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Ridi Viharaya

- A Treasure Trove of Art and Sculpture -

In a small village at Ridigama about 13 miles from Kurunegala perched on a hill is an interesting cave temple called Ridi Vihara.

Patha Vihara (above).

Two-thousand three hundred years or so ago it is believed to have been the abode of Arahat Indragupta. At a later date, history records that silver ore was discovered here and was used by King Dutugemunu to raise funds for the completion of the great Ruwanveliseya.

The Ridi Vihara had been built on the spot that yielded the wealth as a gesture of gratitude and, in the main cave temple, a gold plated Buddha statue brought from India was placed. In time the temple had been renovated and rebuilt by King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe.

The main image house or "Patha Viharaya", is situated at ground level, positioned under a precariously looming rock in the shape of a cobra head.

In this cave lies on one side lies a 9m recumbent Buddha image. The altar to this image is held with blue and white 18th century Dutch porcelain tiles, sometimes referred to as the Bible tiles since they depict scenes from the Bible. It is said that these were a gift from a European ambassador to King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe who gifted them to the temple in the days when the Dutch ruled the maritime Provinces.

The cave also houses a huge seated Buddha image and images of Hindu gods and a statue believed to be that of King Dutugemunu. The walls and roof of the cave are brilliantly decorated with frescoes and flower motifs.

The lintel and door frame of one of the doors leading into this cave is decorated with an exquisite work in Ivory. The "Pancha Nari Getaya" (figure of five women entwined in the shape of a knot) decorates the centre of this work. In keeping with the art of illusion, the intricate carving appears from a distance to be a vase but from close up the knitting of the figures of five maidens is revealed. On either side of this are carved two lions. This unique piece of ivory art has been the subject of vandalism and the sad fragments have been enclosed by a glass .

The "Uda Viharaya" or the Upper temple reached by a flight of steps from outside the main cave, consists of three chambers and a connecting corridor and is believed to have been built by King Kirti Sri Rajasinghe.

The first chamber houses a devalaya dedicated to the guardian deity of the mountain on which the Ridi Vihara is situated.

The second and middle chamber being the largest is the main shrine room and is dominated by a huge seated Buddha image.

The makara thorana behind the image is an interesting composition of groups of gods and devotees, with an image of a standing Buddha on each side and the two makara heads forming the usual arch are turned outwards.

On the sides of the pedestal of the seated Buddha image are some interesting paintings consisting of the "Thri Sinha Rupaya" depicting three seated lions with one face, the "Sarpenda" and "Vrushba Kunjaraya", the entwined heads of a bull and an elephant. Paintings depicting the warring King Rawana are also to be seen.

Thri Sinha Rupaya(above).

A painting of the "Nawanari Kunjaraya" or nine maidens is found outside the last chamber at the end of the corridor. The clever arrangement of the nine graceful bodies of maidens, ingeniously fitted to represent an elephant in all its grandeur deludes the onlooker from far. This cave has a vivid painted background and houses some ancient wooden Buddha images.

Behind the Uda Viharaya in an open cave is a dagoba. An attractive stone pillared structure is found outside the temple courtyard built into a cave known as the "Waraka Welandu lena". On some of its ancient pillars are etched some interesting figures, on which the faint outlines of a dancing girl and a soldier can still be recognized.

Popular belief is that Arahat Indragupta partook of a meal of ripe jak fruit at this spot. Outside the temple complex, atop a small rocky hill passing an ancient inscription is another dagaba - "Sarasum gala chaiththiya"

by By Kishanie S. Fernando
Daily Mirror, September 24, 2004

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Updated February 4, 2007
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