December 2017


Buduruwagala: A Rock of Sculptures
December 2017




The Buduruwagala rock depicting the ancient carvings

The village of Buduruwagala is relatively less visited among the island's wealth of historical sites, though it holds one of the greatest archeological findings in Sri Lanka. Buduruwagala is the site of the tallest solid rock-carved, standing Buddha statue in Southern Asia, where on the same solid rock are six other images hewn in high relief, in sets of three on either side of the central carving. Despite its majesty, as with many artefacts of Sri Lanka, its origin and history is yet a mystery.


Words
: Nethu Wickramasinghe
Photography: L J Mendis Wickramasinghe


This famed archeological site is located just four km from the Buduruwagala junction which detours from the main A2 road connecting Wellawaya and Thanamalvila. Nestled just beneath the hilly terrains of the central highlands of the island, in the Monaragala district Buduruwagala can be reached from almost any part of the island. To the north lies the famous Ella Gap, while to the east lies the beaches of Arugambay, to the south lies Hambanthota, and to the west lies Belihuloya and Ratnapura.


The monsoonal showers that had begun several days ago, had been ample enough for the magical splendour of the dry zone to come alive. Dew on grass glistened over endless expanses of paddy fields. Taking a brisk turn from the Buduruwagala junction, we were heading towards our destination uphill. We stopped near the Buduruwagala wewa, just to observe the still waters and the breathtaking scenery that was indeed awe-inspiring. Village life was simple and it was evident that their livelihoods were dependent on this water reserve. Tall trees isolated and surrounded by water provided ideal sites for the hungry watchful eyes of birds of prey to dart down and catch their next meal.


After a rugged ride through the dense forest covers, we reached our destination. At the entrance was a modern day Buddhist temple. Walking past the temple a few metres ahead was a massive rock. At the centre was the 51-foot tall rock sculpture, which undoubtedly was given much prominence over other figures. Villagers claim that the site dates back to the times of King Walagamba's reign. However, Archeological Department dating reveals that these carvings belong to a time between the seventh and tenth century AD, during the Anuradhapura dynasty, a time much later than King Walagamba's reign.

The fact that the origins of the Buduruwagala sculptures still remain a mystery is truly intriguing. The figures display perfect craftsmanship that was employed nearly a millennia ago.


The fact that the origins of the Buduruwagala sculptures still remain a mystery is truly intriguing. The figures display perfect craftsmanship that was employed nearly a millennia ago. The rock relief figures were evidently covered with a thin layer of plaster which was once brightly coloured, as is evident from what remains in a few places of the carvings. Although many archeologists claim, that the central figure depicts Dipankara Buddha, the very first amongst the 24 Buddhas who have lived so far, there is no written evidence in chronicles nor in stone inscriptions.


The two groups of figures on either side of the central figure are smaller in size. Although these depictions may seem more like Mahayana Bodhisattva images, they remain unidentified till date. Described in Mahayanic terms and iconography, at least two of the figures in the centre right and left resemble Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara and Bodhisattva Maithreya respectively. The female figure on the left side of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, is believed to be his consort Bodhisattva Tara. The sculpture to the left of Bodhisattva Maithreya, holds a ‘vajra' in its right hand, hence some believe that this figure could be Bodhisattva Vajrapani. Of all seven carvings, the figure of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, with its intricate carvings is the one that is mostly intact. Iconographically although Mahayanic influence is evident over the entire rock reliefs of Buduruwagala, much questions remain over these claims. Another school of thought is that the ruins of Buduruwagala could be from the times of great King Dutugemunu. Legend mentions of a war that took place between King Dutugemunu and King Wesamuni. A meeting was held in Wellassa, at Buduruwagala. According to this narrative, the figure in the central is Gauthama Buddha, the group to the right is Gemunu in the centre with his parents. While on the left are the figures of Gamini Abhaya and King Sadhdathissa.


Parakeets were busy making nest holes. Loud repartees of Alexandrian parakeets in the vicinity, gives an idea of the wildlife that thrives in these tranquil surroundings. This ancient work of art of Buduruwagala no doubt is on par with other magnanimous creations of ancient Sri Lanka!

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    A thin layer of plaster is visible on the central figure of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara

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    The three carvings with the Bodhisattva Maithreya in the centre

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    The path leading to the ancient carvings of Buduruwagala

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    Dew on grass glistened over endless expanses of paddy fields

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    A panoramic view of the tranquil waters of the Buduruwagala wewa

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    A male Alexandrian parakeet flying to its nest

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