This ancient rock temple is believed to have been constructed in the 5th century by King Dhutasena of Anuradhapura (he is also known by the name Dasenkeli), who ruled from 455 to 473 A.D.
It is located near the town of Kekirawa in North Central Sri Lanka, which is somewhere between Dambulla and Anuradhapura and close to the ancient Kala Weva man-made rainwater reservoir. It is approximately 180kms from Colombo (or 3.5 hours by car).
Pilgrims and tourists will visit this rock monastery to view the 42ft standing Buddha statue that has been carved out of a large granite rock face that is not been completely separated from the main rock boulder. The actual height of the Buddha statue is around 38 feet, however it is raised on a rock pedestal that is around 4 feet in height.
After entering the ancient rock temple what greets you is a lovely atmosphere of tranquility and greenery. There are ancient stupas of varying sizes tucked away beside rocks and trees, as well as floral bushes lining the pathway leading towards the ancient rock carved statue.
Apparently the various caves around Avukana ancient rock temple have inscriptions dating from the first century BCE, which show the place was a monastery from at least that time.
The first glimpse of the ancient Buddha statue is an exquisite one...
People can view the Buddha statue from the higher vantage point before making their way down to the lower level to make offerings of flowers at the feet of the Buddha, as well as to offer prostrations, and take a closer look at the rock face.
As you gaze down at the people below it feels like you're looking at miniature-sized people when compared to the massive rock carving.
The side vantage point gives you an inkling of the gap between the rock boulder and the carving. You will also note the intricacy of the rock carving, the details of the Buddha's form, pleats in his robe, hair, mudra and so forth.
The Buddha's mudra or symbolic hand gesture is known as the Asisa mudra, a variation of the Abhaya mudra, which is meant to represent a posture of blessing. It shows the Buddha's right hand raised up to the right shoulder, with the palm facing left.
On our visit I watched from above as a traveling foreign monk made his way down to the Buddha statue to offer a lotus flower and then saw him prostrate three times at the feet of the statue with reverence. There was something very respectful and pure about how this foreign monk gently executed his offerings.
I finally made my way down to view the Buddha statue and it was like I hadn't quite fully comprehended the size and scale of the rock carving. And, I was also lucky enough to have loitered at the top for so long that by the time I descended there wasn't anyone else around. I had plenty of time to gaze up and around the statue and make my offerings.
There was a beautiful sense of stillness and peace that seemed to surround me...