series by Gaveshaka in association with Studio Times
The exquisite wood carvings at Embekke
The invasion by Magha in the 13th century and the atrocities inflicted
on the people during the 21-year old rule, left the Sinhala kingdom
in disarray. This is how the Mahavamsa describes Magha’s reign:
these mighty men, wicked disturbers of the peace of mankind, stalked
about the land hither and thither crying out boastfully, ‘Lo!
We are the giants of Kerala’, (the Caranatic Country). And
they robbed the inhabitants of their garments and their jewels and
everything that they had…They cut off also the hands and feet
of the people, and despoiled their dwellings. Their oxen and buffaloes
also, and other beasts, they bound up and carried them away forcibly.
rich men they tied up with cords and tortured, and took possession
of all their wealth, and brought them to poverty. They broke down
the image houses and destroyed many cetiyas. They took up their
dwellings in the viharas and beat the pious laymen therin. They
flogged children, and sorely distressed the five ranks of the religious
orders. They compelled the people to carry burdens and made them
labour heavily. Many books also of great excellence did they lose
from the cords that bound them and cast away in divers places. Even
the great and lofty cetiyas like Ratnavali (Ruvanveli) which stood
like the embodiment of glory of all pious kings of old, they spared
not, but utterly destroyed them, and caused a great many bodily
relics to disappear thereby, which were unto them as their lives.
princes and chieftains who had their own little kingdoms managed
to keep the Tamil invaders away from their territories. They built
fortresses and secured themselves from enemy invasions. One such
place was Dambadeniya, where Vijayabahu III, a prince from the Sinhala
royal line, ruled. Another was Yapahuva. The immediate successors
of Magha – Vijayabahu III (1232-1236) and Parakramabahu II
(1236-1270) preferred to rule from Dambadeniya. For a brief period
of just two years, Vijayabahu IV went back to Polonnaruwa but his
successor, Bhuvanekabahu I came back to Dambadeniya. He also ruled
from Yapahuva. Polonnaruwa was abandoned after a reign of five years
by Parakramabahu III (1287-1293).
was the capital of five kings from 1293 till 1335. The capital was
shifted to Gampola when Bhuvanekabahu IV became king in 1341. He
was succeeded by Parakramabahu V (1344-1359) followed by Vikramabahu
III (1357-1374). It was during his time that the ‘devale’
at Embekke, famous for its wood carvings was built. The devale is
dedicated to Skhanda, popularly known as Kataragama Deviyo.
building of a devale by the king shows the influence of Hinduism
at the time. To reach Embekka, one has to go along the Kandy-Gampola
road, turn right at Peradeniya and proceed four miles on the Davulagala
timbered roof in the devale is supported by superbly crafted columns.
A great variety of designs can be seen indicating the talent of
our wood carvers. Human figures, a variety of animals and floral
motifs are seen in the carvings. Out of all the wooden structures
of the Kandy period, this is the most attractive and elaborate.
The pillars are seen in the ‘dig-ge’ (pillared porch)
of the devale. The timber of the roof is of massive proportions.
of ‘devales’, usually they don’t have carved or
painted ornaments. Thus Embekke is unusual. The main building consists
of an ante-room, having a ‘dig-ge’ before it. The ‘maligava’
or sanctum containing an image or the insignia of the deity is kept
closed, generally with a painted curtain. Only the ‘kapuraala’
is allowed to go in and he too has to purify himself by taking a
bath before he goes in. A room over the ‘maligava’ called
‘uda-mahal-ge’ is seen in most devales. The ‘gabada-ge’
is meant to store things. A small vihara is also in the precincts.
At Embekke the vihara is under the same roof. It is usual for pilgrims
to visit Embekke, Lankatilaka and Gadaladeniya on one trip.