It is really worth visiting! Midway between Balangoda-Hatangala road, the Kottimbulwala Rajamaha Viharaya stands majestically, attracting as it has done for centuries, several thousands of pilgrims and an equal number of researchers and jovial drifters, irrespective of age or religious group. Nestling in the bosom of an agricultural village called Kottimbulwala, this time-honoured temple with colossal rock cavern account for a baffling array of captivating legends and has much more in it for an inquisitive visitor. The historic village, surrounded by rocky mountains with patches of jungle and minor cultivations, reflects the simple lifestyle of its inhabitants. On my way to the temple, I did not forget to enjoy myself watching simple houses, rich paddy fields, pepper gardens and streams on either side of the rather bumpy road and it seemed somewhat an arduous journey through the undeveloped road.
The history of this rock temple dates back to Anuradhapura period when King Wattagamini Abhaya was in a relentless engagement with the South Indian invaders. According to historical chronicles Wattagamini Abhaya had to withdraw to the Southern part of the country several times in the face of South Indian invasions and had to remain disguised in some parts of the country to reorganise his army to fight the enemy forces led by the Chola leader.
It is believed that the cave of Kottimbulwala once served as a safe haven for the king who lived in disguise with the people.
The rock temple is in two terraces; the lower terrace being in level with the main road. In the lower level are the carved wooden buildings and in the higher level, lies the mammoth cavern commanding a picturesque view of the landscape tapering off to the far horizon. This is concrete proof to show that King Wattagamini Abhaya’s flair for security. From below one can see a canopy of forest on the top of the cavern which adds an artistic beauty to the place and the giant jungle vines twisting spirally over trees on the roof of the cave, give one a mysterious feeling.
Cave and the pond
The cave has been the guardian for the priceless murals depicting Buddhist themes and the huge statues of Buddha evoke reverence in the visitors’ mind. However, this open rock cavern bears the the marks of its being exposed to the elements of nature through centuries and of being inhabited from first century A.D. to the fifteenth century.
The cave overlooks a pond marked for the unusual gush of water from underground and the pure white sand constantly spurting up with a uniform flow of water, both in drought and rains. The water is crystal clear and the pond gives out water to the large stretches of paddy cultivation. The lush green on the mountain adds much more to the natural beauty of the pond and the swaying water plants at the bottom gives the appearance of sea bed. Villagers claim that when the pond was discovered for the first time the water ran about twenty feet deep but later the depth was scaled down by placing big stones on the bottom. Even now, the bottom seems to lie ten feet beneath the surface. Moreover the jumbo fish, flapping their fins through the water, is a special fascination to the visitor.
The temple is said to be built centuries after king Wattagamini Abhaya left the cavern to recapture his Anuradhapura Kingdom following a major battle with South Indian invaders. The woodwork of the temple buildings well preserves its pristine magic and the wooden pillars are engraved with traditional artistic decorations conserved by the archaeological Department. These specific decorative pillars bear witness to the architectural genre of the 18th century and display a developed phase of evolution of floral decorations peculiar to the traditional Sri Lankan artist. The archaeological department is currently doing a commendable job in carrying out the renovation to the half dilapidated roofs and walls.
The flight of stairs from the temple buildings in the lower level, is entirely cut out on the rock and leads to the cave above with a rather sharp ascent. The king had carved the foot print of the Buddha on the rock at his queen Somadevi’s request to invoke powers to withstand an enemy attack. This rock foot print still remains intact by the side of the cave. It was regarded as a symbol of devotion.
Ven. Nedungamuwe Sumanasara Thera, the chief incumbent has much to say on legends relating to his temple. There had been a number of military camps established by the King’s order in many places like Hatangala. (Signifying the “rock of the war training”). According to the thera, a monk named Abhayaraja (linked to the King’s royalty) was instrumental in organising and training armies and harnessing public support for the King who lived in reclusion after his defeat by the Chola.
The fugitive king landed on a rock of wilderness called “Kandawela Parwathaya” in Southern part of the country and later he came to the Kottimbulwala rock by pushing himself along a giant “Pus” vine which is said to have extended across the two rocks about two kilometres apart. He made clandestine arrangements to bring his closed families to the cave and kept them under hidden identity which was known only to the “Royal Supremo” of the forest. Legend goes on to say that the King had constructed another rock temple called ‘Lenadora’ for his queen, Somadevi, for her religious activities. It is believed that there was, and still there is, a tunnel from Kottimbulwala cave to Lenadora a distance of about five kilometres. Oral tradition has it that King Walagamba had discovered it by chance and developed it as an effective fortification against any enemy attacks.
Strange water snails!
Villagers claim once a peculiar kind of ‘water snails’ began to appear in the pond and later spread to the nearby paddy fields. The panic-stricken villagers got down some elephants who crushed the ‘water snails’ putting an end to the peril. Not far from the pond, in a corner of the paddy field, lies the “royal” well used exclusively by king and queen.
The well appears to have been reinforced with clay cylinders down to the bottom. The cylinders which are still visible continue to be a reminder of an advanced technology powered by our forefathers.
Giant door frame
The giant door frame to the cave, cut purely out of granite adds much to the pride of our skilled sculptors. Two indecipherable inscriptions on time-warn stone tablets bear testimony to work done by subsequent kings, particularly during Kandyan regime. The girth of the stone door frame amounts to an incredible two feet and the height reaches as much as ten feet.
These paintings resemble the painting genre of the Kandyan era. The lines and colours used by the painter are original to the Sinhala tradition and evolved through centuries. On the other hand, these paintings seem to lack the vivacity and dynamism present in the colours, lines, figures and style of Sigiri frescoes and other contemporary temple paintings. Some paintings include eccentric themes of imaginary animals, such as Gajasinha, Kinnara, dragons, Athkanda Lihini etc. Other paintings contain the basic events of Jathaka tales and Soowisi Wiwarana etc.
One of the paintings which has won the attraction is the illustration of the “hell” where stark naked agents of the hell are seen sawing the bodies of those believed to have been sinners in their previous births. A medley of punishments for those who have broken the moral law is displaced and some images even evoke humour in the queer way they are painted. On the rock ceiling of the shrine room, are painted a choice design of lotus flowers which assuredly catch the viewer’s eye. The vibrancy of the colours of most pictures is affected by the constant exposure to the invisible water sprays by rain and slightly leaking water along the rock.
Equally captivating are the scenes painted on the ceiling which portray heavens with gods, heavenly territories of gods, the yakshas in their extra terrestrial domains, and the concept of good and evil. There is irrefutable proof to show that those paintings were created by experienced artistes belonging to a specialised school of painting.
However, these painted pictures bear all the signs of being drawn by at least two or three artistes because the lines and the figures show clear discrepancies.
The wood carvings on the wooden pillars too display peculiar traits and originality of Sinhala art affected to the smallest degree by foreign genres.
These wood carvings bear an amazing resemblance to those of the famous Ambekke wood carvings which are “role models” for wood carving in Sri Lanka. The rock temple was refurbished by kings of Kandyan era such as Keerthi Sri Rajasinha, Sri Wickrama Rajasinha, and Buwanekabahu.
Scattered debris, stone inscriptions and pillars leave the traces of once flourished mini-kingdom of a king. Legendary tales, based on true events pervade in the air bring listeners to an imaginary past, where kingship, royalty, love and valour were intertwined.
Map of Kottimbulwala Raja Maha Vihara
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 Kottimbulwala Raja Maha Vihara
The temple lies 22 km off Balangoda and 19km off Pallebedda.
Route from Colombo to Kottimbulwala Cave Temple
|Though : Ingiriya – Ratnapura – Balabgoda – Kirimetithenna – Weligepola|
distance :160 km
Travel time : 3.5 hours.
Driving directions : see on google map