March 2019


Discovering The Religious And Artistic Heritage Of Ridee Viharaya
March 2019




Palleckkiya is a unique piece of furniture from the Kandyan era

Within the peaceful premises of the Ridee Viharaya in Kurunegala, venerated by kings of yore, spirituality blends with the aesthetic genius of ancient Sri Lanka. Literally translated into English as ‘Silver Temple', legend speaks of a vein of silver discovered within its boundaries, aiding King Dutugamunu to complete the construction of the Ruwanweliseya in Anuradhapura.

Words: Gayathri Kothalawala

Photography: Menaka Aravinda and Anuradha Perera

While the origins of the temple dates back to the Anuradhapura era, numerous Sri Lankan kings had patronised the temple, creating a place of worship that is also rich in culture and heritage. Intrigued by its history, we ventured on a journey filled with eager anticipation. 


All was peaceful as we arrived at the temple; tall canopy trees providing comforting shade throughout the expansive grounds. While listening to the twitter of birds flitting to and fro on the tree branches, we reverently began walking towards the ancient Image House, aware of the history, art and architecture that awaited us.


A short flight of stairs led us to our first encounter with the legends that surround the Ridee Viharaya. The Varaka Velandu Viharaya is an Image House that dates back to the Polonnaruwa era. Constructed with granite, the sturdy building bears the influence of Indian architectural styles. Eight elaborately carved stone pillars support its granite roof and acts as a pavilion for the chamber where elegant Kandyan era temple art and a seated image of the Buddha under a makara thorana (dragon arch) can be seen. King Dutugamunu supposedly built it in gratitude to the Arahant who had revealed the ore of silver. At the time of our visit, the building was under renovation, yet exuded a sense of grandeur. 


We then proceeded towards a rectangular building from the Kandyan era. The Hevisi Mandapaya was rather bare; however, a Palleckkiya - a unique piece of furniture from the Kandyan era used by monks as a palanquin - could be seen within. 


Beyond the Hevisi Mandapaya, the Maha Viharaya is located beneath a large rock that forms a cave. The vast cavern is adorned with intricate motifs and temple art. A reclining image of the Buddha lies on one side of the cave. As we approached the image, an unexpected sight captured our attention. Depicted on the tiles of the flower altar, were scenes from the life of Jesus Christ. 


The ceramic tiles have been pressed into the altar within the cavern, arranged haphazardly and several are upside-down. It is said that a former Dutch Governor had gifted the tiles to the temple in the past. No matter their origin, the tiles certainly are an unusual sight. 


A small door led us outside and yet another marvel sought our attention. At first glance, it seemed as if a white vase decorated a doorway. However, as we approached it, we realised that it is a pañca na¯ri ghataya, an ancient design where five women entwine together within a pot. Carved from ivory, it was a sight to behold, with two decorative lions, also carved from ivory on either side. While the doorway had originally been inlayed with ivory designs throughout, little of it remains now. 


Our next stop was the Uda Viharaya. In a cave that had been converted into a shrine room, a serene image of a seated Buddha surrounded by various deities lies within. 


On either side of the pedestal where the Buddha image sits, are beautiful paintings drawn by Kandyan artists centuries ago. Taking a close look, we discovered two rare drawings, the Thrisingha rupa - a drawing of three lions that appear as one - and Urushabha Kunjaraya - a mythical creature with the bodies of an elephant and a bull with the heads merging into one. 


As we left the shrine room, we noticed a simple door within the building. Painted above the doorway was a faded image of a navanari kunjaraya - an image depicting nine females forming the silhouette of an elephant. Past the doorway, we discovered brightly coloured paintings and a seated image of the Buddha. 


A dagoba built beneath the overhang of the rock glimmered in white beyond the Uda Viharaya. Walking onwards, we noticed a well-maintained granite moonstone, its intricate detailing showing the skill of the craftsmen. 
The Serasum Gala, a rocky outcrop, is believed to have been a place where pilgrims used to gather before visiting the temple in the past. Stairs have been carved into the rock, giving easy access to the peak. At its highest point, a broad stairway leads to the Serasum Gala dagoba. 


Passing the dagoba, a leaf-strewn pathway, with trees providing shade, led us to a breath-taking viewpoint. Known as the Pahangala, a giant had reputedly lit a lamp on its summit, to illuminate the night as he dug a nearby tank in one day. 


The tank, Bathalagoda wewa, as well as the mist-covered peaks of nearby mountain ranges could be seen in the distance from our vantage point. A narrow path through the woods led downwards to caves where monks had meditated in the past. 


Ridee Viharaya sits at a strategic location within easy reach of other popular destinations such as Sigiriya, Kandy, Pinnawala, and Dambulla. The recently built Pilgrim Rest of the temple provides accommodation for both Sri Lankan and foreign guests. A spacious conference hall offers state-of-the-art facilities and is the ideal venue to host conferences, programmes or other functions. 


We were amazed by the seamless manner in which the ancient temple that bears elements from the Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Kandyan kingdoms blended with the contemporary world. 
A delightfully spiritual place of worship, it is an ideal location to discover the religious and artistic heritage of Sri Lanka.

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    Thrisingha rupa is a rare drawing where the image of three lions appear as one

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    Palleckkiya is a unique piece of furniture from the Kandyan era

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    Varaka Velandu Viharaya is a granite structure built during the Polonnaruwa era

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    Kandyan architectural techniques can be seen at the Hevisi Mandapaya

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    The Urushabha Kunjaraya is a traditional Sri Lankan piece of art

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    Vibrant murals, motifs and images of the Buddha adorn the inner walls of the Maha Viharaya

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    Makara thorana and images of deities surround the seated Buddha inside the Varaka Velandu Viharaya

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    The Serasum Gala dagoba is built on the highest point of a rocky outcrop

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    The paƱca nari ghataya is a design where five women are entwined inside a pot

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    Tiles depicting the life of Jesus Christ are pressed into the flower altar inside the Maha Viharaya

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