Monday, January 14, 2013

Gal Vihara - Rock Temple of the Buddhas

This was the highlight of Polunnaruwa, and what drove me to schlep Marshall and my stuff four hours on a bus to come up here.  This is a somewhat rare tourist spot as well, since the 30 year civil war that just ended in 2009 made it dodgy to come up this far North.  Tharangi has never even been here, as she is about 30 and it has never been safe to visit.  But I must say, it was worth every penny, and every moment spent to get here.

Carved out of a solid rock face are four Buddha sculptures of exquisite beauty and grand scale.  It was built by King Parakramabahu  (1153 – 1186).  (side note, to pronounce that name our guide joked that Americans can remember it sounds a bit like "Barack Obama", which it does).

One must remove their shoes before entering, as with most Buddhist temples, and as discussed in the last post, never take a photo posing in front of the Buddha with your back facing him.     There are also two guards there, not sure if they were armed or not, but it gives the distinct impression that this is not a place to mess around.  It is not only important archeologically, but one must never forget that this is sacred ground to an entire religion.We were blessed to be the only tourists there at that time, so it was tranquil, quiet and serene.  It was very moving....


The first Buddha is about 15 feet tall, and depicts the dhyana mudra. (I learned something here, there are 7 poses/gestures, or mudras, of the Buddha, each representing a different state of mind, action, or phase of his life)  The seat was carved in the shape of a lotus flower, its base decorated with carvings of flowers and lions.  This shot also shows the necessary, but distractingly ugly, metal roof erected recently to help protect the statues. 

This is a small seated Buddha about 4.5 feet high inside a mesh cage, as there are some (very faded) original frescoes they are trying to protect. 

This one is 23 feet tall and he is standing in an unusual position, stirring up great debate among history and archeology scholars as to whether it truly depicts Buddha or one of his monks. 
Whoever it is, the carving of the expression on the face is a masterpiece, it is truly stunning

The reclining Buddha stretches 46 feet, making it one of the largest in Southeast Asia.  It depicts the parinirvana of the Buddha, which is another position he can be in, showing the moment of his actual physical death when he achieves final Nirvana.  It is subtle, but different from other poses of him sleeping or right before his death.   He is shown lying on his right side with the right arm supporting the head on a bolster, while the left arm lies along the body and thigh. The palm of the right hand and the soles of the feet have a single lotus flower carved on them. The upper foot is slightly withdrawn to indicate that the image depicts that the Buddha has attained parinirvana, and is not merely lying down

Marshall very much so NOT putting his back to the Buddha - he got good at this.  :)

Again, the facial sculpting is superb.  It was a pleasure to sit and contemplate the serenity of this and all the Buddhas.

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