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 Post subject: Embekke Devale: A wooden wonder
 Post Posted: Sat Feb 25, 2006 10:06 pm 
Ambekke Devale: A wooden wonder


The village of Embekka (also written as Ambakka , Ambakke , Embakka , Embakke , Embekke) is found in the area known as Udunuwara in the Kandy district. It is situated about three kilometres from the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens.

The beautiful devale, which was built during the 14th century is believed to have been built by King Wickremabahu III, who reigned in Gampola from 1357 to 1374, in honour of the God of Kataragama. The king is said to have built it on the invitation of his queen. The site comprises the devale, digge and the centre where hewisi were played.

The carved wooden pillars in the temple are believed to have come from a royal audience hall in the city. They are said to be the finest such carvings belonging to the Kandyan era, and have earned the devale much acclaim from artists. The carvings include lions, swans, bulls, elephants, double-headed eagles, leaf patterns, wrestling men, soldiers, horse riders, dancing women, mermaids and lotus motifs. There are altogether 128 carvings in these pillars and what is unique about them is that all these carvings are different from each other. Some believe these carvings to have been done by an artisan known as Devendra Mulachari.


There are 16 wooden pillars at the entrance to the devale. The 52 feet, 10 inches long and 25 feet, 9 inches wide digge has 32 square-shaped pillars. The wood known as gammalu has been used here, while other types of wood such as ginisapu, na and pihibiya have been used in the other sections. Most of these intricately carved wooden pillars have stone pillars as their base. The UNESCO has identified these marvellous but elaborate carvings on wooden pillars to be the finest products of woodcarvings to be found in any part of the world.

The most impressive feature of the devale is its roof. It does not have one central beam, but 26 smaller rafters are fixed to the roof through huge wooden nails, resembling spokes in the wheel of a cart. It is the only place in Sri Lanka where such a construction can be witnessed.

The main devale is a 28 feet long, 23 feet and 7 inches wide two-storeyed building. The smaller devale is built close to it. The entrance is through a large doorway built of wood and there is a verandah spreading on three sides of the building.

Among the carvings, there are 125 series of decorations, 256 liyawel, 64 lotus designs in Pekada, 30 decorative patterns on timber, roof members, making a total of 514 such exquisite carvings.

The other constructions which can be seen at the Embekka Devala site are vahalkada, image house, kitchen and granary. They are located within a wall. The ambalama (resting place) and throne are located outside these premises, but also belong to the devale.

The Legend of Embekke Devale

Many are the hoary legends that tell of the origins of this splendid devale. According to archaic documents and the epic Embekke Varnanawa composed by Delgahagoda Mudiyanse, it was built during the Gampola period of King Wickrema Bahu II (1371 AD). One of his consorts named Henakanda Biso Bandara, in association with a drummer named as Rangama, as told in a miraculous dream, is supposed to have built this Devale dedicated to God Kataragama in a superb three-storeyed building which is now no more.

There is a small village called "Arathtana" which was, many moons ago in Sri Lanka, well known for its dancers and drummers. In this village lived a drummer called Rangama who had a skin disease. He tried every possible treatment to rid himself of his problem, but none of them worked. Every medicine failed to cure him. He decided to go to the "temple of Katharagama", a temple in the southern part of Sri Lanka. This temple was built for the god of Katharagama. He went there and asked the god of Katharagama to cure his illness, promising to worship the temple annually. Then his illnesses were cured, and he kept his promise to Katharagama for many, many years.

It was a long, tiresome journey to the south and finally the time came when Rangama knew his body could no longer make the trip. For the last time he traveled to the temple and praied the god that he could no longer continue his annual ritual, as he was too old. The sad drummer returned home and that night, the god of katharagama spoke to him in his dreams. He made a prediction. The god said, "in few days, a miracle will happen! You must go there and perform your traditional drumming!" As predicted by the god the miracle happened.

There was a flower garden known as Ambakka, which belonged to the wife of King Wickramabahu- Queen Henakanda Bissobandara. When the gardener was working in the garden he tried to remove a "Kaduru" tree from the garden. When he cut it a stream of blood began to flow from the tree. The drummer Rangama heard of this miracle and so went to the flower garden to perform the rituals as he was ordered to do by the god. He built a small temple out of tree branches around the tree. It has been called the "Ambakka Devalaya" ever since.

After some days the king of "gangasiripura", "gampola" king Wickramabahu, was informed about the event. The king ordered to build a three story building in the land. He gave land and elephants as gifts to the temple. His queen's jewellery was also given to the temple as a gift. Since then the temple of ambakka is worshipped by thousands of people every year. They say, even today, the drummer's ancestors' perform rituals in the temple.

How the village got its name.

There are many stories about this village. There is an ancient game known as "ankeliya" performed for the goddess of Paththini. There was a playground in this village where they performed this game annually. This village had a horn, used to play the game. And this was a big horn. In sinhala "ann" or "anga" means the horn. They say "bakka" for big. Earlier they called the village "An+bakka", which means 'the big horn'. The word "an+bakka" has changed to "Ambakka", as we know it today.

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