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The rock temple of Varana
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Author:  Saman [ Sun Mar 11, 2012 6:58 pm ]
Post subject:  The rock temple of Varana

The rock temple of Varana
Serene beauty and nature's wonders blend

There are many folk tales regarding the origin of the name Varana. One such tale describes a huge forest patch full of ‘Va’ trees which came to be known as Va+arana (forest patch). Another legend says that the rocks in the area resemble elephants and the word ‘Waranaya’ (elephant) became Varana. According to yet another story, the name has been derived from the word 'vulture' as a migrating vulture from the Himalayas had used to rest on the huge rock, Idam gala.

By Shanika SRIYANANDA
So / Sunday, 26 February 2012

The giant rock – the Idam gala - at a height of 100 feet, spans over one acre, and is the location of the first cave, where Bhikkhus meditated centuries ago. Now it has been converted into the Ven. Kossinne Sri Pannananda Memorial Hall. The water in the small well in front of the cave entrance with ancient wooden carvings is not hot, even though the rock is baking under the scorching sun.

It was on a glorious morning that we went to enjoy the serene beauty of the Varana rock temple, off Thihariya in Gampaha.

The special feature of the temple, which is on a hillock, is its unspoilt beauty, and its historic look which still remains.

“Though this temple is called Varana Raja Maha Vihara, it is situated in Mangalathiriya. There are over 32 caves in the vicinity which had been used by Bhikkhus for meditation. The history of the cave temple dates back to the third century BC, to the era of King Devanampiyatissa”, Ven. Punnananda Thera, the chief incumbent of the temple, said.

He said it was donated to Tissa Dhatta Thera, the brother of Majima Thera, the best student of Arhant Mahinda Thera, who brought Buddhism to Sri Lanka. Varana Temple is believed to be one of the ancient temples built by King Devanampiyatissa.

There are many folk tales regarding the origin of the name Varana. One such tale describes a huge forest patch full of ‘Va’ trees which came to be known as Va+arana (forest patch). Another legend says that the rocks in the area resemble elephants and the word ‘Waranaya’ (elephant) became Varana. According to yet another story, the name has been derived from the word 'vulture' as a migrating vulture from the Himalayas had used to rest on the huge rock, Idam gala.


Ven. Dompe Punnananda Thera
According to epigraphical evidence, prehistoric settlements had existed in the area and temples had been built surrounded by those settlements. Ven. Punnananda Thera said the rocky caves were an ideal hideout for King Walagamba as they were on a high elevation. The rocky environs helped him re-organise his troops against the Chola invaders. Later, when he regained power, he built a shrine in one of the caves.

The Nayaka Thera, referring to his awasa ge (living area) which is also in a rock cave, said it provides a cooling atmosphere even on a very hot day. It has drip ledges to drain rain water from the steep rock surface. “These were designed during King Walagamba's era”, he said.

The next cave contained the shrine room with Jathaka stories drawn on its walls. Ven. Punnananda Thera led us to the shrine, climbing over 100 steps, passing beautiful surroundings with a pond on the rocky surface and green foliage. The small ‘dagoba’ (Pagoda) built in front of the shrine is 800 years old.

“The area comprises about 20 acres. The Department of Archaeology carried out some excavations a few years ago and found prehistoric equipment used in the sixth century BC. There is evidence of prehistoric settlements of Aryans in the area”, he said.

Ven. Punnananda Thera said the Archaeology Department, which took away the four stone inscriptions found during the excavation, had not yet revealed the information.


The cave temple
The cave vihara was another wonderful creation depicting the talents of Sri Lankan artists of the Kandyan era. The Ven. Thera said during the regime of King Parakramabahu VI who ruled in Kotte, he reclaimed the Varana Temple and gifted a Buddha statue and a standing Vishnu statue to the temple. He had also given more land to the temple.

Even after climbing hundreds of steps, one would not feel weary as the cool climate is quite refreshing. The serene beauty and cooling water soothe the mind and body. The tranquillity boosts mental and spiritual harmony.

At the same time, the Nayaka Thera's words still echo in my ears: “This temple is a very sacred place and one should not visit it for fun. We are fully committed to protect the environment of Varana and no one will be allowed to spoil its natural beauty”.


Varana

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