WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka

Ridi Vihara, where three great religions meet

(by Kishanie S. Fernando)
Popularly known as the Bible tiles it is believed that they were a gift from an European ambassador to King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe who in turn gifted them to the temple in the days when the Dutch ruled the maritime provinces.

Ascribed to the 18th century Delft factory in Holland, these blue and white porcelain tiles depict themes from the old testament like the creation of man, the fall of man (with the serpent in the garden of Eden), the great flood and its aftermath (dove of peace with the olive branch), Moses and the burning bush, the prophets of yore and some scenes from the new testament depicting the life of Christ like the nativity, the transfiguration and the last supper.

The tiles are prominently placed on the flower altar in front of a 9m Buddha image in the recumbent position. Many are of the opinion that it could have been a gesture of the spirit of tolerance which characterised Buddhism.

In a small village at Ridigama about 13 miles from Kurunegala atop a hill, is perched the interesting cave temple of Ridi Vihara. It is a place where Sinhala, Buddhist, Tamil, Hindu and Christian art abide together - a delightful treasure trove. The caves are divided into chambers and cannot be seen from the road but access is easy.

It is said to have been the abode of Arahat Indragupta around 2,300 years back. The silver ore discovered here in the 2nd century BC was utilised by King Dutugemunu to build the great Ruwanveliseya. The Ridi Vihara then had been built on the spot that yielded the wealth as a gesture of gratitude and in the main cave temple a gold plated Buddha statue brought from India was placed. In time it has been renovated and rebuilt by King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe.
The main image house or the "Patha Viharaya" (lower temple) is tucked inside a sizable cave under a rock overhanging the cave. The rock looms skywards, a reminder of the cobra hood cave of Sigiriya. The original gilded Buddha image is today to be seen placed safely inside a glass case.

The cave also housed another huge seated Buddha image, images of Hindu gods and a statue thought to be of King Dutugemunu. The walls and roof which are the underside of the cave were covered with vivid frescoes and flower motifs.

The mantle and door frame of one of the doors leading into this cave is decorated exquisitely in ivory. The "Pancha Nari Getaya" (figure of five women entwined in the shape of a knot) decorates the centre of this work. In keeping with the art of delusion the intricate carving depicts from far, a vase but a close look reveals the knitting of the figures of five maidens. Either side of this is the carving of two lions. This unique piece of ivory art sadly has been the subject of vandalism and the remains have been enclosed by a glass.

The "Uda Viharaya" (upper temple) is said to have been built by King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe and is likewise a cave decorated with frescos, paintings and crowded with images. It is exclusive to some rare concepts in Sinhala art. The main image is of a seated Buddha.

The Makara Thorana behind is interestingly distinct consisting of groups of gods and devotees with an image of the standing Buddha on either side. Also the two makara heads forming the usual arch are turned outwards. Upon the pedestal of the seated Buddha image at the bottom are some unique animal paintings usually not found in temples. The "Thri Sinha Rupaya" found on the front of the pedestal depicts three seated lions but with one face. The paintings of "Sarpenda" and "Vrushba Kunjaraya" (the entwined heads of the bull and the elephant) are interesting. Also recognisable are paintings that appear to depict the warring King Rawana.

A painting of the "Nawanari Kunjavaya" or nine maidens is found at the end of the cave outside the shrine room. The clever arrangement of nine graceful bodies of maidens delude the onlooker from far into recognising the figure of an elephant.

The last chamber of this cave houses some old wooden Buddha images amidst a profusion of colorful motifs painted on the walls and ceiling to give a charming fabric like effect. At the entrance to this cave is a Hindu devalaya dedicated to the guardian of the mountain on which the Ridi Vihara is situated. Behind this cave in an open cave is a dagaba.

Just outside the temple court-yard is a stone pillared structure more Hindu in architecture and ground plan known as the "Waraka Welandu lena". Popular belief is that Arahat Indragupta partook of a meal of ripe jak fruit at this spot. On the skilfully chiselled stone pillars forming the porch of the building can be seen some interesting carvings of figures of people. A dancing girl and a soldier are more visible. It is believed to have been a Hindu shrine.

Outside the temple complex atop a small rocky hill passing an ancient inscription is an abandoned dagoba "Sarasum gala chaiththiya" From here we were rewarded to a vision over the valleys and into the hills a magnificent moment of beauty.(@Dailly Mirror)


WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka