Kottimbulwala Raja Maha Vihara
In Colombo, security was tight due to the prevailing situation. It was with some unease that we undertook the recent trip into the suburbs of Balangoda in search of ancient cave temples
Our destination was the Kottimbulwala Rajamaha Vihara. some 21 kms along the Balangoda - Pallebedda road and then along the Kottimbulwela road.
Out of the Balangoda town it was typical rural scenery. Sometimes we were travelling high up on the sides of mountains and descending rapidly towards the Weligepola town. Blue mountains rose in endless waves disappearing into the misty skies and fleecy clouds-capes. It was a beautiful and peaceful drive away from the bomb-infested city with scares and rumours - a ride away from the bitter truth. After several turns-off and at times getting lost, we reached our destination.
The rock temple spread serenely on a hillock under a grove of Bo trees. The gentle rustling of bo- leaves making delicate music in a sun dappled setting. A flight of steps led the way through the temple premises passing other temple buildings.
At the top, overlooking a sandy maluwa was the cave shrine-room cozily tucked into a lengthy rock with a high brow and marked drip ledge. Some interesting paintings could be seen on the outer side -on the part of the wall between the brow of the rock and the tiled roof. The trellised porch gave it a quaint and airy appearance. Here we met Senaviratne with the usual question “Mahaththala kohainthe? From where are you gentlemen? After credentials were satisfactorily established Senaviratne offered to show us around.
Inside, leading from the airy porch the cave appeared to be divided into three compartments housing three shrine rooms. At the extreme was the oldest part of the temple with its ceiling covered with ancient fresco paintings.
In the main and middle compartment tucked into the alcove of the cave wall was a gigantic reclining image of the Lord Buddha. Senaviratne informed us that the image was carved on a na-imbul log and then plastered over. It is also this same imbul tree which forms the pillow on which rests the head of the Lord Buddha that is said to have lent the name to this vihare, ie – kottai-imbul.
The ceiling and walls were covered with paintings. On a side was a dagoba or the broken walls of a miniature dagoba which had been callously wrecked by greedy treasure hunters.
Parts of the dagoba that had been broken were visible on a side of the cave. Senaviratne informed us that these parts were being pasted together and in the process of being reconstructed by the Archeology Department. In-between the dagoba and the main recumbent image was an enclosed recess, now a miniature shrine-room with a seated Buddha image under a makara thorana. “This is where King Walagamba hid during the time of the Cholas”, Senaviratne informed us.
The third part of the cave also housed a series of images and seemed more recent in origin. The entrance porch that led into these three shrine-rooms rested on pillars. The ceiling of this part of the building was boarded and contained paintings which showed more of the colonial influence in the subjects’ dress and ornaments.
by Kishanie S. Fernando
February 13, 2007