Sri Sankapala Raja Maha Viharaya – Pallebedda (ශ්‍රී සංඛපාල රජමහා විහාරය – පල්ලෙබැද්ද)

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Situated in the Ratnapura district belonging to the Atakalan Korale Thambagamu Pattu Pallebedda Village the Sri Sankapala Raja Maha Viharaya lies in the outskirts of Ratnapura – Hambantota main road near the 24th milepost. It is a 5 hour journey from Colombo through Ratnapura.


Sankapala Raja Maha Viharaya stands majestically on a rocky mountain as ample evidence to prove that this temple has been blessed by the saintly monks who spent their time in peaceful meditation.

Situated in the Ratnapura district belonging to the Atakalan Korale Thambagamu Pattu Pallebedda Village the Sankapala Raja Maha Viharaya lies in the outskirts of Ratnapura – Hambantota main road near the 24th milepost. From here a distance of about 150 yds, is the rock mountain wherein the ruins of buildings, a Bo tree, a dagoba, and a cave Deralaya has been found.

Historical Evidence

Brahamin inscriptions cared beneath the dripledges (“Katarama” in Sinhalese) of the rock dating back to a period of even before the birth of Christ is ample evidence to prove the existence of a monastery.

Folklore has it that Pussa Deva a warrior of King Dutu Gemunu (161-131 BC) resided here. This is conformed by the fact that Pussa Devas name has been mentioned in the rock inscriptions. Pussa Deva who played a prominent part in King Dutugemunu’s wars was well versed in the art of war and blowing the conch shell. Hence the emblem conch shell was used to identify him. Further it is mentioned that later-on in life he was ordained a monk and achieved the state of Rahath. However, owing to the evils of nature this abode had been later abandoned.

Sri Sankapala Raja Maha Viharaya - Pallebedda
Ancient script found inside the temple

This place was resurrected again and made a popular place of worship by Venerable Karathota Dharmarama during the Kandyan period. It is learnt that King Rajadhi Rajasingha gifted Venerable Dharmarama the the village of Pallebedda for his good deeds.

Situated in the Ratnapura district belonging to the Atakalan Korale Thambagamu Pattu Pallebedda Village the Sankapala Raja Maha Viharaya lies in the outskirts of Ratnapura – Hambantota main road near the 24th milepost. From here a distance of about 150 yds, is the rock mountain wherein the ruins of buildings, a Bo tree, a dagoba, and a cave Deralaya has been found.

One outstanding feature of literary revelation is the famed Ven. Karatota Dhammananda. He was imprisoned by the king of Kandy Rajaddhi Rajasinghe of 18th century as the king suspected the priest to be in close contact with the Dutch. He was arrested on the king’s order and imprisoned in Kandy.

While in prison he wrote a book in verse form named ‘Bharasa Kavya Gharbha Chakraya’ which was presented to the King through Aththaragama Rajaguru Bandara. This book was sent to all the Pandit scholars in Senkadagala. However, nobody was able to comprehend it. Thus the King ordered all eminent scholars to be present at a King’s Audience/Royal gathering (“Raja Sabawa”) in order to discuss and understand the contents of the book. When this was done the King was highly pleased and he bestowed Sri Sankhapala Raja Maha Viharaya and the village of Pallebedda admist all pomp and glory to Venerable Karatota Dharmarama. This was a gift to appreciate the literary works of this Venerable monk. Even uptodate this verse form could be seen drawn on the door to the entrance of the Viharaya. Among the other items gifted are the Disa Flag with the lion inscription, “Vatapatha” (A round shaped fan used by monks) and a golden statue of Buddha. These could be seen safely guarded in the Viharaya along with the “Sannasa” (message written on leaf) and epigcaphy. Moreover he was honoured by bestowing on him as the chief incumbent of Sri Padaya and low country Sangha Nayaka Status. The glory of the temple began with this incident and it prospered thereafter until now.

Archaeological Findings

It is very important to note down here the recent observation of the excavations conducted by the archaeological Department regarding Sri Sakhapala Rajamaha Viharaya and its surroundings. Steps have been taken to submit a report on its findings regarding the 14 caves scattered round the Rajamaha Viharaya. These caves have been numbered in order to make it easy for purposes of explanation.

Cave No: I
The length and breadth of this cave is 40ft and 25ft respectively. The height is 19 ft. This is situated on the eastern side of the Viharaya. Brahamin Scriptures engeared on the right side of the cave beneath the small drains carved to drain rain water away from the Scriptures (known as Kataram) are clearly visible upto date. A small enclosure has been put up inside the cave recently.

Cave No: II
This cave faces the Southeastern side of the rock. It is 40 ft long, 40 ft wide and 20 ft in height. Inside the rock cave a small enclosure has been built with a wall and cladded with tiles. There is evidence to say that Kataram on this rock cave has been plastered with cement at a later point in time.

Cave No: III

This cave facing the east of the rock is 20 ft long, 20 ft wide has a height of 10 ft. There is no trace of a Kataram or Scriptures. This cave occupies a Devalaya devoted to God Kataragama.

Cave No: IV
This rock cave faces the west. The exposure of this rock to the fury of monsoonal and intermonsoonal rains causing damage to the rock could be seen by the cleavage of the rock to some degree. This may possibly due to the long length of the cave which is 78 ft and 34 ft wide with a height of 18 ft. Brahamin Scriptures have been engraved beneath the small Repledges (Katarama). Inside this cave is the Load Buddha’s Image House (“Budhu Madura” in Sinhalese). This cave has been transformed into two caves by building a wall separating it into two caves form where the rock has been cleft. Inside the image house is a reclining Buddha Statue. Just below the Repledge (Katarama) of the rock picture of a Dhagaba has been engraved.

Cave No: V
Towards the eastern side of the rock facing Southeast lies this cave. It is 62 ft in length, 18ft wide, and 30 ft in height. Small Repledges (Katarama) are clearly visible. An image house has been erected but there are no visible scripts.

Cave No: VI
This cave faces the South and is situated towards the eastern side of the rock. It is 58 ft in length, 19 ft wide and 20 ft in high. A small enclosure has been put up for meditation. No inscriptions are visible.

Cave No: VII
This cave too is situated towards the eastern side of the rock facing southeast. It is 14 ft long 14 ft wide while the height is 17 ft. No inscriptions have been found.

Cave No: VIII
This cave too is situated towards the eastern side of the rock. It is 24 ft long and 13 ft wide. The height is 12 ft. No inscriptions have been found, although two Repledges (Katarama) have been cut. A small enclosure for meditation has been constructed

Cave No: IX
This cave is situated towards the Southeastern side of the rock. No inscriptions are visible. It is 31 ft long, 20 ft wide, and 9 ft in height.

Cave No: X
This again is facing the Northeast and is situated on the Western side of the rock. Its 9 ft in height. There is no trace of any inscriptions or (Katarama) Repledges

Cave No: XI
The tombstone of the warrior Pussa Deva can be seen at the bottom of the rock. This cave is situated facing the Western side of the tomb. It is 45 ft long, 19 ft wide and 20 ft in height. Although there are small Repledges (Katarama) along the rock but no inscriptions are visible.

Cave No: XII
This cave is situated behind the present monastery beneath the rock. While it is 25 ft long, 12 ft wide and 13 ft in height it has drains carved but no visible signs of inscriptions.

Cave No: XIII
This cave faces Northeast and is also situated behind the present monastery. Here too no inscriptions are found.

Cave No: XVI
No inscriptions nor Repledges (Katarama) are found. The length is 25 ft, width 19 ft, and height 8 ft.

Brahamin Cave
Close to the tombstone of Pussa Deva is a huge cavity through a rock. This cavity is 12 ft long, 7 ft 8 inches wide and 10 ft in height. There is evidence to prove that this has been an abode of the primitive men. People of the area call it ‘Thapas Guhawa’ meaning ‘where Bhramins lives’.

Tombstone of Pussa Deva

Traveling about three quarter mile from Sri Sankhapala Rajamaha Viharaya towards Pallebedda one would come across on that rock where ruins are present. The people of the village believe that this is the place where Pussa Deva has been cremated.

Here lie the ruins of a small Dagoba. It has been constructed on a square platform of which one side measures 34 ft. It is a round Stupa with a circumference of 60 ft. Although there are no other ruins to be seen here the archaeological value of this place cannot be undermined

‘Sel Lipi’
Three documents written in Brahamin inscription belonging to a century Before Christ have been found while exploring the vicinity of the caves around Sri Sankhapala Raja Maha Viharaya. These have been published by the Archaeological department before.

Following is the inscription which is cared just below the Repledge (Katarama) of Cave No: l

Meaning: “An Upasaka named ‘Sona’ has gifted this cave ‘Supatiththitha’ to the Maha Sangha.”

Here Sri Sankapala Raja Maha Viharaya - Pallebedda means Maha Sangha and Sri Sankapala Raja Maha Viharaya - Pallebedda  denotes the name of the cave. Two documents in Brahamin inscription dated Before Christ have been found inside the main Image House (“Budhu Madura” in Sinhalese) in cave No: 4. This has been inscribed about 25 ft below the Repledge (Katarama) towards the centre of the cave.

Sri Sankapala Raja Maha Viharaya - Pallebedda

1st document

Meaning: “Son of Pussa Devage Guththa …………… gifted this cave”. Although it is not mentioned that this particular cave has not been gifted to the Maha Sangha, we can assume that it has been done so to all monks who inhabited the land in all directions.

2nd document

Meaning: “the cave belonging to the son named Pussa Deva has gifted this cave to the Maha Sangha”.

According to this document the cave has been gifted to the Maha Sangha by Pussa Deva. As proclaimed by the Brahamin inscriptions B.C.

The name of the gifter and his fathers name have been mentioned. But unfortunately today the fathers name has been erased with the passing of time.

Attention should be focused on the rock inscriptions found by the excavating organisation of the archaeological department. They have been successful in bringing to light two rock inscriptions which hitherto have not been excavated, in front of the main Image House on a slab of stone.

This inscription done recently consists of a mixture of Sinhalese and party erased Brahamin letters. It can be assumed that this was a gift to the Viharaya.

Considering the importance and value of these rock inscriptions there are several conclusions we could arrive at. According to folklore this cave Viharaya is where warrior Pussa Deva was ordained as a monk and where he resided.

The letters of the period between the second and third century B.C. mentions the name of Pussa Deva. This documentary inscription belonging to the 2nd century B.C. regarding Pussa Deva and folklore are identical.

Another aspect which becomes prominent with these inscriptions is the fact that these caves have been renovated and offered to the temple by the devotees. A special feature of this offering is that these caves have been gifted not only to the Bhikkus residing here but also to all monks living in all directions of the country.

To the left of these inscriptions beneath the Repledge (katarama) is the emblem of the couch shell. This emblem should be taken into consideration because adjacent to the Brahamin inscriptions belonging to the era Before Christ there are couch shell is very rare. Therefore, it is reasonably to assume that the couch shell emblem signifies the authority of Pussa Deva.

Frescoes depicting bhikkus in meditation can be found on ‘Sankhapala’ rock. These inscriptions date back to the early Anuradhappura period.

Bharasa Verse (poems)

A very rare kind of creation by Venerable Karathota Dhammarama of the temple in verse form named ” Bara Nama Gaba Saka ” during the period of King Rajadhi Raja Singha takes special place in Sinhalese literature. This was written in order to apprise King Rjadhi Rajasingha of his literary abilities. As has been mentioned earlier this was written while serving a sentence in prison.

Relics in the museum of Sri Sankapala Rajamaha Viharaya:

The Lion Flag
Among several other deeds gifted by King Rajadhi Rajasinghe to Venerable Karathota Dhammarama is a lion flag. It is a ‘disa’ flag (Meaning a flag for a particular district) wherein the sun and moon too has been drawn.

Vatapotha(A round shaped fan used by monks)
A Vatapotha with a handle made of ivory and adorned with a fine piece of cut has been offered by King Rajadhi Rajasingha. This is covered with a red satin cloth.

Gold Buddha Statue
An eight inch standing gold statue of Lord Buddha which has the characteristics of the Kandyan period has been donated by the King. There is yet another Buddha statue made of ivory preserved in the Museum.

Ola-leaf Manuscripts
A cover made of ivory, finely sculptured with a flowery design for an ola-leaf manuscript is a rare museum article and is safely preserved. In return for the two verses expressing gratitude to the King for the gifts donated he has presented a feathery gold pen with a gold nib.

The deed of Pallebedda Sankhapala Viharaya
On the year 1786 B.C. King Rajadhi Rajasingha gifted a deed to Venerable Karathota containing a land exceeding thirteen thousand acres including Sankhapala Viharaya at Pallebedda.

(Translated from “PALLEBEDDA SRI SANKAPALA PURANA RAJAMAHA VIHARAYA” Published by the Archeological Department of Sri Lanka-Authored by Ms Malini Dias. We are thankful to for the translation to English by Mrs Sita Jayasekera for Lak Daruwo)

Source :

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Map of  Sri Sankapala Raja Maha Viharaya – Pallebedda

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Travel Directions to  Sri Sankapala Raja Maha Viharaya – Pallebedda

Route from Colombo to Sankapala Temple
Though : Ratnapura – Pelmadulla – Madampe
distance :150 km
Travel time : 3 hours.
Driving directions : see on google map

Sankapala [2] : Let’s hope full moon rays bring hope for fading frescoes

By Chandrani Fernando.
Daily Mirror

The meandering waters of Rakwana River flow through the village of Pallebadda. Sankhapala Raja Maha Viharaya brings us fresh memories of the giant who helped Prince Gemunu to save the country from enemies. Giant Pussadeva not only conquered the enemy; bu also became an Arahath after realizing the impermanence of life.It is quite unfortunate that frescoes of Sankhapala Raja Maha Viharaya are fading away. The government should take every possible step to preserve this national heritage. Expert advice should be sought to save these frescoes.

It is the duty of every Buddhist to help restore the former glory of a fast deteorating valuable culture. Buddhist Associations of the country could easily help this Raja Maha Viharaya to save the frescoes. Today is Navam full moon day. Let us hope that Navam full moon rays would bring some kind of hope for the fading frescoes of Sri Sankhapala Raja Maha Viharaya, of Pallebadda.

Pallebadda is the village donated to “Pussadeva” one of the ten giants who served in the army of King Dutugemunu (161-131 BC) . After winning the war against King Elara who had ruled the country for 60 years –King Dutugemunu (161-131 BC) donated “Gam Vara” to all the giants who served him with dedication.

Out of these ten giants Pussadeva was unique because he donned robes and ultimately became an Arhath. The ultimate goal of a Buddhist is to attain Nibbana. Pussadeva not only won the battle to save the country but also won the battle to tame the “Mara”.

It was at Sankhapala Raja Maha Viharaya that, Pussadeva enshrined his conch shell of victory Thus it got the name’’ Sankhapala”.

Inside this ancient temple one can see frescos depicting various incidents in the life of Giant Pussadeva.

Inside the shrine room number three, one can see a fresco depicting King Dutu Gemunu bestowing royal awards to the ten giants. The second fresco shows Pussadeva donating the land and caves he received from the King to the Buddhist priests (Maha Sangha).The third fresco shows Pussadeva enshrining his conchshell of victory in the Sankhapala mountain. The fourth fresco shows Pussadeva taking to robes at Sankhapala Viharaya after becoming disillusioned with the Sansaric journey of life. The fifth fresco shows Pussadeva Thera meditating inside a cave. The sixth one shows the veneration of the Dagaba in which Pussadeva Maha Arahath Thera’s relics were enshrined.

The seventh fresco onwards depict the era of King Rajadhi Rajasingha (1781 – 1798). Therefore, it depicts Ven. Karathota Dhammarama Thera and Pandit Attaragama Rajaguru at Malwathu Viharaya.

How Ven. Karathota Dhammarama Thera, who was a scholar in Pracheena languages taught Dhamma Vinaya etc. to his Bhikku students is depicted in the eighth fresco.The nineth fresco depicts Ven. Karathota Dhammarama Thera the who wrote “Bharasa Kavya” presenting it at the Kavikara Maduva in a scholarly manner.

The tenth fresco shows King Rajadhi Rajasingha presenting the royal fan (Vatapatha) to Ven. Karathota Dhammarama Thera. This was gifted as the King was impressed by his “Bharasa Kavya” the king offered the Thera the chief incumbent position of the low country and the chief incumbent position of Sri Pada . The King also donated him the village of Pallebadda.

The next fresco depicts Ven. Karathota Sri Dhammarama Thera going to the Sankhapala Viharaya passing the Pallebadda village boundary.

There are seven caves which were used for meditation purposes in this rocky jungle temple of Sankhapala which are out of bounds to visitors now.

According to “Thupavansa’, Pussadeva the giant was born in Godigomuwa close to the Chittala Pabbatha. He was the son of Uthpala .One day he had gone to the village temple with his friends and seeing the conch shell which was lying by the Bodhi had blown it with all his might. The conchshell gave such a sound as though thousand thunderbolts had struck. The children got so frightened that they fell down. After this incident little Pussadeva was called “Ummada Pussadeva”as he was in a position to make others go mad.

Thereafter, Pussadeva’s father taught him archery. This child was so strong that he did marvels with his bow and arrows. When King Kawantissa heard of this young giant he sent word to his parents of his desire to recruit him for the service of Prince Gemunu. Pussadeva’s parents were given many valuable gifts before the young giant was taken away.

Sankapala [3] : Sankapala Viharaya’s archaeological importance

byBy by P. D. A. S. Gunasekera, Ratnapura group corr.
Daily News
Sri Sankapala Raja Maha Viharaya - Pallebedda

Among the many ancient viharas in the Sabargamuwa Province, Sankapala stands out prominently as a renowned place of worship since the days of the ‘Mahinda-Gamanaya’ (arrival of Mihindu) during the reign of the King Devanampiyatissa, centuries ago according to tradition.

The name

The name Sankapala had originated in the time of Dutugamunu when he was conscripting his army with the help of Dasamaha-Yodoyas (the 10 warriors) including Pussadeva who acted as the ‘clarion call’ of the army during emergencies to put the area under instant security operations with the help of the ‘Sanka (conch-shell) which he blew-aloud to call the attention of the people and the army.

The viharaya is situated at the foot of a mountain range on the Ratnapura-Embilipitiya road. In the wilderness of the mountain stands a large rock overlooking the viharaya which had come to be known as ‘Sankapala Rock’ after Dasa-Mahayoda, Pussadeva took to the robe and became an ‘Arahat’ at the end of the military operations under King Dutugamunu. Tradition has it, that the spot in which the rock-lay became Sankapala Viharaya.

Surrounding wilderness

The wilderness surrounding the ‘rock’ was filled with large and spacious caves, 14 in number, inhabited by ‘Arahats’ in the distant past and invested with a deep Buddhist atmosphere and influence. The mute evidence of the caves and the stone inscriptions on the rock, provide sufficiently convincing proofs of the ‘lip-service-transmission’ of the time regarding the identity of the historical place.

Pussadeva had kept in a ‘specially-cut notche’ of the front-face of the rock, unapproachable by any but himself, the Sanka (the couch-shell) only he was able to blow, to be heard in all directions in the area of military operations.

How it thrived

With the passage of time the ‘Arahat’ had disappeared leaving the place to the posterity under whose guidance the viharaya had come into being and thrived in its present state. The viharaya had also been an ancient seat of learning where an incumbent Thera had composed ‘a Dolos-Maha-Kawya’, a piece of intricate verse, which unfolded itself into twelve separate verses of four lines each, with a deep meaning only a few of the highest erudition could decifer.

The existence of the verse and its attribution to the time and place are the only evidence, beside the oral tradition carried through the centuries.

Historical relations

However the historical relations pertaining to the place leave no doubt of the oral-tradition as an authentic source of information of the pre-historical age.

Sankapala, no doubt, contains buried information for the reconstruction of the earlier religious traditions, if any, peculiar to that time, before the arrival of Buddhism in Lankadipa, and trace them back to the age of the ‘Balangoda-Man’ whose civilisation, some 30,000 years old, has been established by the excavations of the former Archaeological Commissioner Dr. Siran Deraniyagala and his father before him in Sabaragamuwa.


The ‘cave-culture’ common to both the ‘Balangoda Man’ and the ‘Arahat’ in the Dutugemunu era traces a similarity between the two with the one more developed than the other. The excavation, if undertaken by the Dept. of Archaeology could bring to light the thread of the development of the culture from the ‘Balangoda Man’, the earliest established link to the Sankapala-era and then to the present day.

Though the suggestion appears to be far-fetched at the same time, it appears to be worth following considering the excavations of Batadomba Lena and other areas of excavations which have proved successful beyond expectations.


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