Maniyangama -An Important Landmark of the Ancient Public Roadways
Strangely we were tracing an ancient road route in Sri Lanka on the 8th of August – the day when our island was crippled by a bus strike. Maniyangama’s historical and legendary identity extends from the early Anuradhapura period to the Medieval Kingdom of Sitawaka.
Sinhala archaic records mention that the ancient road links to Anuradhapura were connected to Maniyangama. During the Anuradhapura period, this important junction was known as Thambalagama.
Thus it was identified as an important milestone in ancient public roadways and road routes. The Kingdom of Sitawaka was established around the former Maniyangama. Even in the battles fought between the Kotte – Sitawake Kingdoms and the Portuguese, Maniyangama played an important part as it was a strategic military junction with easy access to Kaduwela, Hanwella, Raigama Kotte and Colombo. Our destination that day was the Maniyangama Raja Maha Viharaya.
A dramatic drive uphill brought us to the precincts of the Manaiyangama Raja Maha Viharaya. The road curved and snaked up through a canopy of thick green foliage. We parked our vehicle by the side of the temple. The temple was not yet opened. It gave us time to enjoy the temple architecture from the outside. Maniyangama Raja Maha Viharaya or the Gala Yata Viharaya was a delightfully positioned cave temple. A prominent drip ledge could be seen on the brow of the huge boulder that made the cave. No inscriptions have been found here.
A small pure white dagoba balanced on a rocky base stood at one end under the huge boulder that was the cave roof. The rest of the cave roof was utilized to tuck the shrine room and the old Kandyan period avasa ge (priest’s residence).
The architecture of this temple roof was different to that of the usual cave temples I had seen. Its typical Kandyan roofs that abutted the cave stood out in different lengths, heights and shapes giving it a superb three dimensional effect. The roof of the shrine room had two layers at different heights laced by a simple wooden barge board. In front of the shrine room was a long verandah standing on lean pillars. Two dressed granite pillars about 3 feet tall with flat tops in the shape of a leaf marked one of the entrances. The purpose of these were not clear.
The presiding priest offered to open the door of the shrine room for us. A striking makara torana framed the door to the inner shrine room which included a reclining Buddha statue, a standing Buddha statue and a figure of the guardian deity, God Vishnu. The mural paintings adorning the inner shrine room walls and ceiling date to the Kandyan period. of King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe. They were faded but pleasing to the eye. The rock ceiling was decorated with flower designs.
The priest told us of many acts of vandalism that had been perpetrated in the temple, even as recently as a few years back, by callous greedy treasure hunters. Sadly the damage though repaired by the Archaeological Department is obvious enough.
The origin of the Maniyangama Raja Maha Viharaya is believed to be from the early Anuradhapura period. Traditionally the cave shrine (like most other cave shrines) is attributed to King Valagamba of the 1st century BC, who is believed to have sheltered here during the time of the Cholan invasion. However, the recognition and prominence given to the vihara is attributed to King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe (1747 – 1781 AD ) of Kandy who restored and developed the vihara. It is recorded in a sannasa presented by King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe that this temple came to be designated as Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe Viharaya.
From 1766 AD during the reign of Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe here commenced an annual perahera called the Karal Perahera on Duruthu Full Moon Day in January. It is called the Karal perahera because it originated after the harvesting of the temple paddy lands at Andaragaha close to the temple. Karal here means the vee – karal or the paddy plant. During its early days, it was held under royal patronage. The chief patron of the pageant was the Lewke Wijesundara Rajakaruna Senaviratne who later became the Lewke Dissawe. Later he also functioned as the Basnayake Nilame at its annual perahera
Another interesting building belonging to the temple can be seen high on a hill to the side of the temple. This is the temple Dharmasalawa. Its typical Kandyan architecture, with three vaulted roofs culminating in a pinnacle and elevated setting, is ideally framed by a backdrop of blue-purple hills. We walked the short distance uphill. Inside, an octagonal pirith mandapaya makes up the centre. Several elegant stone pillars can also be seen. The hall is named Kirthi Dharmasalawa in immortal memory of King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe during whose reign it is believed to have been built.
Back to the temple where we discovered a path leading to a small rock pool. The path begins from the dagoba side of the cave and winds its way in and out of a rocky, boulder-littered wilderness. Sometimes you hear the gurgling of subterranean waterways and sometimes you see them above ground. It was a very short and easy walk through a natural rockscape. A miniature cave walk – a mild adventure – very enjoyable! The path led to a small natural rock pool. The water was clear like glass. It was not deep, its soft golden sandy bottom could be seen in contrast to the green around it. We dipped our feet in it and enjoyed the feeling of the icy cold water.
Maniyangama Raja Maha Viharaya is situated about 4 kilometres from Avissawella on the Avissawella- Panawala road.
Map of Maniyangama Raja Maha Viharaya
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 Maniyangama Raja Maha Viharaya
|Route from Colombo to Maniyangama Raja Maha Viharaya
|Through : Rajagiriya – Malabe – Kaduwela – Avissawella
Distance : 60
Travel time :1.5 hours
Driving directions : see on google map