Alawathura Ganegoda Rajamaha Viharaya

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About 2½ km from Bulathkohupitiya on the Kegalle road (23 km from Kegalle) several oval-shaped mountains are found and Ganegoda Kanda mountain is found behind a lush paddy field. The Ganegoda Rajamaha Vihara is located about halfway up this mountain range.

This temple belongs to Bulathkohupitiya divisional secretariat division of Kegalle district and according to ancient divisions it belongs to Kandupita Patthu of Beligal Korale which belongs to Satara Korale.

There are several theories about the origin of this temple. According to legend, this temple dates back to the days of King Valagamba. But the ancient text Saddrmarathnakaraya (සද්ධර්මරත්නාකරය) describes how this temple was built by a priest named Seelawamsa Dharmakirthi.

And a rock temple named Sri Dhanyakataka which was derelict was restored as it was before ……. An ornate temple of at the Rock of Alawathura , collecting many merits in Sinhaladweepa, the homeland…..

It is said that Dharmakirti Thera, who lived in the Gampola period, rebuilt the stone temple called Dhanyakaka in the ruins of South India in the same way and built a temple in the Alawathura Rock in Sri Lanka.

Hence, drawing upon archaeological evidence and scholarly research, it is reasonable to speculate that this temple was constructed during the Gampola period by Dharmakirti Thero.

Upon examining the ruins present, it appears that the Ganegoda temple follows the architectural style of South India. While there are hints suggesting it might have originally been a three-storied structure, what remains today is a modest, small-scale temple.

In the 1890s, H. C. P. Bell provided a comprehensive report on this temple in the Kegalle Report. However, many of the temple’s features described by him are no longer visible today, likely due to destruction caused by treasure hunters.

This temple can be reached across a waterway. The 250 stone steps start near this stream. The temple, with an inner gate pavilion measuring 14X20 feet and an outer pavilion measuring 18½X21 feet, is built on a stone platform in front of the rock to the left.

Huge beams, pillar bodies and pillar heads of the ancient temple were scattered all the way down to the water steam area. Mr. Bell has collected all the scattered ruins with the help of the villagers for two days and brought them up to the temple grounds. Using these remains he recovered three part rectangular and part polygonal pillars 6 feet 6 inches high (without capitals). In addition, three pillars supported by lions and two pillars with carved square bases of similar bodies have been erected. The three types of stone pillars thus recovered have been drawn by him as shown below.

The panel decoration on each side of the 3 square pillars is different. These panels are decorated with different types of floral decorations, peacocks and Buddha statues. Lion pillars differ only in the bend of the lion’s tail. He says that pillars with such carvings are found in Conjeevaram in South India.

He has also recovered the panels with tigers seen today. He found six stone fragments with high-relief carved tigers measuring 12×8 inches from different places. One of them was found near the start of the steps leading to the stream. These tiger reliefs are animal figures carved on four stone slabs with the right foreleg raised and the head turned back and moving to the left. This traditional pose is often attributed to tigers and Gajasingha figures. The fifth stone fragment shows two tigers facing each other. The head of the left tiger is looking forward. The body of the right tiger is standing in the opposite direction, facing the left tiger but the head is turned backwards. A stone fragment identified as a cornerstone contained a well-carved cobra figure of about 8½ inches with an outstretched face, and a small stone slab measuring 17×16 inches with a human figure holding a sword on the right hand and his left hand on the hip.

There is a stone staircase to enter the temple. There are 2 balustrade stones with images of Gajasingha carved on both sides. This Gajasingha carving is very similar to the carvings of Yapahuwa and Kappagoda (Brahmawardanapaya) Rajamaha Viharaya.

Mr. Bell has reported that the entrance to the inner portal chamber is through a 5 feet 8 inches x 2 feet 10 inches stone door with low-relief vines and leaves carved on the edges and that this door may have had two flaps like Devanagala due to the door hinge holes in its lintel. This stone door frame is not seen today.

On the southern side of the elevated platform surrounding the temple, there exists an 8 feet 3 inches long and 8 inches deep panel adorned with depictions of female dancers and drummers. At the centre of this panel lies a carving featuring three female dancers intertwined. The design is crafted in a manner where only two pairs of feet are visible, despite the presence of three women engaged in the performance.

These carvings exhibit resemblances to those found in Yapahuwa, near the stairway, as well as in temples like Gadoladeniya and Niyamgampaya. Mr. Bell observes that while the female figures in Yapahuwa and Gadoladeniya are portrayed in a sensual manner, the depictions here depict female figures with a lively yet modest appearance.

According to Mr. Bell’s report, the temple houses only one seated Buddha statue. This stone-carved Buddha statue measures 3 feet 3 inches in height and 2 feet 7 inches in width, facing towards the entrance. The stone seat, which is 2 feet 3 inches in height, upon which the Buddha image rests, is also intricately carved with lion figures visible from one side. In front of the south wall, there were clay sculptures of deities Vishnu, Saman, and Natha. However, Mr. Bell notes that during renovations in 1886, the task was entrusted to an individual with notably poor craftsmanship.

According to Bell, this dilapidated temple stands as the sole stone temple in the Kegalle District. Despite restoration efforts in 2018 that focused on the steps and side walls, much more work is required to restore it fully. Owing to its remote location, only a few visitors, if any, frequent the temple even on poya days. Consequently, both maintenance efforts and the safeguarding of treasures from potential theft have been neglected, posing significant challenges.

References

  1. BELL H. C. P. (1904) ARCHEOLOGICAL, SURVEY OF CEYLON. REPORT ON THE KEGALLA DISTRICT · OF THE PROVINCE OF SABARAGAMUWA. 1st ed. Colombo: GEORGE J. A. SKEEN.
  2. Pushpakumara R.D.D, (2020) අලවතුර ගණේගොඩ රජමහා විහාරයේ පුරාවිද්‍යාත්මක වටිනාකම පිළිබඳ විමර්ශනයක්. පුරාවිදු වැලිපිළ, 1(3).

Also See

Map of Alawathura Ganegoda Rajamaha Viharaya

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Driving Directions to Alawathura Ganegoda Rajamaha Viharaya

From Colombo to Alawathura Ganegoda Rajamaha Vihara
Via : Avissawella – Ruwanwella – Bulathkohupitiya
Total Distance : 83 KM
Time : 2 hours (+250 steps)
Travel Time : About 1-2 hours
Driving Directions :  View on Google Map

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