Having got off a rickety bus at a dusty junction of Buduruwagala, a fertile farming village near Wellawaya in an awe-inspiring mountain range of Uva province, I tried to find my way to Buduruwagala rock carvings, on a rock which seems to have the shape of an elephant, with sculptured seven colossal figures in the jungle
Questions were not meant to reach the place as it is a popular tourist destination in Sri Lanka. The travel and photographic books regularly featured the splendour of Buduruwagala and perhaps, is the most photographed site in the island. Eventually, I met an old man, who, with a half smile, pointed me in the direction of the beaten track of Buduruwagala which led me to the unexpected ornate wonder.
I always preferred to explore the ancient sites for myself and photograph them. Thinking of the ancient glory, I walked along the dusty road to Buduruwagala drinking in the beauty of the rural community of the area, flanked by lush green paddyfields, farmer’s huts as well as some modern houses due to commercialisation.
The area is filled with lush vegetations and the breath-taking mountains and landscape of the Buduruwagala mountain range. When you enter the forest area, suddenly, the placid lake of Buduruwagala, is dramatically revealed through a dark arch of forest canopy.
The skeleton of dead trees stand majestically and the varieties of birds nests on the trees in the tank give serenity to the environment. 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, halk-eagles, ebbs, white-bellied sea eagles, and waterfowls. When the drought prevails in the area, herds of elephants can be spotted in the vicinity of the Buduruwagala tank.
Passing the tank I enter the area of the temple premises of Buduruwagala, the meditating centre and resting place built by the Tourist Board. Adjoining is the car park where travellers have to park their vehicles and walk to the site.
As shown in the directions to the site, I walked about 200 metres under the forest canopy and suddenly through the trees I glimpse the huge elephant like rock boulder with carvings. During my short stay at the Buduruwagala shrine, I experienced a salubrious and serene atmosphere which is truly breathtaking.
I saw several pilgrims visit the place as groups and rest under huge trees for a while, probably, they may have felt like mediating and resting their minds, at this place.
Here I 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 in the centre is a 51 feet height statue, perhaps the tallest in Sri Lanka and has been carved out of the 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 Bodhisatwa Awalokethishwara and his consorts
These Bodhisatwa images have been found elsewhere such as in Situlpahuwa and Weligama in the deep South and believed to be images of the remarkable creations of Mahayanists of Ruhuna. There is a deep dent in the middle of the rock close to the Buddha image, which is in the shape of a huge clay lamp and it is believed that the oil leaks from the rock cavity.
A middle aged person in the temple told me that when he was a small boy he had seen oil leaking from the rock cavity and used to anoint his head with the oil. At present, the oil is not leaking and the only evidence is that the place looks like a blackish spot.
Observing these figures I understood that ancient sculptors had used plaster to cover the stone images to achieve a more refined artistic value to the carvings. Even today, if you look at a Bodhisatwa Avalokiteswara statue, at the right hand of the Buddha image, you can notice the portion of white plaster in the stone image, as well as scanty pieces of plaster on the main Buddha statue.
Seeing these gallery of stone carvings in the isolated rock in a silent forest I was impressed not only by the the serene beauty of the images but also the enchanting greenery of the verdant jungle, the clear waters and shadows of dead trees at Buduruwagala tank.