What is a Pilimage?
A Pilimage is a kind of Sinhalese-Buddhist temple very similar to classical Hindu-temples in India.
Pilimage is a Sinhalese word, the english name is “image house” or “statue house”. The Pali name is “Pathimagara”, Pali being the holy language of Theravada Buddhism. The historical chronicles of Sri Lanka are written in Pali, too. “Ge” is an abrreviation of “Gedere”, the Sinhalese word for “house”.
Classical Hindu temples in India have a Shikhara tower covering the main sanctuary, where a statue or symbol of the god is sheltered. Only priests have access to this sanctum, which is called garbhagriha in Sanskrit. Devotees only enter an antechamber or hall in front of the sanctum, where they present their gifts for the gods to the priests. This hall is called Mandapa. It’s also used by musicians or dancers during celebrations.
Similar to this Indian style of temple, Buddhist Pilimages in Sri Lanka have a shrine in the rear and a separate hall in front of it. A Buddhist statue is placed in the centre of the sanctum.
Pilimages were, of course, developed under Indian influence. Large Pilimages were not known in Sri Lanka before the invasions of the Cholas. Though there are ruins of early Pilimages in Anuradhapura, too, the most impressive Pilimages are those in Polonnaruwa, namely Thuparama near the cirular temple Vatadage, Lankatilaka in the main monastery of Polonnaruwa and Thivanka at the northern end of the archeological park. All of them are in a good condition of preservation, whereas Pilimages in Anuradhapura and at other excavation sites such as Velgam Vehera are in ruins, only foundation walls and door frames can be seen there.
Some details of the decoration are similar to Hindu temples, too. For example, there are carvings at the outer walls depicting buildings en miniature, pictures of temples at the temple building. That’s typical for the Southindian (Dravidian or Tamil) style of temple architecture, too.
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