Cave temple and more – Sri Lanka

Next morning my friend Lou and I left for Dambulla. Like thousands other tourists we decided to use it as a base for sightseeing of historical and religious places. Prior to the trip, Lou arranged a driver, discussed the route and booked her accommodation. By joining them I just literally jumped on a bandwagon.

Our wonderful driver Sada, who has been in a tourist business for 16 years and drove hundreds of people, knew every interesting place on the way. The first stop was Sri Mathumariamman Temple in Matale.

 

This is an old Hindu temple Tamil Nadu style. It looks fantastic from the road. The temple is dedicated to the goddess Mariamman, who can help with all sorts of fertility problems. In South India she is a smallpox goddess.

 

It looks even better from inside. Lavish gold decorations, deities, beautiful wood carvings covered in gold. I think I’ve figured out where money comes from for all this (apart from donations, which are VERY popular in Sri Lanka). To take pictures from outside, people need to buy a 100 rupees ticket and to get a glimpse inside costs another 250 rupees. But it’s totally worth the money.

 

Apart from curious tourists there were quite a few people who came to the temple to pray. This man preferred a small “chapel” on the outside to get some quiet time.

 

We took lots of photos of every part of the temple. I am standing next to the side entrance, which is a bit less decorated than the front. To attend Hindu and Buddhist temples one has to cover knees and the shoulders. I carried a scarf everywhere to conform to these requirements.

 

During Tamil war this temple was severely damaged, but later it was beautifully and lovingly restored. This is a beautifully example of craftsmanship – wooden carved statue of a woman at the small praying hall.

 

At the back of the temple we found a small primary school. I am not sure why, but the teacher made all kids lie at the desk and be quiet. Maybe it was a recess or meditation time. This beautiful girl couldn’t resist to peak at two foreigners walking into her classroom.

 

I found it very interesting that probably half of the props were in English. To see “Baa baa black sheep” in the middle of nowhere in Sri Lanka was surprising to say the least.

 

This is another one which I liked so much. The teacher told us that the kids made this butterfly out of the piece of cardboard and she chose the verses.

 

This lady is the teacher and the principal of the school. She and two other ladies teach kids from the age of 3 to write, read and count. I expressed my surprise to such a young age of students, but she explained that the parents have to work, so they send kids to school where they are under professional supervision. Some parents even lie about their kid’s age to get them into school early.

 

After leaving a hefty donation there we proceeded with our journey. In about an hour we reached Aluvihara Rock Cave Temple. This temple was mentioned in old Buddhist scripts going back to 3rd century B.C. The front of the temple was not really eye catching.

 

This is the pretty view from the top of the stairs near main entrance.

 

It was the inside which blew my mind away. Let me tell you that this was my first cave temple ever.  I have been to many Bhuddist temples in Ladakh (India), but they are totally different. They are mainly on top of the rock surrounded by dangerous cliffs everywhere. Here the temple was inside the natural caves. This is a reeling Lord Buddha.

 

Very little was done to the walls and the ceiling in architectural sense. The caves were mainly used as they were found. Rich beautiful paintings covering all available surfaces inside.

 

Every cave had a statue of Buddha. Some of them were in reclining position, some sitting down. Apparently the position of his body delivers a certain message.

 

This is a ceiling in one of the caves. It’s very clear that the surface is not straight, it follows the natural curve of the rock. Surprisingly the paintings are in very good condition despite being made thousands of years ago.

 

Dancing cobra for the member of Royalty.

 

Students came to listen and learn from the Buddha.

 

Those Temples were not only religious places, but also the teaching institutions. Teachers would bring students here and tell them the stories. The paintings on the walls would highlight the main points.  This, for example, is an illustration to the punishment for robbery.

 

This is a very graphic illustrations on what is waiting for the people committing sins in afterlife.  Nothing good, let me tell you.

 

In the next cave the situation was even worse. From paintings they moved to the life-size figurines to scare the crap out of people. This guy was a robber. He was caught and his legs were chopped off, so he could  not commit any more crimes.

 

Can you guess what this guy did? I think it’s pretty obvious. He was a rapist, therefore his “tools of crime” were forcefully removed. I believe this cruel punishment worked much better then, than 3 years in jail for serial rapists now.

 

I found a woman sitting in front of the cave, quietly singing to herself and praying. This place is very spiritual.

 

At the bottom of the hill we noticed  a small garden with a few sculptures. This elephant was patiently waiting until I finished with my photos. He did not mind at all. 😀

 

What is that?  I have no  any idea. It looks like a fountain without the water, but those horrible faces and a strange circular pattern….? At some stage I thought is was a Shivalingam, but it’s probably my wild imagination.

 

This old monk in yellow robe was slowly moving back and forth under a big sacred Bodhi tree.  Maybe,  it was some sort of meditation. But I don’t know much about it, so it’s my guess.

 

On the way to our next destination we were getting hungry, really hungry. Sada – the driver- found a place along the road where they sold boiled corn and drinking coconuts. It was a real feast.

 

Fantastic views all along the way. Tall mountains, lush greenery, blue sky. Idyllic place.

 

The last stop for the day was Nalanda Gedige. This is an interesting place as originally it was built as a Hindu temple, but later it was used by Buddhist monks. My first impression was “Oh, my god! This place looks exactly the same like MySon in Vietnam”!

 

Even if there is no hard proof, but the scientists believe this temple was built between the 8th to 11th centuries. The driver, who was also our guide most of the time, told us that this temple is placed in the geographical centre of Sri Lanka. Stone carvings are mainly destroyed by the elements and time. This head is in pretty good condition.

 

There is one small carving of a threesome involving a couple and a lion. This is the only one of “Kamasutra” type carving  in Sri Lanka. The sculptures below were removed from the temple and kept in a small museum nearby.

 

Nalanda Gedige isn’t very popular tourist place, but from my point of view it’s worth a visit. Even if just to walk along this beautiful long road.

 

My fascination with Sri Lanka was getting deeper. I could not wait for the next day to see and learn more.

 

 

 

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