Varakha Valandu Vihara
Entering the complex, bear left in front of a cluster of modern monastery buildings and a fine old bo tree to reach the diminutive Varakha Valandu Vihara (“Jackfruit Temple”), a pretty little structure built up against a small rock outcrop. Originally constructed as a Hindu temple, the building was converted into a Buddhist shrine around the eleventh century but still looks decidedly South Indian in style, with heavy rectangular columns overhung by a very solid-looking stone roof.
Beyond the Varakha Valandu Vihara lies the main temple, built beneath a huge rock outcrop said to resemble the shape of a cobra’s hood. The temple is in two parts. The older Pahala Vihara (Lower Temple) is built into a cave beneath the rock. An exquisite ivory carving of five ladies stands next to the entrance door, while inside a series of huge statues pose solemnly in the semi-darkness. A huge sleeping Buddha occupies the left-hand side of the cave, in front of which is a platform inset with blue-and-white Flemish tiles, donated (it’s said) by a Dutch ambassador to the Kandyan court and showing pictures of village life in the Netherlands along with a few biblical scenes – a sneaky bit of Christian proselytizing in this venerable Buddhist shrine. The weatherbeaten statues at the far end of the temple include an eroded image said to be of Dutugemunu himself.
To the right of the Pahala Vihara, steps lead up to the eighteenth-century Upper Temple, or Uda Vihara – the work of Kandyan king Kirti Sri Rajasinha. The main chamber has an impressive seated Buddha set against a densely peopled background (the black figures are Vishnus), while the entrance steps outside boast a fine moonstone flanked by elephant-shaped balustrades. Note, too, the door to the small shrine behind, topped with an unusual painting of nine women arranged in the shape of an elephant. Outside, a dagoba sits almost completely covered under another part of the overhanging rock.
Back at the entrance to the monastery, more than a hundred steps, some cut into bare rock, lead up to a small restored dagoba, from which there are fine views across the surrounding countryside.