Gadaladeniya Vihara

Built on a flat rock in Diggala, in the district of Kandy, is an ancient temple, tracing its roots back hundreds of years to the early 1300s. The Gadaladeniya Vihara or, as it’s also known as, Saddharmatilaka Vihara or Dharma Kirthi Viharaya, is considered to be one of the largest rock temples in Sri Lanka and comprises a main shrine and dagoba with 4 miniature stupas around it. Steeped in religious significance, the temple houses revered statutes and is engraved with varied drawings of noteworthy figures as testaments to religious and cultural history.

Best Known For

  • The temple’s main shrine houses a huge statue of Lord Buddha seated below a ‘Makara Thorana’ (dragon arch), that is adorned with the sculptures of gods such as Brahma, Suyama, Santhusuta, Nathra, Maithree and two attendants. Statues of Lord Buddha in a standing position surrounds. Of a height of roughly 2.3 metres, the seated statue is not a traditional Lord Buddha statue generally found during that period and depicts Lord Buddha in the ‘Dhyana Mudra’ pose, the meditation posture associated with his first enlightenment.
  • A secondary shrine called the ‘Vijayothpaya’ or ‘Vijayantha Prasada’ can be located in the middle of the temple compound. A central stupa, roughly 12.3 metres high, is positioned on a square platform, covered by a four-sided roof and supported by four stone pillars. Four smaller similar stupas are attached to the bottom of the main stupa, angled in the four cardinal directions. Each of the smaller stupas house their own shrine room, which initially harboured images of the Four Heavenly Kings, Vaishravana, Virulhaka, Dhrutharashta and Virupaksha but currently hold statues of Lord Buddha seated.

Interesting Facts

  • Historical reports record that the Buddhist temple was built by Venerable Seelavamsa Dharmakirti under the patronage of King Bhuvanekabahu IV.
  • Hindu artistic styles were followed in the construction of ‘Gadaladeniya Vihara’ by the South Indian architect Ganesvarachari. In its overall construction, the Dravidian architectural style was followed, with influences of Sinhalese architecture from the Polonnaruwa era and Indo-Chinese architectural patterns.
  • A carved inscription stating that the temple was erected in 1344 can be seen on the rock on which it stands.
  • The entrance to the image house is of fine sculpture, with the steps leading up to it decorated in engraved drawings of dancers and drummers. Additionally found may be stone carvings of Gajasingha, a mythical creature which has the head of a lion and the body of an elephant, said to reflect Sri Lanka and its prosperity.
  • This temple in Kandy has often been a place of residence for some of the most celebrated monks including Sangharaja Dharmakirti II and Vimalakirti I.
  • The main shrine is made entirely out of granite except for its 2 ‘shikharas’, (a rising tower traditionally present in Hindu architecture) which are made out of brick.
  • To the north of the main shrine is a devale dedicated to Lord Vishnu (a Hindu deity). Originally in dedication to the Hindu deity Varuna, the devale was then positioned in honour of Lord Vishnu who was said to be the appointed guardian of Sri Lanka and Buddhism, following Lord Buddha’s passing away.
  • The secondary shrine is named after Indra’s (Hindu deity) palace, which is often called ‘mystical’ and is constructed by King Parakramabahu.
  • Having been neglected for some time, the temple was then handed over by King Viraparakrama Narendrasinha to Velivita Saranankara Thero, whose pupils have looked after it ever since.
  • The temple was originally known as ‘Dharma Keerthi Vihara’ as per its rock inscription and was named as ‘Gadaladeniya Vihara’ after the village in which it’s located.

Times, Seasons and Tips

  • ‘Gadaladeniya Vihara’ is in close proximity to the ‘Lankatilaka Raja Maha Viharaya’ and ‘Embekke Devale’, therefore pen these religious sites in for more of an immersive experience.
  • The temple is located in Gadaladeniya road, just a short distance away from the Gadaladeniya junction on the Colombo-Kandy road (A1), roughly 12.5 kilometres to the west of Kandy and roughly 3 kilometres from Lankatilaka Raja Maha Viharaya.
  • Best visit at a time when the sun is not at its peak for the scorching heat may tamper your chance of a tranquil, serene visit.

A site of intrigue for the history buff or those interested in the heritage of Sri Lanka, ‘Gadaladeniya Vihara’ harbours varied testaments to history which can still be seen to this day. Drop by, should you be in the hill capital of Kandy for an immersive experience in a site of religious and historical significance.

Title image by: KNOWSL


Culture and Heritage

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