The cries of birds and laughing thrushes filled the morning air as I followed the partly gravel road which was lined on either side by shrub jungle, paddyfield and chena to Rasseruwa rock cave temple where the first colossus of Aukana stands majestically amidst the dense foliage.
I myself felt fortunate to be here to visit the less known historic Rasseruwa rock temple popularly known as Rasvehera at Kudakathnoruwa, Migalawa in the Kurunegala district. I was drawn here by my lifelong love of archaeological sites, and the sacred places, so important to the history of Sri Lanka, has been central to much of my work as a photographer.
This rock cave temple is of immense archaeological importance considering its historic values. Rasseruwa is very significant in many ways. One is the main shrine cave containing an image of the reclining Buddha statue where the original robe which covered it is still visible at certain places.
This is the only Buddha statue in a rock temple
where pilgrims could walk right round it in veneration. The other unique one is a 42′ 4″ tall colossus which stands majestically on the top of the rock amidst a forest canopy. It was carved out of a rock outcrop.
History tells that the benevolent tank builder king Datusena who built the mighty reservoir called the Kalawewa, wanted the supreme being to overlook his mundane efforts. He wanted to build the image of the Buddha as big as his work, on the bank of Kalawewa. Then, came the moment of triumph.
The Aukana Buddha statue was commissioned to be built. Rasseruwa was the first place chosen to build the the Colossus Aukana Buddha. As the work proceeded the monarch had a suspicion about the strength of the rock.
He therefore abandoned the site and chose another at Aukana close to Kalawewa.
However, the sculptor with understanding continued his work and created a masterpiece of a Buddha image at Rasseruwa. He sculptured the most beautiful image into the living rock. He sent his pupil to do the monarch’s bidding. The Aukana Buddha statue is slightly taller than the original at Rasseruwa.
During my few hour’s stay at Rasseruwa, I began to understand the marvellous craftsmanship of our ancient sculptors and their stone creations. There are more than 100 caves scattered around the rock outcrop of Rasseruwa.
They were used as shelters for meditation monks in the past. As I entered the main cave shrine I saw the beautifully carved Makara Thorana above the seated Buddha statue, normally ancient cave temple posses this kind of decorations, and also wall paintings belonging to the Kandyan period.
I also noticed that little has been done to preserve the damaged walls in the shrine cave of the temple by the department of Archaeology.
The huge Bo-tree spreading its branches around it stands majestically in front of the shrine cave, with a 10′ feet tall stone wall erected around the Bo-tree. This is also rarely seen in temples.