Korathota Raja Maha Viharaya
Signs of an ancient civilization dating back to around the 6th century B.C., have been found along the banks of the Kelani river. After Prince Vijaya landed in the island of Ceylon, it is believed that his entourage moved through the Western Province, setting up villages along the fertile river lands.
During the reign of King Devanampiyatissa, Buddhism spread throughout the country. Stone inscriptions dating back to this period 3 B.C. - 1 A.D. have been discovered in the Western Province, at temples in Pilikuttuwa, Warana and Medabowita as well as in Korathota in the Colombo district. According to these inscriptions, settlement reports and finds of pottery, coins and such that have been unearthed, the civilization of the area can be dated to this period, which was the early Anuradhpura period, explains Mr. A. E. L. Tillekewardene, Research Officer of the Archaeological Department. At this time, the Western Province was part of the Kelani kingdom, under the reign of King Kelanitissa. When the country was united by King Dutugemunu, it became a part of the Anuradhapura kingdom. Thereafter, no more archeological sites were found in the Western Province until the Kotte period.
The focal points of the Korathota Raja Maha Viharaya are the historic cave inscriptions and the six caves, which show signs of having been the dwelling place of monks in early times. Five naturally formed caves, can be seen high up on the rock that bounds the temple premises. A long flight of steps, recently built, leads up to the caves. All these caves have the 'kataram' carving, which is a groove or channel cut along the top of the overhanging rock, to prevent water dripping into the caves. This was a characteristic of that period.
The largest cave, measuring 25 metres in length, 15 metres in width and 18 metres in height, houses a temple, also constructed more recently. It contains a large statue of a reclining Buddha, five large standing Buddha statues and two smaller ones. However, Mr. Tillekewardene said, these statues are not of archaeological importance because they have been reconstructed after the Kandy period. Although the cave temple must have existed during the Kandy period, nothing of the Kandy era is seen here. The characteristics of the statues are of a later period. To the right of the large cave temple is a smaller cave with an old chaitya in front.
To the left of the cave temple is another cave, 16 metres long, 10 metres wide and 22 metres high, which is used as a 'Pattini Devale' at present. Below the kataram carving on the roof overhang of the cave, can be seen carved into the rock, two rows of letters, which are said to be of the pre-Brahmin period. The inscription dating back to 3B.C. - 1 A.D., refers to a king although the name is not mentioned. According to research by Prof. Senerath Paranavitana, the king is said to be Mahachulika Mahatissa. To the left of this cave is a smaller cave, 12 feet long, 8 feet wide and 18 feet high. The rocky overhang of this cave also has an inscription dated to the same period, carved on the rock. In this inscription too, a king is referred to but his name is not mentioned. It was thought to be Walagamba by Ellawela Medhananda Himi, while Prof. Paranavitana's idea was that it was Mahachulika Mahatissa. Whatever it may be, these two cave inscriptions are the most ancient in the Western Province. Furthermore, according to Mr. Tillekewardene, archaeologically, they are very important factors in determining the government, economic, social, religious background prevalent during the period concerned.
The smallest of the caves, lies further left of the caves with the inscriptions. The bodhi stands before it. The last cave is located about 350 metres north of the cave temple, on the western extremity of the temple land, in a wooded area on the rocky hill. The way to the cave is rough and steep. The entrance naturally hewn into the rock, is almost covered with a thick growth of foliage. This would have resembled the original environment of the caves. Here, one could imagine the monks of yore, meditating, performing their religious rites and living their simple lives in these forest caves, with only the rustling of leaves and the call of birds to disturb them.
Beyond the last cave, some private properties are also located on the rock. Mining of the granite on these properties poses a threat to the historic caves and the inscriptions. During a recent inspection of the Korathota site by officers of the Archeological Department, several significant facts were noted and proposals for the safeguarding of the archeological site were made.
The first step was to make a detailed list of the archaeologically important sites in the area. It has been proposed that the cave temples and the historic inscriptions be declared archaeological protected sites. This proposal has already been sent to the Attorney General's Department to be gazetted. As rock mining is taking place on a large scale in the vicinity of the cave temples, it is proposed under the Archaeological Act, to proclaim a restricted area of 400 yards by a gazette notification in order to protect the caves. According to this proclamation, no quarrying or building activities would be permitted at all within 200 yards of the caves.
Between 200 and 400 yards, clearance would have to be obtained from the Archeological Department for any construction or rock mining. The Archeological officers stressed that it is necessary to control the quarrying on this rock in order to protect the ancient inscriptions, which is a national heritage, for future generations. They are also attempting to preserve as far as possible the natural environment around the caves.
By Hiranthi Fernando
Korathota Raja Maha Viharaya : http://www.tourism.wp.gov.lk
Updated March 24, 2007