WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka

Aukana: The tallest Buddha statue in Sri Lanka

What may be called one of the wonders of the world is the tall, standing statue of the Buddha at Aukana, another architectural marvel of the ancient Sinhalese. The rock cut statue which stands 39 feet above its decorated lotus plinth and 10 feet across the shoulders, belongs to the period of King Dhatusena (459-477 AD), the builder of the great reservoir Kalawewa. It has been very well preserved over the years and is a joy for anyone to see and appreciate. It is a unique creation by an unknown sculptor.

The description in ‘The Handbook for the Ceylon Traveller’ gives a vivid picture of the Avukana statue: The best time of the day to view this statue is dawn. The first rays of the morning sun bring out the rich hues of the rock image and makes it seem to come alive against the deep green of the trees beyond. As the sun rises higher it reveals the serenity of the exquisitely carved face: rising higher still, the sunlight picks out the gracefully carved robe, each pleat of which is a triumph of art.

Not far from Avukana, just seven miles away as the crow flies, is another tall statue at Sasseruva. The two statues are believed to have been the work of a ‘guru - gola’ (master and pupil) team. There is an interesting tale behind the construction of the two statues. The completion of either masterpiece was to be signalled by the ringing of a bell.

The master and pupil got down to the job of finishing the statues furiously and one fine day the sound of the bell was heard. The master had completed the statue at Avukana. The unfinished Sasseruva statue remains at the site of an ancient cave monastery. Though virtually the same height as the Avukana statue, the other does not have the same finish as Avukana.

Another colossal Buddha statue is the one at Maligavila near Buttala, considered as one of Ruhuna’s most remarkable ruins. Dating back to the 7th century, the statue carved out of a single rock is 34 feet in height and 10 feet across the shoulders. It was found fallen and was raised with great effort only a few years ago.

The tallest among the rock-cut Buddha statues is the one at Buduruvagala near Wellawaya. It is 51 feet in height and is unique in that it stands in between images of ‘bodhisatvas’, each of which is 40 feet tall and smaller than the Buddha. Renowned archaeologist, Dr S Paranavitana calls it “a remarkable creation of the Mahayanists of Ruhuna” and dates it to the 8th or 9th century.

The ‘bodhisatva’ on the Buddha’s right hand side has been identified as Avalokitesvara, with the goddess Tara on his left, in the ‘tivanka’ (thrice bent) pose. In all, there are seven figures carved on the rock. The other is believed to be either Maitreya, the future Buddha or Vajirapani. The figures look down on the Buduruvagala tank making it a very picturesque setting. (@Sunday Times)

From Aukana to Sesuruwa

Our ancient sculpture in stone in the form of Buddha statues, sluices, guard stones, pillars and other such artefacts are over 2000 years old. Among the largest such standing Buddha statues is this famed Aukana Buddha statue lying amidst Raja Rata - the cradle of our ancient civilization. It is carved out of a rock boulder and lies close to the serene Kalaweva tank built by King Dhatusena of the 5th century AD.

The Aukana Buddha colossus in stone is also easily accessible through the Mahaweli System H, at Galnewa. This Aukana Buddha statue is 46-feet high, resting on a fine lotus stone pedestal. The symbolic gesture carved on the statue, called Mudra is in the form of Ashiva Mudra which signifies giving or blessing.

A few miles away from Galnewa via Magalweva in Mahaweli System H, lies a similar standing Buddha statue enclaved amidst a vast conclave of rock cave shelters and giant boulders in the folds of the jungle fastness. This Buddha statue is known by two names one is Resvehera and the other Sesuruwa.

Resvehera has its derivation that the patriarch Bo tree standing there had originated from a sapling that was brought from the Sri Maha Bodhiya in Anuradhapura. As when the Bo sapling was planted there, the rays (halo) of Lord Buddha illuminated around the place.

Sesuruwa means what is similar, as the Resvehera statue bears similar profiles to the Aukana Buddha statue. But there is a world of difference between the sculpturing structure of these two Buddha statues.

While the Aukana Buddha statue is 46 feet high, the Sesuruwa/Resvehera one is 36 feet high. This Resvehera statue is carved into a rectangular frame in the rock boulder itself. The siraspota is absent there, while it is portrayed in dots for the hair. The Aukana Buddha statue stands on a stone pedestal in the form of an exquisite lotus symbol. While that of the Resvehera statue stands on a plain rectangular stone pedestal.

The symbolic mudras (gestures) depicted here differ from each other. The Aukana Buddha statue has the Ashiva Mudra (giving of a blessing), while in the Resvehera one, the Mudra is in the form of Abhaya Mudra (meaning freedom from fear or fearlessness). For all visual purposes, from the sculptured features on the Resevera Buddha statue it appears that it was left in an unfinished state of sculpturing for some unknown reason.

Builders of the statues

Some attribute these to have been constructed by king Dhatusena of the 6th century AD, when he was living in a temple called Sinhagiri Vihara. Still others say it was built during the epic reign of King Parakrama Bahu, the Great of the 13th century, AD. The Resvehera Statue also dates back to the 12th-13th century AD. As regards the canopy constructed over the Aukana Buddha in the past, there are diversified views expressed by archaeological authorities, as regards to its removal. It is learnt from the Archaeological Department sources (its Advisory Board) had approved its removal. Some say that removing such an overhead roof would be damaging to the statue, as then it would be exposed to the natural elements like sun, rain and wind. From ancient times, the statue had been kept open sans any canopy over it. Consequently, it was quite exposed to the rigours of time, wear and tear of even the natural phenomenon like rain, sun and wind. In conclusion let me mention one unique feature of its sculpturing the Aukana Buddha statue.

According to local traditions, they say that the degree of accuracy of sculpturing it was such that if a drop of water (meaning rain water), detaching itself from the tip of its nose would drop in perpendicular into the small depression (if there is no blowing), carved between its big toes. That depression is still to be seen carved out in that fashion between the toes. (@Gamini G. Punchihewa)

WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka