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Notes on the Geography of Sri Lanka: Lankatilaka

A very few miles but a world away from Kandy, there's a sequence of 14th century temples--Gadaladeniya, Lankatilaka, Dodanwela, and Embekke--dedicated to Vishnu, Natha, and Kataragama, three of the guardian deities associated with Sinhalese Buddhism.  Lankatilaka (or Kandyan Lankatilaka, to distinguish it from a Lankatilaka at Polonnuwara) is often described as among the most remarkable of all Sri Lanka's temples because the building fuses in a single structure both a Buddhist vihara, or shrine, and a Hindu devale, or temple.  The architect was one Sthapatirayara, from South India.

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Sri Lanka: Lankatilaka picture 1

The structure is of brightly whitewashed brick--not stone, like neighboring Gadaladeniya. It was built in 1344, during the Gampola Empire and during the reign of the Gampola king Bhuvanaikababu IV, by a minister named Lankadhikara.  The temple's tower had four stories until Portuguese raiders--or perhaps the passage of time--destroyed the top ones. The second story is no longer functional.


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The building rests on a granite dome locally named Panhalgala.

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View of the steps up.

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A new flight of stairs has been recently added.

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The entrance to the Buddhist temple faces those steps and is trimmed with a makara torana or dragon arch.

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The entrance steps have guardstones and a crude moonstone cut from bedrock.

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Detail of the torana, with the makara up top disgorging life in its profusion.

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Time to peek inside.

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Pairs of bodyguards stand on either side of the anteroom.

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Inside, the Buddha in the dhyana mudra, signifying samadhi, or meditation. 

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Above the arch of the pair of makaras, the gods of the Hindu pantheon are seen adoring the Buddha.  Immediately above the arch, and on either side of it, for example, are Vishnu and Shiva. 

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Ceiling of the shrine.

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We've now come around 180 degrees.  The hall to the left leads to a U-shaped corridor which wraps the vihara on three sides, rather like a tuning fork.

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The west or entrance side.  Note the blue doors and the smaller protruding shrine.

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Vishnu, to whom the entire divale is dedicated, is behind the blue doors.

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That's the first image visitors see.

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The south side of the U-shaped corridor.  The elaborate facing on the inner wall suggested to A. Horcart (writing in the 1926 memoirs of the Archaeological Survey of Ceylon) that the inner wall was originally conceived to be an external one and that the wraparound brick was an afterthought. The open door protects the statue shown in the next picture.

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It's none other than Ribasanna, brother of arch-demon Ravana.

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Just around the corner from him is a friendlier Ganesh.  All the images are said to be original, though freshly and extravagantly painted.

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Also on the east face, doors open to reveal Kataragama, or Skandu, the god of war.

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The north corridor.

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Inside, an image of Sri Sumana, a deity guarding Sri Lanka and Buddhism.

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When we entered we saw Vishnu and this tiny shrine. It may be small, but it's not insignificant. It's the shrine of Kumara Bandara, a dangerous god whom it is fatal to behold. Twice a week, prayers are offered to him; at that time, and only then, a priest opens the curtain and places food and drink before the god.  Even the priest, however, does not dare look at the image.

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On the south side of the temple, a fenced area protects an inscription.

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The inscription lists the 10 villages and 432 acres of paddy lands assigned in 1344 to the temple for its upkeep in perpetuity. Less than half that land is now recognized as temple property.


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Here is some of the property; the temple can be discerned on the hilltop.  The 200 or so tenants pay half of their production to the temple's Viharaadhupatti, a priestly position transmitted by each holder to his first ordained pupil.  The Viharaadhupatti resides at the Malvatta monastery in Kandy.  


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A view over a different deniya, or strip of paddy land: this time, the view is from the temple and looking toward Hantane; Kandy lies on the other side. Paddy tenancies are generally less than half an acre. (See Hans-Dieter Evers, Monks, Priests, and Peasants, 1972, for a close examination of this temple-controlled economy).


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