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Home > Heritage > Hendeniya Vihara

Hendeniya Vihara

Hendeniya Vihara (Galgane Vihara) of Udu Nuwara

The new shrine room carved out of the rock

The Kingdom of Kandy in the earliest times was known as "Kanda Uda Pas Rata" (The five counties). It was from this that the name Kandy was derived.

The Kanda Uda Pas Rata comprised the following divisions: Yatinuwara, Udu Nuwara, Hewaheta, Dumbara and Harispattuwa.

Studding the entire Kanda Uda Pas Rata is a vast complex of ancient temples, devales, rock cave shelters (Len Vihara), monolithic stone pillars and dagobas which date back to the medieval Kingdoms of Sitawake, Gampola and Dambadeniya.

Situated in Udu Nuwara is the rock cave temple called "Hendeniya Vihara." Also called "Galgane Vihara" it lies along the Kandy-Daulagala Road, (via Peradeniya) about 12 km from Kandy. Local traditions say that this Len Vihara (cave temple) was built at the request of Henekanda Biso Bandara (consort of King Wickremabahu III) of the Gampola period (1357-1374), and served as her resting place when she visited Lankatillake Vihara and Embekke Devale in the vicinity.

Unique stone carvings

In the temple premises is a huge rock boulder which houses the cave shelters. In front lies the old devale.

Apart from the intricate carvings found in this ancient temple - "parana vihara"- an elaborate stone doorway commands attention.

This doorway is considered a fine sculpture in stone. The Makara Thorana portrayed here lends equilibrium to the entire frontage of the cloistered rock cave shrine.

Makara Thorana motifs

The Makara Thorana is an example of masterly ancient stone crafts: executed above the lintel of the stone doorway. The 'Hansa-Puttuwa' motif (entwined swan) is etched below the Makara Thorana, while above its lintel, it has been edged in blue. This Makara Thorana is a typical archway with a pair of Makaras in the shape of some mythical aquatic species with an elephant trunk, crocodile body, and feet terminating in fish tail, symbolic of water fertility and life.

On both sides of the stone doorway are two figures of cobra kings, in part human. Behind the two heads of the guard stones lie the multi-hooded cobra heads. The decorative artistic treatment of the stone lintel with a red background is typical of Kandyan art and sculpture.

The next noteworthy element of the stone-doorway of the old temple is the floral design covering both sides of the doorway and the lintel. Inside this image house (pilimage) is enshrined a sublime seated Buddha statue. There is a stone pillar having a wooden 'Pekada' on its top (a bracket), while the roof is paved with flat Sinhala tiles.

Moon stone

The moonstone is another masterpiece. Unlike the moonstones of the Anuradhapura - Polonnaruwa periods, which have rows of elephants, oxen, flowers, horses and the like, this particular moonstone is simple, sans any such elaborate carvings.

It has only a surrounding band ending in 'Liyana Vel' motifs. The shape of the moonstone seemed semi-circular up to the 13th century. Thereafter with the progress of time, the semi-circular design turned out to be a full circle by the 14th century as seen in the Parana Vihara. Such moonstones date back to the Gampola, Kandy periods, mostly to the reign of Rajadhi Rajasinha 18th century AD.

The ancient image house has standing and seated Buddha statues of gilded gold. The murals adorning the cave ceiling depict Jataka stories.The reclining Buddha statue displays a beautiful halo (Budures Valalla). There is also a Poya Ge and a Seema Malaka (Chapter House).

Other priceless treasures

It is mentioned in ancient documents preserved at the temple that there had been 991 such Viharas like the Hendeniya-Len Vihara. There is also a priceless artifact preserved there - a Bodhi Pooja bowl of gold which was gifted by King Rajaadhi Rajasinha. The only other such golden bowl is found in the Dalada Maligawa. There is also a gallery of "Suvisi Vivarana" comprising 24 statues of past and future Buddhas.

A life-size portrait of King Rajaadhi Rajasinha is depicted on the side of the wall of the image house. Also preserved here is a Thamba Sanasa (a decree) by the last King of Kandy, Sri Wickrema Rajasinghe granting lands in the neighbourhood to the temple in 1812.

New image house

The new image house on the same architectural lines of the ancient image house was built in 1952, while the Buddha statues and mural paintings were completed in 1986. The Makara Thorana concept is faithfully portrayed along with the other artefacts including the golden Buddha statue enclosed in a separate glass enclosure.

All the artistic motifs found in the Parana Vihara are well reproduced without any flaw. This new image house has been skilfully constructed into a rock cave shelter (like the one in the Parana Vihara) in the boulder. It is 45 feet long , 47 feet wide and 19 feet high.

Bo Tree

Down by the side of this Len Vihara on a hillock below, stands the "Bodhiya" (Bo Tree) a sapling of the Sri Maha Bodhiya in Anuradhapura. It has a well preserved Prakaraya.

Another relic of the past has an eerie significance. It is the Kotu Thappaya, where people were hanged in those hoary days.

The temple's resident Buddhist monk Ven. Revata Ambanwela Gunaratana Vidana Nayake Thera, though in his late seventies, is still strong in limb and mind. He narrates the temple's history, chapter and verse as if reading from some chronicle, enthralling all visitors.

Sunday Times of February 10, 2002

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Updated July 14, 2007
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