series by Gaveshaka in association with Studio Times
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
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.
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
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.
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.
‘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