The many treasures of Kandy’s Katãrangala Rajamaha Viharaya
Adhi Esala Full Moon Poya falls tomorrow, July 3 and the ancient temple of Katãrangala Rajamaha Viharaya in Halloluwa, Kandy believed to have been built during the time of King Walagamba is expecting a large influx of devotees who will come to observe sil. “We have arranged meditation programmes to be conducted by the four resident monks and other religious activities as well,” the incumbent monk Ven. Shastrapathi Pitakandé Gnãnãnada Thera said.
The Katãrangala Rajamaha Viharaya which has many wall paintings also houses the Dambarang Buddha image which is in a drip-ledge cave under a Makara Thorana with two other Buddha images – a Hiti pilima (standing image) and a reclining image.
When the Sunday Times visited last week, Ven. Shastrapathi Pitakandé Gnãnãnada Thera said that it is believed that the Dambarang Buddha image is one of four that was brought by Maha Rahathan Maliyadewa Thera when he came to the island from India. The other three images are in Wattarama Malimahapaya Viharaya, Kothmale Pusulpitiya Rajamaha Viharaya and Matara Kumburulena Viharaya.
The Dambarang Buddha image has two blue sapphires for the eyes. “There had been a theft but the stolen statue was found two years later in 1982, cut into pieces and parcelled and thrown into the well of the nearby Halloluwa Maha Vidyalaya. Recovering it was a ‘haskama’ (a feat),” said the Thera. The image was re-constructed by an expert and placed again in the viharaya.
“The Dambarang for the Buddha image is believed to have been obtained from the funeral pyre which the Malla Kings of India had built in gold to place the Buddha on his parinirvana (passing away). The gold had been burnt and it was known as Dambu + Rang coined as Dambarang,” said the Thera.
On the request of Ven. Weliwita Asarana Sarana Saranankara Maha Thera, King Kirti Sri Rajasinha had renovated the viharaya and donated hetapas amunu gamwara – a large acreage of land in the 18th century.
However this historic temple is now in urgent need of repair. “As the viharaya has not been renovated for some time, due to water seeping from the roof the paintings are being washed off. We cannot do any renovations due to its archaeological importance. Therefore, it is the duty of the government to renovate and preserve the paintings,” said the Thera.
This viharaya is also known as the Neelapabbatharamaya or Nilpawvehera, a meditation centre and Aramaya for bhikkhus in ancient times, which was converted to a viharaya later. “Surrounding the main cave where the image is, there are many other caves in a ten-acre forest area where monks meditated in the past. But only about 15 are approachable at present. There are animals living in them and some are overgrown with trees and vines.” The Thera has built a few ‘kuti’ where monks meditate at present.
“There are also sel-lipi (writings on rock). Archaeological Department officials have said that unlike other stone engravings, these are unique as there is some kind of plaster placed on it for the writings. There had also been a sel-lipi with Brahmi letters, but now it is buried due to earth falling over it.”
The museum at the viharaya also holds many items of value. A large clay pot with a diameter of about five feet is believed to be where the monks collected rain water for bathing purposes. There are two watãpatha (fans) believed to have been gifted by King Kirti Sri Rajasinha to Weliwita Saranankara Sangharaja Maha Thera. Also a small karanduwa used by the King is placed along with his sword and scabbard. Items of ceramic and marble are also displayed. A set of Puskolpoth (talipot leaves) where the General Tripitaka is re-written by monks is displayed, the Ven Thera said.
The viharaya can be approached from two directions. One is from the Peradeniya-Katugastota road, where you travel about four kilometres upto Barigama and proceed along this road to the temple, the other approach is from Katugastota, a distance of about five kilometres through Barigama.