Varana Rajamaha Viharaya (වාරණ රජමහා විහාරය)

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It was one of those glorious early mornings, and as we reached the Caves of Varana Rajamaha Viharaya, the first rays of the sun were lighting it up, highlighting its peculiar formation. The paddy fields around it were glowing green after the rains and from its flat plains rose a splendid but modest rocky outcrop. At the bottom of the rock facing the road was a cave with an impressively high drip ledge cut high on its brow. This was enough of a landmark that we had arrived at the Varana Raja Maha Vihara

The Varana Rajamaha Viharaya can be reached by turning right at the Tihariya junction on the Colombo- Kandy road. The temple itself is vast and is built on three different levels (maluwas) with shrine rooms on each and a small dagoba at the summit. On the way to the Meda Maluwa is a rock pool full of fish and at the summit on a slight descent is another. The view from the top is rewarding with endless paddy fields forming a foreground to other neighboring rocks, and a horizon filled with blue-gray hills.

[wp_ad_camp_1]The rock-cut steps to the summit pass through luxurious tropical vegetation of tall trees bushes and creepers. There seemed to be a number of caves scattered around in the area with their unusually high drip-ledged brows distinguishing these caves. Many showed traces of wattle and daub walls built between the ground and the rock roof, which is evidence of their being inhabited in early times. The rock formations were delightful. The surface of the overhanging rock sometimes strangely resembled vertical waves. It was as if an unknown sculptor had painstakingly chiseled its design and oddly reminded me of the soft ripples of a marshmallow topping.

I wondered how the name Varana had come about to indicate this awesome rock scape, and was told that it appeared to be the combination of two members “va” and “arena”. Va is a kind of tree not known to us today, and Arana means forest. Hence the meaning – forest of Va Trees. But typically and so delightfully this is only just one of the legends of the area. Varana had first come into existence as a meditation center for the Sangha and its origins date back to the time of King Devanampiya Tissa of Anuradhapura, during whose reign Arahat Mahinda visited Lanka to preach the Buddhist doctrine. A stone inscription found here believed to be written in Asokan script reads that: This is donated to Tissa Dhatta Thero, the brother of Majjhima Thero. Tissa Dhatta Therro was the first pupil of the Venerable Mahinda. It is of Varana again we hear, amongst many others, that King Valagamba chose to hide, when he was fleeing to escape the Cholan marauders.

It is believed that during his stay here he caused the construction of the drip ledges on every rock where there was a habitable cave. When King Valagamba regained the kingdom, in a gesture of gratitude, he built a shrine at every place that had given him sanctuary, and that included Varana. As such it is believed that he placed a statue of the Buddha in the largest cave at Varana, and transformed it into a small shrine room. Again we hear of Varana during the reign of King Parakrama Bahu VI of Kotte. It is said that he re-decorated the Varana shrine adding the statue of God Vishnu, the statue of the Bodhisattva, and statues of numerous Buddhas and the walls were painted depicting episodes from the Jathaka stories. An eighteen-foot reclining statue of the Lord Buddha was constructed inside the main shrine room of the Varana temple. It is said that the King and Queen came personally to offer the first flowers to the image. The King also gifted by royal edict vast sprawling acres of highland and paddy fields for the maintenance of the Sangha. The venerable Kahambiliye Sendipperumere was given the incumbency of the Vihare.

During the distressing reign of King Rajasinghe of Sithawaka when Buddhist monks were persecuted the monks at Varana like everywhere else fell on bad times and had to flee their abode, until once again in the reign of King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe of Kandy, when we hear of the Varana temple. Varana is also famous for its historical association with treasure buried in its precincts, and many are the stories that are related of it. Varana today is a stunning rock gallery set in the splendor of the Siyane Korale, a place of worship, a setting of tranquility, a feast to the eye, and a buffet for the photographer in you.

by Kishanie S. Fernando
Daily Mirror

Varana is a famous rock temple in Sri Lanka. The main building of the temple is situated in a cave. Most of the paintings on the rock belong to the King Walagambahu period of the Anuradhapura civilization. Brahmin scripts belonging to 3rd B.C. are found in the temple’s inscriptions. The following tourist attractions are important in the premises.

  • Ruins of five storied building of 3 B.C
  • Ruins of Moonstone
  • Stone door frames
  • Carved rock scripts

Pilikuttuwa, Maligathenna, and Attanagalle temples are located in the vicinity of Varana Rajamaha Viharaya

Also See

Map of Varana Rajamaha Viharaya

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Travel Directions to Varana Rajamaha Viharaya

Route from Colombo to Varana Rajamaha Viharaya Route II from Colombo to Varana Rajamaha Viharaya
Through : Kadawatha – Miriswattha – Kalagedihena
Distance : 40 km
Travel time : 1.5 hours
Driving directions : see on google map
Through : Kaduwela – Weliveriya – Miriswatta – Kalagedihena
Distance : 49 km
Travel time : 1 hour
Driving directions : see on google map


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