier you might have come across this paragraph in it, which says that it was Brohier who had discovered this hidden location for the first time and brought it to the notice of the then Archaeological Department.

“..…There was no pathway, and Suduhamy was at his best. We explored game paths, waded streams; at one moment we were within the cool sanctuary of the forest, at the next sweltering across open grasslands or scrambling over the heated surface of large slabs of weather worn rock. At length rounding the corner of a precipitous crag, we beheld the object of our search.”

That was in those days, and now there is a newly constructed road to get to this historical place without any difficulty. It has become one of the important places visited by locals as well as foreigners. While passing one or two villages the first thing that we come across is a beautiful tank, Buduruwagala tank as called by the villagers living around here. It is indeed an enchanting naturally formed water body filled with crystal clear water adding some beauty to the area. The tank is home to egrets, herons and many other birds.

There was a group of local visitors there at the time I arrived at the site. The entire surroundings look somewhat isolated but pleasant and tranquil. Except on special days, this seems to be a less-visited place as it is located off the beaten track. The path to the site beyond has been cleared and there is a vehicle park as well for the visitors to park their vehicles. Opposite the park is the newly constructed temple complex. The place is situated in an idyllic natural setting surrounded by huge tall trees around.

There are about 120 metres to the site from the vehicle park, and when I got closer, in front of me was a massive cliff decorated in high relief with several figures – seven in number. At the first sight of the largest one on the rock surface, I was reminded of the stone reliefs at Awkana and Sasseruva. However, this cannot be compared with any of them.

The standing Buddha image sculptured into the face of the rock is colossal, much higher than those two, and perhaps the tallest rock-cut figure in the island. Earlier the tallest standing Buddha statue of this type in the world was the Bamiyan statue in Afghanistan until its destruction by Taliban terrorists in March 2001, and now this Buduruwagala statue, measuring 51 ft from head to toe is considered the tallest in the world.

The centre Buddha statue which is in the Abhaya mudra gesture is flanked by two other statues, each about 40 ft. in height. These two figures are again flanked by two other figures – one female and the other male. If we have a closer look at the tallest figure it still has most of the plaster and some paint applied to it. The faint orange hue on it suggests that the carvings had been originally painted. There are also some square niches on the rock surface suggesting that there was a shelter to protect the reliefs from all bad weather conditions.

Sri Lankan scholars have expressed different views on the rock sculptures at Buduruvagala. According to Prof. Senarath Paranavithana, the centre Buddha statue on the left is thought to be that of Mahayana Buddhist figure Avalokthesswara Bodhisatva. The bare breasted female figure carved in thivanka position and wearing a tall headdress on the right to this is thought to be Thara Devi, the spiritual consort of Avaloktheeswara Bodhisatva and the other male figure may be their son, Prince Sudhana.

Carved to the left hand side of the Buddha is a figure thought to be that of Maithree Bodhisatva, the Buddha-to-be. To the left stands Vajirapani Bodhisatva, who holds a vajira – an hourglass shaped thunderbolt symbol. The figure on the right is thought to be either Vishnu or Sahampath Brahma.

However, there is controversy over Buduruvagala stone reliefs. Not much is known about them save for the facts mentioned here as no mention has been made about them in the historical records. The carvings are believed to date back to 9th or 10th Century BC and belong to Mahayana tradition of Buddhism, and are manifestations of pallawa-Sri Lankan art tradition.

An ancient stupa has been uncovered here, and perhaps, there could be some more hidden yet to be unearthed here. The general belief is that the site had existed as a retreat for the Mahayana Buddhist monks.

The Buddha statues chiselled into the hard rock showcase in no uncertain terms the prominent place given to Buddhism in the country then, the unique craftsmanship of the ancients and also the proud history of the island nation. Though centuries old, they stand the test of time, and indeed, ‘Buduruvagala’ is an ideal place well worth having a visit.

(Written after a visit to Buduruvagala site).



Add new comment