On the weekends it can be really fun to take in some sights while catching up with friends, and this little circuit was a lovely way to spend the time. Apart from touring the trio of temples it was also interesting to see and explore the metal craft and wood carving common to these villages.
Although it was wet and gloomy, it did add an extra dimension to the experience - umbrellas, wet feet, foggy camera lenses, dodging rain drops, slipping on rocks, spending far more time gazing at murals rather than being tossed about in the rain, cooler weather etc... On the downside, none of my photos had any blue skies nor expressive cloud formations
If the weather was better, it's apparently quite nice to start at either Embekke Devale or Gadaladeniya (ending at the other) and complete the loop by a combination of vehicle and walking. Given it was wet on the day we visited, we drove from one temple to the next, starting at Gadaladeniya and finishing at Embekke Devale. Please note, there are nominal ticket charges for foreign tourists at each of the temples (Rs.200-300).
It feels like you've descended into one of the metal craft epicenters (primarily handmade brass) of Sri Lanka as you head through Gadaladeniya village towards the temple. The village is predominantly filled with shops selling all kinds of brassware ranging from traditional symbols, religious items and more. So, if you're looking for a handmade brass sword or traditional oil lamp or maybe something like a tray or bowl, then this is the place to visit!
Upon reaching Gadaladeniya temple, you enter the main gates and up the hill towards the rocktop and the main attraction is to your left. The first structure you come to is oddly shaped with four doorways, each housing a shrine for Buddha, each topped by a small dagoba with a larger dagoba above the whole structure.
I read somewhere that it is said to be a local interpretation of the traditional Indian-style sikhara or vimana dome.
On a wet day with water leaks apparent, you could see evidence of the natural decay of the four Buddha shrine rooms. Three had quite significant murals on the walls and intricate Buddha statues.
Behind this structure is the building that houses the principal shrine. It was apparently designed by an Indian architect with a strong South Indian appearance, reminiscent of temples at the entrance to Vijayanagar in Karnataka. When we visited, a temporary roof had been erected to protect the structure from further water damage. To its right is a smaller Vishnu shrine.
We ventured inside to check you the massive gold Buddha in dhyana mudra signifying concentration. Above the Buddha rupa is a makara torana depicting the Hindu Gods adoring the Buddha.
Due to the poor weather we weren't able to inspect the intricate architecture. I may visit again to check out in more detail the rear of the building and various sculpture details on the building's columns, steps, monoliths etc.
We then moved on to Lankathtilake which rests above a massive rock outcrop. the setting is quite impressive and if you walk you can ascend via a number of rock-cut steps arriving to the rear of the temple, or if you drive, then you drive as close as possible then walk up to the main entrance.
The unusual thing about Lankathilake is that this one structure houses both the Buddhist shrine AND the hindu devale.
The front has the entrance to the Hindu devale which contains shrines for Saman, Kataragama, Vishnu (main shrine) and Vibhishana. The devale is open on Wednesdays and Saturdays for pujas and to view the interior We were not fortunate to visit on one of those days, so we didn't get to view inside.
The entrance to the Buddhist shrine is to the rear of the building, past the dagoba. If you carefully look above the exterior rear entrance you'll see the torana sculpture with makara above. At ground level as you enter the Shrine you pass sculptures on each side (believed to be guards) and an elaborately decorated arched door.
From the small doorway you get a glimpse of the golden Buddha sitting in samadhi posture or dhyana mudra.
Above the Buddha rupa is an arch with a pair of makaras and above that the Hindu gods are seen to be venerating the Buddha. It's much more elaborate and better preserved than the one at Gadaladeniya.
On each wall are some well preserved murals depicting the receipt of niyata-vivarana or declaration by an earlier Buddha for Buddhahood in the future.
As you travel to the final temple look out for the wood carvers and their carving huts. We passed one wood carver who was getting busy with a thick tree stump that he was carving into a wooden Buddha rupa. And he was really going at it - a real sight to see . After passing the wood carvers you navigate up a tiny road that goes high up a steep hilltop. The final temple on the Three-Temples Loop is this rustic little wooden temple dedicated to Kataragama.
I was told Embekke's main pavilion or ritual hall, with it's wooden columns and beams, was previously the main wedding ceremonial pavilion for Kandyan royalty. If you've visited Sri Dalada Maligawa aka The Temple of the Tooth, then you'll recognize a similar pavilion to the left of the main structure that houses the Buddha's Tooth within the boundary walls and overlooking the area for lighting oil lamp offerings.
The wood is from the Na tree (national tree of Sri Lanka) or ironwood. This particular tree has the most amazingly fragrant flowers known as namal. Intricate carvings can be seen on all the columns and beams and it is said there are over 500 different carvings.
And, don't miss the front roof beam detail made to look similar to the peacock, which is apparently Kataragama's chosen vehicle. The devale's caretaker explained that the 26 beams were carefully constructed so only one wooden nail or madol kurupuwa would hold them all in place.