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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 the Great.

At 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.

The 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 decorative purposes.

The 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).

Discussing 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.

A 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.

There 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.

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