April 2012


Traversing the Past...
April 2012




Atop the rock, overlooking the temple grounds below

Enriched with a history, unfamiliar and unseen by many, an ancient story waits to be revealed. It is a story that murmurs of the kings and heroes of our country that lived long ago and of the dedication and benevolence exhibited in more affluent times. 
The remnants left behind speaks of this compassionate nature and as we ambled through the Mahakachchakodiya Purana Gallen Rajamaha Viharaya, it is nothing but awe that we felt for the people who traversed this same breadth thousands of years ago.


Words
Krishani Peiris


A few kilometers off of Vavuniya-Horowpathana road is the ancient village of Mahakachchakodiya, believed to be the home town of Nandimitra - one of the ten giant warriors of King Dutugemunu. Furthermore, it is also home to one of the most archaic temples in the isle of Sri Lanka - Mahakachchakodiya Purana Gallen Rajamaha Viharaya (The Ancient Cave Temple of Mahakachchakodiya). Entering the premises of the temple, through an archway that bedecked the name of the temple in bold gold lettering, we were struck by the mix of antiquity and modernity that prevailed in the surroundings. Efforts undertaken to renovate the temple area clashed with the old scattered remnants, 
the golden paddy fields and the forest shrubs, offering a sense of remoteness that was occasionally punctured by the screech of monkeys and birds.


Climbing a staircase painted in red and white, we came to the Shrine Room of Lord Buddha. It is believed that this was donated by the grandson of Nandimitra and some other relatives. Originally a cave, it has been extended with modern mechanisms to enclose a larger area and is adorned with modern statues of Lord Buddha. However, the dark cave roofing, the ancient inscription scribbled onto the roof of the cave and the remains of a statue of Buddha that stood at one side, attested to the antiquity of the shrine room.


Emerging from this ancient cave, 
we continued on a flight of steps that spiraled through rocks, surmising 
that the temple was probably named gallen or rock cave temple due to the many caves and rocks that encompassed it. On top of this stairway was a ‘Siripathul' or a footprint stone, which people used to worship before statues of Lord Buddha became prominent. Faded with time, we could hardly see the faint etch marks of the feet, on the heavy stone. Descending a flight of stairs from this point we came upon a modern intervention, where a newly built statue of Buddha stood atop the highest boulder overlooking the temple grounds. The breathtaking view that stretched far beyond, showcased beautiful paddy fields and lush green woodlands that encircled the area. The slight breeze that blew over, gave us a little relief from the scorching heat as we retraced our steps down, to pursue our explorations.

...a newly built Buddha statue stood atop the highest boulder overlooking the temple grounds.
Climbing over rocks and roots, dodging branches and shrubs we made our way, stopping to observe the many caves that we passed by. There were about 23 caves around the periphery and according to legend all have been donated to Buddhist monks who had attained enlightenment (Rahathun Wahanse) - by various prominent figures of olden times. It is said that about 500 monks inhabited this area and the caves were used as dwellings and meditation centres. Though worn with time, the smoothed out interiors inside and the aged inscriptions of an unfamiliar script, carved on some caves, affirmed the impression that these were abodes, inhabited by people long ago.


Passing the caves we came to a path shrouded with weeds. Treading along this path, we noticed that there were many ruins scattered around, covered with the weeds and shrubs that blanketed the area. One of the most striking was the Yupa stone, which was only half visible due to 
the overgrowth that covered it. 
The Yupa stone is a feature seen in the oldest type of Stupas in Sri Lanka and accordingly it is believed that this temple was built during the Anuradhapura era. Proceeding on the path, we came upon a pond that people might have used as a bathing site, though it is now filled with green water and is covered with dregs.


Turning, we made our way back taking a detour, listening to the sound of retreating steps of animals as they went further into the jungle with each of our advancing steps. The path we took on our return journey proved to be more strenuous as we had to sometimes squeeze through rocks and jump over tree limbs to get through, while passing more caves.


Finding ourselves back in front of the cave that enclosed the Shrine Room of Lord Buddha, we paused and looked around the temple grounds taking our time to contemplate on the small adventure we just experienced. Indeed it was a unique experience in all aspects as modern structures and the ancient caves blended together in an attempt to preserve the age old heritage that encompassed Mahakachchakodiya Purana Gallen Rajamaha Viharaya.

 

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    The steps leading to the caves

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    A statue of Lord Buddha recently built stands tall on the rock

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    The entrance to the temple

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    One of the 23 archaic caves that surround the area

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    An ancient inscription inside the Shrine room of Lord Buddha - believed to be donated by the grandson of Nandimitra

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    Remains of an olden Buddhist Statue inside the Shrine room of Lord Buddha

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    One of the few remaining Siripathul or footprint stones on top of a rock

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    The Yupa Stone covered with shrubs

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    The ancient tank that was deemed as a bathing site

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