Friday, March 25, 2011

Pidurangala- King Kashyapa’s Temple

Sri Lanka is blessed with such a variety of archaeological sites of historical and cultural value that the visitor is often spoilt for choice. While the grandeur of the ancient cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa is difficult to surpass, there are lesser-known sites like Pidurangala in Sigiriya, Ritigala, Namal Uyana etc., which are overshadowed by the grandeur of the Sigiriya rock fortress.This frequently stems from the fact that many of these sites lie off the beaten track, are on a smaller scale, and encircled and even encroached upon by jungle.

Located down a dusty gravel track off the road leading to the Sigiriya rock fortress, the Pidurangala monastery was built by King Kashyapa in the 5th Century A.D. There is said to be a strong connection between Sigiriya and Pidurangala. Although Sigiriya was his kingdom, King Kashyapa’s religious center was at Pidurangala.

When King Kashyapa discovered Sigiriya, there was supposed to have been a monastery where bhikkus lived and meditated on the lower levels of the rock. Kashyapa is believed to have built a new aramaya (monastery) for these bhikkus at Pidurangala before he started work on the Sigiriya fortress. Spread over 13½ acres the monastery gave sanctuary to over 500 meditating bhikkus, complete with the five major ritual buildings- the Chapter House, Image House, the Bodhiya, Chaitya and the Sangharamaya.

‘Pidu’ means donated or gifted and ‘rangala’ means golden rock. Although its origins date back to the same period as the Sigiriya rock fortress, this site does not share the same glamour and renown despite being located just a short distance away from the Sigiriya Rock fortress. Not even ten percent of visitors who flock to the Sigiriya rock fortress spare even a glance at this ancient shrine. Most don’t even know it exists. Not even Sri Lankans!

Therefore the ‘Discover Sri Lanka’ team and I headed towards Pidurangala to place this hidden site on the map of Sri Lanka's historical sites, so that future generations and tourists will be aware of its existence and its connection to the Sigiriya Rock fortress.

On our visit to Pidurangala, our guides were Telson Fernando, Manager Operations of Serendib Leisure Management, and Kularaja Abeykoone from the Sri Lanka Tourist Board. Our host hotel- Hotel Sigiriya provided plenty of food and water, as well as a team of assistants to carry our television equipment.

The climb to the top of Pidurangala was much more challenging than I expected and I even had a ‘helper’ to carry my bag of ‘stuff’ because most of the time I needed both hands to crawl my way up.

Along the way, we found huge rocks with steps cut into the stone, where the monks meditated at the summit. Those monks must have been gymnasts to ascend these rocks.

I tried my luck and must have looked a sight because I had to crawl up like a crocodile on all fours, and the descent was a nightmare. I was not even wearing my boots after having learnt my lesson by wearing them (as a snake repellent) during the coverage of The Elephant Gathering in Minneriya.

Crude stone steps along the way lead to the rock cave temple. We also had to creep under huge overhanging rocks and I felt so sorry for the boys laden with our TV equipment.

Finally when we reached the summit, it all seemed worth it. The view was breathtaking and there was a large rock cave about 200 feet in length inside which was a statue of the reclining Buddha- 48 1/2 feet in length. This is said to be the largest reclining Buddha image in the world, built of clay and brick.

Unfortunately, the original head and upper portion of the statue had been destroyed by treasure-hunting vandals. However, thanks to the Department of Archeology the statue has now been restored.

The head of the image faces the east, towards the Sigiriya Rock. It could be seen from beside the famed Lion's Paws at Sigiriya. Legend has it that King Kashyapa worshipped this statue twice a day standing by the Lion's Paws and that the maidens bearing flowers depicted in the famed Sigiriya frescoes face the Buddha image at Pidurangala, giving the impression that they were making their way there.

Towards the feet of the sleeping Buddha image, the cave is divided into twelve sections which had been used as meditation cells or ‘Kutis’ by the monks. These Kutis built of earth and stone are now ruined.

Paintings on the walls and ceilings were often a feature of caves inhabited by monks. And though there had been such murals at Pidurangala like the Sigiriya frescoes which once adorned the ceiling of these caves, they have long since disappeared due to the elements of weather, lack of care and maintenance as well as the destruction of modern day vandals.

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