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 Post subject: Isurumuniya - Well-known for rock sculptures
 Post Posted: Fri Feb 24, 2006 7:49 pm 
Isurumuniya - Well-known for rock sculptures

The Isurumuniya Vihara in Anuradhapura is a beautiful rock temple better known for its fine carvings. It is one of the historic places which tourists, both local and foreign, do not fail to visit when they are in Anuradhapura.


However, this popular heritage site had been in ruins and covered in thick jungle until the mid-19th century. It is said that the tanks and ponds in the area had been filled with crocodiles during those days. The invasion of Rajarata by Kalinga Maga in 1213, which drove the Sinhalese south-westwards is deemed to have led to the abandoning and ruin of Isurumuniya, which was until then, a popular and important place among the Sinhala people.

Vessagiriya was part and parcel of the Isurumuni Vihara at one time.

According to the Mahavansa, the first Buddhist temple at Isurumuniya had been built by King Devanampiyatissa, who ruled the country from 250-210 B.C. He established the temple at the spot where 500 men who had attained monkhood at the hands of Arahath Mahinda had lived. King Vasabha, who ruled from 67 - 111 AD constructed a Poya ge at Isurumuniya. The Mahavansa also says that King Voharika Tissa (209-231 AD) put up a protective wall around the temple.

King Kasyapa, who ruled from 473-491 AD did a lot towards the development of the temple. To make amends for killing his father (King Dhatusena), Kasyapa expanded the courtyard of the Isurumuni Vihara, improved other conditions at the vihara which he offered to the Buddha Sasana and donated several nearby villages for its upkeep.

However, when the kingdom moved out of Anuradhapura, the same fate that had befallen other important sites of the city, befell Isurumuniya and it was hidden away for many years.

The area came into prominence again with the dawn of the 19th century when the attention of many foreign academics was drawn to the ruins of Rajarata.

Isurumuniya is known as a temple with historic value as well as a place which denotes the artistic creativity of ancient Sinhalese. It is bordered by the Tissa Weva, a creation of Devanampiyatissa, the Goldfish Park, Vessagiriya and paddy fields, on different sides. The area has gained significance due to the historic vihara, the beautiful surroundings as well as the fine carvings in the temple.

The best known sculpture is the 'Isurumuni Lovers' which dates from around the fifth century. The world-famous carving is based on the Gupta tradition, which was the artistic style of India's Gupta dynasty in the fourth and fifth centuries.


It is said to depict Saliya, the son of King Dutugemunu, and Asokamala, the low caste girl he married,which cost him the kingdom. Some believe it is a soldier visiting his wife after a long spell of duty, while others believe it is Siva and Parvathi of Hindu mythology. It is thought that the sculpture had been brought here from another place. It is known as one of the most exquisite pieces of carving in Sri Lanka.

The Isurumuni Vihara is situated between two rocks; bordering one of the rocks is a pond, which is fed by the Tissa Weva. Figures of elephants who seem to be descending to the pond are carved on this rock. Slightly above them in a recess cut on the rock, a male figure seated in the royal pose has been sculptured. A head of a horse is carved behind his right hand.

There are different theories as to who is represented by this sculpture which belongs to the Pallava art tradition of India.

Another carving at the Isurumuni premises is said to depict the Dutugemunu family. Although the King threw Prince Saliya out of the royal family as a result of the latter's marriage to a commoner, he later pardoned the Prince and visited the couple at their abode which is depicted in this scene. This carving belongs to the fifth century.

Although most of these sculptures are still on their original places in the rock face, some of them have now been moved into a small museum within the temple.

Other structures at this site including the image house, which has a reclining Buddha cut from the rock, are of more recent construction.

An inscription at nearby Vessagiriya from the first century shows that Isurumuniya was then known as Isiramana.

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