- Handsome ruins of the Berendi Kovila of Sitawaka -
We were quite taken aback at the elaborate stone work that decorated the ruins of the Berendi Kovila .
As we walked through the gate installed by the Archaeological Department, we could see three distinct terraces built one upon the other. The third and the upper terrace housed the ruins of the Kovila - a square structure with stone pillars.
Right around these pillars was a stone railing with a moulded base revealing attractive stone carvings. The elegance of the carvings made them seem alive even though the structure was in ruins. The intricate motifs of leaf and floral designs, the bahirawa faces were perfectly executed. The delicate border of upturned petals that ornamented the base of the whole structure took away the usual heaviness of such structures. An elegantly carved water spout was a unique show piece. At one entrance stood two guard stones carved with what looked like full pots. And if you look carefully enough one corner of the terrace stone work will reveal an elephant carved very surreptitiously into the rest of the carvings – the purpose of which could only be wondered at.
Also on the stone wall of the first terrace is an even more unexpected carving of a parrot – so distinct and so out of place. It could only be speculated that the sculptor got bored with the regularity of the design assigned to him and made a devious but obvious diversion of his artistic skills.
Many are the stories told of the origins of this structure. Some attribute it to King Rajasinghe 1 of Sitawaka but others say it was in existence before King Rajasinghe’s time during the Sitawake period.Scholars attribute its style of stone columns, railings and the motifs of floral and leaf carvings to the Polonnaruwa period when such Hindu shrines were built.
It is also related that during King Rajasinghe’s time he had a group of Hindu sects brought from the Chola country. Amongst them was a learned person versed in astrology and efficient in the conduct of warfare, named Aritha Kivendu Perumal. Due to the excellent services rendered by him to the king, he was duly conferred with the title of Manamperuma Mohotti and became his confidant and trusted official and was appointed as his second in command. In the chronicle of the Rajavaliya it is recorded that this Manamperuma Mohotti married King Rajasinghe’s daughter. And when the guilt came upon Rajasinghe for the alleged killing of his father, the king duly consulted him as to what appeasement could be done, to atone for the sin he had committed, under the Hindu rituals. It is believed that Mohotti said that that the only way to atone for the alleged sins was to build a Kovila by diverting the Sitawaka Oya. Sadly the Berendi Kovila was destroyed by the Portuguese. But the ruins left are enough to tell the tale of a once grand Kovila that stood by the Sitawaka Oya.
Berendi Kovila can be reached by going along the Avissawella – Ginigathhena road just past the bridge over the Sitawaka Oya. Keep looking for the Archaeological Department signboard on your right when coming from the Avissawella side.
by Kishanie S. Fernando
February 3, 2007