Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Time forgotten temple in Nuwaragala

Time forgotten temple in Nuwaragala

Dhanesh Wisumperuma

The Nation, 2013-03-03, Fine, p.6-7

‘Nuwaragala’ was a small junction with few boutiques which we came across while on our journey from Ihala Yakkure to Siripura, a small township. The name sounded familiar as there are two other Nuwaragalas known to travelers and explorers. The most famous Nuwaragala is close to Maha Oya, a rock which contains numerous ruins, and could be approached via the Akulobe village. The second Nuwaragala (Nuwaragalakanda) is situated near the district border of Polonnaruwa and Kandy and close to Wewala, a small village near Sigiriya. It is also a ruined site of archaeological interest.

I was thus a little confused with this third Nuwaragala near Yakkure. It appeared to be of recent origin as such a place was not marked on one inch or metric maps. There are many such place names that have been coined after the Mahaweli settlements came up in the area. My companions were of the same opinion.

While driving along the road that ran along the bank of an irrigation canal, we suddenly came across a signboard of a temple called ‘Sugala Devi Rajamaha Viharaya’ with the prefix ‘historic’ (Eithihasika). Interest in history and archaeology prompted us to explore this temple.The temple was situated on a small rock which rose from the almost flat terrain. When we crossed the canal, there was a path which led towards the temple buildings at the base of the rock and the shrines on the summit.

Remains of a bygone era

There were steps made of concrete to climb up the hill constructed courtesy donations made by recent devotees; their names were inscribed on the concrete but, worn out or covered with moss. About halfway up the rock there is an image house of relatively recent construction, which is being renovated. Close to it is a seated Buddha statue under a canopy built recently but well maintained.

There was also a relic from the ancient past; it was lying between the statue and the image house, on the ground and neglected. It was a large stone slab, possibly used as an asana (a flower altar), weather-worn. There were signs or rather remnants of an inscription, written within parallel lines. There were about twenty or more lines but the letters were indecipherable to the naked eye. There was one more important artifact on the site. A small piece of an octagonal pillar was found close to the Buddha statue, which resembled a part of the Yupa stone of the old stupa.

We climbed towards the top of the hill, where a small stupa was seen. The path was covered with weeds and it gave the impression that the stupa, a recent and a rough construction, is not visited regularly by devotees. Near the stupa was a siri-patul-gala (sacred foot-print on stone) which is used to represent the Buddha before the Buddha statue came into vogue, i.e. in the early Anuradhapura period.

To the left of this stupa was a small mound. A closer look revealed what it is an old ruined stupa. There were pieces of bricks here and there on the summit as well as on the slopes. We were shocked to see the large rectangular hole dug in to the area where the relic chamber of the stupa may have been located. It was about more than 2 meters deep. The excavation seemed to have been done several years previously, and it was partly covered with weeds and filled with rubble. However a small part of the wall of this stupa was intact on one side.The view from the summit of the rock was fascinating. There were forest patches, open areas and about three different mountain ranges to the south and south west of us.

Finding the history of the temple

We had the opportunity to have a discussion with the chief incumbent of the temple, Ven. Mapakada Sumangala Thera and benefit from his cordial hospitality. According to him, the modern temple has its origins in the late 1980s, parallel to the development of Mahaweli settlements. People had called the ruined temple Kotavehera (Short Stupa) or Gale Pansala (Temple of the Rock) at that time. The present name of the temple, Sugaladevi Raja Maha Vihara indicates a connection to the Polonnaruwa Period, but we didn’t see any strong evidence to connect the temple to that period.

However the temple definitely has a history going back to early Anuradhapura Period. The siri-patul-gala, asana gala and the possible remnants of the yupa gala points to this, but would have to be backed by further evidence. More systematic exploration is required in identifying what else remains in this lesser known archaeological site.

Pics Bushana Kalhara

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