During my two weeks stay in Sri Lanka, my second destination from Colombo was Habarana. Enroute this curious town, I halted by the Kurunegala Ridee 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 then utilised this freshly discovered riches to continue designing Ruwanweliseya Stupa. Wherein, to express his gratitude to the divine being for the silver, he constructed a temple at the location of the silver ore.
Before visiting the Silver Temple of Ridee 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 Ridee Viharaya will show itself. Rising against the backdrop of a stunning landscape, this legendary temple stands 200 feet high.
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. 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, this village received its name “Ridigama,” only after King Dutugemunu built the temple. Once you arrive at the rock cave, it’s not unusual to question the history of its foundation. I was curious, as to how King Dutugemunu discovered this spot, in the first place? An inquiry posed by many! 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. Twenty kilometres far from the ancient kingdom of Kurunegala, a travelling ginger merchant took a resting break. He needed wood for whips hence he climbed, the mountain where he spotted a jackfruit tree. As hungry as he was, he got closer to the jackfruit tree in an attempt to get something to eat. As luck had it, a tree branch dragged down by the weight of the fruit, allowed him to procure the produce. Being a nobleman, the merchant decided to offer the fruit as the alms.
Surprisingly, just when, he was having these thoughts, 4 Theros arrived at the spot. The merchant greeted the Theros and invited them to join him for a meal. He then cut away the rind of the jackfruit to pour its juice into the bowls of the Theros. After a short 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, the last remaining Thero went down to a silver cave to show his sincere appreciation to the merchant. While demonstrating the path, he said, “Go thou now also on this path, lay brother!”
Following in the steps of the Thero, the merchant reached the cave and began to scout it. Soon he realised what he was looking at, was nothing but a silver ore mine. Exhilarated, he struck the silver with his axe to carry it back to the King of his kingdom. The King could not contain his joy at the sight of the silver and sent his ministers to survey the spot for more. For what it was worth, the ministers returned with more silver. The King was happy that now he could build the Ruwanweli Maha Stupa with no obstructions. Additionally, to pay respect to the silver ore for facilitating his dream, he built a temple at the cave site, now known as the Rajatha Lena or the Silver Cave Temple. To embellish the temple, he ordered a large gold plated Buddha statue from India.
Today this 2,200 years old statue, installed inside the Pahala Vihara is the main attraction of this temple. Encased in glass, this golden statue stands, exactly, where the silver was located. Next to Pahala Vihara, is the 18th century Uda Vihara, that was built by the Kandyan King Kirti Sri Rajasinghe. This Vihara features vibrant murals and carvings in yellow, red and black colours. The fresco artists who designed this room also added clever visual tricks to its interiors. For instance, what appears to be an elephant above the exterior doorway to the right, reveals itself to be a formation of nine maidens.
The flower pedestal, on the other hand, is decorated with 200 Dutch tiles from the 18th-century. These portray the life of Christ and are called the Bible tiles. As well the roof is painted in various patterns.
Although, the most fascinating aspect of the Uda Vihara is its entrance, marked by distinctive ivory carvings. Considered an extremely rare conception in the ancient era. While here, take a look at the top centre, where you will notice a carving of five interwoven female figurines. These are the Pancha Naari Getaya in the shape of a pot. All in all, Uda Vihara houses three chambers with a connecting corridor.
The 1st chamber is dedicated to Kumara Bandara Deviyo, a deity who protects the mountain of Ridee Vihara. The 2nd chamber boasts unique drawings. On the left, is Tri Singha, a picture of three 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.
After I finished touring the Viharas, I left for the main cave and on my way out, I encountered a peculiar stone house – the Waraka Welandu Viharaya. This is the temple where the Thero had eaten the jackfruit. Inside this stone house is a seated Buddha statue with frescoed walls from the Kandyan Era. Here, the hallway exhibits eight stone pillars with carvings of female dancers, which is very unusual for a Buddhist house. Thus it’s established that the house was built in the Kandyan Era.
Walk along the house to enter the main Vihara complex. This is where you will find the alms bowl, used for Buddha Puja in the ancient days. After touring the ground floor premises, I took the stairs to the first floor where another large Buddha, is set in place. Additionally, the first floor also houses a small Lakshmi temple. With that, the silver temple tour pretty much comes to an end. While here, I was handed over a few books by the temple management. These books provide information about the temple, its foundations and also important Buddhist preachings.