Your Quintessential Guide to Kurunegala Ridi Viharaya Silver Temple

Silver Temple Sri Lanka

During my two weeks stay in Sri Lanka, my second destination from Colombo was Habarana. Enroute this curious town, I halted by the Kurunegala Ridi Viharaya, a 2nd-century Theravada Buddhist sanctuary. Situated about 3 hours from Colombo, this ancient temple was set up by King Dutugamunu, the veteran hero of Sri Lanka. Legends have it, that at the time King Dutugamunu did not have the assets to complete the Ruwanweliseya Stupa at Anuradhapura, he accidentally discovered a rich fracture of silver at the Ridigma village. He utilized this freshly discovered riches to continue designing his masterpiece. Wherein, to express his gratitude, he constructed a temple at the location of the silver ore.

Silver Temple Entrance

Before visiting the Silver Temple of Ridi Viharaya, we stopped by a small house nearby, that houses various ancient elements from the time the Monks resided here. This visit included observing ancient lamps, vintage wooden carvings, as well as, paintings in natural colour. Thereafter, I walked towards the Silver Temple while soaking splendid scenic views on my right. There is a small white door that marks the prime entrance of the temple. The moment you step over this door, the gigantic Silver Temple of Ridi Viharaya will show itself. Rising against a clear backdrop of the natural landscape, this legendary edifice shone 200 feet high from the encompassing area.

Kurunegala Ridi Viharaya Carvings

The cave, however, is built under the rock outcrop boasting Brahmin inscriptions dating back to the 2nd century BC. Regardless of the location, the reason why this cave evinces immense peace is that once upon a time, it was occupied by numerous Arahaths. An Arahath, in Buddhism, is a person who has achieved nirvana.

Silver Temple 2BC Inscriptions

Be that as it may, King Dutugemunu’s commitment to building a temple here is what led to the popularity of the cave, over a period of time. So narrates the historical chronicles of Mahavamsa. As a matter of fact, the nearby village was named Ridigama, only after King Dutugemunu built the temple. Once you arrive at the cave, it’s not unusual to question its history. I was simply curious as to how did King Dutugemunu discover this place, in the first place? An inquiry posed by many!

Kurunegala Ridi Viharaya

So here’s how the story goes – back at the time when the King didn’t have sufficient funds to complete the construction of Ruwanweliseya Stupa, a miracle turned around the events. The great chronicle of Mahavamsa has recorded the episode as it is. 20 kilometres away from the ancient kingdom of Kurunegala, a travelling ginger merchant took a resting break at this village. He needed wood for whips hence he climbed the mountain where he spotted a Jackfruit tree. A tree branch dragged down by the weight of the fruit, allowed him to procure the produce. Just when he thought about offering the fruit as alms, four Thero’s arrived at the spot.

Kurunegala Ridi Viharaya Temple Entrance

The merchant greeted the Theros and invited them for a meal. He then cut away the rind of the fruit and poured the juice forth into their bowls. After a while, four more Theros arrived at the spot. This time, the merchant filled their bowls with the kernels of the jackfruit. After which, three Theros left while one stayed back. Subsequent to devouring the fruit, this Thero went further down to the silver cave and demonstrated the course to the merchant. He uttered, “Go thou now, also on this path, lay brother!” As the merchant began to scout the cave, he realised that what he was looking at was, in reality, a Silver Ore Mine. He struck upon the silver with his axe and carried it back to the King of his kingdom. The King then sent his ministers to the spot, to have it surveyed.

For what it was worth, the ministers returned with the Silver. King Dutugemunu could not confine his happiness, for now, he could finish constructing the Ruwanweli Maha Stupa. Later to express his gratitude, he also built a temple at the cave site which is now known as the Rajatha Lena or the Silver Cave Temple. 

Kurunegala Ridi Viharaya Gold Plated Buddha Statue

The King also imported a large gold plated Buddha statue from India to be kept at the site. Today this 2200 years old statue inside the Pahala Vihara is the main attraction of this temple. Protected by a glass casing, it is placed at the very spot where the silver ore was first found. The next-door Uda Vihara was built in the 18th century by the Kandyan King Kirti Sri Rajasinghe. It features vibrant murals and carvings in yellow, red and black colours. Some clever visual tricks were used by fresco artists. For instance, what appears to be an elephant above the exterior doorway to the right, reveals itself to be a formation of nine maidens.

Kurunegala Ridi Viharaya Dutch Tiles

The flower pedestal is decorated with 200 Dutch tiles from the 18th-century. These portray the life of Christ and are called the Bible tiles. The roof of the cave is painted with various patterns.

Kurunegala Ridi Viharaya Buddha Statues

Kurunegala Ridi Viharaya Ivory Carvings
Ivory Carvings

While entering Uda Vihara, you will pass through a protected door frame which is decorated with ivory carvings. Something considered extremely rare for ancient buildings. At the top centre, you will notice a carving of 5 interwoven female figurines, the Pancha Naari Getaya in the shape of a pot. The Uda Vihara contains 3 chambers and a connecting corridor. The 1st chamber is dedicated to Kumara Bandara Deviyo, a deity who protects the mountain of Ridi Vihara. The 2ndchamber contains unique drawings. On the left side, is Tri Singha, a picture of 3 lions with one head. The other side features Vrushaba Kunjaraya, a drawing with the entwined heads of the bull and the elephant. On the same pedestal, there are three more pictures of soldiers, believed to be a depiction of Rama and Ravana.

Kurunegala RidiViharaya IllusionalArt

Kurunegala Ridi Viharaya redBuddha

On your way to the cave, you will come across a peculiar stone house called the “Waraka Welandu Viharaya,” the temple where the Jack Fruit was consumed. Inside this house is a seated Buddha statue with frescoed walls from the Kandyan Era. Strangely, the 8 stone pillars in the hallway portray carvings of female dancers, which are not a usual feature of a Buddha house. Therefore it’s established that this house was particularly built during the Kandyan Era. Walk along the house to enter the main Vihara complex. Here you would find massive arms bowl said to have been used for Buddha Puja in the ancient times. I think this is one of the most amazing temples you can visit in Ridigama, whether you are travelling to or from Colombo. After the temple visit, we were invited to a Monks residence for a high tea, which further enhanced the temple experience. 

(Ps: I was invited by the Sri Lanka Tourism Board on a Press Trip, however, all views expressed are my own.) 

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