October 2017


Gatabaru: the Abode of Rajjuru Bandara
October 2017




The Gatabaru guhawa (cave) amidst the lush environs of Kotapola

The emerald peaks of the Matara District are immersed in an ancient legend. Encircled by the mountains, the little town of Kotapola cradles the abode of the guardian deity Rajjuru Bandara.


Words: Keshini de Silva
Photography: Geeth Viduranga


We stood on Gatabaru Kanda or the mountain of Gatabaru located in Kotapola, an area that was once a part of the Morawaka Korale during the bygone times of kings. The verdant peaks and deep blue mountain silhouettes created a mesmerising scene. As Morawaka sits on the border of the Sinharaja Rainforest the area is blessed with rich forestry. Therefore, it is almost incredible that we were a mere two hours away from the sunny coast of Matara. Historical records deem that caves dating back to the first and third centuries BC lay waiting to be found amidst the montane forests. Many even assume that this location was occupied since the times when Naga kings ruled in Sri Lanka.


Devotees believe the Morawaka Korale is protected by Rajjuru Bandara deviyo, a Sri Lankan deity. There are theories that this god is an avatar of Lord Kataragama. However, the more accepted version is that Lord Kataragama assigned the care of the Western regions of Sri Lanka to Rajjuru Bandara deviyo. Hence, the ancient Gatabaru guhava (cave) on the hill is believed to be the deity's abode.


The mountain upon which the Gatabaru Raja Maha Viharaya sits has quite a steep climb and was in the past an arduous trek. Today it is a smooth tarmac with steep bends that provide views of the unspoiled wild landscape. While vehicles can travel up the mount to a certain extent, many devotees prefer to make the entire journey by foot, with an offering basket in hand, to show their devotion to the God. After the first platform of the hill, where the monks reside and the Deva Thovil Hall is located, the climb is through stairs, past the impressive statues of the Buddha and Maitriya Buddha. The aroma of wood apple, bananas and incense fills the air, almost as an indicator that one is getting closer to the sacred Gatabaru cave. Along the stairs is a cave-like gap with the spiritual icon of ‘Om'. It is assumed to be a Maldovanaya, or an ancient source of water for worshippers and offerings of flowers.

Devotees believe the Morawaka Korale is protected by Rajjuru Bandara deviyo, a Sri Lankan deity. There are theories that this god is an avatar of Lord Kataragama. However, the more accepted version is that Lord Kataragama assigned the care of the Western regions of Sri Lanka to Rajjuru Bandara deviyo.


Today the ancient Gatabaru cave is concealed by an octagonal structure, expressive of the Kandyan and colonial architectural influences in the area. Within is an altar for the Gatabaru or Rajjuru Bandara deviyo where the Kapu Mahattaya (chaplain) performs pooja daily. The cave, which had been abandoned possibly during colonial occupation, was rediscovered in 1834 by Kotapola Eliyashami. The large reclining statue of the Supreme Enlightened Buddha found within was then restored. There are beliefs that this statue bore a resemblance to statues of the Anuradhapura era, which were lost during reconstruction.


Rajjuru Bandara deviyo, a guardian deity, is said to have aided Sri Lankan kings to fend off invasions and enemy attacks. Hence, the god is claimed to have provided sanctuary to King Valagamba in the Gatabaru cave during the occupation by South Indian invaders.


The art on the ceiling of the cave is similar to the Kandyan design style, while elements such as the doorways and lamps show a colonial influence. Yet, as the paint had been washed away, leaving only a trace of the ancient design, the shades seen today are the modern artist's interpretation.

Rajjuru Bandara deviyo, a guardian deity, is said to have aided Sri Lankan kings to fend off invasions and enemy attacks. Hence, the god is claimed to have provided sanctuary to King Valagamba in the Gatabaru cave during the occupation by South Indian invaders.


Though the cave is the historic location of the temple, the climb continues. Bells stand quietly on the sides waiting to be rung by devotees seeking the god's attention.


The stupa is located on the highest platform of the mount, a tranquil place almost completely surrounded by foliage. Here followers can meditate with their thoughts undisturbed. Many bring to the Rajjuru Bandara deviyo their requests for justice or even their unsolvable issues hoping for the god's intervention. Hence, at the mount of Gatabaru they find peace after leaving their difficulties and problems before the god of justice.

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    The image of Rajjuru Bandara deviyo within the cave

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    Stairway leading to the sacred cave

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    The Maldovanaya, an ancient source of water

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    The serene Bo Tree enclosure

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    Bells are rung to win the deity's attention

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