Aluvihara Cave Temples | Matale, Sri Lanka

Aluvihara cave temples, sree is travelling (1)

Part 1: Manuscripts at Aluvihara – regaining lost knowledge

Aluvihara holds an important position in the history of Sri Lanka. The series of caves temples and Dagoba was built during the reign of King Devanampiyatissa in 3rd century BC. Aluvihara cave temples were chosen by the monks in Anuradhapura to transcribe the Buddhist scripts for the first time. They felt memorizing and passing the knowledge orally to the next generation will not be a good idea as the nation was repeatedly affected by South Indian (Chola Kingdom) invasions and famine. The whole process of transcription had to be repeated again as the British destroyed the manuscripts during Matale Rebellion in 1848.

Inside the first among the series of caves, the walls of which are covered with frescos, is a 10m long reclining Buddha. The meditative chant of devotees sitting on floor in front of the reclining Buddha had a soothing effect on my mind. The air which had pleasant scent of incense sticks acted as a catalyst for meditation.

The 2nd cave was similar to the 1st one having a statue of reclining Buddha but much lesser in size. The walls are also covered with murals. A painting of Hindu god Vishnu can be found adjacent to Buddha’s head portraying the peaceful intermingling of the 2 religions of the sub-continent. Another section of the wall has paintings depicting hellish punishments for all the wrongdoings on earth.

If you are interested in knowing more about these punishments, move onto the 3rd cave which has paintings about these kind of stuff. There is an entrance fee for the 3rd cave. Personally I felt this cave to be a big letdown as the painting looked alien and awkward among the rich Buddhist murals in other caves.

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The 4th cave is dedicated to the Indian Buddhist scholar Buddhaghosa, author of Visuddhimagga. His commentaries and interpretations are considered crème de la crème.

Summit, which can be reached through a flight of steps has a white Dagoba and Bo tree which was planted by King Devanampiyatissa during 3rd century BC. Adjacent to the Dagoba, there is a depression shaped in the form of a huge feet on one of the rock boulders which is believed to be that of Buddha’s. One can also see a giant golden statue of Buddha on the hillside.

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Before leaving, pay a visit to the museum that houses artifacts and Buddhist manuscripts. You could get your name (or any other text) transcribed in a palm leaf – a perfect souvenir from the predominantly Buddhist island nation.

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