Kala Korner - by Dee Cee

Grandeur of the Raja Maha Viharas
The much-publicised festival of the national arts drew large crowds in spite of the heavy rain we experienced throughout the period. There was a festive mood in and around the Vihara Maha Devi park at the Ananda Coomaraswamy end. The crowds moving towards the Art Gallery prompted me to walk in myself. I was fascinated by what I saw - a collection of superb photographs of 100 Raja Maha Viharas picked from several parts of Sri Lanka.

The exhibition was a joint project by DSI and its advertising agency, Ribbs N&L. Their effort at creating awareness of these symbols of our national heritage should be commended. The photographs by veteran cameraman K. J. Abeyratne captured the grandeur of the temples all of which had received royal patronage during the time of the Sinhalese kings. Each panel had an explanatory note tracing the history, and location. Most of them are rock temples located in beautiful settings.

How many of us living in Colombo are aware of at least 14 Raja Maha Viharas in the Western Province? These are all located on main roads - that's possibly one reason why we don't pay much attention. We like to look for places that are difficult to go to. Some of them have a long history.

Warana at Kalagedihena off Thihariya junction (just 34 km from Colombo), for example, was built by King Devanampiya Tissa in the 3rd Century B.C. So too Sri Shailabimbaramaya off Athurugiriya. Lenavara on the Avissawella road off the Salawa junction belongs to the time of King Valagamba.

Most of the rock temples are in the Southern, Central, North Central and Wayamba (North Western) provinces. Amidst the well-known places are a number of lesser known ones. Most of these have inscriptions, which help to establish the period they were built in. The 'tampita' viharas (those built on wooden beams) have a charm of their own. Quite apart from religious significance, the temples are fine works of art.

A pocket size booklet given at a nominal fee of Rs 20 provided brief sketches of the 100 temples along with a small photograph of each and the way to get there. Incidentally, each full moon Poya day, DSI takes you to a little known temple through a newspaper advertisement.

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