Thanthirimale, 37 km north-east of Anuradhapura, is one of the three sites in Sri Lanka where a colossal reclining Buddha was cut out of the rock. The most famous one, of course, is that at the Gal Vihara in Polonnaruwa. The most unknown rock-cut Buddha statue on the island is in Bakamuna, about 10 km east of Dambulla.
It seems not yet clarified, whether the reclining Buddha in Thanthirimale is from the same Polonnaruwa period or earlier, from the late Anuradhapura period. Locals belief, it remained unfinished due to the invasion of Kalinga Magha which is thought to have disturbed the artist. Indeed, this sculpture is not as elegant as that of Polonnaruwa, particularly the garment is not as elaborate. The dimension is almost the same, about 14 m in length. Like in Polonnaruwa, the statue was once protected by a wooden roof, which disappeared in the course of time, leaving the sculpture unprotected. The reclining Buddha is cut out of the northern slope of the flat granite massive of Tantirmale.
There are more historic attractions in Tantirimale, a sitting Buddha and one of the first Botrees in Sri Lanka still growing on the very top of the hill and library and other remnants of a medieval monastic complex with 12 caves. One (or two) of them located 1 km to the east of the reclining Buddha show even prehistoric rock paintings from Veddah aborigines.
The ruins may be less impressive than at other former forest monasteries. However, the main attraction is the embeddedness in a rather strange barren scenery. The flat dark rock boulder seem to be wind-shaped like sand-dunes. The shallow valleys in between them are filled with ponds full of water lillies. It is a place inviting to meditate here and indeed this is what many Sinhalese Buddhists and some foreigners coming to this remote site intend to do here. Today, Thanthirmale is a monastery again and maybe some reclusive monks have settled here throughout the Buddhist period, this means, 23 centuries, at least periodically.
Thantirmale is also believed to be the hiding place of Saliya and Ashokamala, thus the setting of Sri Lanka”s most famous love story. Saliya, the son of Sri Lanka’s most heroic king, Dutthagamani, fell in love with a low-cast woman and decided to live with her in the wilderness instead of obeying his father.
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