Nillakgama Bodhigaraya – නිල්ලක්ගම බෝධිඝරය

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Nillaggama Bodhigharaya
Nillaggama Bodhigharaya
Photo courtesy of Dr. Ashan Geeganage

Nillakgama (Nil-lak-gama) Bodhigaraya is  the best preserved Bodhigara ( Bo-Tree house) in the country. This ancient piece of architecture,  built in the 8th or 9th Century, is completely built with granite and built in two levels. The outer level has been laid with granite sheets for the floor and there are indications that this has been a wooden roof. two exquisitely carved granite entrances provide access to this building.

From “The footprint of the Buddha” by E F C Ludowyk published in 1958 ;

Of the original enclosure for the Bodhi-tree-the Bodh-ghara at Anuradhapura nothing now survives. The tree, probably the oldest historical tree of which record is extant, is still there, surrounded by a modern structure of a distressing ugliness. Vogel writing more than twenty years ago commented on the difficulty at the present time of mediating between the claims of the zeal of the devout and the demands of an aesthetic sensibility It is pleasant to record in this connection the work of the Archaeological  Department of Ceylon; it has been noteworthy in the care of its restoration, and in resistance to the misguided enthusiasm so often accompanied by bad taste. What that ancient  Bodhi-Ghara must have looked like has recently been revealed in the beautiful restoration of the only one so far discovered in Ceylon-at Nillakgama in the Kurunegala district, not far from Galgamuwa and Maho.

This handsome example of eighth or ninth-century work, perhaps the site of one of the saplings of the original branch, demonstrates how strong and true both the architectural and sculptural traditions of the Sinhalese were. The square enclosure to which two entrances are provided -east and west is of moulded stone with a frieze of elephants running round the base at the level of the landing. The door-jambs and lintels are ornamented. Inside, on a raised platform in the center, also ornamented,  are lions carved on the vertical slabs which must have surrounded the tree. The four altars on the four sides indicate the presence of the specific object of worship.

As one comes upon this chaste and modest structure, not far from the village tank in the jungle its yellowish stone- an effect which its long burial underground may have produced- is the first intimation of its unusualness. The linear rhythm of the walls with their moulding and the coping is relieved by the sweep of the carving -the creeper on the door-way, the naga-king with
his multiple hoods, and the cherub bestriding a horse. The simple dignity of the lions on the vertical slabs of the upper platform is in keeping with the general restraint of the whole structure. The elaborate ornement of the door-frames is not felt co be excessive, it is held in poise by the gravity of the lines of the stone-faced wall and the upper platform.

Of this beautifully integrated work of art Dr Paranavitane writes: ‘In its ornamental character, the structure at Nillakgama is not surpassed by any other monument at the prasadas of Anuradhapura. No door-frames so elaborately ornamented as those at Nillakgama are known from any other site as early as the ninth century. A structure on which so much, of artistic effert was lavished must have been dedicated to an object of great religious veneration.

It is not impossible that the Bodhi-tree which stood at the centre of the upper platform was one believed to have sprung from the seeds of the Anuradhapura Bodhi-tree immediately after it was planted in the reign of Devmampiya Tissa ……….

Also See

Map of NillakgamaBodhigaraya

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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

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Travel Directions to NillakgamaBodhigaraya

Take the Moragollagama (Mora-gollaa-gama) road from the Galgamuwa in Kurunegala District and turn to Alupatha ( Alu-patha) road from the Gallewa ( Gal-lawa) junction. You will come across the Nitalewa School after travelling about 5 km. Passing the school you will come to the Hettigama (Hetti-gama) junction. from here turn towards NillakgamaBodhigaraya Road.

Route from Colombo to Nillakgama Bodhigaraya

Route from Anuradhapura to Nillakgama Bodhigaraya

Through : Kelaniya – Ambepussa – Kurunegala – Padeniya – Galgamuwa
Distance : 170 km
Travel time : 4 hours.
Driving directions : see on google map
Through : Tambuttegama
Distance :55 km
Travel time : 1 hour.
Driving directions : see on google map


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