Grandeur atop a rock | Sunday Observer
Lankathilaka Raja Maha Vihara:

Grandeur atop a rock

14 November, 2021
The Makara Thorana and the moonstone at the main entrance of the Lankathilaka temple
The Makara Thorana and the moonstone at the main entrance of the Lankathilaka temple

The scene is surreal. A soft cool breeze blows across the Hantane mountain range, rustling the leaves of the massive Bo tree. The green slowly melts into a shadowy blue, while a light mist envelopes the mountains in the distance. The shade and the soothing sounds of the Bo leaves keep us mesmerised. We are at the Lankathilaka Raja Maha Vihara meaning ‘the crown of Lanka’ in the Hiripitiya village, on the Kandy-Daulagala road in Udunuwara, Kandy.

Travelling on the Daulagala road, bracketed by the fertile paddy field and a typical countryside, we catch glimpses of impressive whitewashed exterior of the temple in distance. The Lankathilaka Vihara, surrounded by lush greenery, is believed to be the most magnificent architectural edifice built in the Gampola Kingdom. It stands on top of a boulder named Panhalgala, majestically overlooking Hantane mountain range.

On the temple ground, we met two small playful Samaneras, around age of 12, who were in the preaching hall eagerly awaiting visitors to the temple. Just as they saw us, one of the Samanera asked us to wait while he got the key to the temple, which is kept in another building nearby. Though they are young, the Samaneras are well versed in the history of the temple and proved to be great guides.

Image house

We walked into the image house, after he opened the doors with the huge antique key.The silence was overwhelming as we spent a few minutes in the shrine room photographing the wonder. The Samanera advised us not to use instant flash inside the image house. The main structure on the massive rock boulder contains the preaching hall, Devale and a bell shape Chaitya, with a huge Bo tree.

The temple dates back to the Gampola era around the 14th Century. The Samanera showed us a massive rock inscription which reveals that Lankathilaka Temple is a dedication by Senalankadhikara, a minister of King Buwanekabahu IV. It was King Buwanekabahu, who reigned in +Gampola from 1341 to 1351 AD, who had the Vihara constructed with the help of a renowned South Indian architect, identified as Sthapati Rayar.

Five of the kings who succeeded Buwanekabahu IV also chose Gampola as their kingdom. Though the Kings of Gampola were not powerful warriors, they had a high reputation for promoting culture and made a significant contribution to art. Among the monuments from the era that are in existence today, the Gadaladeniya temple, the Embekke Devale and the Lankathilaka temple are the three which distinguish themselves. Of these, the Lankathilaka temple stands out because of the majesty of its structure and design.

According to a legend associated with the construction of the Temple, King Buwanekabahu decided to build it after a bhikkhu reported the sighting of a golden pot floating on the surface of the nearby rocky pond. The king took this as an auspicious sign. In front the main entrance to the temple stands the preaching hall. Flat roof tiles, as opposed to the ordinary half round tiles, cover the central part of the roof and create beautiful patterns.

Elegant architectural design

The main Vihara built on a natural rock boulder, has been constructed using granite, with a plaster covering and stands two storeys tall. Elegant architectural design and rich hued wall paintings, typical of the Kandyan period, illustrating the lives of the Buddha, adorn the inside walls. The ceiling decorated with flora and fauna designs completes the image house.

Two large paintings of lions and two figures of guards facing each other decorate the two walls along the short corridor to the image house. Inside the image house is a magnificent gold-plated Buddha statue placed under a beautiful Makara Thorana. The image house is enriched by four Devales devoted to four deities. Each of the Devales has a separate entrance.

Historical records indicate that the Temple was originally four storeys tall arising from the stone floor and housed a number of decorated Buddha statues. However, the glory of these works is no more due to vagaries of nature and the march of time. What a visitor would see today is a completely reconstructed structure with an elegantly tiled roof. However, the re-construction is not modern. Completed in 1845 by the village headman with the help of renowned architects of that time, it retains most of its salient features and its awe-inspiring majesty.


Today, the temple stands testimony to the creativity of the artisan and craftsmen of the Kandyan era. The entrance to the temple is made of bricks and stones, but what is striking is the decorative moonstone carved out of living rock. A huge Makara Thorana erected at the entrance, flanked by two rare Gajasinha stone statues, add a majestic touch to the temple, making visitor eager to discover the treasure inside.

Visitors can reach the Temple using two routes – one is motorable up to the temple premises on the top of the hill. This is used by most visitors. The other route, the more scenically rewarding route, starts from the foothill of the rock where the bhikkhus’ residence is located, and winds its way up via a steep set of steps cut into the rock. This was the route used in ancient times.

More inscriptions reveal more stories about the place. But the Samaneras need to close the temple and have to return for the Buddha Poojawa.