Buduruwagala in Moneragala District is located in about 5 km distance from the A2 mainroad between Wellawaya and Thanamalwila. It’s only 35 km south of Ella, a popular hillcountry destination. Crossing the Ella Gap to proceed to Yala or the south coast, you will arrive in the lowlands at Wellawaya. 5 km south of Wellawaya main junction, you have to turn right. Another 4 km bumpy road will lead you to Buduruwagala’s small car park, along the shores of a tank, which, by the way, is a paradise for birdwatchers.
The name Buduruwagala means “Buddha-image-rock”. And this is exactly what you are going to see here. Seven statues are carved in this rock. The Buddha statue in the centre measures 16 metres in height, this is the tallest ancient statue in Sri Lanka and even in South Asia at all, though it is not as massive (voluminous) as the Aukana Buddha, since it is more like a relief than a three-dimensional statue. It is depicted in Abhaya Mudra gesture to bless the arriving devotee. This gigantic Buddha statue still bears traces of its original stuccoed robe and orange coloration.
The shape of the entire rock resembles a kneeling elephant, with its head down. There have been no inscriptions found in this area informing about the history or the meaning of these statues. Historians guess, they are from the late Anuradhapura period, not earlier than the 6th century, more probably of the 9th century.
The statues are Mahayana Buddhist and partly even Tantric and may be influenced by the Southindian art of the Pallava period. Mahayana Buddhism played an even more important role in the south of the island than in Anuradhapura and in the Cultural Triangle area, which was the heartland of the ancient Sinhalese civilization.
The centre statue is flanked by two groups of three statues each, they are about 10 to 12 metres in height. Exceptional for Sri Sri Lankan Buddhist art is the depiction of a bare-breasted female statue and of Tantric symbols such as the club or thunderbolt called Vajra, “diamond”. All six figures are carved in a hip-swing position called Thivanka (Tribhanga), which means “three axes”, bent at 2 places. Several of the figures hold up their right hands with two fingers bent down to the palm, which is a beckoning gesture.
The central of the three figures to the Buddha's right is probably the most significant Mahayana Buddhist saviour, namely Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. To the left of this white painted statue is the female figure mentioned above, maybe his consort Tara. The third figure of this group is supposed to be Prince Sudhana, whose journey is the subject of a famous Mahayana Buddhist Sutra.
The crowned figure at the centre of the second group is thought to be Bodhisattva Maitreya, the future Buddha. To his left stands Vajrapani, who holds the Vajra mentioned above. The other figure may be either Lord Vishnu or Sahampath Brahma.
Near the foot of the central statue, which depicts either the historical Buddha or the mythological first Buddha Dipankara, there is a carved hole in the shape of a flame. The inside wall of this hole is always wet of a liquid that is said to smell like mustard oil. There is no explanation of what might be the source of this oil.
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