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 Post subject: Nalanda Gedige: Abu Simbel of Sri Lanka
 Post Posted: Sat Sep 29, 2007 8:51 pm 
Nalanda Gedige: Abu Simbel of Sri Lanka

Nalanda Gedige is a small archaeological site of extreme interest, a curious hybrid of Buddhist and Hindu architecture. Some of the design elements are distinctly Hindu, such as the mandapam or hall of waiting. Yet there is no sign of Hindu gods. There are erotic but eroded Tantric Buddhist carvings, much like the famous ones at Khajuraho in India. The richly decorated façade sections are in the 7th century style which flourished at Madras, South India. However, the southern section has a semi-circular niche containing in high relief a squat figure of Kuvera, the god of wealth, seated on a lotus plinth - an image that is only found in Sri Lanka.


BY: Kirthi Hulangamuwa
@ DM / Saturday, September 29, 2007

Sri Lanka’s midpoint is dotted with an ancient monument of renowned architecture. It is believed to be the only shrine that harmoniously blends the Pallawa architectural features of South India with Sri Lankan Buddhist characters.

Nestled on a scenic terrace overlooking a vast expanse of water around is Nalanda Gedige. The edifice is overshadowed by a hillock casting its reflection on the glassy surface below with rhythmic ripple play.

The monument can be reached by taking the turn off near Nalanda rest house on Matale — Dambulla highway. A two km drive on a weather beaten track rewards the weary traveler with a stunning view that perfectly unites ancient architecture with modern engineering prowess. Science and skill has played a vital role under the auspices of royalty to reinforce heritage.

Though substantial evidence fails to favour the approximate period of construction of shrine historians and archeologists hold the undisputed view that its origin was 11 AD or before. Peculiar feature of the shrine that draws appreciation is the use of only hewn stones sans any brick work.

Paper-thin joints exhibit the dexterity of the ancient stone mason. Some stones of astonishing design depict the sensual poses of human figures, supposed to be representing techniques of karma sutra, a feature not uncommon in Indian sculptures. A stupa built of bricks stands beside the main shrine.

Mahawansa, the great chronicle, records that great warrior Parakramabahu waged his battles on king Gajabahu of Polonnaruwa and Manabarana of Magama near Nalanda. The Chronicle further mentions a fortress built by Parakramabahu close to Nalanda before his enthronement.

Not only monarchs but the British saw the strategic importance of
Nalanda in 1818 during the Kandyan rebellion. Having accomplished their war ambitions through revolts and incursions the British made their promises illusive. This sylvan village played a pivotal role in assembling the masses against imperialists.

Gedige is a solitary monastic building conspicuously aloof from the historical cities of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Sigiriya. Pioneer archeological Commissioner of Sri Lanka, H. C. P. Bell, made a special reference to its lonely position.

Bell records: “Standing absolutely isolated on a higher ground surrounded by paddy fields, with no connected ruins, save a small dagoba of much later erection, neither records nor tradition exists to give a clue to its presence, lone, ignored and rarely visited by strangers.

Strangely even today the site is visited by very few travelers, both local and foreign. This writer intends to kindle the interest of sightseers using the A 9 road for a short-stop at Gedige, a visit worth remembering.

The fate of Nalanda Gedige took a critical turn in 1977 threatened by the imprisoned waters of Bowateima reservoir under the accelerated Mahaweli project. A few archeologists, engineers and volunteers fought to rescue the splendid monument from being inundated. They painstakingly dismantled the whole structure, stone by stone, and re-assembled it on an elevated terrace set against a delightful background. On the boundary of the premises stands a line of Margosa — Kohomba- (azadirachta indica) trees providing a cool shelter against the tropical heat. The approach pathway is festooned with gorgeous flower bushes on either side adding glamour to the site.

In the vicinity of Gedige is a mini sanctuary for water birds. Flocks are seen congregating in the shallow end in the evening while long wings glide over the liquid adorning the sky. Peacocks silently display their amorous dance on the glade behind. Small games are not rare around the precincts of the shrine.

Mongoose, porcupine, wild bore and an occasional spotted deer draw near the water after dusk. A small herd of elephants frequent the environs during a drought.

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