Hindagala Raja Maha Viharaya is picturesquely situated on a rock close to the University Campus at Peradeniya along the Galaha Road. It has rock inscriptions dating back to the 6th century that speaks of the history of this temple. Amidst the ruined temple paintings of the 6th century are found paintings on the walls of the temple belonging to different periods of recent history.
The cave shrine and monastery known as Hindagala Raja Maha Viharaya is situated in the Kandukarapahala Korale of Udapalatha Division of Kandy District. The cave shrine is situated on a hill commanding a panoramic and idyllic of the hill ranges belted the Mahaveli river valley about 1.5 kms, away from Peradeniya University turns off on Peradeniya-Galaha Road. The shrine has to be reached through a steep ascent of 50m from the ground level, through a motorable narrow pathway and a flight of steps, in an utter state of despair, with stones of uneven surface. The hill on a clear day gives a view of the Adam’s Peak, hence, being selected in ancient times as residence of meditative monks in the the pre Christian eras.
An epigraphical record about 50m above the cave refers to the still existing Bodhi and Bodhigara, the latter in an advanced stage of dilapidation. The existence o this large cave with a drip-ledge (katarama) to drain off rain-water, a residence of monks had been later transformed into a ‘patimagara’ (image house) suggestive of this site back to pre-Christian times, probably to the third century B.C. when Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka by Arahant Mahinda.
The two rock inscriptions at the site are datable to the 7th century A.D. The older inscription is datable to the 6th century A.D. to the construction of the Bodhigara (Bodhi-house). The other inscription is unfortunately fragmentary and is datable to the 7th century on palaeographical evidence, embodying the words ‘Vataka-Vahara’, indicating the ancient name of the monastery. On stylistic discipline the ancient paintings above the present rock shrine, in historicity could be dated to the 7th century.
One of the paintings portrays the Buddha residing at Indrasala cave, in Magadhadesa (north-eastern India) and god Indra (Sakra) visiting him and posing questions to him and the Buddha answering them to the satisfaction of Indra. This encounter is narrated in the Sakkapannasutta of the Sutta Nikaya. Prof. Senarath Paranavithana is of the opinion that the name ‘Hindagala’ is a derivative of Indasala or Hindasala. The second stage of development of the Vihara is during the Kandyan period of the 14th century A.D.
The Gazetteer of the Central Province compiled by Puisne Judge of Kandy A.C. Lawrie in 1896, refers to the legend of the erection of a statue of recumbent Buddha in the centre of the cave to queen Henekanda Biso Bandara. This queen had been travelling through this village at night and had asked the employees of the local chief for torches and they without recognizing her had asked her to obtain them from the old man, referring to the Buddha whose statue was in the cave.
Being annoyed at this sacrilegious retort the queen had on the following day confiscated all the lands of the chief and gifted them to the monastery. Thus the lands of entire Hindagala village between Liyanagaha, Nagaha, Etpara and the Mahaveli river had been donated to the Hindagala Raja Maha Viharaya which devolved along with ‘Rajakari pangus’ (service tenures) 17 in number. As per a statement made to the Temporalities Commission by Dope Thera, he had claimed that he built two statues of the Buddha in the cave in 1820.
The Sacred Tooth Relic (Vama Dantha Dhatu of the Buddha) was brought to Kandy Pusulpitiya Raja Maha Viharaya, Kotmale (beyond Nawalapitiya) hidden by the Maha Sangha of Malwatu Maha Viharaya, when the British were marching to Kandy. It was brought to Kandy on the assurance of John O’Dyoly, the first British Resident in Kandy, that he would assure its safety and perform all rites and rituals, without any lapse. En route to Kandy the Sacred Tooth Relic was kept at Hindagala Rajamaha Viharaya for a day. The suggestion the Sacred Relic be kept at Suduhumpola Viharaya at Mulgampola Kandy, in order to arrange the procession conducting the Sacred Tooth Relic, was rejected by the Maha Sangha of Malwathu Maha Viharaya, as Suduhumpola Vihara came under the aegis of the Asgiri maha Vihara.
The outer facade of the cave is plastered and ornamented with paintings of the early 20th century, with the life events of the Buddha and scenes of evil-doers born in hells being tortured on the “Katu Imbula” (thorny tree) and Lohakumba (pouring melted metal into mouths). The names of the artists are on the upper part of the wall over the main doorway. One of these names also appear on lion-headed stone lamp in the courtyard of the shrine, with the date, Buddhist Era 2461 (1917 AD). The oldest paintings are below the drip-legend is non-readable. The present shrine has an outer verandah with timber upright, beams and a tiled roof, with paintings dating from the last 100 years. The older paintings are inside the cave; facing the east is the recumbent statue of the Buddha, enclosed by thick walls.
Below the image house is a stupa, a magnificent example of an early rock-cut dagoba of Sri Lanka. To the north of the shrine on a raised ground is the Bodhi tree, with a dilapidated Bodhigara and steps to reach the Bodhi. All are in an utter state of neglect. Facing the east little away from the cave shrine is a sculptured and painted ‘ Makara torana ’ (gateway) supported by figures of Indra and Mahabrahama with their animal drawn vehicles and a pair of Suddhavasa (Brahmas) holding jars of plenty.
Two sword bearing divinities too are atop the Makara torana , while minor divinities hovering among clouds in the backdrop, suggestive of atmospheric gestations, as embodied in Ajanta cave paintings of India. Inner south wall a statue of the Buddha of the Kandyan period style, with a standing frontal pose, and the right hand raised in ‘vitrakamudra’ (manifestation of expounding the Dhamma, with a bright multicolored halo.
The painting depicts the return of the royal couple (king Suddodhana and Queen Mahamaya) from the sal grove at Lumbini with the new-born prince Siddhartha to Kapilavastu. (Buddhist scriptures do not refer to king Suddodhana returning along with queen Mahamaya to his palace).
Inner Eastern Wall: The Jataka story where Prince Vessantara conversing with his princess and two children. Vessantara giving his white elephant away; a woman collecting plantains from a suspended bunch provided by Vessantara; the elephant being led away; Vessantara and his family riding in horse-drawn chariot, with him as the charioteer and princess and two children seated in the rear.
Inner Eastern Wall: a group of courtiers bidding farewell to Vessantara and his family; only two children in a chariot; King Dhammasonda pondering over realities of life seated crossed-legged in meditative posture; in a closed chamber, two ladies trying to dissuade the king from meditating; God Sakkra in Yakkha form, promising king a virtuous life suggesting him to leap from a cliff into his mouth.
Sakkra appearing him in his normal form gives the king virtues he promised; Chuladhamma in Kandyan and westernized dress; with three ladies in the upper storey, courtiers relay news to king Chuladhamma; king en route to queen’s palace on horse back, escorted by his retinue and soldiers; and musicians and singers providing music and dance; king enters the chamber where the queen sleeps with the new-born child, king orders destruction of the child, queen dies of sorrow, king consumed by fires.
Inner North Wall: Painting of stupa at Nagadipa, the second site Buddha visited (Jaffna peninsula) Twenty-four repetitive figures of the Buddha, seated on Vajrasana at Buddha Gaya, India with the right hand in vitraka mudra. This also portrays the sanctions to become Buddha (vivarana); Buddha Dipankara prophesying Sumedha Panditha would be a Buddha.
Outer South Wall: Prince Siddhartha being taken in procession with a musical parade.
Outer East Wall: Prince Siddhartha leaving the palace on Kantaka horse with Channa the charioteer after renouncing worldly life. Heart broken horse and charioteer having a last look over their shoulders at Prince Siddhartha.
The river Anoma too is there. Moving picture of Prince Siddhartha bidding farewell to horse Kantaka and charioteer Channa and donning robes and taking a begging bowl; Inner North West Wall: Second week after Enlightenment of Buddha at Buddha Gaya.
Outer Rock face above shrine: Seventh week of Buddha after Enlightenment. Tapassu and Bhalluka, merchant brothers meeting with the Buddha, the first two lay disciples taking only Buddha and Dhamma refuges, as Sangha not organized yet; the visit of God Indra (Sakka) to the Buddha.
It is most heart-rending neither the Archaeological nor the Central Cultural Fund, has initiated to conserve this historical cave shrine at Hindagala. The entire area is covered with rank vegetation. It resembles long forgotten forest abode, where trees and shrubs are the overlords. It is time that the Cultural Minister, or Buddha Sasana Minister visited this shrine and see for himself the utter state of decay and dilapidation. In India my experience over many visits to study and research on the Buddhist heritage of India, that every site is well planned and horticulturally embellished much more eye-storming than the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens.
by by Rohan L. Jayatilleke
- Hindagala paintings of ancient Lanka
- The many legends that surround the Hindagala Raja Maha Viharaya
- Kandy – The Last Kingdom of Sinhale
Map of the Hindagala Temple
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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Driving Directions to Hindagala Temple
|Route from Colombo to Hindagala Temple||Route from Kandy Railway Station to Hindagala Temple|
|Via : Colombo – Kandy highway|
distance : 115 km
Travel time : 4 hours
Driving directions : see on google map
|distance : 10 km|
Travel time : 20 mins
Driving directions : see on google map