Kandegama Kanda Lena Viharaya and Silumini Seya
- Double Decker Caves and Gal-Kudaya -
The road runs through a canopy of green trees south east from Dimbulagala passing through sleepy Mahaweli settlements. The main town in this area is Aranaganwila. Our destination was the village of Damminna in search of the Kandegama Kanda cave shrine some 30 kilometres from Dimbulagala
There was hardly any traffic on the road. Near the temple an army check point made us stop. The young officers in casual clothes, seemed relaxed enjoying a fragile peace time and asked us where we were heading and sounded enthusiastic when we mentioned the temple. A gravel road turned inwards leading to the modern temple and the Kandegama Kanda cave shrine.
We stopped our vehicle at the bottom of a rocky outcrop jutting upwards piercing the sky. The cave shrine was situated high on the face of the rock. A steep boulder-ridden pathway through the jungle leads towards the cave shrine. There are many interesting boulder formations, caves and in particular a cave called "double decker cave" by the young priest who led us. This consisted of the natural formation of two caves one on top of the other. The caves here have been dated earliest to the 2nd century. The monk informed us that wild elephants also took this precipitous path and it was only recently that one such lone pachyderm had made its way down the rock passing the present temple.
The cave houses a large recumbent Buddha image said to measure 38.9 feet in length done in brick and stucco and placed on a platform. The image has been sadly vandalised by treasure hunters. The image is thought to have been like the one at Pidurangala near Sigiriya.
At the foot of the image a brick wall separates a little room where there is evidence of the existence of another image. However, today only the brick platform where this image was placed remains. Ven . Ellawela Medananda writing on the Kandegama Kanda Lena Vihara, gives the dimensions of this cave as 80 feet in length and about 25 feet in width.
Many inscriptions carved on the rock have been found here. An inscription referring to King Saddhatissa and his son is of importance. Names of donors of these caves have also been found cut into the caves.
One of the caves have been inscribed with the name of an ancient port of India. This is a very interesting finding, says Ven. Ellawela Medhananda ,which indicates that the ancients residing here were aware of this Indian port. At the bottom of the rocky cliff are the foundation remains of an ancient building.
The modern cave temple of Dannanjaya Raja Maha Viharaya is tucked into the large boulders forming the base of the outcrop and shelters huge images of the Buddha. These statues and the few murals on the wall were incomplete due to lack of funds. The rock cave formations at the bottom have been fully utilised to home the present day temple where the chief priest and some young priets lived.
A hospitable and kind chief priest welcomed us and was happy to talk of the village settlements around his temple. He spoke of the hardships encountered due to the ethnic war, and said that if he left the temple the villagers would be alone and his presence was a comfort to the villagers around the temple.
He was unbiased and liberal in his views, having actually lived through the travails of war, unlike most other city dwellers who theorised on solutions. He was surprised that the temple was documented amongst the writings of Ven. Ellawela Medhananda. He said that the rocky outcrop over the present temple had as many as 60 caves cut into it. It was pleasant talking to him and we were happy to gift him with our copy of the said book besides sincere friendship.
On our way back towards Polonnaruwa, diverting from the main road on to a dusty unsealed road and passing through a small village settlement, we arrived at the Silumini Seya some 22 kilometres from Dimbulagala. The ruins here were cleared and well maintained. The remains of a chaithiya stood on an elevated square brick platform with four cardinal entrances. The platform stood on a rock paved circular base. The few guard stones and moon stones found here were without ornamentation.
The stone umbrella, the gal-kudaya or the chathura-gala which is presently to be seen lying on the side, is the largest one to have been discovered in Sri Lanka.
There are fragments of yet another of its kind. This is basically a stone disc in the shape of an umbrella, which was placed on top of a pillar rising out of the hemispherical dome of the stupa. Similar gal-kudaya but smaller in diameter, were to be seen at the Namal Pokuna complex near Dimbulagala.
Prof. Paranavitana, describing the evolution of the typical Sinhalese stupa, says that in large stupas such as in Sanchi there were three umbrellas one over the other, the upper is of smaller diameter than the lower. The series of umbrellas gradually increased in number assuming the form of a molded brick spire which with time evolved into the present day spire sometime after the early Anuradhapura period.
It was well into the afternoon as we made our way back to Polonnaruwa passing through those peaceful Mahaveli settlements, to the busier lifestyles of townscape. It was a day blessed with adventure and valuable friendships.
by Kishanie S. Fernando
February 7, 2012