Seven Wonders of Buduruwagala [3]

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primary root main first article It was late in evening when we reached the Buduruwayaya rock and archaeology site.. In the fast fading twilight, amongst the last songs of the birds, seven figures stood silent and still – in deep meditation. It seemed not to make a difference to them whether it was dark or light morning or night, sun or rain. For a minute your imagination tells you that they may now relax, shift a leg or hand or turn their heads.

Yet for a thousand years and more they had not moved. From the auspicious day they were released from the living rock by a long forgotten unnamed craftsmen. A craftsman who may have worked endless hours in front of each figure as he lovingly and laboriously chiseled each image to near life. Would he have hung down from the top of the rock from a rope made of deer skin ? Or would he have climbed up a ladder made of dry wood collected from the jungle? we could not help debate. Would he have ever imagined that his work would stand the test of time to be admired in such a distant future by pilgrims and tourist who possibly may take back with them a snap shot to be preserved in their family albums. Would he have ever imagined that his work would be marveled, studied and debated by world famous scholars?.

The seven colossal figures sculptured in bas relief on to the rock face of Buduruwagala in the jungles of Wellavaya – Monaragala district, is a source of controversy and debate. Perhaps it is because Sri Lanka is considered itself the home of Theravada Buddhisit doctrine. And these sculpture show strong influence of the Mahayana school.

In the centre rises a Buddha image 15 ½ metres in height and considered by Professor Paranvitana as an image most probably of the Dipankara Buddha. The image is taller than the Avukana or the Sesuruwa images. The image is attended on either side by two Bodhisattva images each 12 metres in height. The Bodhisatvas in turn are shown with two attendants, one male and one female.

The Buduruwagala Buddha image is unique in that it is only one which is flanked by attendant figures carved on the same rock. The Buddha image emanates a strange aura of reverence. The abhaya mudra is expressed by the half raised right hand turned forward., while the half raised left hand is turned towards the body with bent fingers show the kataka mudra. and holds the robe, thus preventing it from touching the ground.

According to art scholars the Buduruwagala Buddha image is of special significance because it belongs to the Pallawa- Sri Lankan tradition of Buddhist art. The Bodhisatva – or aspirant Buddha in the group on the Buddha’s right is taken to be that of Avalokitesvara, “the God who looks down from on high”, the favorite Bodhisattva of the Mahayanists.

This 12 metre figure in half relief on the rock surface at Buduruwagala is said to be the largest of the samabhanga (erect) standing image of Avalokitesvara found in Sri Lanka.

The face expresses a feeling of contemplation and majesty. The slightly raised hands depict the kataka mudra.

His dress has been described as being bare in its upper section, with the lower portion draped in a garb. The lower garment with frills on both sides falls as far as the calf. Another dress is worn over it to partly cover the thighs. The border of this dress carries frills. The waist band contains several strands is worn round the waist. The turban band also bears several strands and the crown of the head bears a turban.

He is identified as the God Natha and is said to represent the influence of Hindu pantheism in Sri Lanka. Several names like Siva Natha, Brahma Natha, Vishnu Natha, have been ascribed to him. Originally, the figure had been plastered in white, most of which still remains.

To the left hand of the Avalokitesvara figure is the bare breasted and sensuous figure of the Tantric goddess, Tara wearing a tall head dress. Tara is the consort, shakti or spiritual wife of Avaloktesvara.

Tara in tribanga posture expresses the kataka mudra with her half raised right hand. The left hand dropping in a downward direction carries the pot of Ambrosia. The dhoty over the lower body stretches up to the calf. Upper body is bare. No ornaments are worn. The head bears a turban and crown.

This image done in post Pallava style in half relief is said to be the largest Tara image discovered in Sri Lanka

The figure on the other side of Avalokitesvara had been identified by professor Paranavitana as Sudhanakumara.

In the group of figures on the left hand of the Buddha statue, the central figure is the Bodhisatva Vajrapani or Maitriya the future Buddha.

The figure is of quirt majesty. His samabhanga (erect) posture is adorned with royal costumes and ornaments. Scholars have identified a crown on his head and the ears bearing makara earrings , necklaces round the neck and bangles on the hand.

The details of his elaborate head dress have been analyzed by scholars to resemble the ornamental motifs found on the capitals of the stone pillars of the late Anuradhapura period. The ornaments on the body and delineations of dress at the waist and hips are said to be strongly reminiscent of the similar carvings on the naga raja guard stones of the late Anuradhapura period.

The thunder bolt which should have been in the hand of Vajrapani is available in the right hand of the figure on his left.

The attended figures of Vajrapani have not been identified.

There is a controversy with regard to the dating of these images. Professor Paranavitana supports that the images belongs to the 6th century. However Professor Dohanian assigns them to the 9th century. And some other scholars assign these sculptures to different periods and to the 10th century A.D. What ever the controversies and opinions on their purpose, date and style which veil its original mission the Buduruwagala images stand steadfastly staring into the future a triad in Buddhist iconography.

How Brohier rediscovered it

The year was 1926. Dr. R.L. Brohier describes how he stumbled upon the forgotten relics of Buduruwagala in his book ‘Discovering Ceylon’.

He writes; “One evening while lolling in an easy chair in the verandah of the Wellavaya Rest House – when it was too dark to read, yet too early to call for lights, I was disturbed by a faint footfall. A short swarthy, half clad body broke away from the surrounding gloom and Suduhamy stood before me.

‘What brings you good man?’ I inquired . Raising his hand in the mouse-gesture, I heard him say: ‘Nikan awa, (which interpreted means “I just came”) ….. but will the gentleman go to Buduruwagala this time’ Knowing where my tastes incline Suduhamy had on a couple of occasions earlier commented briefly on some figure carvings on a rocky escarpment, deep in the forests which stand off from the main roads radiating from Wellawaya. He had fired enthusiasm by suggesting that few people other than trackers and village huntsman had seen them. Apparently as the monuments were evocative of religious history they had named the spot Buduragala.

This was how my first excursion to Buduragala came to be arranged.

…. 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”.

Dr. Brohier was the first person to rediscover Buduruwagala and to have brought to the notice of the Archeological Department at that time headed by Dr. Senarath Paranavitane.

Thankfully Budurawagala seems to still retain a bit of the forest and mountain scenery, even though it may not be anything like what was described by Dr. Brohier. Today a motorable road from Wellawaya leads almost to the foot of the rock The Buduruwagala tank is restored and makes a refreshing break to the dry country. And at all times the the environs ring with bird calls.

Text by Kishanie S. Fernando
Daily Mirror,March 12, 2007

Also See

  • List of Ancient Heritage Sites of Sri Lanka

Map of Buduruwagala Buddha Statue

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Driving Directions To Buduruwagala Temple –  Sri Lanka

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