Timber classics at Embakke
It was 11 a.m. in the morning. The rays of the sun touched upon the emerald countryside of Embakke. I was in Embakke to visit Sri Lanka's extraordinary beautiful wooden architecture, the Embakke devale. Embakke devale is situated in Udunuwara in the Kandy district.
A visitor travelling along the Colombo-Kandy road can visit temples such as Gadaladeniya and Lankathilaka on the way to the Embakke devale.
The devale is a deistic shrine with magnificent wooden architectural elegance belonging to the 14th century. A notice at the entrance to the devale explains the history of the devale. It was an audience hall of the Gampola kings, originally built in 14th century and later dedicated to the god of Kataragama.
Famed for its marvellous woodcarving, the devale is attributed to king Wikramabahu III Gampola. A timbered roof is supported by superbly crafted wooden columns their carved panels displaying a variety of designs.
Figures including swans, a double-headed eagle, a lion, a lotus, wrestlers, soldiers, dancing ladies, musicians, and many others including a village mother suckling her infant. The 32 of these wooden columns in the Dig-ge of the devale are decorated with wooden molding on the three sides. All exhibit a generous excitement, as though those wood carves of 500n years ago were delighted to display their craft.
The doors to the sanctum from the open-side of the hall are heavy wooden ones without nails or hinges. Instead they pivot on pegs set into the roof and floor. On one side of the sanctum an adjoining building has a cell in which the sole occupant is a magnificent peacock on a pedestal.
It was carved from a single piece of wood. There is a small shrine in the corner of the building which has a Buddha statue belonging to Kandyan style with decorated wooden door.
The odd-looking building at the other side of the devale that is suspended a foot above the ground on huge wooden beams set on stone pillars, is an ancient vee-atuwa, or paddy container. The twin rooms with white-washed walls have neither doors nor windows, only an entrance hole.
Sacks of rice are stuffed through the holes to be stored and can only be retrieved by a man small enough to climb through the narrow openings.
Most visitors miss, the ruins of the Embakke Ambalama, a royal shelter. This Ambalam is situated close to the devale in a paddyfield. The location of the site is not difficult.
In the days of king Buwanekabahu IV of Gampola this Ambalama had been constructed to serve as a resting place for those involved in the construction of the temples at Gadaladeniya and Lankathilaka. It has been built on a rock boulder.
About ten stone pillars seven feet in height have been erected on the rock and each column contains stone carvings similar to wood carvings at the devale.
Today some of these stone columns that have fallen from the top are lying on the rock base becoming stone benches for weary farmers working in the adjacent paddyfield.
It is possible to surmise that the original construction would have been a marvellous creation. Since the building is now exposed to the elements, the original grandeur is fast disappearing.
by Mahil Wijesinghe
March 24, 2007