Dimbulagala and forgotten frescoes at Pulligoda Galge

Dimbulagala and forgotten frescoes at Pulligoda Galge

Dimbulagala Raja maha Viharaya



About 12 miles to the east of the ancient kingdom Polonnaruwa on the east side of the Mahaweli is situated at the beautiful hilly range - Dimbulagala. In our ancient Pali texts this range is referred to as Udumbara - giri. 'Udumbara' is a name for wood apples, and 'giri' means hills/mountain. Dimbulagala was also known as 'Dola Pabbatha'.


This area was once known as a kingdom of the Vakshas, then the kingdom of a prince clever in war, then a sacred area, and a Maha Viharaya - an abode of so many sacred beings. With the fall of the Polonnaruwa Kingdom, this was covered by thick forests devoid of its settlers. But it's up again as an acclaimed abode of many of our monks and trainee monks, who'd be our future preachers of the Buddha's doctrine - or His Buddha's disciples.

Going back many centuries it is said that Prince Pandukabahaya, son of Unmadachitra and Deegagamini, lived in the stone cave here with Swarnapali and was accorded much hospitality by the two demon Senadhipathies Chitra Raja and Kala Vela, in human form. Then after some time, in the same stone cave of Dimbulagala, Princess Swarnapali gave birth to a son. He was named Mutasiva, after her father's name. It's also mentioned that another Prince was born and named Ganatissa.

Prince Pandukabhaya before he ascended the throne and made Anuradhapura his abode had lived here for many years. After him Mutasiva, his son by Swarnapali became king. It is said that Arahat Mahinda arrived in the Island during his reign in BC 247. Mutasiva was followed by his son the famous King Devanampiyatissa. From all this it becomes clear how important Dimbulagala is to us in tracing the lives of our ancient kings and their survival even under difficult circumstances.

King Dewanampiyatissa, the first properly acclaimed king of Anuradhapura our first kingdom was responsible for the erection of many Viharas. One of the first such Viharas was Dimbulagala. It is also historically important in that from Arahat Mahinda's time up to the tenure of the last Arahat, Maliyadeva's time many great Arahats dwelt in Dimbulagala. This is mentioned in the great literary work 'Saddharmalankaraya. Then there followed unstable and disturbed political periods, with threat to general adminstration and security as well.

Thus we see history repeating itself beginning from the first century into the 20th century. The ascendancy of Vijayabahu I in the 2nd century 1057 BC, saw the revival and reconstruction of Buddhist palaces of worship, when the king himself went through his Coronation/Crowning with the blessings of the Sangha, vowing to safeguard Buddhism. Vijayabahu I restored Dimbulagala Viharaya which had suffered destruction in the hands of the invaders and enemies.

Dimbulagala is also noted for having being made the abode of Kuththagaththatissa, an Arahat who attended the writing down of the scripture at Aluvihare Matale along with five hundred Bhikkus. Hearing this King Valagamba patronised Dimbulagala, by maintaining the caves, erecting flower ponds, fruit gardens and Viharas for the monks and offered to the Bhikkus land, fields and villages.

Queen of Vijayabahu I, Sundara Devi, though an Indian had committed much service by pioneering many industries based in Dimbulagala. Many meditation kuti/caves were built around the Oushada Pokuna or herbs pond. Links had also been established with Anoratha, the King of Burma at the time. Many books on Dhamma were taken to Burma and many more on Tripitakya were demanded from the King of Sri Lanka.

Buddhism suffered a set back again due to lack of Royal patronage immediately after Vijayabahu I. It was at a time when the Sangha itself were disunited that Parakramabahu I ascended the throne and because of services rendered came to be known as Parakramabahu the great. There had been a great deterioration in the Bhikkhu Vinaya as well, the only remedying factor being the existence of Viharadhipathi of Dimbulagala.

The King summoned a Vinaya Sangayana to restore discipline among the Sangha. For this purpose the Viharadhipathi established a Sangha Sabha. In the time of King Parakumbha, a Sangha Sabha was appointed concentrating on the Vinaya/Discipline of the Sangha. Dimbulagala reached an international status as a centre of knowledge with Maha Kassapa as the Chief Priest. It also became famous as a centre for Buddhism and an advisory centre for kings. In Namal Pokuna area lived many monks who had come from Burma etc. who studied here.

The area around Dimbulagala was offered to the Viharya by Parakramabahu the great. In more recent years it was the late Sangha Nayaka of Matara Kithalagama Most Rev. Siri Seelalankara who rebuilt Dimbulagala which had suffered enemy attacks and turned into a deserted wilderness.

Until his death a few years ago, the Sangha Nayaka treasured Dimbulagala and was a protector of the Viharaya.

The late Maha Nayaka is also remembered for establishing village settlements in the area through granting land, housing facilities and guidance in the last two decades. He encouraged and helped the settlements in Welioya, Janakapura, Welikanda and Kadawatha, Maduwa, but his plans of settlements in Kantale and Vavuniya suffered disappointment. In some of his national ventures he was patronised by all heads of state and the late Gamini Dissanayake had provided him strength, especially in the settlements in Mahaweli Development area.

Dimbulagala which had deteriorated after the Parakramabahu era saw a revival with the devotion and dedication of the late Mahanayaka and the discovery of Udumbaragiri - which had become the home of the Veddhas. Settling in amongst the Veddhas Most Rev. Siri Seelalankara dedicated his life to the upliftment of the historical area.

He tried to rise above petty communal rivalries and develop Dimbulagala once again into a historical city, and a religious place both for the laity and clergy.

Dimbulagala which had once been a great centre of learning - it had had religious connections with Burma and Thailand. It had conducted religious teachings in eighteen languages. It had given advice and guided the great kings like King Viajayabahu I and Parakramabahu I. The Royal Queens like Sundara Devi had patronised the erection of Dimbulagala. The great writers like Gurulugomi and Vidyachakravarthi had received their instructions from the great clergy residing in Dimbulagala.

There's the belief that a museum in Thailand has in its possession a book engraved in gold on the Tripitakaya, written by a Thai Prince, that there is a connection between the cessation of hostilities in Thailand through the interference of the monks in Dimbulagala.

By Neetha S. Ratnapala
Daily News -Saturday, 2 August 2003




Dimbulagala Raja Maha Vihara & Forgotten frescoes at Pulligoda Galge


The Dimbulagala range is said to house a number of caves cut into the rock with Brahmi inscriptions over their drip ledges as proving their antiquity. This forest hermitage of medieval times and holy abode since time immemorial, home to some of the most valued fragments of early frescoes was called the Gunners Quoin by the British for some reason.
@ Daily Mirror;  Story and pictures by Kishanie S. Fernando
Can you tell us where the Pulligoda Galge is ? We kept asking bystanders on reaching Dimbulagala 16 kilometres south east of Polonnaruwa.

Nobody seemed to have heard of it before and that’s how we met Lionel Mendis a retired employee of the Archaeological Department, whose humble home was in the village near the Pulligoda Galge itself and whom we coaxed into accompanying us on our search.

Hermits cave at Namal Pokuna complex

Pulligoda Lena frescoes

Dimbulagala range, Akasa Chaithiya on the summit

He directed us passing the Dimbulagala temple, the only landmark being a water tank at which point you turn to the left and continue on an unsealed road which takes you passing the delightful Hitcha Pitcha wewa, all the while traveling round the changing range-scape of Dimbulagala, and then another turn off which brings you almost to the foot of a rocky outcrop.

The short climb up and through jungle and rock boulders, guided more by instinct, we reached this forgotten fresco considered to be an important milestone in the history of artistic heritage.

The frescoes at Pulligoda were reported by Bell in 1897, a series of fragmentary remains of old paintings in a shallow cave shrine. Today we see a fragment of what once may have been a larger scene of devotees in the attitude of veneration, consisting of five male figures seated on lotus cushions placed on a broad seat.

The dating of these frescoes are subject to debate. Coomaraswamy and Vincent Smith dated the paintings to the 8th century AD. Paranavithana ascribed them to a period earlier than the 12th century but with a likelihood of being contemporary with the Polonnaruwa paintings (12th century).

Raja de Silva referring to the material technology of Pulligoda being common to paintings of the earlier Anuradhapura period dates them to as early as the 4th century AD. (even older than Sigiriya.)

Dr. Raja de Silva, former Archaeological Commissioner in a study of early period paintings from 247 BC to 800 AD defines several of the characteristics and elements of the Pulligoda galge frescoes.

He describes that the male figures depicted here have reached a stage of attainment (sovan, sakrudagami, anagami or arhat) as signified by the oval aura shaded red behind each head.

The saintly figures are all seated with their legs crossed. The soles are painted red with cosmetics, like the palms. The lower garments are pantaloons of plain red or stripes reaching down to the ankle.

Their headdresses vary distinguishing two figures as Brahmins. Another wears a white band of sacred thread across the bare upper body marking a sage. Ear rings, necklaces armlets, bracelets are also worn. One figure is green in complexion. The asana on which the lotus cushions are placed is ornamented.

To me the painting seemed unearthly. Though a small fragment was all that remained to be admired, it radiated a state of spirituality, serenity and peace that these forest hermits would have enjoyed. It spoke of elegance, refinement, poise and beauty. One figure held a lotus bud by the stalk while the left arm was folded across the chest in a charming gesture of offering.

The others seem to hold their palms together gracefully. The pigments of earthy red, ochre, yellow and green stood on a background of white with small circular designs. The frescoes even after many years still remain vibrant.

Dr. de Silva says that the characteristics of drawing, shading, perspective and stylistic methods of outlining features at Pulligoda bring to mind the paintings in Sigiriya implying that the artists at both sites were of the same conservative school of temple painting.

Further up is an interesting rock cave naturally resembling the formation of a house with a slab roof.

Lionel Mendis had now become a good friend to us and we were thrilled to hear that he had worked at sites in Kuchchiveli, Medirigiriya and Namal pokuna (Dimbulagala) before his retirement. He was happy to inform us that last month his village was supplied with pipe borne water and now each home had a ration of one hour's supply.

As we dropped him home he invited us inside and with true Lankan generosity offered us a slice of “pani waraka” which we noticed to be his family's only food for the day.

The Namal Pokuna complex, also in the vicinity and in fact some 2 kilometres before you reach Dimbulagala temple is not difficult to find. There is a small temple inhabited by monks at the bottom of this ancient forest hermitage.

The way to the ruins is uphill along a scorching rocky-face passing strange crevices and little rock pools. We walked under a blazing afternoon sun enjoying the occasional cool breeze till a pathway emerged through the shade of jungle cover ending in a grassy plain. The ruins of a monastery including a Chaithiya, bodhigara, poyage, dhamma saba mandapaya, ancient guard stones and moon stones were evident. The ruins were enclosed by a stone parapet with four cardinal entrances, immediately outside was a pokuna (nil mal vila) and a stone bridge.

The jungle path leading further up takes you to the Akasa Chaithiya on the summit of Dimbulagala, passing ancient caves of the forest hermitage.

One such imposing rock formation allowed the wattle and daub walls to be built dividing the cave into many rooms including a little verandah as well. Further up are the curative waters of the famed Namal Pokuna, and the maravidiya caves.

The Dimbulagala range is said to house a number of caves cut into the rock with Brahmi inscriptions over their drip ledges as proving their antiquity.

It is said that King Pandukabhaya lived here for a short period in the 4th century. In the Anuradhapura period there was an important vihara here. An inscription of Sundaramaha devi in the 12th century says that 500 monks resided there at that time.

A most notable period of its history was associated with King Parakramabahu II, in the 13th century where the Dimbulagala Maha Kassapa Thera helped the King with the purification and renewal of the Buddhist order. In the early centuries Dimbulagala was known as Dhumarakkhapabbata or Udumbarapabbata.

Today the modern cave temple at the foot of the range is colourful with huge statues depicting events from the life of the Buddha. High up on the rocky summit stands the Akasa Chaithiya and a shrine room to which many make their pilgrimage.

This forest hermitage of medieval times and holy abode since time immemorial, home to some of the most valued fragments of early frescoes was called the Gunners Quoin by the British for some reason.







Ven. S. Dhammika-www.buddhanet.net/sacred-island/dimbuagala.html

Dimbuagala is a huge rocky ridge rising 1700 f above the surrounding countryside. Its ancient name was Udumbaragiri. The earliest caves date from the early centuries of Buddhism but it was during the time of Prabakramabahu I that the place came into its own. In 1153 after years of fighting for the throne Prabakramabahu rode into Polonnarua and proclaimed himself king. Much of the country was in ruins but at least it was now united under one strong ruler. The new king immediately launched an ambitious program to be rebuild the administration, the economy and to strengthen the still fragile unity. During the years of fighting the Sangha had become shamefully corrupt. One group of monks however had kept the faith through all the hardships and had kept the flame of the Dhamma alive, the monks of Dimbuagala. As a part of his program to rebuild his country and strengthen its still fragile unity Parakramabahu decided to first purify and then to unite the Sangha. Prakramabahu had a lot of experience in diplomacy and warfare but none at all in religion and so he was not sure how he should set about this task. It was only natural therefore that he should turn to the most respected monk in the country, the austere and sagacious Maha Kassapa, abbot of Dimbuagala,. This monk and his disciples had looked on in impotent despair as Buddhism declined but now their chance had come. Maha Kassapa was called before the king and asked to advise him what had to be done to Kassapa knew that his time had come. A great convocation was held and after being carefully examined thousands of monks were defrocked, some were returned to being novices while others were warned to mend their ways. After this purification, many new monks were ordained and a new course of study for monasteries was drawn up. Maha Kassapa also drew up a code of conduct (kathikavata) for monks to supplement the traditional Vinaya and then this code was then carved in stone at the Gal Vihara at Polonnaruva for all to see. This code shows that Kassapa demanded high standards from his monks and that solitude, simplicity and asceticism were to be the ideals.

Dimbuagala from the foot of the mountain

Dimbuagala is a huge rocky ridge rising 1700 f above the surrounding countryside. Its ancient name was Udumbaragiri. The earliest caves date from the early centuries of Buddhism but it was during the time of Prabakramabahu I that the place came into its own. Queen Sundara Mahadevi gives her linage and then says Seeing the hardship of people who, like the old, hand on to chains and tread the path between the Great Moon and the Great Sun Caves where 500 of the Great Community of monks reside, and where the relics of the Buddha are enshrined, caused the rock to be cut and the paths improved. . She had statues and stupas and Bodhi trees established and given to the Kalinga cave. And on Poson of the twenty seventh year of the reign of Jayabahu she caused to be constructed sacred vessels fro the purpose of offering gruel and boiled rice gave them to the monastery.’ The first cave with its plaster walls and when bell came here at the end of the 19th century the faded outlines of paintings were still visible. One then passes a rock pool with remarkably clear water in it and then a very narrow ledge that leads to the second cave then passing through two natural tunnels one comes to a third cave. A fine view from this cave. The remains of walls can be seen. In a raised rectangular panel on the roof of this cave is an inscription dated the 27 year of Vijayabahu I 1065-1120.the Mahavamsa says; ‘when the king heard that the people of the island were suffering because of a drought with his heart trembling with pity lay down on the ground in the courtyard of the great stupa and resolved thus; unless I be raises up by the water that the gods shall rain down I will not rise from this place even if I die here. As the ruler of the earth lay there the gods poured forth the rain over the whole island of Lanka. And revived the wide earth….thus by his compassion did he avert the fear of famine in the island’. The purification took place in about 1165, in the twelfth year rule.