Sasseruwa : Tracing back to the original Avukana statue | Sunday Observer

Sasseruwa : Tracing back to the original Avukana statue

21 March, 2021

I first came to know Sasseruwa in the early 1980s through the now defunct Isura- a monthly Sinhala magazine, published by the then Land, Land Development and Mahaweli Development Ministry, to educate the people on Mahaweli development projects.

Thecolourful magazine was much sought after by me as a student. In one issue, it featured the restoration of a tank of the Sasseruwa temple with a photograph of the Buddha statue in the Mahaweli ‘H’ System in Meegalewa. Now, visiting this place after four decades, I recalled the memories of my student days.


The most awe-inspiring is the Buddha statue at Sasseruwa or Resvehera where the first colossus stands majestically amid the dense jungle in a corner of Kurunegala bordering the Anuradhapura district. Travelling from Kalawewa and turning in at the Avukana road, we reached the Sasseruwa temple after about an hour’s drive. We proceeded along the tarred road to the temple which was lined either side by jungle, shrub and lush green paddy fields or dotted here and there with small houses. Passing a shady tree-lined pathway and a tank full of red lotus blooms, where village children pick flowers to sell to pilgrims, we stepped on to the temple premises.

The temple is in an elephant infested area called Meegalewa, on the boundary of the Mahaweli system-H, overlooking the mighty tank,Kalawewa.

Gaining importance after the Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Yapahuwa periods, the Sasseruwa rock temple has a history dating back to the period of King Walagambahu. It is famous for the DethispalaRuha Bodhi planted here.

Legend has it that Budu Res (Rays of light) emanated from the Buddha statue when the Bo-tree was planted. The centuries old huge Bo-tree at the site shades the front of the shrine cave. A 10-feet tall stone wall with four platforms is around the Bo-tree. This is rare feature in Sri Lanka’s temples.

Sasseruwa is significant in many ways. One is the main shrine cave containing an image of the reclining Buddha statue where the original robe, which covered it, is still visible at certain places. This is the only Buddha statue of a rock temple where a pilgrim could walk right around it in veneration.


The other unique feature is the 42’ 4’’ tall colossus which stands majestically on the top of the rock boulder amid a forest canopy. It was carved out of a rock outcrop, resembling the famous statue at Avukana.

History reveals that the benevolent tank builder King Dhatusena, who built the mighty reservoir called Kalawewa, wanted the Supreme Being to overlook his mundane efforts. He wanted to build the image of the Buddha as big as his work on the bank of Kalawewa. Then, the Avukana Buddha statue was commissioned to be built. As legend goes Sasseruwa was the first place chosen to build the colossus Avukana Buddha.

As the work progressed, the monarch had a suspicion about the strength of the rock. He, therefore, abandoned the site and chose another at Avukana, close to Kalawewa. However, the sculptor continued his work and created a masterpiece of the Buddha image at Sasseruwa. He sculpted the most beautiful image out of the rock. He sent his pupil to do the monarch’s bidding. The Avukana Buddha statue at Kalawewa is slightly taller than the original at Sasseruwa.

There are over 80 rock caves scattered around the rocky mountain of Sasseruwa, which had provided shelter to monastic bhikkhus in the past, according to chronicles. Today, most of these caves are home to wild animals.

Antique value

The wall paintings in the cave shrine of the Sasseruwa temple seem to belong to the Kandyan period. A flight of steps lead to the Poya Geya where a Makara Thorana (Dragon arch) decorates its entrance.

The furniture in the temple has immense antique value. A bed, ancient and still intact, made of Ma Vevel (Cane) which is said to have been donated to the temple by a carpenter, was placed in a corner of the shrine room in the cave.

On one side of the temple is a small rock enclose said to be the Pattini Devala where lie a replica of the Goddess’ symbol and an anklet. There is a belief among the villagers that a cobra had guarded the temple. The villagers say that a 14-foot and seven-inch discarded snake outer skin had been found in the rock cave shrine in 1980.

The Archaeological Department had undertaken construction work on the roof of the shrine rooms and also renovated some faded wall paintings in the caves. The ancient preaching hall in the temple hasbeen damaged by rain water dripping from the roof.

The development work on the temple was initiated with the accelerated Mahaweli development program, which commenced in the early 80s, resulting in the Sasseruwa temple premises belonging to Mahaweli system-H, becaming a religious site for pilgrims who visit theAvukana statue, just 12 kilometres away from Sasseruwa.