Gangarama Viharaya, Kandy

Gangarama Viharaya, Kandy
Gangarama Viharaya (Sinhala: ගංගාරාම විහාරය) is a Buddhist temple situated in Talwatta (ancient Talavana) village in Kandy District, Sri Lanka. The temple can be reached by travelling along the Kandy-Lewella road about 4.2 km distance from Kandy town.

The name
The temple stands at the eastern foothills of the Udawattakele Forest near the Mahaweli Ganga river. In the Sinhala language, Gangarama means the "River monastery". It is so named because of its proximity to the Mahaweli Ganga river (Chutiwongs et al., 1990). It is said that the highway which is presently fallen through Gangarama was an ancient route that linked several old villages such as Sirimalwatta, Amunugama, Degaldoruwa, etc (Chutiwongs et al., 1990). As revealed by the inscription, which is in the temple premises, this route had been used by royalty in reaching a bathing site at the river (Chutiwongs et al., 1990). 

As is evidenced by the rock inscription as well as by the old standing Buddha statue in the image house, the history of Gangarama Viharaya goes back to a period beyond the 18th century (Chutiwongs et al., 1990). The inscription of King Kirti Sri Rajasinghe (1747-1780 A.D.) which has been engraved on the rock that forms one of the walls of the image house records the renovation of the standing Buddha statue and the construction of the two-storied image house by the king in the Saka year 1674 [(1752 A.D.) Abeyawardana, 2004; Chutiwongs et al., 1990; Dias, 1991; Jayasuriya, 2016; Ranawella, 2015]. The Culavamsa reveals details regarding the work conducted by Kirti Sri Rajasinghe at Gangarama Viharaya (Chutiwongs et al., 1990). According to it, the king restored the temple which had been destroyed by the Dutch (Chutiwongs et al., 1990). 

However, some believe that this temple was the one bestowed to Moratota Dhammakkhanda Thera by King Sri Rajadhi Rajasinha [(1781-1798 A.D.) Rajapakse, 2016].

The temple
The temple consists of a preaching hall, a Bodhi tree, two Devalas, a Stupa, an image house, monks' dwellings, and a Hewisi-mandapaya (a drumming hall). Among them, the image house can be regarded as the main monument with archaeological value. It has been built surrounding a standing statue of the Buddha carved out of a natural rock boulder (Chutiwongs et al., 1990). The inscription of King Kirti Sri Rajasinghe is found engraved on the same boulder (Chutiwongs et al., 1990). 

The standing Buddha statue is about 10 m high and has been carved in high-relief almost in the round as the Avukana Buddha at Anuradhapura (Chutiwongs et al., 1990; Jayasuriya, 2016). It is evident that Kirti Sri Rajasinghe has plastered and painted the statue during his reigning period (Chutiwongs et al., 1990). According to scholars, this statue probably belongs to the Anuradhapura or Gampola Period (Chutiwongs et al., 1990; Jayasuriya, 2016). 

The image house has an inner cella and an outer ambulatory with a short parapet around it. The inner cella is 13 m long, 7 m wide, and 11 m tall (Abeyawardana, 2004). The roof of the inner cella is raised high above the roof of the ambulatory which is held by eighteen stone pillars (Rajapakse, 2016). Access to the inner cella is provided through a decorated archway guarded by two guardians; Siva-Aghora and Siva-Vatuka (Chutiwongs et al., 1990; Jayasuriya, 2016). Inside the image house is the standing Buddha statue accompanied by two painted standing figures of Sariputta (left) and Moggallana (right), the chief disciples of Gautama Buddha. A large number of square panels containing seated and standing Buddha images (the theme of the "Thousand Buddhas") are found painted on two-thirds of the upper spaces of the walls of the image house (Chutiwongs et al., 1990). The lower portions of the walls are painted with scenes depicting the life of the Buddha. Of them, the paintings depicting "the offering of milk rice by Sujata to the Bodhisattva" and "the floating of the plate used at the Dana" are considered unique (Abeyawardana, 2004). 

The paintings of the Gangarama temple can be compared with murals found in Dambulla, Danagirigala, and Ridi Viharaya (Chutiwongs et al., 1990). Gannoruwe Lokumuhandiram is said to be the main artist who executed the paintings at Gangarama Viharaya (Abeyawardana, 2004; Chutiwongs et al., 1990).

1) Abeyawardana, H.A.P., 2004. Heritage of Kandurata: Major natural, cultural and historic sites. Colombo: The Central Bank of Sri Lanka. pp.30-31.
2) Chutiwongs, N.; Prematilleke, L.; Silva, R., 1990. Sri Lanka Bithu Sithuwam: Gangarama (Paintings of Sri Lanka: Gangarama). Archaeological Survey of Sri Lanka: Centenary publication. Central Cultural Fund. pp.31-37.
3) Dias, M., 1991. Epigraphical notes (Nos 1 -18). Colombo: Department of Archaeology. pp.9-12.
4) Jayasuriya, E., 2016. A guide to the Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka. Central Cultural Fund. ISBN: 978-955-613-312-7. p.118.
5) Rajapakse, S., 2016. Pauranika Sthana Ha Smaraka: Mahanuwara Distrikkaya (In Sinhala). Archaeological Department of Sri Lanka. ISBN:955-9159-34-8. pp.38-39.
6) Ranawella, S., 2015. Archaeological Survey of Ceylon: Inscriptions of Ceylon: Vol. IX. Department of Archaeology. ISBN: 978-955-9159-98-8. pp.33-37.

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This page was last updated on 8 January 2023
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