series by Gaveshaka in association with Studio Times
Gal Vihara images - finest anywhere
in the world
Buddha statues cut out of rock are seen in many places in Sri Lanka.
Among them, the ones at Gal Vihara in Polonnaruwa offer a rare sight
with four rock-cut statues in a row. Earlier known as Uttararama,
it is one of the most impressive antiquities to be seen in Sri Lanka.
Gal Vihara retains some of the finest coll ections of Buddhist sculpture
found any where in the world. It is yet another marvel by Parakramabahu
Gal Vihara, which belongs to the mid-12th Century, there are four
rock-cut images in a row. There are two seated images of the Buddha
– one is 15 feet 2 inches high and the other is 4 feet 7 inches
high. The renowned standing image with folded arms is 22 feet 9
inches in height. The enormous reclining Buddha is 46 feet 4 inches
in length. The serene images are a treat to the eye and one can
simply gaze at them even for hours meditating or simply admiring
the creative talent of our ancient sculptors.
southernmost statue shows the Buddha in deep meditation. The throne
is adorned with lions and thunderbolts and behind the head is a
halo. The second image is within a cave. Here, the Buddha is shown
surrounded by various deities. There have been several murals for
standing Buddha, (the picture shows the upper portion) is a rare
sight. The placing of the hands across the chest is not seen often.
It is believed that the pose portrays the second week after the
Buddha’s Enlightenment. Although at one stage it was thought
to be the image of Ananda, one of the principal disciples of the
Buddha, in sorrow at the passing-away of the Buddha, Professor Paranavitana
did not accept that theory. “The treatment of the hair in
ringlets, appropriate only for a Buddha image, and the lotus petal
conclusively establish that the image is not of Ananda but of the
Buddha. It is evident that the purpose of the sculptor, achieved
with remarkable success, was to depict the Buddha as ‘para-dukkha-dukkhita’
– He who is sorrowing for the sorrows of others,” he
writes in the ‘History of Ceylon’ (Nicholas & Paranavitana).
the features of the Gal Vihara images, he says that the narrow,
receding forehead is distinctive and the treatment of the drapery
too is characteristic. The folds are indicated by means of parallel
grooves and not by a single ridge as in earlier Buddha images.
feature to be noted in the reclining Buddha depicting His ‘parinibbana’
is the slight depression in the pillow under His head. Both the
pillow and the soles of His feet are ornamented with the ‘chakra’
or wheel symbol.
are many colossal Buddha statues in Polonnaruwa but most of them
have been either destroyed or decayed. The Lankatilaka image house,
for example, houses a tall Buddha statues built with bricks.