Ras Vehera (Sesuruwa) Buddha Statue (රැස්වෙහෙර සස්සේරුව විහාර සංකීර්ණය)

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This is a lesser-known twin colossal statue of Buddha lying close to the famous Avukana Buddha statue. This statue is called Ras Vehera as well as Sasuruwa (or Sas-seruwa). Unlike Avukana, Res Vehera is carved inside a rock-cut cavity. This would have protected the image from the weather without additional structures.

Ras Vehera Statue

According to the Administration Report of Mr. H.C.P. Bell, this image is 39 feet 3 inches high. The head is 7 feet 4 inches and the foot is also 7 feet 4 inches. The height of the head is the same as the length of the foot. The right arm is 12 feet 2 inches long. The palm is 4 feet 8 inches. According to these measurements, this image is 5 inches taller than the Avukana Buddha  (Vanarathana, 1990).

This image which is in the Abhaya mudra, has a rough robe, with ripples. There is no altar for the image. The soles of the feet are on the natural rock itself unlike in Avukana.

The face is different from that of other Buddha images. Though it is not perfectly square it is of a square shape. Of the two ears, one is incomplete. Professor Paranavitana gives the following explanation for this: King Mahasena (276-303 CE) was a patron of the Abhayagiri fraternity. He started work on this image according to the instructions of the monks there, but before the work was complete he died. The next king was Kithsiri Mevan (303-311 CE), his son. Since his father favoured Abhayagiri and antagonised and opposed the other sects, he had become unpopular. Therefore Kitsiri Mevan began to patronise the Mahavihara openly. Having joined the Mahavihara he is said to have completed the work on the image. Generally at first sight this image lacks the calmness and serenity of a Buddha image. The face depicts a person in a thoughtful mood (Vanarathana, 1990). However looking at the ear, feet, and pedestal block, it is obvious that the carving was disrupted before the final finishes were carried out on this statue.

This statue also lacks the “Siraspatha” at the top of the head which is seen in the Awkana statue. But it is said that there was a wooden “siraspatha” in the early days. There also has been a housing structure around the statue for protection as the rock in which the statue is carved is fairly soft. All this was destroyed during the North Indian Tamil invasion (of Kalinga Maga).

Legends of Avukana and Ras Vehera Statue

There are two colourful folklore regarding the buildings of the twin colosals close to each other. According to one legend, there was fierce competition between a student and a master stone craftsman during ancient times. This turned into a competition and the two sculptors started working at the same time at Avukana and Ras Vehera. The accomplishment of either masterpiece was to be signalled by the ringing of a bell.

Master and pupil worked furiously and years later a bell clanged decisively. Today, the Aukana colossus of the guru, stands completed and is the finer of the two. The unfinished Sasseruwa image broods over a lonely hermitage in the fastness of the Vanni jungle (Studio Times, 1974).

The second legend is that when the warrior King Dutugemunu was marching his army against the fortress of Elara (in the 2nd century BCE) had made Vijitapura his stronghold, news was brought to him when he reached Sasseruwa that heavy rains had caused the fords on the Kala Oya to be impassable. To while away the irksomeness caused by the delay, and rather than see his great army spending time indolently, the King commanded them to work on devious projects. To the stone masons, builders and sculptors in his retime, he committed the task of producing a larger than-ever statue of the Buddha on the southern escarpment of the mountain.

Before their work could be trimmed, polished and finished, news came through that the floods in the river were subsiding. The King, though greatly disappointed that the sacred image was left in an unfinished state, but anxious to get to grips with the enemy, hurriedly continued his march. When the King reached the riverbank, he found the river, much to his annoyance, once again in spate and unfordable. Annoyed by these interruptions and with his earlier disappointment over the Sasseruwa image still in mind, he turned to one of his Chieftains and ordered that an identical image should be chiselled from one of the boulder-rocks on a hump of the hill off the left bank of the river. Here you have the magnificent Avukana Statue and 10 km away lies the unfinished Saseruwa statue.

Dethispala Maha Bodhi

The Bo Tree in the site is a sapling of the very first 32 saplings (Dethispala Maha Bodhi) of the Sri Maha Bodhi in the Anuradhapura and is thought to have been planted by the king Devampiyathissa (250 – 210 BC). It is said that on the day the tree was planted the area was lit by colourful rays of light (ras). Thus the name ‘Ras Vehera’ was attached to this site. The tree is protected by a 10 feet tall 4 layers of tightly packed stones. This is also a unique feature comparable to bodigara seen in other temples.

This place is also called Sesuruwa (or Sas-seruwa) which could be interpreted as the “similar statue”. This could be due to the proximity of the Awkana Statue and the similarities. Folklore also tells that the same person did the Ras Vehera statue and this was a trial before starting the famous Awkana Statue.

Ras Vehera Ancient Monastery

Ras Vehera is a large rocky outcrop containing several caves. There are indications that monks inhabited these caves from the third century B.C. onwards. Twenty-three Brahmin inscriptions belonging to that early era have been recorded from these caves

One of these inscriptions mentions a monk named Dhammaruci. Since there was a Mahayana sect by the name of Dhammarauci, this monk is also believed to have belonged to that sect. Inscriptions show that monks having the same name resided at Rajagala and Bowattegala as well. Moreover, this belongs to the pre-Christian era. At Resvehera there is also two image houses ascribed to the Kandy Period. From this, it is evident that Ras Vehera was a highly recognised monastery from early times.

There are 2 image houses in addition to the main Buddha image cut into the stone. One is on the same path you climb to the rock statue but before the Bo tree. This image house inside a cave is called “Raja Maha Viharaya” and the stupa is said to have been built by King Walagamba (89-77 BC). As you enter is a beautiful Makara Thorana and underneath is a beautiful seating Buddha statue.

The other cave image house contains a massive reclining Buddha statue. You can see several places in this statue where treasure hunters have broken into and freshly repaired.

According to the priest of the temple, this is 39 feet long and has some unique features not found in other shrine caves. It is possible to walk around this statue. Another feature is the robe on the statue has been hand woven and pasted. Then a hand-woven cotton thread has been pasted all over to represent the waves of the robe. Then this has been plastered and painted. According to the chief priest, this thread has been woven by a single poor woman as an offering to the Buddha. The original thread and the robe are now visible in certain places, especially on the rear side of the statue.

In this cave, there is a finely woven bed donated by a wood craftsman during the King Rajasinghe (1797 – 1814) era. According to the chief priest, there is a very interesting story behind this offering. During these times only privileged people were allowed to sleep on beds. But the wife of this said wood craftsman was nagging him to make her a bed.

Finally, the craftsman gave in and made a bed for his wife. And of course, there was no fun sleeping on a bed when nobody knew that there was a bed in your house. So the wife had to tell about her secret bed to their neighbours and news spread from house to house and finally to the king. So finally the the poor craftsman decided to offer the bed to the temple to avoid punishment by the king.

In this cave is a small burrow where a large Cobra lives. It is commonly believed that this cobra is a protector of the cave shrine.

Both these shrine rooms are generally kept locked to keep away thieves. But the priests there will be happy to open them for anybody who wants to go in.

In addition to the above there are 99 caves where the Buddhist monks lived in the pre-Christian era.


  1. Vanarathana, K. (1990) ‘Sculpture And Carvings Of Sri Lanka From The 1st To 5th Century A.D.’, in Archaeological Department Centenary (1890 – 1990) : Commemorative Series Volume Four : Sculpture. Colombo, Sri Lanka: Department of Archaeology, pp. 2–43.
  2. Handbook for the Ceylon traveller: A Studio Times Publication (1974). Colombo, Sri Lanka: Studio Times, p.167

Also See

Map of Ras Vehera (Sesuruwa) Buddha Statue

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Travel Directions to Ras Vehera

Ras Vehera can be accessed via Galgamua. From the town turn to the Horagollagama (Hora-golla-gama) Road. From this road turn to Meegalawa (Mee-ga-la-wa) Road. The site is about 15 km down this road. The distance to Galgamuwa from Colombo is about 160 Km and from Anuradhapura it is about 45 Km.

You can also reach the site form Kurunegala – Dambulla Road from Ibbagamuwa (Ibba-gamuwa) through Kumbukgataya (Kumbuk-gataya), Polpithigama (Pol-pithi-gama) and Moragollagama (Mora-golla-gama).

Route from Colombo to Ras Vehera Route from Galewela to Ras Vehera
Through : Kelaniya – Ambepussa – Kurunegala
Distance : 160 km
Travel time : 3.5 hours.
Driving directions : see on google map
Through : Galewela – Awukana Statue
Distance : 35 km
Travel time : 45 minutes.
Driving directions : see on google map

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