Anyone on a journey to the part known as the deep south of Sri Lanka should take a brief detour to visit the Mulgirigala Rock Temple, just 16 kms inland from the coastal town of Tangalle, and an opportunity that should not be missed. Although linked to pre history, its fame is due to the discovery in 1826 of a set of Pali ola leaf manuscripts that enabled the interpretation of one of Sri Lanka’s ancient chronicles.
Climb a steep path and more than 500 steps to reach the summit of the 210 metre bulbous granite crag that is Mulgirigala Rock and be rewarded by panoramic views of the beautiful green surrounding landscape. The rock is the site of the Mulgirigala Rock Temple where seven ancient viharas and seven statues of the Buddha are found on four terraces. The topmost terrace features a white dagoba while the main temple is on the third and biggest terrace where there is a 15 metre long recumbent Buddha statue and four cave temples with a small rock pool.
The main temple is also a library where the famous ola leaf manuscripts were found. The first terrace comprises of a Bo tree, small dagoba and two cave temples with a 14 metre statue of the dying Buddha surrounded by mourners and images of Hindu deities. The ceilings of the two cave temples feature ancient and repainted murals. The second terrace is the site of the ‘medamaluwa’ temple with a statue of a reclining Buddha flanked by two disciples. Those on their way to the top are sustained by herbal tea, boiled corn and raw mango pickle on the third terrace. The most striking aspect of this temple complex is the paintings denoting various stages of the life of the Buddha, sins committed by people and suitable punishments depicted in ghoulish detail. Traditional vegetable dyes have been used throughout the paintings. Statues of fierce animals and demons stand guard at the entrance to the cave temples to keep out evil.
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