Gal Vihara Buddhist Temple in Polonnaruwa

Gal Vihara Buddhist Temple in Polonnaruwa 

The Gal Vihara and or ‘Rock Temple’ is in the city of Polonnaruwa. Polonnaruwa was the second great kingdom of ancient Sri Lanka.  The city of Polonnaruwa is located 100 kilometres to the southeast. Gal Vihara is a famous place that takes tourist attractions and is known as the Uttararama temple.

 Gal Vihara Buddhist Temple in Polonnaruwa

Some of the finest Buddha statues in Sri Lanka are founded in Gal Vihara. There are four Buddha statues carved from the face of single granite rock. The tree of images is quite large. The largest one is more than 4 feet tall and the small one is more than 4 feet tall.

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Gal-Vihara of the Uttararama

Gal-Vihara of the Uttararama rock-hewn shrine, the rock temple is the most impressive antiquity par excellence to be seen in the Island of Ceylon, and possibly not rivalled throughout the continent of India. Amazed at the sight of the shrine, he then went on to describe the sight in a poetical essay.

century, have chanced to view it in its peaceful wooded seclusion carved cave and three brick vaulted image houses. The disputed "The line 8i gigantic figures carved from the grey rock which The irresistible charm and sublimity of the Gal Vihara could not prabhamandala. This statue is in the Vijjadharaguha. As seen today by the remaining brick walls, there was only one rock in Virasana . It is on a throne decorated with lions and thunder- seated Buddha image in samadhi of deep meditation and seated the sedent Buddha. The most southerly of the figures is the bolts, and behind the head of the Buddha is the halo or the end. It's face is cut back nearly 15 ft. for the sculpturing of the forms their background, calm immovable, majestic, and amid the with the persiveness of profound meditation, or wrapped in three images and as much as 17 ft. to provide the cave shrine for hush of the surrounding forest, gazing ever fixedly into space eternal slumber, must inspire in the thoughtful beholder wonder and admiration, mingled with an instinctive sense of silent awe. but appeal forcibly to the few observant visi tors who, for the last untouched by axe and spade". As we know, it was Lt. Fagan in 1820 who found his way to Polonnaruva and pushed the exploration of the jungle buried nins as far north as the Gal Vihara. He wrote a description of what he saw there and concluded by saying "I may have over- looked many interesting points in this great monument of superstition nearly dark and I was obliged to return to Topary (Topaveva)". Twenty years later, in 1841 Major Fobes included a description of the Gal-Vihara in his book and some fourteen years later, in 1855, Sir Samuel Baker visited this rock temple. Sir Emerson Tennent too highlighted the Gal Vihare in 1861 and so did J. W. Birch, Lt. R. W. Stewart in 1868 who first photographed the Gal vihara ruins. All these early references are important to us to study this unique monument. To this list of eminent men could be added names such as H. C. P. Bell, R. Ayrton and Senarat Paranavitana. The rock is 56 yards in length and falls away gradually at each.

The Seated Buddha Statue in Gal Vihara

The seated Buddha so-called Ananda statue is not mentioned in the chronicle though it is separated from the recumbent Buddha. The seated Buddha image in the Vijjadharaguha has an ornamental arch that sur- rounds the figure, with small Buddha figures in the niches. The makers or mythical dragons which project from the arch hold lions in their mouths. 

The Seated Buddha Statue in Gal Vihara | SL ART CAFE.COM

All these features go to indicate that it was meant for the recitation of magical verses of Tantric Buddhism. The statue was originally painted. It measures 15 ft. 2.5 in. from the asanaya to ushnisha. 
solid rock. The Buddha is depicted as seated on a throne under The next one, inside the Nisinnapatimaguha, is carved out of all and flanked by attendants bearing flywhisks. Above are the statues of the god Brahma, to the right of the Buddha and Vishnu on the left showing that the Buddha is devatideva or above all gods. Traces of wall paintings are seen clearly on the walls of the cave. Next to this cave is the famous rock inscription of Parakramabahu recording the convening of the Buddhist council by the king and the establishment of rules for the good conduct of the monks.

The Standing Buddha Statue in Gal Vihara

Gal Vihara standing Buddha statue is seven meters high. Its hand folded across its chest. It is not a common posture. That position knows as the Para Dukkha Dukkhitha Mudra. It is believed that this image is not of the Lord Buddha. People said that it may be Rev. Ananda who was a personal attendant of Lord Buddha. The rope in this statue is worn tightly and clear outlying.  The robe is carving two parallel lines. The eyes are not opened. The statue is leaning back in a relaxed manner. Its face carries a sorrowful expression.  The statue is standing on the lotus flower.

The Standing Statue in Gal Vihara | SL ART CAFE.COM

The most controversial figure is believed to be either Ananda or Buddha. However, the fact remains that this statue was not mentioned in the chronicle as one built by Parakramabahu. He built only three caves to house three differ- ent Buddha statues, two sedent and one in recumbent attitude. Then what is this twenty-three feet high standing Statue? It is quite possible that this statue was a later addition to the group as there was space for another, specially for a missing attitude of the Buddha, and that is the standing figure. That vacuum is now filled by some one whom we cannot identify. Stylistically this statue also belongs in some degree to the same period. The brick foundation also provides ample evidence to show that this separate cave which we can name as Utthitapatimaguha, the cave with the standing image, was a later addition filling a void namely the "standing posture". It is one of the three com- mon postures found in Sri Lanka. The other being the "walking attitude", which is called the sankamuna, and not found here.

The Dying Buddha Statue in Gal Vihara

The reclining statue of Gal Vihara . There is only one reclining Buddha and the largest statue in gal Vihara. It is just over 14 meters long. The statue was carved very clearly. The statue is resting using a pillow cot. This statue shows the buddha at rest as he enters into the final Nibbana. The lord buddha is lying on his right side. the right hand is supporting the head on a bolster. There is a lotus flower carved on the right-hand palm. The left hand of the statue lies along the body.  The robes are covered very neatly and tightly. It seems a very wonderful image in this area. The face of the statue has a most peaceful and serene smile.

The Dying Buddha Statue in Gal Vihara | SL ART CAFE.COM

According to popular belief, however, this image is thought to represent Ananda, the chief disciple of Buddha sorrowing at the death of the master whose statue is shown in the lying posture adjoining the present image. This belief is no more accepted. The statue on a lotus pedestal and hair in ringlets no doubt represents Buddha. Taking this statue as the image of the Buddha, there are two theories with regards to the mudras or gestures depicted by the hands. Paranavitana was of the opinion that it represents the Buddha as paradukkha-dukkhita meaning he who is sorrowing for the sor- row of others. The latest theory put forward by Prematilleke is that it represents the Buddha in the second week after attaining Buddhahood by paying his respect to the Bodhi tree. Therefore a Bodhi tree was planted there by the custodians of the Cultural Triangle Project to remind us of that incident. While the present author completely disagrees with the second theory, he also disagrees with the first where Paranavitana speaks of a sorrowing Buddha. Actually, Buddha did not weep or lament over the sorrows of others. That is not in keeping with the Buddha-nature.

It is believed that there was a wooden roof on the statue because there are several sockets had been carved into the rock.  According to the archaeologist Senarath Paranawithana, this image was coated in gold in ancient times.

 The present author believes that this Buddha image depicts the great compassion or Maha Karuna of the Buddha towards world beings. The immense figure lying next to this in a lying posture in the Nipannapatima Lena is forty feet long and depicts the final pass- ng away of the Buddha. The left foot of the Buddha rests on the night and is slightly drawn back. The feet too like the headrest on a cushion and the soles are ornamented with the lotus flower. centre of the cushion on which the head of the Buddha rests The Mahasaya.While the present The immense figure lying next to this in a lying posture in the Ninannapatima Lena is forty feet long and depicts the final away of the Buddha. The left foot of the Buddha rests on the Ticht and is slightly drawn back. The feet too like the headrest on a cushion and the soles are ornamented with the lotus flower, The centre of the cushion on which the head of the Buddha rests is decorated with the kirtimukha or face of the lion. This image house had its own separate entrance and two windows in addition. The liquid flow of the robes over the body and the calm expression of the face is beautifully interpreted.

The Seated Buddha Statue in Vidyadhara Guha

The next seated statue, the smaller one is located in an artificial cave named Vidyadhara Guha. The statue is only 4 feet and 7 inches in height. The seat was lotus-shaped and decorated with figures of lions. There was God Vishnu and God Brahma left and right of the statue. A halo is carved behind the head of the image.  
The Gal Vihara images are considered to be some of the best examples of ancient Sinhalese sculpting and carving arts.


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