Ridi Viharaya lies about 20 kilometres away from the ancient kingdom of Kurunegala in a small village called Ridi Gama. This temple is said to be built by King Dutugemunu in the 2nd century BC as a memorial to the place where he found a silver (ridi) ore mine which was used to finance the building of the gigantic Ruwanweli Seya.
The great chronicle Mahavamsa describes the discovery of this mine by a trader
…. In a southerly direction from the city, at a distance of eight yojanas, silver appeared in the Ambatthakola-cave. A merchant from the city, taking many wagons with him, in order to bring ginger and so forth from Malaya, had set out for Malaya. Not far from the cave he brought the wagons to a halt and since he had need of wood for whips he wetit up that mountain. As he saw here a branch of a bread-fruit-tree, bearing one single fruit as large as a water pitcher, and dragged down by the weight of the fruit, he cut the (fruit) which was lying on a stone away from the stalk with his knife, and thinking: `I will give the first (produce as alms),’ with faith he announced the (meal) time.
And there came thither four (theras) who were free from the asavas. When he had greeted them gladly and had invited them with all reverence to be seated, he cut away the rind around the stalk with his knife and tore out the bottom (of the fruit), and pouring the juice which filled the hollow forth into their bowls he offered them the four bowls filled with fruit-juice. They accepted them and went their way.
Then he yet again announced the (meal) time. Four other theras, free from the asavas, appeared before him. He took their alms-bowls and when he had filled them with the kernels of the bread-fruit he gave them back.
Three went their way, but one did not depart. In order to show him the silver he went further down and seating himself near the cave he ate the kernels. When the merchant also had eaten as he wished of the kernels that were left, and had put the rest in a bundle, he went on, following the track of the thera, and when he saw the thera he showed him the (usual) attentions. The thera opened a path for him to the mouth of the cavern: `Go thou now also on this path, lay brother!’ When he had done reverence to the thera he went that way and saw the cave. Standing by the mouth of the cave and seeing the silver he struck upon it with his axe, and when he knew it to be silver he took a lump of the silver and went to his freight-wagons. Then leaving the wagons behind and taking the lump of silver with him the excellent merchant went in haste to Anuradhapura and told the king of this matter, showing him the silver. ….
As a gesture of gratitude, The king decided to build a temple on the same ground and sent over 300 stone craftsmen to work on the temple. He also got a large gold-plated Buddha statue to be bought from Dambadiva, India to be kept at the site. According to the ancient book called “ridi vihara asna”, when King Dutugemunu was coming to the competed temple with the Buddha Statue brought from India, the cart got stuck between some rocks and couldn’t be moved. The king disappointed, sat on the rock refusing to move until the cart is moved. Arhath Indragupta Thero ( the same Thero who showed the merchant the way to the silver mine) saw this and made the statue float in the sky and travel through the air all the way to the temple.
Today this 2200 year old statue can be seen at the very spot where the silver ore was found inside the pahatha maluwa protected by a glass casing.
Although this area belongs to Kurunegala District, this area was part of the Kandian Kingdom during European occupation and King Kirthi Sri Rajasainha has made major renovations on this temple. Therefore most of the paintings and statues we see today belong to the Kandian Era.
‘Waraka Welandu Viharaya’
On the way to the main cave, you will come across a curious image house built entirely of stone. This is called the ‘Waraka Veladu Viharaya’ which translates to ‘the temple where Jack Fruit was consumed’. It is said that this was the cave in which the Indragupta Maha Thero consumed the Jack-Fruit ( called bread-fruit in Mahavamsa translation) which was offered by the Merchant. Inside this image house is a seated Buddha statue and all the walls have Buddhist paintings belonging to the Kandian Era.
The design of this building strangely resembles a Devala ( dedicated to Hindu Gods). There is also a hallway to enter the shrine similar to Devala Design. The 8 stone pillars holding the main roof of the hallway have carvings of female dancers which is not generally found in the Buddha image houses. Therefore it could be that this building was built during a period where the Hindu beliefs were strongly present in the country such as the Polonnaruwa Era or Kandian Era.
Passing this image house you would enter an entrance hall of the main Vihara complex. Here you would see a massive arms bowl which is said to have been used for Buddha Puja in ancient times.
Passing this you would enter the Main Vihara complex which is divided into two. The lover one is called the ‘Maha Vihare’ ( the main temple) or ‘Pahala Vihare’ ( lower temple) and the upper is called the ‘Uda Vihare’ ( the upper temple). The Maha Vihare was constructed by the King Dutugemunu in the 2nd century BC and the Uda Vihare was constructed by King Kirthi Sri Rajasainha (1747 – 1781).
The maha vihare is located inside a spacious rock cave and contains a 9m recumbent Buddha image and the original gold plated Buddha Image donated by King Dutugemunu. At the feet of the recumbent Buddha image, there is a statue of Ananda Thero, a statue of a Maithree Bodhi Sattva and then statues of some Devatha. It is believed that the last statue of Devatha is actually a statue of King Dutugemunu. After these is a row of 5 Buddha statues which is said to have been originally gold plated.
The flower pedestal of the recumbent Buddha image also has a very curious feature. It is decorated with about two hundred 18th century Dutch tiles portraying the life of Christ popularly known as bible tiles. These are believed to have been presented to King Kirthi Sri Rajasainha (1747 – 1781) by a Dutch Governor who in turn donated it to the temple. From the way these tiles are arranged, the tiler seems to be clueless about the pictures on the tiles.
The roof of the cave is plastered and painted with various patterns. During the poison season of 2008, a large area of this plaster fell off due to heat generated by the large number of pilgrims inside of the cave.
Pancha Naari Getaya
Entrance to the Uda Vihare is through a side door in the Maha Vihare. here you will pass a protected door frame decorated with ivory carvings. Door frames decorated with ivory is an extremely rare feature for ancient buildings. This door has been subject to vandalism and the lower parts of the ivory are now missing. At the top centre of the decorations is what looks like a vase but closer inspection reveals it’s a carving of 5 females interwoven together.
This design is called “Pancha Naari Getaya” (figure of five women entwined in the shape of a pot). Beside this is a carving of 2 lions. Around these are fragments of the ivory designs which covered the rest of the frame.
The Uda Vihare believed to be built by King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe consists of three chambers and a connecting corridor.
The first chamber is dedicated to the deity who protects the mountain of Ridi Vihara. He is called “Kumara Bandara Deviyo” The second which is the largest is the Buddha Image house. In addition to the large seated Buddha image this hall contains some curious and unique drawings. These drawings are not on walls but on the sides of the pedestal of the seated Buddha. On the left side is a picture of 3 lions who share one head. This is called the “Tri Singha” drawing. On the other side of the seat is another unique drawing called “Vrushaba Kunjaraya” which the entwined heads of the bull and the elephant. On the same pedestal, you can see 3 pictures of soldiers with arms. These are believed to be a depiction of Rama and Ravana war.
At the end of the cave, outside the shrine room, there is a painting of “Navanari Kunjaraya”, the figures of nine women arranged in such a way, as to create the image of an elephant.
The temple has two stupas. One beside a cave behind the Uda Maluwa. The other is on an altogether separate hill called “Sarasum Gala”. To reach the Sarasum Gala stupa you need to climb a separate set of granite stairs. It is believed the original temple was located around this stupa.
Map of Ridi Viharaya
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
Zoom out the map to see more surrounding locations using the mouse scroll wheel or map controls.
Travel Directions to Ridi Viharaya
The Ridi Vihara is about 20 km from the Kurunegala Town. Travel on the Kandy Road from Kurunegala up to Mallawapitiya junction. This is about 5km from the Kurunegala town. Turn off to Keppitigala Road and Travel another 15 km along this road. You will come across the junction where the route to the Viharaya is marked. Travel about 1 1/2 km along this road to reach the Temple.
By travelling further on the Keppitigala Road for 5 km, you will come across Kurunegala Rambadagalla Vihara where the largest granite-carved Samadhi Statue of the World is being carved out.
|Route from Colombo to Ridi Vihara||Route from Kurunegala to Ridi Vihara|
|Through : Kelaniya – Ambepussa – Kurunegala – Mallawapitiya – Ridigama|
Distance : 116 km
Travel time : 2.5 hours.
Driving directions : see on google map
|Through : Kurunegala – Mallawapitiya – Ridigama|
Distance : 21 km
Travel time : 30 minutes.
Driving directions : see on google map
Ridi Viharaya  – Silver threads for three religions
Ridi viharaya is one place where you can see many revered artifacts; of Buddhists, Hindus and even Christians. Of traditional Sinhala art forms and non-traditional, unique, design concepts.
The main image house or the Maha Vihara known also as the “Pahatha Viharaya” (lower temple) of the Ridi Viharaya, is comfortably tucked into a Large cave, with its rock roof looming skywards, reminding us of the cobra hood cave of Sigiriya. Here we see representations from the three main religions of Sri Lanka..
The walls and roof of the cave are covered with Buddhist frescoes. Many are the images of the Lord Buddha. Hindu gods too stand to attention. And even what is believed to be a statue of royalty identified as King Dutugemunu. But these Buddhist and Hindu images have always had a place for each other in their respective temples. What is strange is the inclusion of some Christian themes. Maybe it was an accident or maybe it was not. But definitely, it is interesting.
Inlaid on the mal-asana or flower altar built for a 9m recumbent Buddha image are these strange blue tiles identified as the Christian theme Delft tiles.
Popularly known as the Bible tiles these are believed to have been a gift from a European ambassador to King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe who in turn gifted them to the temple in the days when the Dutch ruled the maritime Provinces.
Ascribed to the 18th century Delft factory in Holland these blue and white porcelain tiles depict themes from the Old Testament like the creation of man, the fall of man, the great flood and its aftermath (dove of peace with the olive branch), Moses and the burning bush, the prophets of yore and some scenes from the new testament depicting the life of Christ.
In addition to this strange mix, the cave is full of other historic and revered artefacts.
An original golden Buddha image brought from Dambadiva by King Dutugemunu as a gesture of gratitude for the silver ore that is said to have been found in this vicinity which was used to raise revenue for the completion of the building of the great Ruwanveliseya of Anuradhapura, is deposited in this cave safely inside a glass case.
Under the main entrance to this cave are some interesting paintings. In particular, one shows an unfinished sketch of a seated Buddha, showing the ancient measurement system that was used in the painting of a Buddha image.
The door frame of one of the doors leading into this cave is decorated exquisitely in Ivory. The “Pancha Nari Getaya” (a figure of five women entwined in the shape of a knot) decorates the centre of this work. In keeping with the art of delusion, the intricate carving depicts from far a vase but a close look reveals the knitting of the figures of five maidens. On either side of this is the carving of two lions. This unique piece of ivory art sadly has been the subject of vandalism.
The “Uda Viharaya” (upper temple) is exclusive to some rare concepts in Sinhala and Buddhist art, traditional and non-traditional. The Makara Thorana is behind the main image of the seated Buddha. is considered the best of its kind. It is unique in its decoration including groups of Gods and devotees and with an image of the standing Buddha on either side. Also, the two makara heads forming the usual arch are turned outwards.
Upon the pedestal of the seated Buddha image at the bottom are some unique animal paintings usually not found in temples. The “Thri Sinha Rupaya” found on the front of the pedestal depicts three seated lions but with one face. The paintings of “Sarpenda” and “Vrushba Kunjaraya” (the entwined heads of the bull and the elephant) are interesting. Also recognizable are paintings that are believed to depict the warring King Rawana.
It is also interesting to note that not a single Jataka story is depicted among the paintings in this cave. But the walls are filled with stories from the life of Buddha
A painting of the “Nawanari Kunjavaya” or nine maidens is found at the end of the cave outside the small and last chamber of this cave house. The clever arrangement of nine graceful bodies of maidens deludes the onlooker from far into recognizing the figure of an elephant. Inside this small cave, some ancient wooden Buddha images can be seen. The narrowing cave roof is painted with colorful motifs giving a charming fabric-like effect.
At the entrance to this Uda Viharaya cave is a Hindu devalaya dedicated to the guardian of the mountain on which the Ridi Vihara is situated, Kumara Bandara. At the back of the Uda viharaya is an open cave in which is a small dogoba.
The treasures of art found at Ridi viharaya are not limited to its main cave shrines and seemingly spill into the courtyards that surround the caves.
Some unique carvings can be seen along a flight of steps leading from the Uda viharaya to the courtyard below. The Korawak- gala on either side acting as low banisters shows the stylized head and the trunk of an elephant, inside of which are carvings. One carving can be identified as an elephant trying to pull out a tree while a man with an arrow aims at him.
Some interesting guard stones and flower alters too can be seen..
Just outside of the temple courtyard is a stone-pillared structure more Hindu in architecture and ground plan known as the “Waraka Welandu Lena”. Popular belief is that the Arahat Indragupta partook of a meal of ripe jak fruit at this spot. On the skillfully chiselled stone pillars forming the porch of the building can be seen some interesting carvings of figures of people. A dancing girl and a soldier are more visible. It is believed to have been a Hindu shrine.
Outside the temple complex atop a small rocky hill passing an ancient inscription is a dagoba “Sarasum gala chaiththiya” believed to be the original site of the Ridi viharaya temple. From here we were rewarded with a vision over the valleys and into the hills well worth the extra climb.