November 2017


Maligawila: An Ancient City of Exuberance
November 2017




Dematamal viharaya, an ancient site of historical importance

Maligawila boasts the tallest free standing Buddha statue of Sri Lanka, which is acclaimed to be also the world's tallest standing Budhdha statue carved on stone.


Words: Nethu Wickramasinghe | Photography: L J M Wickramasinghe


Monaragala, a district in the far east of the dry zone of Sri Lanka provides a striking testament to the various periods in history, some even date back to the pre-historic times of ancient Sri Lanka.


This ancient city situated in the Monaragala district can be reached via two main routes, either from the main city of Buttala (17km away) or from Monaragala (14km). We left Buttala well before twilight hours, the surroundings of the dry zone gradually began to come to life as the sky changed to a variation of colour. Monsoon clouds hovered the sky, as this was the ‘Maha season'. Mist cloaked endless paddy fields, on either side of the road.


Dematamal Viharaya

As the golden rays of the sun shone on the scenic beauty, at a distance surrounded by paddy fields was a small ancient stupa that caught our attention. An earthy red brick laid structure, the Dematamal viharaya could even be seen from the Buttala- Okkampitiya road. Despite its isolated appearance the site's history dates back to the 3rd century BC to the time of King Dutugemunu. This was the temple where prince Tissa took refuge after his defeat for power from his brother prince Gemunu (who later became King Dutugemunu). As we left the site, we were able to capture ‘Ulugala kanda', from a fair distance rising up from a veil of mist that covered the terrain.


The monastic complex is comprised of two main statues, the Maligawila Buddha statue and the Dambegoda Avalokitheshwara Bodhisatwa statue, where at a point the trail bifurcates leading to each statue. These massive statues are carved on crystalline limestone.

According to ancient chronicles, Chulawamsa and Mahawamsa, this statue has been identified as the colossal Buddha statue of the Pathma Vihara, in Kanagama.


Maligawila Buddha Statue

A gravel pathway led us to the Maligawila Vihara and Buddha statue. The surroundings were cloaked in mist, while the forest covers on either side was indeed quiet providing tranquility to all pilgrims. As we silently made our way for about 500m within, we were taken by surprise by the sheer magnificence of the gigantic statue that stood tall well hidden amidst the forest covers. This uniform limestone sculpture rises to about 14.5m in height and weighs 100 tons.


The statue dates back to the 7th century AD to the time of prince Agga Bodhi who had said to have been ruling the Kingdom of Ruhuna at the time. According to ancient chronicles, Chulawamsa and Mahawamsa, this statue has been identified as the colossal Buddha statue of the Pathma Vihara, in Kanagama. The ruins of the statue shattered, fallen from its pedestal was first discovered in 1951, and it was raised back to the standing position in 1991.


Dambegoda Avalokitheshwara Bodhisatwa statue

This statue was said to have been constructed by King Dappula in the 7th century AD and in ancient chronicles this viharaya has been identified as the Ariyakara Viharaya. The statue is about 10m in height and weighs around 40 tons. The carvings on the statue depict the sheer talent and exceptional engineering techniques of a bygone era. Adorned with royal jewellery, the head band of the statue has a miniature carving of a Buddha in the Samadhi posture. Avalokitheshwara Bodhisatwa worship is a tradition in Mahayana Buddhism, where worshipping the Bodhisatwa is linked to the curing of the ill.


Amidst many ruins recovered from the Maligawila archeological site the moonstone at the base of the Buddha statue is of particular significance. It uniquely consists of several pieces and cover a large area. Remaining elements reveal ancient ingenuity and an exuberating past that had once prevailed in ancient Sri Lanka.

  • image01
    image01

    The magnificent standing Buddha statue carved from a single crystalline limestone

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    Small trails connects the viharaya with the village

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    A stone door frame (Gal uluwassa)

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    Entrance to the Avalokitheshwara statue

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    The head band of the statue with a miniature carving of a Buddha in the Samadhi posture

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    A majestic statue of Avalokitheswara Buddha

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    1. Buduruwagala
    2. Rakkhiththakanda
    3. Yudaganawa
    4. Wettambugala
    5. Budupatungala
    6. Mayilla Mala
    7. Dematamal Viharaya
    8. Galabedda

    Prev Next