Kathaluwa Purana Viharaya – කොග්ගල කතළුව පුරාණ විහාරය

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Kathaluwa Purana Viharaya

Kathaluwa Purana Viharaya

Koggala is a small coastal town, situated at the edge of a lagoon on the south coast of Sri Lanka know by all Sri Lankans as the birth place of the popular author Martin Wickramasinghe often acclaimed as the father of modern Sinhala literature. Koggala is a strip land surrounded by the Sea from the south and Koggala Lake from the north and the west.

Kathaluwa Ancient Temple is in fact two temples built at the same time only separated by an wall. These temples have been built in around 1820 on a land belonging to the same family. These temples are known as the “Kathaluwa Ranwella Purana Viharaya” and “Kathaluwa Giniwella Purana Viharaya”.

According to a news paper report these temples have been a single temple founded in the 19th century by Bulathgama Sri Sumanathissa Dhammalankara Thera. Later, the temples have been divided due to a dispute between Asgiri and Amarapura Chapters.

Bulathgama Siri Dammalankara Sumanatissa Thero

Bulathgama Siri Dammalankara Sumanatissa Thero

Sri Lanka’s oldest and the first Sinhala Buddhist printing press is one of the unique attractions in the Kathaluwa Ranwella Purana Viharaya. Buddhism and Buddhist values had considerably declined by the 19th century due to  hundreds of years of onslaught of Christianity and the prosecution of the Buddhists by the colonial rulers in the country.  In the mid 19th century a movement had emerged to revive Buddhism and was led by number of well educated Bikkus and laymen. It was during this era that this press was a donated by king Chulalongkorn (locally pronounced Chulalankara) of Siam (now Thailand) in 1860 to Bulathgama Siri Dammalankara Sumanatissa Thero.

The press imported from England had landed in Galle Port and was taken to Paramananda Viharaya in Galle. There after the press was used to print the country’s first Buddhist Publications “Lankalokaya” and the “Lakmini Pahana” till 1910. The first print of the Lankalokaya was printed on 10th September 1960 and  and the  Lakmini Pahana was started on 11th September 1862. The Lankalokaya was priced at six pence and was published on the 10th and the 24th of each month. The first editors of the press were Bulathgama Siri Dammalankara  thero and Dodanduwe Piyarathana Thero. Piyarathana Thero was also instrumental in opening the first Sinhala Buddhist school of the country “Dodanduwa Piyaratana Vidyalaya”  in 1869 in Dodanduwa.

The press was at Galle until the passing away of Bulathgama Siri Dammalankara  thero in 1891. Thereafter it has been moved to the  Kathaluwa Ranwella Purana Viharaya.

Over the past decades, authorities have asked permission to move the machine out to a museum to properly preserve it. However, repeated requests had been refused by the Chief Incumbents of the temple and the Dayaka Sabha. On some instances, the Dayaka Sabha had demanded exorbitant prices for the machine, which had prompted authorities to give up the endeavor.

According to locals, the rationale behind demanding such prices has precisely been to prevent authorities from attempting to take the machine away. The Dayaka Sabha has been worried that the printing press would not be given due prominence when it is exhibited in a museum and  wanted to exhibit the machine at the temple.

However, nothing constructive was done to exhibit the printing press in the temple until a fire destroyed the building in which the printing press had been housed in November 2012. The mystery still remains if this was due to a electrical short circuit or  due to  arson. This burned down press has been restored in 2014.

Octagonal image house at Kathaluwa Purana Viharaya

Octagonal image house at Kathaluwa Purana Viharaya

In addition to this historical printing press which played a significant role in the Buddhist revival in Ceylon, the image house of the temple is built in using the Thai architectural style.  This is a octagonal building with valuable murals. No  photography is allowed inside the temple for the protection of the murals.

Most of the murals are preserved in good condition. The costumes and traditions seen in the Kathaluwa murals closely resemble those of the Mulkirigala Temple. Within these murals there are two unique paintings. One of them depicts a group of European soldiers dressed in European attire carrying guns, taking part in a Buddhist procession at the bottom part of the wall. The other paining shows the body of Buddha being carried in a casket after Maha Parinirvana as never depicted anywhere else .

A mural of the body of Buddha being carried in a casket after Maha Parinirvana at the Octagonal image house at Kathaluwa Purana Viharaya

A mural of the body of Buddha being carried in a casket after Maha Parinirvana at the Octagonal image house at Kathaluwa Purana Viharaya

The “Nawamuni Seya” in the Giniwella Purana Viharaya too is a unique stupa. Nine smaller parivara stupas surrounds the main dagoba and it is said that this is the only such stupa in the country.

Kathaluwa Giniwella Nawamuni Seya

Kathaluwa Giniwella Nawamuni Seya
Photo by Nuwan Danush

In 2002/2004, three Dutch artists together with over 70 people from the area as well as the Buddhist clergy, started a project to draw murals depicting sacred Buddhist events on the temple walls. The paintings were a  mixture of classical Sri Lankan fine art and Western (Renaissance) techniques. All people involved in the project, including the Dutch artists, were working for over 6 months full-time on a voluntary basis and  project has been sponsored in kind (materials) by the Royal Netherlands Embassy.

Murals inside the octagonal image house at Kathaluwa Purana Viharaya

Murals inside the octagonal image house at Kathaluwa Purana Viharaya

These paintings drew controversy with time with some claiming that being inside the ancient temple, the Buddhist values were not considered in the murals for example; unrelated scantly dressed females playing non eastern musical instruments and completely naked figures  floating around the skies  during important Buddhist events such as Princess Hemamala who is seen bringing the Sacred Tooth Relic. While the finishing touches were being made, on 15th April 2oo4, vandals broke in to the building and defaced 85 of the 150 figures on the murals gouging out parts of the wall surface. Whether it was jealousy, politics or religious reasons that caused this attack was unknown and perpetrators were never identified.

Also See

Map of  Kathaluwa Purana Viharaya

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The map above also shows other places of interest within a approximately 20 km radius of the current site. Click on any of the markers and the info box to take you to information of these sites.

Zoom out the map to see more surrounding locations using the mouse scroll wheel or map controls.


Travel Directions to Kathaluwa Purana Viharaya

Route from Galle to Koggala Kathaluwa Purana Viharaya

Though : Koggala
Distance : 20 km
Travel time : 30-40  minutes
Driving directions : see on google map

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