November 2016

The Bogoda Bridge
November 2016

The Bogoda bridge as seen from the Gallanda Oya

The natural ever-green beauty of Badulla is the perfect backdrop for historical sight seeing of a different kind.

Words: Tharika Fuhrer
Photography: Menaka Aravinda and Anuradha Perera

Badulla is a sight of serene beauty where evergreen blankets of tea leaves pave the country side. Brightly coloured flowers release the scent of roses, lilies and purple jacarandas in to the cool mountain air. Little could I have imagined that Badulla with such amazing splendour could have even more to offer with significant historical treasures lying just around the corner West of the town of Hali-Ela on the Badulla - Bandarawella road.

Once there, a short journey needs to be undertaken by foot (of some say exactly a 100 steps) to the base of the Galanda Oya, a fledgling tributary of the great Mahawelli ganga, the longest river in Sri Lanka. There a remnant from Sri Lanka's ancient past, the Bogoda wooden bridge rests proudly just as it had for over centuries making it one of the oldest wooden bridges of its kind in existence.


Strong and sturdy the Bogoda bridge is said to have been created by King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe of Kandy (1747-1782) sometime during the 18th century. Because King Rajasinghe is often credited as reviving Buddhist culture and religion in a then colonised Sri Lanka, it is believed that he created the Bogoda bridge to aid the Badulla sect of Buddhist monks to reach the capital city of Kandy so that they could worship at the sacred Sri Dalada Maligawa or Temple of the Tooth Relic. The only way the monks could do this was by crossing the Gallanda Oya, as such King Rajasinghe built a bridge not with stone as was the custom at the time, but instead constructed it entirely out of wood. The choice of material was said to have come down to the narrowness of the Gallanda Oya, which did not leave room for a stone construction. King Rajasinghe would later add a roof to the structure, many assume, to shelter those who crossed the bridge from the wrath of the monsoon winds and rain. The tiles used to make the Kandyan style shingle roofing are the only parts of the bridge not made out of wood instead being constructed from clay.

The Bridge

As it stands today, the Bogoda wooden bridge is over 15 metres long (50 feet) and a little over 1.8 metres (6 feet) wide. As previously stated, what makes the structure one of a kind is that it is almost entirely built from several kinds of timber. The flanks of wood that support the body of the bridge is said to be sourced from the jackfruit tree, chosen due to the tree's natural termite repelling properties as well as its major cultural significance to Buddhism. Kumbuk timber on the other hand was used to make the two supporting beams fixed directly under the bridge, which stand about 10.6 metres (35 feet) each. Wood from the Kumbuk tree was a particularly good choice not just because of its exceptional strength but also due to its immense resistance to decay. Kumbuk is a rare type of wood that can be submerged in water for years and still remain robust.

Strong and sturdy, the Bogoda bridge is said to have been created by King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe of Kandy (1747-1782) sometime during the 18th century

The rest of the Bogoda bridge is covered with hardwood planks held down using wooden nails about 1.5 inches inches in diameter. All wood used on the bridge had been highly polished and intricately carved bearing markings and styles often seen on art and architecture of the Kandyan era. This can be best seen on the twenty-two tapering pillars, which both surround and complete the Bogoda bridge's design.


The Bogoda bridge however is but one half of the experience. Once you cross the bridge on one side lies an ancient cave temple partially built into a natural rock cave now known as the Bogoda Raja Maha Viharaya. This cave is even older than the Bogoda bridge, dating back to the first century BC and tracing its roots to an ancient ruler.

As the story goes, King Valagamba of Anuradhapura was overthrown only five months after being crowned king after simultaneous attacks and rebellions caused by invading South Indian forces. The king sought refuge in the hidden cave for two and a half years, all the while using the cave's extensive tunnel systems to sneak in and out in order to rebuild his army. Once King Valagamba was able to secure the support he needed, he defeated the invaders and reclaimed Anuradhapura. The cave that offered him shelter and protection was never forgotten. King Valagamba would later go on to convert the cave into a quaint temple.

A visit is a must to this remarkable place built by ancient Sri Lankans whose monumental achievements are treasured centuries on.