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Mulkirigala Raja Maha Viharaya

- The Little Sigiriya at Mulkirigala -

Have you ever been to Sigiriya? Most of you are sure to have done so, and even those of you who haven't, would have at least seen a picture of Sigiriya. Why are we talking about Sigiriya? All of you may know what Sigiriya is like, and the best introduction to the Mulkirigala Raja Maha Viharaya is to describe it as "Little Sigiriya". Then you can create an image of this place in your mind.

The Mulkirigala Raja Maha Viharaya is situated at Mulkirigala in the district of Hambantota. That is 21 km from Tangalle. So we'll call this temple as Little Sigiriya at Mulkirigala. Let's start the journey to Mulkirigala.

As the name implies, it is a rock temple that consists of a series of rock temples carved out of the face of a huge rock outcrop, during the second century B.C. In the last Heritage Splendour page, we featured the Ridi Viharaya. If you compare these two temples, you may see that there are similarities between Ridi Viharaya and Mulkirigala.

The Dutch, who ruled the maritime provinces in the 18th century, called this rock as Adam's Berg. They seemed to have confused this with the Adam's Peak (Sripada). They believed that the tombs of Adam and Eve were located there, and due to this reason, Mulkirigala was popular among the foreigners.

Albrecht Herport, a Dutch writer, once wrote "one sees also still at this day the image of Adam formed on earth, of remarkable size, lying on the hill". But keep in mind that this place has no connection with the Sripada or Samanalakanda. As we told you earlier, it's just a confusion.

A mural at the temple

There is a story about how the name of this temple originated. According to the legend, King Saddhatissa was hunting in this area when a Vedda informed him of a rock on which a temple could be built.

The king agreed to this idea and called the place Mu Kivu Gala (the rock he mentioned). Thereafter, the place had come to be known as Mulkirigala. It is also mentioned that a Naga Raja built a tunnel, connecting this temple to the Umangala temple in Hakmana.

Now we'll see what history says about the building of the temple.

The Mahavamsa (a historical report about Sri Lanka) records that King Saddhatissa constructed the Mulgirigala (the common use of Mulkirigala) Viharaya in the third century. Around the same period, this temple received royal patronage.

Then Mulkirigala Viharaya came to be known as Mulkirigala Raja Maha Viharaya. This place is also known as Muhundragiri, Muvathitigala and Mulagiriya.

The first ever historical evidence suggests that Prince Rohana, the brother of Prince Bhaddakachchana, made the Mulkirigala area his homeland, around 500 B.C. History shows that one of the 32 bo sprouts from the original bo tree brought over by Sanghamitta Theri was planted at the Mulkirigala Viharaya.

The Mulkirigala caves have a mixture of religious and secular(non-religious) paintings and sculptures with several reclining Buddhas, including 15 metre long sculptures of the dying Buddha. Mulkirigala Viharaya contains many beautiful wall paintings based on Jataka stories, such as Wessanthara.

There are seven Viharas and seven Buddha statues at Mulkirigala. One is known as Dakkinagiri Viharaya, and was constructed by King Dhatusena around 400 A.D. Girivehera was constructed by King Agbo. Mulava Viharaya was built by a minister of King Valagamba, named Mulava.

It is also believed to be one of the 64 temples erected by King Kavanthissa, who ruled from Magama, in the kingdom of Ruhuna. According to historians, this may have been the Samuddagiri or Muhudugiri temple built by the king. He is also credited with building a golden Buddha statue 18 cubits in length, in a large cave under the rock.

A lamp with mustard oil is believed to have been lit in the cave on the advice of some arahat monks, with the hope that it would remain lit for 5,000 years. Kavanthissa's son, King Dutugemunu, who unified the country under one flag, is believed to have built another Buddha statue, 18 cubits in size, out of red sandalwood. Mulkirigala was further renovated by King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe.

To reach the top of the hill, where the stupa is situated, you have to climb 533 steps. Sounds tiring, isn'it? But once you start climbing, you won't feel tired, because the environment will comfort you, and give you a boost. Also, along the way, you will find many people offering you belimal or woodapple drink to quench your thirst.

by Janani Amarasekara
Sunday Observer, 23 April 2006

How to get there

To get to the Temple, turn left at Dickwella towards Mulkirigala and take a right turn near the clock tower at Beliatta junction. It is a distance of 9 km to the temple.

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Updated February 3, 2007
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