Ambulgama Rajamaha Viharaya : The Buddhist oasis at Ranala | Sunday Observer

Ambulgama Rajamaha Viharaya : The Buddhist oasis at Ranala

17 November, 2019

The imposing statue of Buddha rising majestically amidst the surrounding rocks was a pleasant sight. On the right hand side was another hand carved statue of Buddha in reclining position

Our resplendent island has been embellished with beautiful Buddhist temples, each with its unique history and surroundings. One of the lesser known temples is the spectacular Ambulgama Rajamaha Viharaya located at Ranala. Having heard of its pristine beauty and unblemished solitude from my friend Nalin Marasinghe, we journeyed via Kottawa to Homagama. We navigated the winding roads passing paddy fields and some abandoned ponds towards Ranala. The entrance to the temple is simple, a high arch with some steps. The monks had concluded a Katina Pinkama ceremony the previous night.

The beautiful temple is set on layers of rock that ascend to reveal a medium sized mountain, wherein are two caves. At the entrance to the pathway leading to the temple are two statues of monks who have faithfully served this temple.

The path is mildly steep and demanded a bit of climbing. The chirping of birds was the only sound. It felt cooler as we reached the top. The imposing statue of Buddha rising majestically amidst the surrounding rocks was a pleasant sight.

On the right hand side was another hand carved statue of Buddha in the reclining position. This entire statue is cut out of one solid rock stone. How the sculptors achieved the life like facial features is amazing. It is a testament to their patience and artistic prowess.

The history of the first shrine built in the large cave dates back to the time of the bold King Vijayabhau the Third (1226-1240 AD), ruler of Dambadeniya.It is said that he had stationed his troops in this area to launch an assault on a foreign invader. On both sides of the main statue are the life size statues of the 80 monks - known in Buddhism as Asu Maha Sravaka, the distinguished disciples of Buddha. One of these statues stands out from the rest - that of Moggallana Thera, where the body is painted in blue. According to the Pali Canon (ancient text of Buddhist history) he was said to display a skin colour similar to a blue lotus. The aroma of incense and burning oil lamps permeated the cool morning air.

We were surprised to notice some steps carved into the rock, behind the main statue. This is where the element of adventure begins. We climbed with caution to enter the base of a cave opening where the form of a lion’s head (made with ancient clay) had been fixed. Onto the right were a set of statues of the remaining 80 monks.

Another flight of about twenty steps, some mildly covered in green moss, leads to the second level of the cave. Here one encounters two large statues - one of the Buddha attired in saffron robes and the other a contrasting grayish black statue that depicts his intense fasting which he did for 49 days, and reveals the skeletal structure of his body. The eyes are fixated in deep meditation.

It was very cool at this level of the cave, and it’s attributed to a natural water pool that collects rain water. The ancient builders had prudently built this cave with drip ledges so that water did not run into the caves - long before all this modern talk about sustainability. An opening in the topmost section of the rock had been brilliantly angled to let in the right amount of sunlight- to maintain the right aura for the mendicant monks. The view from the top is amazing, although Ambulgama Mountain is not as high as some other Buddhist locations of worship. We slowly climbed down and returned to base level.

The kind chief monk Ven. Dankande Bodhivansha Thera spoke to us. When Ceylon was attacked by the Portuguese, Dutch and British the invading troops used to sail along the Kelani River. They would attack villages’ enroute. The terrified village folk used to run to the temple, via pathways through dense thickets of trees. They found refuge here. It was also from this temple that the local army would meet and boldly counter attack. According to the Buddhist book Dhammapradeepikawa this temple was originally named as Ambalawarathgalwhera temple: and later became known as Ambulgama Rajamaha Viharaya.

The temple is visited by the young and old. It is an inspiring religious venue for the young folk to spend a day and learn the multi - religious diversity of Sri Lanka. It is a place that coexists with nature. This beautiful temple with its radiant natural surroundings is a must visit destination for all those who cherish the history of our nation.