Marvels of the Nalanda Gedige | Sunday Observer

Marvels of the Nalanda Gedige

8 May, 2022
A face carved I on the  Northern side
A face carved I on the Northern side

We were in the exact middle of Sri Lanka, the centre point of the island to visit the Nalanda Gedige where Hindu and Buddhist art met in lime and stone over a thousand years ago.

Although not included in the tourist map, it’s worth taking a diversion on your way to Dambulla from Kandy to visit this lesser known solitary, monolith shrine.

The temple is 20 kms North of Matale and about one kilometre East of the main Jaffna-Kandy A-9 road.

Having parked our vehicle at the spacious car park, we walked about 100 metres under the shady tree canopy to visit the solitary shrine.

It is also one of the few places in Sri Lanka where you can visit a historically significant site freely. The temple shrine is managed by the Archaeological Department of Sri Lanka.


On an elevated land, surrounded by a picturesque reservoir, is the quaint Buddhist temple where Hindu sculpture and Buddhist art found fusion to create a unique masterpiece of genius.

There are no statues of gods in evidence except for one in a ruined state and the only image extant is a restored Buddha statue.

Monolithic structure

The front view of the Nalanda Gedige

The Nalanda Gedige is a monolithic structure vaulted from brick where you could see an infusion of Hundu and Buddhist architectural elements.

The architectural uniqueness of Nalanda Gedige is intriguing. It has a charm of its own that should be witnessed by anyone who is curious about mystery and history. The promenade that leads you to the shrine is shrouded with foliage and trees. The temple site is nestled in a secluded arboreal village, surrounded by a reservoir.

The stone pillars on either side of the path will lead you to massive, intricate stone carvings. Before you begin your short excursion, make sure to visit the museum at the car park.

A guide will provide an explanation of the carvings and Brahmi inscriptions on rectangular stone slabs.

 A Buddha statue in the                       image house

Nalanda Gedige was in the forest for centuries until it was finally unearthed by the first Archaeological Commissioner in Ceylon, H. P. C. Bell in 1893.

Once the surface ornaments and sculptures were dug around, the temple was re-assembled from its remnants in 1975.

The shrine was originally in a lower level terrace of mushy paddy fields and due to the Mahaweli river hydroelectricity project – Bowatenna reservoir, the site faced the threat of being submerged. In 1980,

Late Pallava style

The Nalanda Gedige was dismantled, moved and meticulously reconstructed on a higher ground.

The construction is ambiguously dated by many archaeologists.

According to some associated inscriptional evidence of 8-9th century, former Archaeological Commissioner Prof. Senerath Paranavitana assigned this temple to the late Pallava style of about the 8th century.

The stone pillars in the middle sanctum

It is believed that the site was fortified by King Parakramabahu in the second half of the 12th century and endowed with a monastery between the 8th and 10th centuries.

Presumably built in 11th century AD, the Gedige is considered to have been a sanctuary dedicated to the Mahayana chapter with pronounced tantric leanings. At first glance, the temple bears much resemblance to a Hindu shrine. It has very little in common with classic Sinhala Buddhist architecture.

The Cholas reigned over ancient Sri Lanka for three generations. Stone temples in Dravidian design proliferated in Polonnaruwa during this period.

Artists emulated structures from solid brick mass to construct the finest monastic complexes.