The village of AUKANA is home to a magnificent 12m-high standing Buddha, one of the defining images of Sri Lankan art and religion. The statue stands close to the vast Kala Wewa tank, created by the unfortunate King Dhatusena in the fifth century, though the Buddha itself is likely to date from some three or four centuries later, contemporaneous with the images at Buduruwagala, Maligawila and Polonnaruwa’s Gal Vihara and Lankatilaka. The brief craze for such monumental devotional statues may have been the result of Indian Mahayana influence, with its emphasis on the Buddha’s superhuman, transcendental powers.

Aukana means “sun-eating”, and dawn, when the low light brings out the fine detail of the east-facing statue, is the best time to visit (if you can organize a car and driver for such an early hour). The statue is in the unusual (for Sri Lanka) asisa mudra, the blessing position, with the right hand turned sideways to the viewer, as though on the point of delivering a swift karate chop. The figure is carved in the round, just connected at the back to the rock from which it’s cut, though the lotus plinth it stands on is made from a separate piece of rock. The walls at the foot of the statue would originally have enclosed a vaulted image chamber.

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