Maligatenne Raja Maha Viharaya
Not far from Colombo, about two miles from the Tihariya junction turning to the right, we came to Maligatenne rock cave temple, our first destination. We could see a small dagaba, right on top of a high mountain, shining white amidst the green foliage, set against a clear blue sky.
In the temple premises are several caves, not very deep but with drip ledge brows, approximately 40- 50 ft. high. The caves are on different levels and sizes. As we walked up a few steps and went in, we could feel the coolness of the granite slabs beneath our unshod feet and the cool atmosphere within the cave.
The caves are at 3 levels, the largest being the main meditation centre. They were established in the time of kings and dates back to the time of Mahinda Thera. As a centre of Buddhism, it is well known from early times. This cave temple is also renowned for its association with King Walagamba who found refuge here when he was escaping from the Indian Chola invaders. Hiripitiya Rala had hidden King Walagamba here till he was able to form an army to counter Indian attacks.
To make these rock caves habitable, drip ledges were cut to take rain water away from the steep rock surface. Many such ancient drip ledges could be seen at great heights on the huge boulders above the temple. Most of them were cut during King Walagamba's time and it is amazing to think how this was done considering the sheer percipitous height of these rock caverns.
The large cave was made into a shrine room as an act of thanksgiving by King Walagamba, as he had been sheltered here. The king had ordered a Buddha statue to be made and even today we can see this 18 ft. reclining Buddha statue. When we were there, the high priest was chanting and there were some devotees seated on the floor in an act of worship; while others came in later with offerings of fruit. There are also mural paintings depicting Jataka stories.
Outside, at the back of the cave, in a sheltered nook, is a skeleton hung up. This was meant for people to meditate on the transient nature of life and it is a philosophical reminder to man of the inevitability of death. It gave us a shudder when we saw it as we came upon it quite suddenly. A little way from it is a path leading to the top of the mountain which has the dagaba which we saw from afar. We started to climb with much gusto, but found the pathway very rugged with jagged rocks and loose gravel making the climb quite difficult.
With difficulty we continued our climb and were quite breathless by the time we reached the top. We were surprised to see here beside the small dagaba a fairly large rectangular pool full to the brim with water and covered with beautiful blooming white lilies. We stood a while gazing at this beautiful sight. It is said this pond never runs dry and that there is hidden treasure at the base of the pond.
We came away happy that we had climbed to the top as it was quite an achievement and the panoramic view uplifted our jaded souls. We had one last look at the towering rock and Maligatenna temple jutting out majestically against the blue sky and then we proceeded on our journey.
By Sirancee Gunawardena
Updated March 18, 2007