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31st January 1999
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One year after the LTTE attack, Maligawa is slowly returning to its former glory

Rising again

By Udena Attygala
January 25 1998, was a day that shook a nation. On that day a powerful truck bomb put together by the LTTE ripped through the Sri Dalada Maligawa as Kandy prepared in grand style to commemorate 50 years of independence.

One year later our war-weary nation seems to have recovered from the incidents of that day. But the Maligawa itself is far from recovering, the scars of that fateful Sunday are still clearly visible.

imageWhen we visited the Maligawa on Wednesday, the reconstruction work that officially began on the May 7, last year was slowly attempting to return the 14th century temple to its former glory. The roof that had crumbled under the impact is redone. The huge cracks that cris-crossed the walls had been filled up with a special material. But the more delicate work is yet to be completed.

Mahinda Weerakkody of the Department of Archeology said that the work is being carried out through the coordination of three departments, namely the State Engineering Corporation (SEC), the Department of Archeology and the Central Cultural Fund-(CCF).

imageThe SEC will be doing reconstruction work on the newer buildings of the Maligawa, while the Archeology Department will do the work on archeologically significant parts. The CCF will be in charge of the reconstruction of damaged paintings. He also said that no foreign consultations or help had been solicited. He was confident that local expertise could handle this project successfully.

Today at the entrance to the Maligawa there is no moonstone or elephant carving that was once there. We were greeted only by a few ungainly blocks of cement. This, though, is just a temporary measure. Identical Moonstone and elephant carvings made from the same materials will be placed here at a later date, officials said.

The original moonstone was shattered into 43 pieces. This along with the original elephant carvings are to be reconstructed in a museum inside the Maligawa premises.

The "panchanari gateya" carving (a stone carving of five women and a tumbler) on the left side of the wahalkade (doorway) is no longer to be seen. Only the one on the right remains. The distorted left side carving too would be reconstructed at the museum. Incredibly the two guard stones, ancient symbols of protection remained untouched. The work on the Paththiruppuwa (the Octaganal) is being handled by the Ports Authority under the guidance of the Archeological Department. Here the damage was mostly to the woodwork and the roof.

Although the rest of the Maligawa had been heavily damaged, the inner shrine room was left relatively unharmed. The two guardian pillar paintings at the entrance had fallen. Almost as if they had collapsed, battling to protect the sacred relic inside. These two pictures have now been re-pasted, but gaps are visible where some of the pieces could not be found. The damage in the inner chambers revealed so far unknown treasures. Inside the inner shrine room itself the plaster on one wall had fallen away to reveal a painting that would put to sword the modern theory on Kandyan era paintings.image

The theory had been based on the observation that paintings of this era were propotionless. It was put down to the lack of education of the Kandyan painter. 

But the ancient painting that has emerged through the damaged walls depict a tusker and two mahouts in perfect proportion! Could this be a new breakthrough?

Ananda Colombege of the CCF said that the damage revealed that the walls of the old Maligawa are in three layers. The first layer to which the new found painting belongs is from the time of King Keerthi Sri Rajasinghe (1765). The painting on the second layer unfortunately had been scratched off when the final layer was put into place around 1942. Another startling revelation was the old roof tiles found in the inner shrine room. They are marked with the king's seal. Thus they may well have been a part of the original roof.

Meanwhile, Neranjan Wijeratne the Diyawadana Nilame said that most of the reconstruction work would be over by May and would be complete by August in time for the Esala Perehera.

Whatever the motives of the LTTE, in attacking such a holy place of Buddhist worship, the number of people gathering to the Maligawa daily in silent prayer demonstrate that faith is not lost.

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