Hindagala Raja Maha Viharaya

Hindagala Raja Maha Viharaya is a Buddhist temple situated in Hindagala village. Locals link the history of this temple to the time of King Valagamba.
Hindagala Raja Maha Viharaya
Hindagala cave temple

Hindagala Raja Maha Viharaya (Sinhala: හිඳගල රජ මහා විහාරය) is an ancient Buddhist temple situated in the village of Hindagala in Kandy District, Sri Lanka. Nestled on a mountain slope, the site can be reached by travelling about 4 km along Kandy-Galaha Road from Peradeniya town.


The history of Hindagala Viharaya dates back to the early Anuradhapura Period as locals link the temple to King Valagamba [(103, 89-77 B.C.) Senanayaka, 2018]. The existence of a large drip-ledged cave which was later transformed into an image shrine indicates that this temple has a history running back to at least the beginning of the Christian era (Chutiwongs et al., 1990). The two rock inscriptions belonging to the 6th and 7th centuries A.D. and a fragment of rock painting belonging to the same period indicate the early establishment of the temple (Abeywardana, 2004; Chutiwongs et al., 1990; De Silva & Chandrasekara, 2009; Wijesekara, 1945). Among the two inscriptions, one is a Vaharala-type inscription of which the first line contains the word "Vataka-vahara", probably the name of the ancient monastic establishment at this place (Chutiwongs et al., 1990; Paranavitana, 1958).

The other inscription consists of 5 lines of writing and it reveals details about a joint grant for the purpose of building a Bodhighara (a Bodhi tree shrine) by a minister who was the custodian of a lodge named Patasala-abala and by a resident of Kanamudu (Nicholas, 1961; Paranavitana, 1958).

The next phase of development of the Hindagala temple is evidently the Kandyan Period (Chutiwongs et al., 1990). However, firm evidence of the founding of the more recent monastery is not available and no document of the monastery goes back to a period before the 19th century (Chutiwongs et al., 1990). The Lawrie's Gazetteer of the 19th century reveals a story of Henakanda Biso Bandara linked to the image of Buddha in the Hindagala rock temple (Chutiwongs et al., 1990; Lawrie, 1896). In the same record, it is mentioned that a monk named Dope Nayaka Unnanse made repairs to the temple prior to 1820 (Chutiwongs et al., 1990; Lawrie, 1896).

On 23 April 1815, the Tooth Relic of the Buddha which was conveyed to Kandy from Pusulpitiya Viharaya in Kotmale was kept in the premises of Hindagala Viharaya for one night. This incident establishes that the Hindagala temple had remained an important Viharaya at the time of the British occupation of the country (Chutiwongs et al., 1990). The cave of the temple was restored during the time of the British Governor Barnes [(1824-1831 A.D.) Wijesekara, 1945].

Murals in the Cave Temple

The large cave that faces east at Hindagala temple was converted into an image house (Pilima-ge) in the 18th century A.D. (Paranavitana, 1958). Sheltered by an outer verandah with a timber and tiled roof, it can be entered through a doorway decorated with a Makara Thorana (Dragon arch) supported by the figures of Indra and Mahabrahma accompanied by their animal vehicles and a pair of Suddhavasa Brahmas (Chutiwongs et al., 1990; De Silva & Chandrasekara, 2009). The exterior walls of the cave temple have been decorated with murals depicting life incidents of the Buddha and hell scenes (Chutiwongs et al., 1990). Above the door frame is a mural representing the lord of Totisabhavana heaven, being fanned by two heavenly females. Also, the names of the artists who were involved in the paintings are written on the upper part of the wall over the doorway and one of these names appears on a stone lamp at the site engraved with the date 2461 B.E. [(1917 A.D.) Chutiwongs et al., 1990].

Inside the cave, recumbent and seated Buddha images are visible. The recumbent Buddha which is in front of the west wall was repaired in 1937 (Chutiwongs et al., 1990). A painted image of Buddha in the standing position and showing the Vitarka Mudra is found on the south wall of the shrine room. Two Buddha statues, one in standing posture with his hands crossed in front of his chest and another in the sedent attitude are placed against the north wall (Chutiwongs et al., 1990). The seated Buddha image is believed to have been built by Queen Henakanda Biso Bandara during the Gampola Period [(1341–1412 A.D.) De Silva & Chandrasekara, 2009]. Below the image house is a Stupa shrine built inside a rock-cut cave.

As a whole, the paintings at the Hindagala temple can be categorised into a few periods. The fragment of a mural found just below the drip ledge belongs to the Anuradhapura era and the paintings inside the cave belong to the both Gampola and Kandyan Periods or to a period before or after 1820 (Chutiwongs et al., 1990; De Silva & Chandrasekara, 2009). The outer wall paintings facing the veranda are said to have been done in 1917. Also, some paintings that had been executed over old murals in 1937 have been removed by the Archaeological Survey later (Chutiwongs et al., 1990).

Features of some paintings in the Hindagala cave temple are similar to those found in the Dambulla, Hanguranketha and Mulkirigala temples (Chutiwongs et al., 1990).

An Old Painting Fragment

Hindagala temple The lord of Totisabhavana heaven is being fanned by two heavenly females, Hindagala temple.

On the surface of the hood of the rock cave, just below the drip ledge, is an old mural depicting two episodes of the life story of the Lord Buddha (Prematilaka & Hewage, 2018). Of them, one mural shows the offering of alms to the Buddha, by two trading brothers named Tapassu and Balluka (Chutiwongs et al., 1990; Prematilaka & Hewage, 2018). The other mural depicts the worshipping of the Buddha by the god Indra and others during the Buddha's visit to the Indasala cave (Chutiwongs et al., 1990; Paranavitana, 1950; Prematilaka & Hewage, 2018). This mural is considered special as it is the oldest painted representation of the life history of the Buddha existing in Sri Lanka (Chutiwongs et al., 1990). However, the painting was burnt by a forest fire in the 1960s (Prematilaka & Hewage, 2018).

The two paintings show artistic similarities to those of the paintings found in Sigiriya and Ajanta and Badami in India and are said to be drawn in the style of Toluwila (Chutiwongs et al., 1990; Paranavitana, 1950; Rajapakse, 2016; Wijesekara, 1945; Wikramagamage & Wijesekara, 1990). They belong to the 6-7th century A.D. or probably to a later period (Coomaraswamy, 1927; Paranavitana, 1950). The present name of the temple, Hindagala, according to S. Paranavithana, has been derived from Indrasala Guha which is depicted in one of the paintings (Chutiwongs et al., 1990). However due to the environmental weathering, presently, about one-tenth of the original painted surface remains (Wijesekara, 1945). This fragment of the painting, "Visit of Buddha to Indasala Guha", was copied in 1918 by W. M. Fernando for the Department of National Museums (Abeywardana, 2004; Rambukwella, 2014; Wijesekara, 1945). Another set of figures of Divinities belonging to the 12 century A.D. was copied by Stanley Abeysinghe in 1948 (Rambukwella, 2014).

A Protected Site

The drip-ledged cave temple, two drip-ledged caves, and rock inscriptions belonging to the Hindagala Raja Maha Viharaya cave temple in the No. 267, Hindagala Grama Niladhari Division in the Gangawata Korale Divisional Secretary’s Division are archaeological protected monuments, declared by a government gazette notification published on 24 July 2009.

The Makara Thorana (Dragon arch), Hindagala temple The lord of Totisabhavana heaven is being fanned by two heavenly females, Hindagala temple Outer wall paintings, Hindagala temple A stone lamp, Hindagala temple

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Books, Government Gazette Notifications, Journal Articles

1) Abeywardana, H.A.P., 2004. Heritage of Kandurata: Major natural, cultural and historic sites. Colombo: The Central Bank of Sri Lanka.  pp.38-39.
2) Chutiwongs, N.; Prematilleke, L.; Silva, R., 1990. Sri Lanka Bithu Sithuwam: Hindagala (Paintings of Sri Lanka: Haindagala). Archaeological Survey of Sri Lanka: Centenary publication. Central Cultural Fund. ISBN: 955-613-011-X. pp.35-.
3) Coomaraswamy, A.K., 1927. History of Indian and Indonesian art. London. p.163.
4) De Silva, N.; Chandrasekara, D.P., 2009. Heritage buildings of Sri Lanka. Colombo: The National Trust Sri Lanka, ISBN: 978-955-0093-01-4.  p.72.
5) Lawrie, A.C., 1896. A gazetteer of the Central Province of Ceylon (excluding Walapane) (Vol. 1). State Print. Corporation. pp.350-353.
6) Nicholas, C. W., 1961. Additions and amendments to the Historical topography of ancient and medieval Ceylon. Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, New Series (Vol VII. Part 2). Royal Asiatic Society (Ceylon Branch). p.227.
7) Paranavitana, S., 1950. Sinhalese Art and Culture. Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, 98(4822), pp.588-605.
8) Paranavitana, S., 1958. The Hindagala Rock-Inscription. University of Ceylon Review. Vol.XVI, Nos. 1 & 2. pp.1-5.
9) Prematilaka, L., Hewage, R., 2018. A guide to the National Museum, Colombo: Department of National Museum. ISBN: 978-955-578-035-3. pp.43, 45.
10) Rambukwella, M.W.C.N.K., 2014. Heritage representation in culturally diverse societies: a case study of the Colombo National Museum in Sri Lanka (Doctoral dissertation, School of Museum Studies). pp.362-363.
11) Senanayaka, P., 2018. Senkadagala Mahanuwara pradeshaye peranima Bauddha Vihara Arama (In Sinhala). Samodhana, The Journal of Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities. Vol.7 (1). pp.55-83.
12) The Gazette of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. No: 1612. 24 July 2009. p.1022.
13) Wijesekara, N., 1945. Early Sinhalese Paintings. A thesis submitted for the Ph. D. of the Culcutta University. pp.13-14, 114, 189.
14) Wikramagamage, C.; Wijesekara., N. (editor in chief), 1990. 500-1000 A.D. Archaeological Department Centenary (1890-1990): Commemorative Series: Volume Four: Sculpture. p.61.

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