Isurumuniya Viharaya – ඉසුරුමුණිය විහාරය – 2

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primary root main first articleWe had come out on the mighty bund, which curved its long green arm protectively round the dazzling blue waters of the Tissa Wewa . It was sundown ; the sky a riot of brilliant orange, pink, mauve and silver.

Directly below where we stood were two of Anuradhapuras’ most favored sites. The Isurumuniya Rock Temple said to be quite the loveliest spot in Anuradhapura and the Ran masu uyana or the gold fish park. Both sites possibly quite altered since its origins.

The Isurumuniya Rock Temple known as the Meghagiri Vihara, Meygiri vihara or the Vihara of the Cloud Mountain was the first repository of the Tooth Relic. One couldn’t have thought of a more appropriate place or a lovelier site to have honored and be the first sanctuary of this great relic.

The Isurumuniya temple nestles in a most picturesque setting. Much of the charm is due to the sheer rock boulders that form its backdrop and the little square pool in the foreground which is perpetually sustained by its neighboring Tissa wewa.

On the rock boulders are sculptured some of Lanka’s timeless masterpieces. A niche above the pool almost brings to life a relief of a male figure seated in the maha-raja lila or royal pose. His face expresses a reserved, a distinguished superiority. One wonders what he is thinking lost in such deep thought. Transfixed you can almost meet his mind in one poignant moment. But shy away from such responsibility for it is too much to bear too much beyond time and space. The handsome head of his horse is comforting enough, seen nuzzling lovingly over the right shoulder of the man. Scholars have variously identified him as that of Kapila, Parjanya and Aiyanayaka.

According to Ananda Coomaraswamy this sculpture represents Saint Kapila. The poet Laurence Binyon referring to this sculpture said in his letters “the rock carved Kapila is a tremendous work, impossible to forget when once seen”. To Raven-Hart, “Kapila was a proud, seated man who seems to have been in the rock all the time, so that the sculptor had only to release him.”

Prof. Senarat Paranavitana identifies him with the Rain-God-Parjanya and the horse as fire. He uses this sculpture to say that the site was also the place where the rain making ceremonies were carried out and where rituals were performed in order to propitiate the Rain-God-Parjanya for rain.

In that same living rock are carved a series of frolicking elephants in very low relief down by the waters edge. Elephants seem to be descending into the pond to enjoy its cool waters. A ‘disneyesque’ group of elephants, with swinging trunks and tails – the the natural shape of the rock creating a three dimensional effect.

“The artist has been very successful in rendering the sagacious look of the beast. Rarely has the elephant been represented in art in a manner truer to nature then in this relief,” writes Dr. Paranavitana. The figures of elephants above the pond also suggest the representation of clouds.

These sculptures show the influence of South Indian Pallava sculptural art of the seventh century.

The archaeological museum in the premises also exhibits some valuable pieces of sculpture. The most distinguished amongst them is the 5th century Gupta style carving of ‘the lovers’ which is believed to have been found from the royal pleasure garden. Another exquisite stone sculpture has been interpreted to contain the royal court, or the royal family, while others identify the figure as that of Bodhisattva Maitreya in the Tusita heaven.. Amongst the other sculptors of note are the Kavata sculptures, Kuvera Triod, Sculptures of Kinnaras and figures of dwarves.

Next to the Isurumuni Rock Temple is the Ranmasu Uyana. Here too can be found some exclusive reliefs of elephants and a strange circular diagram.

According to Dr. Paranavitana, of Sinhalese architecture meant for secular purpose the most notable examples are found in this royal pleasure garden by the Tissa Wewa. It stands as a fine example of ancient Lanka’s garden architecture. The rocks and boulders scattered about are used effectively in designing the rock, pond and flower garden.
On the rock walls of two of the three rock baths found here are the bas relief’s of elephants sporting in a lotus pond. Here again the elephants are shown off in delightful moods. You could almost feel the joy in them as they gamboled in the waters

On one of the great rocks facing the bunds is the curious drawing scratched upon the stone showing a diagram circumscribed by two concentric circles. The larger of these has a diameter of 6’. In the square are at the centre are seven concentric circles.

The remaining of the space within the circles is divided into rectangles, each of which contains some symbols. Some call this a map of the universe and others call it a diagram or a Yantra.

The stupa and the Buddha image in this temple are of recent origin. But there are some caves which probably were used earlier but now have become a haven for bats.

by Kishanie S. Fernando
Daily Mirror, March 26, 2007

Also See

Driving Directions to Anuradhapura

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Isurumuniya Viharaya Map

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