- Ridi Viharaya, Where Three Religions Come Together -
The Ridi Viharaya is a temple situated atop a hill at Ridigama, a village 13 miles away from Kurunegala. It is a cave temple with many interesting legends surrounding it, and is visited by Buddhists, Hindus and Christians. We can imagine Buddhists visiting the site, because it is a Buddhist temple, but Christians and Hindus? How have they got involved? Sounds interesting, isn't it?
As we mentioned above, there are many stories surrounding this temple. One story is on how this temple came to be known as Ridi Viharaya. In the 2nd century BC, silver ore from this place had been utilised by King Dutugemunu to build the Ruwanveliseya, one of his biggest creations. As a measure of gratitude for providing him with the raw material, the King had built a cave temple in the area. The gold plated Buddha statue in the cave temple was brought down from India.
Later, King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe renovated the place. It is then that the place had got its Christian touch. Would you believe that some of the Biblical stories are depicted there, on the tiles on the flower altar, in front of a nine metre tall Buddha statue? The King had received these tiles as a gift, from a European ambassador who had wanted to please the King (during the time the Dutch ruled the maritime provinces). The King had, in return, gifted them to the temple.
These tiles depict the creation of man, the fall of man (with the serpent in the Garden of Eden), the great flood and its aftermath, the dove of peace with the olive branch, Moses and the burning bush, the prophets of yore and some scenes from the New Testament depicting the life of Christ, like the Nativity, the transfiguration and the last supper.
Many are of the opinion that it could have been a gesture of the spirit of tolerance which characterised Buddhism. The cave also housed another huge seated Buddha image, images of Hindu gods and a statue thought to be of King Dutugemunu.
This cave temple is divided into two sections; they are known as Patha Viharaya (Lower temple) and Uda Viharaya (Upper temple). The Patha Viharaya was built by King Dutugemunu whereas the Uda Viharaya was built by King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe.
The Ridi Viharaya contains Kandyan style wall paintings belonging to the 14th and 18th centuries, an exquisite (beautiful) medieval doorway with intricate carvings inlaid with ivory, a curious pavement inside the main sanctuary, a beautiful moonstone belonging to the pre-8th century period and a world famous masterpiece of art carved from ivory.
The Patha Viharaya or the main image house is tucked inside a sizable cave, which is situated under a rock. The original Buddha statue is now kept in a glass case for safety. The doors that lead into this cave are decorated exquisitely in ivory. The centre of this wonderful creation is decorated with a design called "Pancha Nari Getaya", the figure of five women entwined in the shape of a knot.
The intricate carving depicts from afar, a vase, but on close inspection, it reveals the figure of the five maidens. On either side of this design stand the carvings of two lions. This unique piece of art in ivory has sadly been the subject of vandalism (destroying or damaging property) and the remains are now enclosed by a glass box for safety.
Uda Viharaya, which has a Kandyan touch, is decorated with frescoes and paintings and is crowded with images. This is rare in Sinhala art. The main image is of a seated Buddha statue. The Makara Thorana behind the statue is complete with images of gods and devotees, with an image of the standing Buddha on either side.
The Makara heads, which form the arch, are turned outwards. Upon the pedestal of the standing Buddha image at the bottom are some unique animal paintings usually not found in temples. The "Three Singha Rupaya" found on the front of the pedestal, depicts three seated lions; they share one face.
There are also paintings of "Sarpenda" and "Vrushaba Kunjaraya" (the entwined heads of the bull and the elephant). There are also paintings that are recognized as those of the warring king Rawana. At the end of the cave, outside the shrine room, there is a painting of "Navanari Kunjaraya" (the figures of nine maidens arranged in such a way, to create the image of an elephant).The last chamber of this cave houses some old wooden Buddha images and some colourful paintings that give a fabric-like effect.
At the entrance to this cave is the Hindu devala, which is dedicated to the guardian of the mountain on which the Ridi Viharaya is situated. Behind the cave, in another open cave is a dagoba. Just outside the temple courtyard is a stone pillared complex.
Outside the temple complex, atop a small rocky hill and along an ancient inscription, is an abandoned agoba known as "Sarasum gala chetiya". Here all the visitors who look over the valleys and the hills are entertained to a magnificent vision of beauty.
by Janani Amarasekara
February 4, 2007