The Sunday Leader

The Stony Temples Ridi Vihara And Aluvihara

By Mike Powell – (

Wooden sticks placed by the pilgrims under a over-hanging rock to remember the journey. This is a rural tradition practiced from ages in the villages of Sri Lanka, Stone Incense altar with figures of Naga-Kanya (serpent ladies) , The best preserved ivory carving in the whole of southeast Asia depicting Niri-latha-gete (Knot of the three amaidens) - Picture Courtesy: and The arched entrance to the legendary Ridhi-Vihara

Because of shoddy roads and slow buses, distances in Sri Lanka can be deceiving. When we looked at the map and saw that Matale was just twelve miles north of Kandy, and Ridigama another eleven miles from there, we thought: easy day trip. We’d probably be back home in time for lunch. Oh, poor fools! Poor, optimistic fools!
We left Kandy on the 7:20 train and barely made it back home in time for dinner. Almost the whole day was spent on the road, packed into stinking buses and trains packed full of sweaty human flesh, rumbling along at an agonising pace through the hilly countryside. At least the drives were scenic, and the temples we got to visit were spectacular.
Ridi Vihara or the “Silver Temple” was originally built in the 2nd century BC by the great Lankan King Dutugamunu, who was enriched by a vein of silver found here. We reached the gates after a grueling 15-minute hike uphill from Ridigama, and discovered a sprawling temple complex filled with shrines, lookout points and temples. Ridi Vihara is far off the beaten track, hidden among rocky hills and palm tree forests, and the views from atop the temple’s hill are unbelievable.
We spent an hour exploring the temple’s various buildings. The small “Jackfruit Temple”, closest the entrance, was named for the fruit which a traveler shared with a local monk, before discovering the mountain’s silver deposit. Further on is the main cave temple, in which we found a massive resting Buddha, at least nine meters in length, and wall paintings over 2300 years old. Very atmospheric, especially in this remote corner of Sri Lanka virtually unseen by tourists.
On our way back into Matale, we got off the bus a couple miles early to visit Aluvihara. This temple is famous around the Buddhist world as the site where scripture was first put down in writing. Before this monumental task, which was completed in the 1st century BC by a force of 500 monks, Buddhist doctrine had been passed down orally.
We didn’t see any plaques or monuments commemorating this important achievement at Aluvihara, but we did see a lot of gore. Within the cave temples were graphic depictions of Buddhist Hell — it was the first time I’ve seen gruesome violence depicted in a Buddhist temple. Just when I thought I’d finally found a religion which celebrates life and embraces non-violence, here comes an image of some poor sinner being disemboweled by demons. Or being eaten by snakes. Or being bent over, and having a demon shove a hot poker up his butt.
The freakshow continued in another cave, which a malicious little man ushered us into. Here the simple drawings of hellacious torture were supplanted by sculptures. I had just been remarking to Juergen that, though the paintings were lovely, what I really needed to see was a full-sized model of a man being torn apart at the groin. And, joy! Here it was!
Unless you have private transport, it’s hard to recommend Ridi Vihara and Aluvihara as a single day trip from Kandy — it was a very long journey, and we were exhausted by the time we got back home. But if you find yourself near either spot, both temples are definitely worth a detour.

Ridhi Vihara

The cave in which Arahath Indragupta dwelled, Later rebuilt in the form of a Gedige (extended stone structure) in Dravidian style. The silver ore discovered here was used to complete Ruwanveli saya by King Dutugemunu

Literally the ‘Silver Temple’, Ridi Vihara is so named because it was here that silver ore was discovered in the 2nd century BC. Although not on the beaten track, it’s well worth a visit to see its wonderful frescoes and the unusual Dutch (Delft) tiles in the main cave.
The main attraction here is the golden statue in the main cave, called the Pahala Vihara (Lower Temple). Also within the Pahala Vihara is a 9m recumbent Buddha that rests on a platform decorated with a series of blue-and-white tiles, which were a gift from the Dutch consul. The tiles depict scenes from the Bible, including Adam and Eve being banished from the Garden of Eden and the transfiguration of Christ. The nearby Uda Vihara (Upper Temple) was built by King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe. The entrance has a Kandyan-period moonstone. It’s interesting to try to pick out some of the clever visual tricks used by the fresco artists; in one case, what appears to be an elephant at a distance reveals itself on closer inspection to be a formation of nine maidens. Hindu deities and images of the Buddha are represented in the caves.
Outside the Ridi Vihara temple complex you can see an abandoned dagoba at the top of a smooth rocky outcrop. On the way up, to your right, is an ancient inscription in the stone, said to have been etched on King Dutugemunu’s behalf. An easy 10-minute walk starts to the right of this abandoned dagoba (as you are walking up to it). Head past a modern pavilion to an abandoned bungalow; nearby, on the top of the cliff, is a slab from which you get the most magnificent views.
Ridi Vihara is situated east of the Kurunegala–Dambulla road. If you are coming by car from Kurunegala, the turn-off to Ridigama village is on your right just past Ibbagamuwa village. The temple is about 2km from Ridigama via Temple Junction. Buses run between Kurunegala and Ridigama village (Rs 28, approximately every 45 minutes). From the village you can take a three-wheeler to the temple (approximately Rs 500 return, including waiting time)
Courtesy: Lonely Planet


The new statue of Lord Buddha built on the upper boulder of the Temple , The Temple complex built in colonial architectural style and Murals belonging to Anuradhapura period depicting scenes from the Buddha Charithaya (The 550 births of Lord Buddha)

The name Aluvihāra has many meanings and legends associated with it. It was originally known as ‘Alu-Lena’ or ‘Āloka-Lena’ (Luminous Cave) based on a legend. During the reign of King Devānampiyatissa (250-210 BC) a monk was working on the commentaries (Aţţha Kathā). On seeing this, the King of Devās, Sakra illuminated the cave to facilitate his work.
The cave temple faced east and it received the morning rays of sunrise. This was the reason the cave was named Āloka-Lena since ancient times.
It cannot be disputed that the writing of the Tipiţaka brought doctrinal illumination to mankind. This brought illumination to the world from ignorance and suffering, thus Alu-Lena would suggest this event. In Pāli it is called Āloka-Vihāra which means Alu (Luminous) and Vihāra (Temple).
Aluvihāra; Luminous Cave Temple is synonymous with the teaching of the Buddha. Aluvihāra rightly assumes its significance in the annals of the history of world Buddhism. It is in this very location that the Tipiţaka was documented on palm-leaves. “Assembled the priests, who here compared their texts, which were then, or soon afterwards, committed to writing, and form the Banapota or Buddhist Bible. This took place about ninety-two years B.C.” “Therefore, to the enlightened Buddhist” says Major Forbes in his work Eleven years in Ceylon written in 1840 “This secluded and comparatively unpretending cavern must be of infinitely greater interest than the Temple of the Tooth or Thupārāma itself.” Aluvihāra also preserved with it a host of rich literature that had woven around the Tipiţaka including commentaries.

Comments are closed

Photo Gallery

Log in | Designed by Gabfire themes