Totagamu Raja Maha Viharaya
- Unique Depiction of the God of Love -
On the façade of the aluth vihara at the Totagamu Raja Maha Vihara between the two doorways adorned with two makara toranas stands the beautiful image of the god of love.
Totagamu Raja Maha Vihara or the Ratpat Vihara, or Telwatte Vihara situated in the Galle district has been identified with the ancient Vijeyaba Pirivena at Totagamuva; one of the foremost institutions of learning in the 5th century Lanka.
The Gira Sandesa referring to this ancient seat of learning describes that the approach to the pirivena was of clean white sand running through orchards, flowering and other trees. Near the premises of the temple were trees such as sal, kolon, sapu, na, kinihiri, palol, genda, erahandi, amba, sinidda and plants among which bees and squirrels ran about and where peacocks danced.
The Gira Sandesa also refers to the curricula taught in the ancient Vijeyaba Pirivena to include abdhidharma, sutra, vinaya pitaka, grammer, the vedas, astrology, medicine, economics, poetry and drama in Sanskrit, pali, Sinhala, and Tamil. Interestingly Sir Ponnabalam Arunachalam referring to this institution said that it was an institution wide-reaching in its aims and provided instruction for Buddhists and Hindus, cleric and lay in all the knowledge of the times.
It was an institution traditionally regarded as one where sages with the highest spiritual attainments flourished. Of all these sages and scholars the most eminent was said to be the Ven. Totagamuve Sri Rahula of Salalihini Sandesa fame.
Reference to him in the Gira Sandesa indicates that he was an expert at the exegesis of the Abhidharma, Sutra and Vinaya pitakas, had an excellent grasp of the eight-fold grammar of the Sanskrit language, adept in the arts as well as of religion, well versed in the compositions of the most eminent poets, had an excellent grasp of poetics, composed Sanskrit poetry and his compositions were appreciated by other poets, was a master of the art of speech and a specialist in the 18 sciences which he expounded to other learned persons, gave spiritual counsel to the King Parakrama Bahu (VI) and that he was well versed in six languages.
With the arrival of the Portuguese this once illustrious institution was destroyed and laid waste and it was only in about 1765 that Ven Pallattara Punnasara discovering and identifying the jungle ridden site dedicated his life mission to the renovation of this temple. As a recognition of his work King Kirti Sri Rajasinghe of Kandy gifted two elephant tusks to the institution. The new and larger image house (Alut Vihara) with its sculptures and paintings were completed in 1805.
Today as you walk into these precincts the main features in the quadrangle are the Purana Vihara or the old shrine, the alut vihara or the new shrine, the stupa or the relic dome, the bodhi tree, seven stone pillars and a belfry. There is also an Vishnu devalaya, a tun devalaya and a dharmasala.
There are a number of unique themes found in this temple. The exclusive sculpture of the God of love at the entrance to the shrine room is thought to mark the divisional line between the two units of the buildings namely the vestibule and the sanctum.
The vestibule probably symbolising the world of sensual delights and of cause and effect of which he is overlord and the sanctum standing for the world of enlightenment the pure world of awakening and final salvation.
The god wears a full set of ornaments including a multi tiered crown and two pairs of anklets and holds his usual attributes a bow made of sugar cane and five flower arrows allegedly tipped with a variety of substances including poison and honey.An equally impressive sculpture of Natha or Avalokitesvara, the patron deity of Totagamuwa also stands near by.
Enclosed within the makara torana over the southern doorway is a traditional mural showing the panca nari gata ingeniously designed by the forms of five ladies in traditional dress composed into the traditional vase of plenty.
A depiction of a set of five footprints of the Buddha in five separate panels is said to be the only one so far known in Sri Lanka. Paintings here show some unique features. Paintings of the six heavens of the realm of sensual delights are depicted to include elaborate chariot scenes with gods seen driving in the celestial chariots accompanied by a retinue.
An interesting observation about the jataka stories depicted here is that it seems the artist had chosen stories that took place in the jungle and as such are set in jungle scenes.
A row of stone pillars found standing in the quadrangle are of historic value and is assignable to the 11th century by the short epigraphic records found on some of them.
However, it is widely believed that the antiquity of the monastic site goes back to even earlier times.
by Kishanie S. Fernando
February 13, 2007