Lankathilake The Temple on the Purple Note

Saturday, 8 April 2017 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}



By Aysha Maryam Cassim

Lankathilake Viharaya is one of the most picturesque rock temples that I have visited in Sri Lanka. In fact, it usually gets the most attention and attraction out of the three elements of the Temple Loop. 

On the present Rs. 500 purple note, you will notice the Lankathilaka Temple, printed along Bank of Ceylon headquarters and Word Trade Centre of Colombo. Perched on a boulder stone called Panhalgala in Siduruwana, this breathtakingly-beautiful temple overlooks panoramic views of hills, paddy fields and the diverse vegetation in the mountainous village of Hiripitiya.  


Getting there

Gadaladeniya, Lankathilake and Embekke temples are tucked away in the countryside of central highlands of Sri Lanka. When you are travelling from Colombo to Kandy, you could turn right from Pilimatalawa Junction and proceed along Dawulagala Road on a half-day historical excursion to visit this Temple Loop. 


Two paths that lead to Lankathilake

Lankathilake Viharaya can be seen from many vantage points. There are two roads that lead to Lankathilake and the route that takes you to the temple from the bottom of the rock is the most spectacular. As you climb up along the rock cut steps and enter through a stone archway, you will be rewarded with a view of the magnificent temple complex. 

There are around 200 steps and the ascent is worth the view up the rock. You will be rewarded with photogenic views of the tall, whitewashed temple and its sweeping tiled roofs, looming on top of its granite perch, with nothing in sight except pristine nature. 

Visiting stone temples in Sri Lanka can become very strenuous, especially if ascended or descended upon the scorching sun and scores of people. It’s advisable to wear socks or avoid the peak hours during the day as walking on the temple grounds on bare feet could make you feel rather uncomfortable. 

The front entrance to Lankathilake is lined with boutiques where you’d find ornate hand-made trinkets and affordable souvenirs. You will also be able to witness artisans in their studios, engaging in their meticulous craft. At present, a Rs. 300 entry fee is required for foreigners to visit Lankathilake. 

If you have some time to spare, take the rear entrance from Embekke for an adventurous walk along an off-beaten path through villages and rice fields to reach the temple in around 45 minutes. This way, the entrance is free too!


The history

Lankathilake’s beauty and majesty is a real testament to the history and architecture of Gampola Era. The rock inscriptions written in modern Sinhala script detail the temple facilities and the gifts bestowed by the kings. Under the directions and supervision of General Senadhilankara, South Indian architect Sthapathi Rayar constructed this temple during King Bhuvanekabahu IV’s third year of reign (1344-1353.) 

According to Lankathilake Sel Lipiya and Thamba Sannasa, the Viharaya consisted of four storeys till it collapsed in the 19th century. Today only the ground floor and a part of the first floor remain. The temple’s foundation is built of granite on an uneven rock surface with a cruciform ground plan. On the western side of Lankathilake Temple, there is a Sandakadapahana (moonstone) and two 'Gajasingha' (A mythological creature which depicts an elephant and a lion) balustrades with gaping mouths guarding the primary gateway. 


Beauty and majesty of Lankathilake Temple

In the interior chamber, besides two standing Buddhas, there is a colossal statue of a seated Buddha under a beautiful 'Makara Thorana' (dragon arch). The seated Buddha statue depicts the rhythmic nature, a design prevalent in the sculptures of Hindu deities. During the Gampola Kingdom, the South Indian Vijayanagar Empire was at the peak of its development and its influence perpetrated in frescoes, murals and sculptures of this period. 

The dark cavern around the Buddha is covered with an impressive show of murals and decorative elements. There are paintings from 'Suvisi Vivarana' or the lives of the 24 previous Buddhas in the surrounding walls. The intensity of the frescoes' colours seems to be fading with the erosion of time, but you can still admire the uniqueness of Gampola era’s mythical motif paintings in Lankathilake Viharaya. 

The shrine room in this temple also consists of many beautiful murals. The Buddhist temples in the Polonnaruwa Kingdom had separated shrines (dedicated to Hindu deities) within the temple premises.  But what’s unique in the temples of Gampola Kingdom is that the same shrine room is dedicated to Lord Buddha as well as Hindu deities. 

In Lankathilake, you’ll find Bhairavas as door guardians, arched passages carved with images of Gandharva and Gaja-Lakshmi, niches that house the statues of Ganesha, Vishnu, Skanda and many other cultural and religious symbols of Hinduism and Buddhism, perfectly entwined to reflect the religious harmony of that era. 

Since this temple is still under archaeological development, chances are that scaffolding and wires could obstruct your picture perfect shot. But don't be disappointed, the temple premises offer mind-blowing views of the Hanthana valley where you can while away a few hours before heading back to your hotel. I thoroughly enjoyed the tour of the temple loop in Udu Nuwara. This half-day excursion right off the tourist track in Kandy will offer you a spiritual and serene experience to remember.