Medirigiriya Vatadage [2] – The Gem on a Rocky Platform

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primary root main first article Earlier this month when it was raining continuously in Colombo we decided to take a trip to Medirigiriya. Not knowing what type of weather to expect our vehicle was packed with umbrellas and raincoats in addition to the usual sun hats and caps. However we were quite taken aback to reach a scorching hot Meidirigiriya The sun seemed to beat down mercilessly on burnt fields and parched streams.

The canal that accompanies the road right through to Medirigiriya almost from the turn off at Minneriya was completely dry and was used as another road way by pedestrians.

After riding on stretches of bad road, we reached the Medirigiriya Archeology site around noon. It was definitely not the best time to tour ruins in the open air. The place seemed to be sizzling.

But as we gazed at the superb vatadagaya poised so majestically on its rocky platform all inconveniences seemed to vanish. Literarily throwing to the winds (for there was quite a bit of wind that day) all qualms on sunburn and heat waves there we were hats off , clicking our cameras trying to capture the impossible.

It was the first time we were at this site at this hour of noon. Earlier we had come in at the placid waking hours of morning and the hazy hours of sunset. But now for the first time we were seeing a different landscape of burning green foliage and brilliant blue skies with flaky white clouds as an unbeatable backdrop to what Bell once described as an architectural gem

Architecturally the vatadage sometimes referred to as the circular image house and the circular stupa temple, belongs to the the type of Buddhist architecture being one of the most ambitious achievements of the Sri Lankan builder and perhaps his most perfect and exquisite creation. Medirigiriya vatadagaya is one of the few such buildings found in the island The others including Thuparama and Lankarama (Anuradhapura) Silacetiya (Mihintale) Tiriyay, Rajangane, Lahugala, Pollonnaruwa, Attanagalla.

A lofty porch and a monumental flight of steps serves as the entrance to the Medirigiriya vatadagaya . At the top of the flight of steps are two purnaghatas or full pots placed on lotus pedestals.

The centre of the circular shrine is occupied by a stupa. Facing the cardinal points with their back to the stupa are four lime stone images of Buddha seated in the dhayana mudra. Between these images on brick pedestals stood images of Bodhisattvas.

The stupa is encompassed by three concentric circles of 68 graceful octagonal stone pillars with attractive capitals. The inner most circle being only 1 ft. 9 ins from the base of the stupa consists of 16 pillars, The second circle which is 6 ft. 3 ins. from the innermost one contains 20 pillars. The outermost circle which is 14 ft. 5 ins. from the second has 32 pillars.

Between the second and the outermost pillars was a brick wall of which little remains today and four door ways. It is believed that the pillars and the brick wall supported a domical roof out of wood.

A short stone screen wall runs parallel to the brick wall and in line with the outermost circle of pillars. It is decorated with the post and rail design and based on a double lotus petal molding. The wall reminds us of the Buddhist railing pattern at sanchi.

The floor of the interior of the shrine and the terrace on which the vatadagaya stands is paved with flags of granite.

Medirigiriya is associated with the ancient Mandalagiri Vihara. The origins of the Mandalagiri vihara are not known. The earliest reference to it is found in the Mahawansa which records that Kaniththa Tissa (circa A.D. 164-192) caused an uposathaghara to be built at Mandalagiri vihara.

The vatadagaya apparently was begun by Aggabodhi IV (7th century). However bricks containing Brahmi letters of the most archaic pre Christian times incised as masons marks have been found from around the stupa in the centre of the vatadagaya.

As such it has been established that this stupa is one of the oldest Buddhist shrines in the island.

Medirigiriya’s other precious attractions

  1. The natural cave at the entrance to the site
  2. The main entrance flanked by ancient muragal or guard stones and a moon stone. The pond paved partly by large stone slabs which was used by the resident monks can be also seen here..
  3. The stupa opposite the vatadagaya said to be older than the vatadagaya building.
  4. The siripathula stone worshipped in the very early times.
  5. The shrine room of the Recumbent image of the Lord Buddha, is 57′ in length and 36’in breadth. The image which is now in ruins is believed to have been about 33′ in length. Two more shrine rooms are housed on either side of this building. A yantragala and several Buddha images and parts of images found at this site can be seen here. The yantragala is a square lime stone slab made into a receptacle divided into compartments, where various auspicious objects were originally deposited.
  6. The shrine room referred by the locals as the Pichcha mal viharaya consists of 5 of the most beautiful lime stone images of the Lord Buddha. The three standing images are breadth taking. The two seated images on either side are as inspiringly. The sadakadapahana, muragal and korawakgal flank the entrances here.
  7. One of the serene seated Buddha images
  8. One of the inscriptions found at this site
  9. The hospital built for the monks
  10. The behethoruwa or the medicinal trough.
Story and pictures by Kishanie S. Fernando
Daily Mirror

Map of Medirigiriya Vatadage

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Travel Directions to Medirigiriya Vatadage

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first published : 2005

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