Ridi Viharaya lies about 20 kilometers away from the ancient kingdom of Kurunegala in a small village called Ridi Gama. This temple is said to be built by King Dutugemunu in the 2nd century BC as a memorial to the place where he found a silver (ridi) ore mine which was used to finance the building of the gigantic Ruwanweli Seya .
The great chronicle Mahavamsa describes the discovery of this mine by a trader
…. In a southerly direction from the city, at a distance of eight yojanas, silver appeared in the Ambatthakola-cave. A merchant from the city, taking many wagons with him, in order to bring ginger and so forth from Malaya, had set out for Malaya. Not far from the cave he brought the wagons to a halt and since he had need of wood for whips he wetit up that mountain. As he saw here a branch of a bread-fruit-tree, bearing one single fruit as large as a water pitcher, and dragged down by the weight of the fruit, he cut the (fruit) which was lying on a stone away from the stalk with his knife, and thinking: `I will give the first (produce as alms),’ with faith he announced the (meal) time.
And there came thither four (theras) who were free from the asavas. When he had greeted them gladly and had invited them with all reverence to be seated, he cut away the rind around the stalk with his knife and tore out the bottom (of the fruit), and pouring the juice which filled the hollow forth into their bowls he offered them the four bowls filled with fruit-juice. They accepted them and went their way.
Then he yet again announced the (meal) time. Four other theras, free from the asavas, appeared before him. He took their alms-bowls and when he had filled them with the kernels of the bread-fruit he gave them back.
Three went their way, but one did not depart. In order to show him the silver he went further down and seating himself near the cave he ate the kernels. When the merchant also had eaten as he wished of the kernels that were left, and had put the rest in a bundle, he went on, following the track of the thera, and when he saw the thera he showed him the (usual) attentions. The thera opened a path for him to the mouth of the cavern: `Go thou now also on this path, lay brother!’ When he had done reverence to the thera he went that way and saw the cave. Standing by the mouth of the cave and seeing the silver he struck upon it with his axe, and when he knew it to be silver he took a lump of the silver and went to his freight-wagons. Then leaving the wagons behind and taking the lump of silver with him the excellent merchant went in haste to Anuradhapura and told the king of this matter, showing him the silver. ….
As a gesture of gratitude The king decided to build a temple on the same ground and sent over 300 stone craftsmen to work on the temple. He also got a large gold plated Buddha statue to be bought from Dambadiva, India to be kept at the site. According to the the ancient book called “ridi vihara asna”, when the king Dutugemunu was coming to the competed temple with the Buddha Statue brought from india, the cart got stuck between some rocks and couldn’t be moved. The king disappointed, sat on the rock refusing to move until the cart is moved. Arhath Indragupta Thero ( the same thero who showed the merchant the way to the silver mine) saw this and made the statue to float in the sky and travel through air all the way to the temple.
Today this 2200 year old statue can be seen at the very spot that the silver ore was found inside the pahatha maluwa protected by a glass casing.
Although this area belongs to Kurunegala District, this area was part of the Kandian Kingdom during European occupation and King Kirthi Sri Rajasainha has made major renovations on this temple. Therefore most of the paintings and statues we see today belong to the Kandian Era.
‘Waraka Welandu Viharaya’
On the way to the main cave you will come across a curious image house built entirely of stone. This is called the ‘Waraka Veladu Viharaya’ which translates to ‘the temple where Jack Fruit was consumed’. It is said that that this was the cave which the Indragupta Maha Thero consumed the Jack-Fruit ( called bread-fruit in Mahavamsa translation) which was offered by the Merchant. Inside this image house is a seated buddha statue and all the walls have Buddhist paintings belonging to the Kandian Era.
The design of this building strangely resembles a Devala ( dedicated to Hindu Gods). There is also a hallway to enter the shrine similar to Devala Design. The 8 stone pillars holding the main roof of the hallway have carvings of female dancers which is not generally found in the Buddha image houses. Therefore it could be that this building was built during a period where the Hindu beliefs were strongly present in the country such as the Polonnaruwa Era or Kandian Era.
Passing this image house you would enter a entrance hall of the main vihara complex. Here you would see a massive arms bowl which is said to have been used for Buddha Puja in the ancient times.
Passing this you would enter the Main Vihara complex which is divided in to two. The lover one is called the ‘Maha Vihare’ ( the main temple) or ‘Pahala Vihare’ ( lower temple) and the upper is called the ‘Uda Vihare’ ( the upper temple). The Maha Vihare was constructed by the king Dutugemunu in the 2nd centaury BC and the Uda Vihare has been constructed by King Kirthi Sri Rajasainha (1747 – 1781) .
The maha vihare is located inside a spacious rock cave and contains a 9m recumbent Buddha image and the original gold plated Buddha Image donated by King Dutugemunu. At the feet of recumbent Buddha image there is a statue of Ananda Thero, a statue of a Maithree Bodhi Sattva and then statues of some Devatha. It is believed that the last statue of Devatha is actually a statue of King Dutugemunu. After these is a row of 5 buddha statues which is said to have been originally gold plated.
The flower pedestal of the recumbent Buddha image also has a very curious feature. It is decorated with about two hundred 18th centaury Dutch tiles portraying the life of Christ popularly known as bible tiles. These are believed to have been presented to King Kirthi Sri Rajasainha (1747 – 1781) by a Dutch Governor who in turn donated it to the temple. From the way these tiles are are arranged, the tiler seems to be clueless of the pictures on the tiles.
The roof of the cave is plastered and painted with various patterns. During the poson season of 2008, a large area of this plaster has fallen off due to heat generated by the large number of pilgrims inside of the cave.
Pancha Naari Getaya
Entrance to the Uda Vihare is through a side door in the Maha Vihare. here you will pass a protected door frame decorated with ivory carvings. Door frames decorated with ivory is an extreamly rare feature for ancient buildings. This door has been subject to vandalism and and the lower parts of the ivory is now missing. At the top centre of the decorations is what looks like a vase but closer inspection reveals its a carving of 5 females interwoven together.
This design is called “Pancha Naari Getaya” (figure of five women entwined in the shape of a pot). Beside this is a carving of 2 lions. Around theseare fragments of the ivory designs which covered the rest of the frame.
The uda vihare believed to be built by King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe consists of three chambers and a connecting corridor.
The first chamber is dedicated to deity who protects the mountain of Ridi Vihara. He is called “Kumara Bandara Deviyo” The second which is the largest is the Buddha Image house. In addition to the large seated buddha image this hall contains some curious and unique drawings. These drawings are not on walls but on the sides of the pedestal of the seated Buddha. On the left side is a picture of 3 lions who share one head. This is called “Tri Singha” drawing. On the other side of the seat is another unique drawing called “Vrushaba Kunjaraya”which the entwined heads of the bull and the elephant. On the same pedestal you can see 3 pictures of soldiers with arms. These are believed to be a depiction of Rama and Ravana war.
At the end of the cave, outside the shrine room, there is a painting of “Navanari Kunjaraya” , the figures of nine women arranged in such a way, to create the image of an elephant .
The temple has two stupa’s. One beside a cave behind the Uda Maluwa. The other is on a altogether separate hill called “Sarasum Gala”. To reach the Sarasum Gala stupa you need to climb a separate set of granite stairs. It is believed the original temple was located around this stupa.
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Map of of Ridi 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.
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Travel Directions to Ridi Viharaya
The Ridi Vihara is about 20 km from the Kurunegala Town. Travel on the Kandy Road from Kurunegala up to Mallawapitiya junction. This is about 5km form the Kurunegala town. Turn off to Keppitigala Road and Travel another 15 km along this road. You will come across the junction where route to the Viharaya is clearly marked. Travel about 1 1/2 km along this road to reach the Temple.
By traveling further on the Keppitigala Road for 5 km, you will come across Kurunegala Rambadagalla Vihara where the largest granite carved Samadhi Statue of the World is being carved out.
Route from Colombo to Ridi Vihara
Route from Kurunegala to Ridi Vihara
|Through : Kelaniya – Ambepussa – Kurunegala – Mallawapitiya – Ridigama
Distance : 116 km
Travel time : 2.5 hours.
Driving directions : see on google map
|Through : Kurunegala – Mallawapitiya – Ridigama
Distance : 21 km
Travel time : 30 minutes.
Driving directions : see on google map
Ridi Viharaya  – Silver threads for three religions
Ridi viharaya is one place you can see many revered artifacts; of Buddhist, Hindu and even Christian. Of traditional Sinhala art forms and non traditional, unique, design concepts.
The main image house or the Maha vihara known also as the “Patha Viharaya” (lower temple) of the Ridi Viharaya, is comfortably tucked into a Large cave, with its rock roof looming skywards, reminding us of the cobra hood cave of Sigiriya. Here we see representations from the three main religions of Sri Lanka..
The walls and roof of the cave are covered with Buddhist frescoes. Many are the images of the Lord Buddha. Hindu gods too stand to attention. And even what is believed to be a statue of royalty identified as king Dutugemunu. But these Buddhist and Hindu images have always had place for each other in their respective temples. What is strange is the inclusion of some Christian themes. May be it was an accident or may it was not. But definitely it is interesting.
Inlaid on the mal-asana or flower alter built for a 9m recumbent Buddha image are these strange blue tiles identified as the Christian theme Delft tiles.
Popularly known as the Bible tiles these are believed to have been a gift from an European ambassador to King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe who in turn gifted them to the temple in the days when the Dutch ruled the maritime Provinces.
Ascribed to the 18th century Delft factory in Holland these blue and white porcelain tiles depict themes from the old testament like the creation of man, the fall of man, the great flood and its aftermath (dove of peace with the olive branch), Moses and the burning bush, the prophets of yore and some scenes from the new testament depicting the life of Christ.
An addition to this strange mix, the cave is full of other historic and revered artifacts.
An original golden Buddha image brought from Dambadiva by king Dutugemunu as a gesture of gratitude for the silver ore that is said to have been found in this vicinity which was used to raise revenue for the completion of the building of the great Ruwanveliseya of Anuradhapura, is deposited in this cave safely inside a glass case.
Under the main entrance to this cave are some interesting paintings. In particular one shows an unfinished sketch of a seated Buddha, showing the ancient measurement system that was used in the painting of an Buddha image.
The door frame of one of the doors leading into this cave is decorated exquisitely in Ivory. The “Pancha Nari Getaya” (figure of five women entwined in the shape of a knot) decorates the center of this work. In keeping with the art of delusion the intricate carving depicts from far a vase but a close look reveals the knitting of the figures of five maidens. Either side of this is the carving of two lions. This unique piece of ivory art sadly has been the subject of vandalism.
The “Uda Viharaya” (upper temple) is exclusive to some rare concepts in Sinhala and Buddhist art, traditional and non traditional. The Makara Thorana behind the main image of the seated Buddha. is considered the best among its kind. It is unique in its decoration including groups of Gods and devotees and with an image of the standing Buddha on either side. Also the two makara heads forming the usual arch are turned outwards.
Upon the pedestal of the seated Buddha image at the bottom are some unique animal paintings usually not found in temples. The “Thri Sinha Rupaya” found on the front of the pedestal depicts three seated lions but with one face. The paintings of “Sarpenda” and “Vrushba Kunjaraya” (the entwined heads of the bull and the elephant) are interesting. Also recognizable are paintings that are believed to depict the warring King Rawana.
It is also interesting to note that not a single Jataka story is depicted among the paintings in this cave. But the walls are filled with stories from the life of Buddha
A painting of the “Nawanari Kunjavaya” or nine maidens is found at the end of the cave outside the small and last chamber of this cave house. The clever arrangement of nine graceful bodies of maidens delude the onlooker from far into recognizing the figure of an elephant. Inside this small cave some ancient wooden Buddha images can be seen. The narrowing cave roof is painted with colorful motifs giving a charming fabric like effect.
At the entrance to this Uda Viharaya cave is a Hindu devalaya dedicated to the guardian of the mountain on which the Ridi Vihara is situated Kumara Bandara. At the back of the Uda viharaya is a an open cave in which is a small dogoba.
The treasures of art found at Ridi viharaya are not limited to its main cave shrines and seemingly spill into the court yards that surround the caves.
Some unique carvings can be seen along a flight of steps leading from the Uda viharaya to the court yard below. While the Korawak- gala on either side acting as low banisters show the stylized head and the trunk of an elephant, inside of which are carvings. One carving can be identified as an elephant trying to pull out a tree while a man with an arrow takes aim at him.
Some interesting guard stones and flower alters too can be seen..
Just outside of the temple court-yard is a stone pillared structure more Hindu in architecture and ground plan known as the “Waraka Welandu lena”. Popular belief is that the Arahat Indragupta partook of a meal of ripe jak fruit at this spot. On the skillfully chiseled stone pillars forming the porch of the building can be seen some interesting carvings of figures of people. A dancing girl and a soldier are more visible. It is believed to have been a Hindu shrine.
Outside the temple complex atop a small rocky hill passing an ancient inscription is a dagoba “Sarasum gala chaiththiya” belied to be the original site of the Ridi viharaya temple. From here we were rewarded to a vision over the valleys and into the hills well worth the extra climb.
Ridi Viharaya  – Lanterns and Bhakthi Geetha to light up Ridhi Viharaya celebrations
With this being the 2550th Buddha Jayanthi year, signifying 2550 years since the passing away of Lord Buddha, many special religious programmes are being organised around the island to celebrate Vesak poya. The historic Ridhi Viharaya in the Kurunegala district will also be the focus with several programmes being conducted there.
Situated in Ridhigama, a village about 10 kilometres from Mallawapitiya, a town on the Kurunegala-Kandy road, the Rajamaha Viharaya dates back over 2000 years. Built by King Dutugemunu, the temple spreads over about 30 acres, making it one of the most picturesque religious sites in the area.
So how did it originally get its name? “During King Dutugemunu’s era, while he was building the sacred Ruvanweliseya, people were discovering precious metals in different areas of the island and silver or ridhi was found in this particular area. This is how both the temple and the village got its name,” says Ven. Buddha Rakkhitha, the chief guardian priest of Ridhi Viharaya. The temple falls under the purview of the Mahanayake of the Malwathu Chapter.
Having numerous special features, the temple is most famous for its paintings belonging to the Kandyan era, a unique Makara Thorana and ivory carvings. “The Makara Thorana at this temple is different to others. Normally the heads of the two Makarayas turn towards the Buddha statue. But in this particular one, the heads are turning outward and away from the statue. Also, normally there are only about four gods depicted on either side of the statue, but this Makara Thorana has many gods depicted,” said the Ven. Thera. Going on to describe the ivory carvings, he said this is probably the only instance where such carvings have been inserted into a part of the roof of a temple.
Yet another interesting artefact at Ridhi Viharaya is a line of tiles portraying the life of Christ. Fixed along the stand built for offering flowers to Lord Buddha, the presence of these tiles in the temple is remarkably interesting. Possibly being presented to the temple by a Dutch governor, the temple officials may have incorporated it in the viharaya.
Consisting of many rock caves, the viharaya has been built in the cave where the silver was originally found. Called Maha Viharaya, it has a large reclining Buddha statue and statues of God Vishnu and King Dutugemunu, along with paintings belonging to the Kandyan era and a few other rare statues made of ceramic.
“The Ridhi Viharaya was reconstructed during the Anuradhapura era by King Amandha Gamini and once again by King Keerthi Sri Rajasinghe during the Kandyan era. During these reconstructions, little changes have been added to the temple over the years,” said the Thera.
Among the other artefacts in the temple, is also a unique carriage that was used to transport monks of the ancient times, as well as two seats used by the monks to preach bana.
The programme planned for Vesak Poya at Ridhi Viharaya begins on May 12 and goes on till May 16. Consisting of an Aloka pooja, a lantern competition and Bhakthi Geetha, the programme will involve residents of Ridhigama.
“Children and young people of the area will sing Bhakthi Geetha and make lanterns to commemorate Vesak,” said the Thera.
Apart from these, there will also be a number of pandals around the town as well.
Ridi Viharaya  – A Treasure Trove of Art and Sculpture
In a small village at Ridigama about 13 miles from Kurunegala perched on a hill is an interesting cave temple called Ridi Vihara.
Two-thousand three hundred years or so ago it is believed to have been the abode of Arahat Indragupta. At a later date, history records that silver ore was discovered here and was used by King Dutugemunu to raise funds for the completion of the great Ruwanveliseya.
The Ridi Vihara had been built on the spot that yielded the wealth as a gesture of gratitude and, in the main cave temple, a gold plated Buddha statue brought from India was placed. In time the temple had been renovated and rebuilt by King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe.
The main image house or “Patha Viharaya”, is situated at ground level, positioned under a precariously looming rock in the shape of a cobra head.
In this cave lies on one side lies a 9m recumbent Buddha image. The altar to this image is held with blue and white 18th century Dutch porcelain tiles, sometimes referred to as the Bible tiles since they depict scenes from the Bible. It is said that these were a gift from a European ambassador to King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe who gifted them to the temple in the days when the Dutch ruled the maritime Provinces.
The cave also houses a huge seated Buddha image and images of Hindu gods and a statue believed to be that of King Dutugemunu. The walls and roof of the cave are brilliantly decorated with frescoes and flower motifs.
The lintel and door frame of one of the doors leading into this cave is decorated with an exquisite work in Ivory. The “Pancha Nari Getaya” (figure of five women entwined in the shape of a knot) decorates the centre of this work. In keeping with the art of illusion, the intricate carving appears from a distance to be a vase but from close up the knitting of the figures of five maidens is revealed. On either side of this are carved two lions. This unique piece of ivory art has been the subject of vandalism and the sad fragments have been enclosed by a glass .
The “Uda Viharaya” or the Upper temple reached by a flight of steps from outside the main cave, consists of three chambers and a connecting corridor and is believed to have been built by King Kirti Sri Rajasinghe.
The first chamber houses a devalaya dedicated to the guardian deity of the mountain on which the Ridi Vihara is situated.
The second and middle chamber being the largest is the main shrine room and is dominated by a huge seated Buddha image.
The makara thorana behind the image is an interesting composition of groups of gods and devotees, with an image of a standing Buddha on each side and the two makara heads forming the usual arch are turned outwards.
On the sides of the pedestal of the seated Buddha image are some interesting paintings consisting of the “Thri Sinha Rupaya” depicting three seated lions with one face, the “Sarpenda” and “Vrushba Kunjaraya”, the entwined heads of a bull and an elephant. Paintings depicting the warring King Rawana are also to be seen.
A painting of the “Nawanari Kunjaraya” or nine maidens is found outside the last chamber at the end of the corridor. The clever arrangement of the the nine graceful bodies of maidens, ingeniously fitted to represent an elephant in all its grandeur deludes the onlooker from far. This cave has a vivid painted background and houses some ancient wooden Buddha images.
Behind the Uda Viharaya in an open cave is a dagoba. An attractive stone pillared structure is found outside the temple courtyard built into a cave known as the “Waraka Welandu lena”. On some of its ancient pillars are etched some interesting figures, on which the faint outlines of a dancing girl and a soldier can still be recognized.
Popular belief is that Arahat Indragupta partook of a meal of ripe jak fruit at this spot. Outside the temple complex, atop a small rocky hill passing an ancient inscription is another dagaba – “Sarasum gala chaiththiya”
first published : April 12, 2007