The name Buduruwagala literally means ‘stone images of the Buddha’. The site consists of seven magnificent east-facing figures carved out of a sheer rock face, the outline of which is believed to resemble a kneeling elephant. The images, estimated to have been constructed in the 10th century during the reign of King Walagamba, are located within a rocky clearing of magical dry zone forests that is inhabited by colourful birds and butterflies.
The central figure of the seven images is the Buddha. At 15m, this Buddha is the tallest statue in Sri Lanka, higher even than the ones at Aukana and nearby Maligawila. The statue depicts the Buddha in abhaya mudra position, standing with the right hand raised, palm facing outwards. This pose is interpreted as the posture of “kindness and freedom from fear”. The left hand, broken at the fingers, is curled towards his shoulder.
The statue of the Buddha is quite deeply and clearly carved and has aged well, though the nose has been damaged over time. On the left side you will notice white and orange on the robes that suggest this statue, like the others here, would once have been painted. The Buddha stands on a platform. On either side are two groups of three figures that represent a Bodhisattva (a Buddha-to-be) flanked by two attendants.
The central figure in the group to the Buddha’s right is Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. This statue remains nearly all white while the halo around his crown, which features a figure of the Buddha in meditation, still retains its orange glow. In Buddhist mythology. Avalokitesvara, one of the most important Bodhisattvas in Mahayana Buddhism, was said to look upon the world with compassion. The hands are held upright and the lower body is decorated with ornamental robes.
The figure to the right is Prince Sudhana, possibly the least well-defined of the three. The image is carved in the thrice-bent posture, a position where the body looks curved at the waist. His power is his ability to guide the young onto the path of good behaviour.
To the left of the Bodhisattva, also in the thrice-bent posture, is the figure of Aryathara or Tara Devi, who is believed to be able to prevent natural disasters and protect children.
On the Buddha’s left-hand side there is a larger gap leading to three figures that display a more Hindu style. The central figure is the Buddha yet to come, Maithri Bodhisattva, which is quite elaborately ornamented.
To the left of the Bodhisattva is Vajrapani or god Sacra. The left hand and robes are barely visible, though the hourglass-shaped Tibetan thunderbolt symbol, the dorje, which he clearly holds in his right hand, is significant and unusual. Its presence has helped to put a date to these statues, since this Tantric symbol indicates an influence of the Mahayana sect of Buddhism that enjoyed brief influence in Sri Lanka during the 10th century.
The figure on the right is sometimes named as Vishnu, but more often is said to represent Sahampath Brahma. The hands are missing and the lower part of his body has weathered considerably. Above the seven figures, notably in the Buddha, you will notice little square-cut holes in the rock. This suggests that the statues were originally canopied and protected from the elements.
Buduruwagala is a wonderfully meditative place and should not be missed on a visit to Wellawaya. It is located four kilometres along a beautiful rural road that is reached by a turn off from the Tanamalwila road just south of Wellawaya. There is a small temple by the the entrance and a picnic spot.
The light on the statues is best in the mornings.