The Bogoda bridge is a bridge with a difference. It is a unique wooden bridge with a canopy of flat Kandyan tiles. It lies in the hallowed premises of the historic Bogoda Raja Maha Viharaya in the precincts of the Badulla district. Bogoda is not a far cry from Badulla. Though it lies in the remotest corner, nestling amidst the Badulla mountain frontier, it still harbours a masterpiece of an uncommon wooden bridge with a fascinating roof, clad with flat tiles redolent of peerless Kandyan architecture. Along the Badulla – Bandarawela highway, through Hali Ella, one comes to Ketawela. From Jagula lies a decrepit access road that leads to this epic Bogoda temple with its splendid wooden bridge. The distance along this stretch of worn out roadway is about 2 miles. The total distance from Badulla is about 12 miles. The road ends at this temple which stands on a small hillock among groves of coconut and arecanut palms waving languidly in the cool breeze wafting across the mountain ranges.
Buddha statue and murals
The rock temple is housed in a rock cave hermitage of old which shelters a reclining Buddha statue, old mural paintings and a devale. On the apex of this rock cave are found neatly cut drip ledges below which are etched a line of inscriptions denoting Brahmi characters. The mural paintings depict fascinating and artistic motiffs of Buddhist traditions and culture. The reclining Buddha statue of terracotta presents a sublime demeanour of Buddha in Paranibbana. At its entrance, is another artistic door frame on which ornamental designs are sculptured. The door itself appears to be of heavy wood. To compensate its heavy weight are two equally heavy brass locks fitted to its weighty door. There are also two worn out statues which at first appearance look like statues made out of wood. But actually they are wooden moulds for casting Buddha statues. Lying below the rock temple is another rare find, a tunnel which they say winds its dingy way to end near the Narangala hill ranges. It is the home of bats whose droppings have formed a thick carpet on its floor. Its offensive odour is sufficient enough to drive away anybody who just wants to have a glance at it.
Wedged between the temple premises and the hillock, flows Gallanda Oya in a cascading roar over rocks and boulders to form into rock pools filled with whispering waters which are cold and crystal clear. It is across this Gallanda Oya that this wooden bridge adorned with a roof thatched with flat tiles has been constructed across this little stream. The wooden bridge stands in all its splendour and grace, reminiscent of flawless Kandyan architecture of fame. Actually at a distance it has the appearance of some little cottage in real Kandyan architectural design. Many are the quaint legends that speak of this Bogoda bridge. No nails have been driven into this timber structure.
Unleashing one such strand of legend it says that during the past when kings and queens ruled over ancient Lanka, the people in this area trekked on prilgrimages to Mahiyangane and Kandy through these old trails, after crossing Gallanda Oya where there was no bridge or even a foot-bridge (edanda) to get across. So these people who hailed from those villages like Nillandahinna, Uda Pusselawa, Godamane, Kandaketiya made a vow to God Vishnu to have some sort of bridge constructed. Their supplication was duly answered. By some magic spell, a huge tree that was felled in the Narangala hill range to be used as timber to construct a contraption to cross the stream, was miraculously brought to a village called Lunugalla. On the following day to everybody’s amazement a miracle did happen, as the trunk of this felled tree was by some supernatural power brought to the site near Gallanda Oya. So the fore-runner to the construction of this epic wooden bridge with a roof paved with flat tiles is this curious legend which is believed to be its mythical origin.
Dambadeniya- Kandyan, periods
So with this tree trunk, a foot-bridge came into existence, attributed originally to the Dambadeniya period (circa 1220-1283 A D.) Bogoda had its etymology from the presence of a few Bo trees that were lined along the ancient trails that blazed to Mahiyangane and Kandy. Even today a couple of these old Bo trees still stand as lone sentinels in mute testimony to this folklore surrounding the origin of Bogoda. Ruins of an ambalama (resting place of old) still appear to be seen at a place called Ruppebedda Udameyama Gamana which had stood on this old vanished trail to Bogoda. During the Kandyan period in the reign of the last King of Kandy, Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe, this bridge was transformed into its present state with railings, wooden planks and a roof clad with flat tiles. Its length is about 40 feet. Originally the wooden pillars had stood on slabs of rock (at its exit) which in later years had been constructed on a concrete abutment as seen now. Its entrance has been cut through an outcrop of rock through which passage the access to the bridge is gained. The wooden bridge at this end rests on this rock outcrop. The floor of the bridge has plank. The wooden railings stand on 10 dwarfed wooden pillars on either side. Lying below the rock temple and the wooden bridge is the temple premises (priests’ Avasa or residence) sheltering under the arbour of coconut and arecanut palms.
The rock temple appears to date back to Valagamba’s reign in exile (1st Century B.C., also known as Vattagamani). During Valagamba’s reign, the country was in turmoil with foreign invasions and local rebellions hostile to his rule. Our chronicles tell us that the Tamils ruled for 15 years while he was in exile, and at the end of this fifteen – year exile from the throne, Vattagamani Abhaya or Valagam Bahu vanquished the Tamils in a decisive victory, and emancipated ancient Lanka from the yoke of foreign oppression. Valagam Bahu has been spoken of in our ancient chronicles and in our folk poems that during his period of exile, he always sought sanctuary in the rock caves nestling in the recess of the forests. Tradition holds the view that this rock temple was the hideout of Valagam Bahu and the construction of the temple and the reclining Buddha statue 18 feet in length have been attributed to his meritorious works. The tunnel too is believed to terminate through its abysal sub terranean dark passage near the Narangala hill range. Another amusing legend surrounds this tunnel. It is said that when a certain Buddhist priest was there, a dog had chased an animal and the priest too followed its spoor, only to find its terminus was near the Narangala hill range.
Brahmi inscriptions & Frescoes
The Brahmi inscriptions, the present incumbent told us have been only partly deciphered. It refers to as, “one Brammadatta (Tissa’s son) who is the legal custodian of the temple gifted to the four corners of Lanka”. The wooden bridge is under the custody of the Archaeological Department. The fascinating mural paintings and the frescoes appearing in the cave ceiling have been vividly described in folk poems coming down from times of old. In a sannasa presented to the the temple by the last King of Kandy, Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe, it is recorded (as disclosed to us by the present incumbent of the temple) that the King had decreed to have a monastery built and gifted with lands. (FROM A MAHAWELI NEWS LETTER)