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A guru-gola battle for supremacy
Among the routes to the sacred city of Anuradhapura is one through Galgamuwa. Turn right from Galgamuwa and go around eight miles till you reach Nikawewa. North-east of Nikawewa a further eight miles, is the ancient cave sight of Sasseruwa, also known as Res Vehera. A standing Buddha image similar to Avukana has made this a famous place of worship. Like Avukana, it is also situated quite close to Kalawewa.

The similarities between the two statues have made historians believe that it is the work of the guru (master) and the golaya (pupil). As the Handbook for the Ceylon Traveller states, legend speaks of a gigantic competition in the creation of the near-twin colossi of Avukana and Sasseruwa between the two sculptors.

The accomplishment of either masterpiece was to be signalled by the ringing of a bell. Master and pupil worked furiously and years later a bell clanged decisively. Today, the Avukana colossus of the guru stands completed and is the finer of the two. The unfinished Sasseruwa image broods over a lonely hermitage in the fastness of the vanni jungle.

Though impressive, the Sasseruwa image is considered inferior in workmanship when compared with Avukana. Its height is 39 feet 3 inches (Avukana is 46 ft 4 ins with the pedestal and the nimbus) and is set in a vast curtain of dark rock which towers above it for hundreds of feet. Thus on its own it’s about five inches taller than Avukana. Though carved out of rock as the Avukana statue, the difference is that the rock had been pierced and space created before the statue is cast. There is no pedestal. The face (as the picture shows) is different to other statues. The Buddha is posed in the act of blessing with the right hand raised with open palm and the left bent and clutching the robe.

There is evidence to assume that Sasseruwa belongs to the 3rd century before Christ (B.C). The Brahmi script seen in inscriptions belonging to that era bears testimony to this. It is also mentioned that one of the 32 original saplings from the Sri Maha Bodhi has been planted here. Thus it is possible that it had been in existence during the time of King Devanampiyatissa (250-210 B.C). There is evidence that Sasseruwa was an extensive monastery in ancient times. There are many caves around. Pioneer archaeologist H. C. P. Bell had found over 25 caves in and around Sasserukanda – a long isolated foot hill range.

The ‘bodhigara’ – shrine constructed by enclosing thee bodhi tree is a rare type. In a large cave image house is a reclining Buddha unique for its elaborate lines on the robe done out of cotton wool. Remnants can be seen in the back of the statue. One can walk round the image unlike in most other places. This image house is believed to be of much later origin, possibly the Kandyan period.

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