A cave temple of ancient origin | Sunday Observer

A cave temple of ancient origin

22 November, 2020
 Kandyan period murals adorn the walls of the cave
Kandyan period murals adorn the walls of the cave

Buddama, a sleepy hamlet situated in Siyabalanduwa in the Moneragala district 16 km from Moneragala and 6 km from Siyabalanduwa has much historical and religious importance. Archaeological evidence proves that this temple has 600 year-old murals and ancient paintings in the cave.

The Buddama Rajamaha Vihara in Siyabalanduwa is my last destination in my journey to Moneragala. My attraction for the Viharais its wall paintings that appeared in a government news magazine published by the Government Information Department called ‘Ceylon Today’ in the late 1960s during the Gal Oya Development Project.

The photograph was taken by a staff photographer of the Information Department and appeared on the cover of the magazine. Seeing this cover photograph, I had a cherished desire to visit this temple and headed towards the Buddama temple during my recent visit to Moneragala.

Rock-cut cave temple

On the green hills of Buddama is a rock-cut cave temple that dates back to 3rd century BC. The area was also known as Mahavedi Rata, and was the home of the vanishing Veddha tribe. About 150 years ago a Veddha chief by the name of Buja while hunting with bow and arrow had come across a recumbent Buddha statue sheltered in a rock cave.

He promptly reported this to the Rate Mahattaya. It was thereafter that this ancient site was known to civilisation, and since it was found by the Veddha called Buja, it was named Bujjama which later became Buddama.

The wooded hamlet of Buddama nestling in all its serenity in the lush jungle vegetation and the magnificent Uva/Wellassa hills in its background in the wilds of Wellassa area consisted of many farming families.

The Uva-Wellassa villages are famous for their juicy oranges, and so is Buddama where the trees are laden with the luscious fruit.The Buddama temple has a rock cave with drip-ledges, oval in shape. Rising from the foreground of the temple premises is the first cave you encounter. Here, under the drip-ledges are some inscriptions, some of the letters of which have been obliterated. These inscriptions were of Brahmi characters. Lying at the foot of the Buddama Hela overlooking the cave temple is a huge boulder of rock. A fissure had occurred on the rock many years ago, resulting in a split. That part of the rock with the inscriptions is thus buried in the soil.

The entrance to the rock cave temple is now modernised with a tiled roof and a lime washed wall. Although most of the rock cave is still intact, its original built-in walls had been altered some time back.

The walls on three sides of the cave were made of mud and stone, and the original texture still preserved. Inside the cave temple is a serene recumbent statue of the Buddha in perfect appearance which too has been touched up. The cave ceiling and walls adorn some Kandyan period murals in the form of lotus petals and circular discs with lines drawn across which too have been very much altered in recent times.

The length of the recumbent Buddha is about 30 feet. There are also two seated Buddha statues made of clay and stone with the pedestals well preserved.

We found two wooden moulds, one of a seated Buddha and the other a single cobra head. The walls of the cave are adorned with paintings depicting a painting of the Buddha.

Early settlements

Uva Viharavansa, a chronical on the historic temples in the Uva Province describes places of Buddhist worship in Buddama even before the advent of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. It was one of the early settlements in the country. The chronical says that Robert Knox who spent many years in the country as a prisoner of the Kandyan Kingdom visited the Buddama Rajamaha Viharaya.

It is said that the Buddama Hela of the temple comprising more than 20 caves had been a vocational training centre for local craftsmen before it became a monastery, after the advent of Buddhism during the Anuradhapura period. An ancient Velipeella (black painted board strewn with sand) used in ancient times to practise writing letters, had been located in between two rocks which formed a cave. History has it that Ven. Nape Buddarakkitha Thera, a resident Bhikkhu of the Buddama Rajamaha Vihara, was one of the leaders of the 1818 riots against British rule. However, it is a matter of concern that the archaeological remains of the temple including the statues and the murals have been left to the mercy of the elements.Treasure hunters have caused extensive damage to the ancient murals and recumbent Buddha statues.

Officials of the Department of Archaeology have restored the main Buddha statue touching up damaged spots in the statue. However, the historic temple is in danger of being destroyed due to neglect.

Ancient grandeur is seen at this lesser known historic temple at Buddama, located amid the lush greenery in the remote countryside.

On our way back, we visited the fascinating Inginimitiya reservoir near Buddama which gives much beauty to the area, and was one of the tanks renovated during the Mahaweli development program in 1980 to help the farming community in the area.