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Gal Viharaya

Perhaps the most beautiful Buddha images in Sri Lanka are the ones at Gal Vihara. Four images of different sizes are carved out of a cliff about 56 yards long and falls away gradually at each end. Nearly 15 ft. of rock has been cut away to form the three large images and the cave. The beauty of the images and their lovely natural setting have long attracted the admiration of visitors. The famous Catholic monk Thomas Merton fell into a state of exaltation when he came here. The modern name Gal Vihara means the RockTemple while the name given in the Culavamsa is The Northern Temple (Uttara Vihara). 

The sitting image is 15 ft. high and sits on a low pedestal in the front of which are niches containing lions and crossed vajras showing the lingering influence of Tantric Buddhism. Next to this is a cave with pillars carved into the cliff. In the middle of the cave is a high throne with a Buddha image on it flanked by two devas.

The Buddha in the lion posture (sihasana)

 46 ft. long and depicts the Buddha in the lion posture (sihasana) just as he attained final Nirvana. He rests his head on an elaborately decorated cylindercal pillow. Walking to the far end of this image the pilgrim will notice that the soles of the Buddha's feet are covered with auspicious marks. As is charastic of images of the polo period the Buddha has a round face with a high forehead. Despite its somewhat stylized form it has a peaceful that cannot fail to mov affect the all who see it.

Next to the cave is a standing Buddha with its arms crossed in front of it, one of the few Buddha images depicted like this Because of this unusual hand gesture some have speculated that this is not an image of the Buddha but of Ananda grieving for his master about to pass into final Nirvana. This image has a particularly benign and peaceful face. Right next to this is a reclining Buddha some 46 ft. long, a masterpiece of the sculptor’s art.

Standing Buddha

On the sloping rock between the cave and the standing image is one of the longest inscriptions from ancient Sri Lanka. The inscription details King Prahramabahu’s efforts to reform and unite the sangha in 1165. It quotes the king as saying; ‘Seeing again and again a blot on the immaculate Buddhist religion if a mighty monarch like myself were to remain indifferent the religion might perish and many living beings would be destined for hell. Let me serve the religion that it might last a thousand years’. It then proceeds to detail a new code of conduct for monks as drawn up by the famous ascetic monk Maha Kassapa of Dimbuagala. This code is interesting in that it gives a glimpse of the everyday life of Sri Lankan monks in the 12th century.

If a wayfarer fails to find one
Equal to or better than himself Let him be content to walk on alone.There should be no fellowship with fools.
                  - Dhammapada; 61
The wise man proceeds from one shrine to another, giving no thought to rivers, mountains, rain or the burning sun. He ignores any abuse he encounters and humbly accepts any alms he receives. He greets fellow-pilgrims, gladly 

The dying embers of my adventurous spirit were rekindled recently when I attended a two-day Forum on the ‘Mysteries of the Sigiriya Rock’ — chaired by a panel of eminent speakers — followed by a guided tour of this 600 ft high, irregularly shaped rock, perched in the midst of a surrounding plain in the Matale district and designated to the Cultural Triangle — a 163 km drive from Colombo.

Could I refrain from accepting an invitation to such an educative event with a visit to this 5th century awe-inspiring Rock Fortress in the Sky comprising a Fresco Gallery, a Lion Stairway, Water Gardens, Graffiti and the Rock Palace on its summit? And built by the cruel parricide King Kasyapa who ruled there for 18 years until he, fearing an invasion by his brother Mogallana and believing to be alone in battle, slew himself and which rock I had climbed many, many years ago when I was in school?No. I could not. For my desire of climbing Sigiriya once again and refreshing my memory on the many changes this Rock and its vicinity are believed to have undergone over the years, were greater than my fear of collapsing on the way up.Having arrived at Hotel Sigiriya, I gathered that Srilal Miththapala, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Serendib Leisure (the hotel’s management company) was, together with its Chairman Asker S. Moosajee and Managing Director Abbas Esually — making a valiant effort at promoting Sri Lanka as one of the most beautiful and historically rich countries of the world. They were all, in the throes of re-positioning this hotel as one that would assist in delivering “culture and nature at leisure” to the many tourists and Sri Lankans who trekked their way to the Rock Fortress. They were also making this hotel more environment friendly by recycling waste material, using glass bottles instead of plastic and the management of waste water. Apart from all that, they were enlightening the hotel staff on the many indigenous and migrant birds found there in that Dry Zone — and of which there are said to be 160 species. And training them too, to be bird experts so that they could be of assistance to the tourists who opt to participate in the hotel’s bird watching trails.Incidentally, Hotel Sigiriya has been classified by the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka as one of the first ‘Bird Friendly Hotels’ in this country.As for the Forum, it was most enlightening.Moderated by a former Warden of Wild Life and Director of Sri Lanka’s Zoo, Lyn de Alwis, it had speakers of the caliber of film personality Manik Sandrasagra, and archaeologists and architects Dr. Raja de Silva, Dr. Roland de Silva, Prof. Nimal de Silva, Dr. S.U. Deraniyagala, and Ashley de Vos — expressing their views on this massive monolith — first called ‘Sihagiri’ (remembrance rock) and later ‘Sigiriya’ (Lion Rock) and which has, for many years been the center of discussion by historians and theologians who have been divided in their opinions on a number of its aspects.