Degaldoruwa Raja Maha Vihara (දෙගල්දෝරුව රජමහා විහාරය)

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The Kandyan king, Kirti Sri Rajasinghe (1747-1780) was a great patron of the arts. It was during his time that some of the best paintings in upcountry temples were created. Among them, the Degaldoruwa Raja Maha Vihara paintings stand out. Degaldoruwa is just a few miles away from Kandy close to Kundasale and is well worth a visit to get an idea of the Kandyan style of paintings. Incidentally, the temples which received the patronage of the king came to be known as ‘Raja Maha Viharas’ and to this day they are identified as such. So when you next see a name board of a temple with the wording ‘Raja Maha Vihara’, that means the king had given lands and other valuables to that temple.

While the Degaldoruwa paintings were started by King Kirti Sri Rajasinghe, the king had died before they were completed. It was during the reign of his younger brother, King Rajadhi Rajasinghe, who succeeded him, that they were completed. After the work was done, the king had handed it over to Moratota Dhammarakhkhita Nayaka Thera, who was his teacher. Popularly known as Moratota Hamuduruwo, he was a very learned monk.

Four ‘Sittara’ painters are credited with the Degaldoruwa paintings. Among them, Devendra Mulachari is regarded as the leader. Devaragampola Silvattenne Unnanase was the best known out of them. ‘Silvat Unananses’ were those who had become monks but not received higher ordination or ‘upasampada’. In addition to Degaldoruwa , he has also drawn the paintings at Ridi Vihara. Hiriyale Naide and Nilagama Patabendi are the other two painters.

Critics regard Degaldoruwa paintings as ones with great beauty and charm. The decorative paintings also indicate the customs, manners and social conditions of the time. Elephants are gaily decorated, the uniforms of attendants are clearly shown and the insignia of royalty well depicted.

Four Jataka tales are seen in the ‘budu-ge’, the image house. These are portrayed as continuous stories. When the devotee walks from one end to the other, the story unfolds from beginning to end. Vessantara Jataka, Sattubhatta Jataka, Sutasoma Jataka and Mahaseelava Jataka are the four stories of the Bodhisatva which are depicted at Degaldoruwa .

A feature of the paintings is that the figures, whether they be humans, animals, trees or any other, generally are of a uniform size. Another feature is that the back view of human figures are not shown. It is always the front view or the side view that the devotee sees. The trees take a stylised form where a tree is shown with branches and leaves spread on either side. A stream can be identified by a few fish swimming and some floral decorations. The prominent colours used are red and green. Colours were made from the bark of trees found in the village.

Apart from the Jataka tales, the life of the Buddha is also painted. The ‘Mara Yudde’ – the war with Mara – is one of the most prominent paintings at Degaldoruva. There are several features of the Mara depicted here. The Mara has five faces. The forces of Mara carry guns similar to the ones used by the Sinhalese and considered superior to the ones used by the Portuguese, who occupied the maritime provinces in the 16th century. These have been delicately portrayed.

While the Degaldoruwa paintings are some of the finest portraying folk tradition, they also depict the clothes the people wore and the houses they lived in. The clothes show a distinct difference between what was worn by people in the low country and those worn by upcountry people. Inside the houses, the furniture is also shown. Thus these paintings are important in studying the social conditions in the 18th century.

By LankaLibrary Site Admin

The origin of this temple is rooted deeply in folklore. The two large rock boulders fused together at the temple has been been opened in the past with gap between. One day a villager has gone through the gap to see what lies between  to find a heap of golden sickles lying hidden at the gap. He has taken one of the sickles gone to his field, used it and replaced it in the evening on his way home. This continued to for sometime each day with  him replacing the golden sickle after work.

One the last day of harvesting he took two sickles and replaced only one of the sickle on his way home. The guardian gnome of this treasure noticed it and appeared in front of the villager and demanded that he return the other sickle. The frighted villager ran back the fields and brought the other sickle and placed it in the gap. The gnome thereafter sealed the gap by fusing the two rocks together.

Other villagers too came to know of this event and informed the King Kirti Sri Rajasinghe (1747-1780) who instructed to clean the cave and build a temple on the instructions of the elders.

Also See

  • Kandy – The Last Kingdom of Sinhale

Map of the Degaldoruwa Raja Maha Vihara

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Driving Directions to Degaldoruwa Raja Maha Vihara

Kandy can be reached from Colombo on the old Colombo – Kandy road (option 1) which is scenic but heavy in traffic, especially on Fridays and Sundays. However, the new Central Expressway (option 2) has opened up a new route which is longer but less cumbersome.

Route 1 from Colombo to KandyRoute 2 from Colombo to Kandy
Through : Katunayake Expressway – Central Expressway – Kurunegala
Distance :150 km
Travel time: 3.20 hours
Driving Directions : see on Google map
Through : Katunayake Expressway – Central Expressway – Kurunegala
Distance :150 km
Travel Time: 3.20 hours
Driving Directions : see on Google map
Route From Nuwara Eliya to Kandy
Through : Walapane – Raja Mawatha
Distance :100 km
Travel Time : 3.0 hours
Driving Directions : see on Google map
Route from Kandy to Degaldoruwa Raja Maha Viharaya
Though : Lewella
distance : 8 km
Travel time : 30 minutes
Driving directions : see on google map


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