Friday, 24 February 2023

Avukana Buddha Statue

Avukana Buddha Statue
The Avukana Buddha Statue (Sinhala: අවුකන බුද්ධ ප්‍රථිමාව) is an ancient rock-cut Buddha statue located in the premises of Avukana Raja Maha Viharaya in Anuradhapura District, Sri Lanka.

From the inscriptions found on the premises, the history of the Avukana temple can be dated back to the 1st century A.D. (Nicholas, 1963; Paranavitana, 1970).

Period: 1st century A.D.               Script: Later-Brahmi                    Language: Old Sinhala
Transcript: Pukana lene Padagama Data jetha tipati dina Pusa mahata vare
Translation: The cave of the members of the Corporation. The alderman, Datta of Padagama, gave the three categories of revenue (to the cave) on the day when Phussa was president.
Citation: Paranavitana, 1970

There is a controversy over the period of the Avukana image. Scholars have pointed out that the Buddha statue at Avukana could be the same statue mentioned in the Sri Lankan historical record Culavamsa. According to Culavamsa, an image of Buddha had been constructed during the reign of King Dhatusena (455-473 A.D.) in the name of 'Kalasela Sathu Pathima' (Vanarathana Thera, 1990). The name 'Kalasela' is the Pali (language) equivalent of 'Kalagala' and is also the old name for Avukana occurring in the documents of the Kandy period (Ray, 1959).

However, depending on the characteristic features of the statue other scholars have dated this image to the 8th century A.D. (Deegalle, 1999; Vanarathana Thera, 1990). A donatary inscription found from the site mentions the shrine which encloses the Avukana Buddha statue (Ray, 1959). That inscription has been written in characters of about the 8th-9th centuries A.D. but it does not record anything about the image.
Avukana Rock Inscription
Avukana Rock Inscription
Period: 1st century A.D.
Scripts: Later Brahmi
Language: Old Sinhala
Transcript: Si(ddham) Vayavada Tisaha puti Bahuravamati Kalubaha Vava Saga dini
Content: Kalabaha Tank of Mata of Bahakava was given to the Sangha by the son of Tissa of Vayavada.
Reference: Nicholas, 1950; The information board at the site by the Director-General of Archaeology.

Avukana Vihara Slab Inscription
Period: 9-10th century A.D.             Script: Medieval Sinhala                  Language: Medieval Sinhala
Transcript: (1) Det-atgamu da...(2) Urahadabeva vehe(ra) (3) (tabu) pahana yi
Translation: (This is) the stone (slab) placed by Da... of Det-atgama at Urahadabeva Monastery.
Citation: Ranawella, 2005.

The statue is 38 feet, 10 inches in height (Vanarathana Thera, 1990), and has been carved out of living rock. A narrow strip has been left at the back of the image to keep the statue connected with the rock. On the head of the statue is a "Siraspota" symbolizing the radiance of the supreme knowledge of the Buddha. The oval-shaped face is adorned with half-closed long eyes and long ears (Lambakarna). The robe closely touches Buddha's full body but leaves the right shoulder bare. The lotus pedestal of Buddha is said to be a later work added to the statue.

The right hand of the image is in the pose of Abhaya Mudra but the raised palm and the straight fingers of the right hand have led some scholars to interpret that pose as Ashir-Mudra (Vanarathana Thera, 1990). The left hand is in the ring-hand attitude and holding the edge of the robe. The image originally was covered with an image house but only the lower walls of that building are remaining today (Wikramagamage, 2004). 

The Siraspota on the head of the statue is said to be added to the image during the period of British rule in Sri Lanka [(British Ceylon: 1815 - 1948) Fernando, 1990]. A wooden hood fixed on a railway girder had also been added to the image later for the purpose of protecting the statue. However, it obscures the view of the image and made a threat of collapse (Fernando, 1990). Therefore, the Archaeological Department carefully removed the wooden hood (Fernando, 1990). 

From the excavations done near the lotus pedestal of Avukana Buddha in 1952, archaeologists discovered a statue of Indra (Deegalle, 1999) along with four other images of guardian deities. They were found deposited in a stone receptacle containing 25 compartments (Wikramagamage, 2004). It is believed that these statues had been deposited here at the time when the lotus pedestal was added to the image (Vanarathana Thera, 1990). Professor Senarath Paranavithana has named these figures Indra, Brahma, Yama, Kuvera, and Varuna (Vanarathana Thera, 1990).

A protected site
In 1941, the site was declared a protected area under the Antiquities Ordinance by the Archaeological Department, and conservation work was started at the site in 1948 (Fernando, 1990).

Avukana Buddha Statue Caves at Avukana Viharaya Avukana Buddha Statue .
1) Deegalle, M., 1999. a Search for Mahāyāna in Sri lanka. Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, 22(2), pp.343-357.
2) Fernando, W.B.M., 1990. [Wijesekara, N. (Editor in chief)] Section III: History of the Department of Archaeology, Sri Lanka; 1930-1950. Archaeological Department Centenary (1890-1990): Commemorative Series: Vol. I: History of the Department of Archaeology. pp.109-110.
3) Nicholas, C.W., 1950. Some offices and titles in the early Sinhalese kingdom. University of Ceylon Review. pp.116-128.
4) Nicholas, C. W., 1963. Historical topography of ancient and medieval Ceylon. Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, New Series, vol VI, Special Number: Colombo. Royal Asiatic Society (Ceylon Branch). pp.166-167.
5) Paranavitana, S., 1970. Inscription of Ceylon (Vol. I). Department of Archaeology Ceylon. pp.91-92.
6) Ranawella, S., 2005. Inscription of Ceylon. Volume V, Part III. Department of Archaeology. ISBN: 955-91-59-57-7. p.153.
7) Ray, H.C. (Editor in chief), 1959. History of Ceylon: Vol. I: Part I. Ceylon University Press. Colombo. p.405.
8) Vanarathana Thera, K., 1990. [Wijesekara, N. (Editor in chief)] Section I: 248 BC - 500 A.D. Archaeological Department Centenary (1890-1990): Commemorative Series: Vol. IV: Sculpture. pp.29-30.
9) Wikramagamage, C., 2004. Heritage of Rajarata: Major natural, cultural and historic sites: Colombo. Central Bank of Sri Lanka. pp.31-32

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This page was last updated on 14 January 2023


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