Monday, August 25, 2014

Travel Monday: The Three-Temples Loop south-west of Kandy

Eva Stone photo, flower offering
On a wet and gloomy day in Kandy, I did one of the Three-Temples Loop as an outing with friends. These temples are some of the legacies of the Kandyan kingdom. There are actually at least two Three-Temples Loops around Kandy, including Embekke Devale-Lankathilake-Gadaladeniya and Gangarama Viharaya-Degaldoruwa-Galmaduwa Gedige. We visited the former trio of temples, which are situated about 12kms south west of Kandy. These were all constructed during the 14th century and have both Buddhist and Hindu influences.

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 lol etc... On the downside, none of my photos had any blue skies nor expressive cloud formations sad

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.

Eva Stone photo, black and white, Gadaladeniya temple, dagoba

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.

Eva Stone photo, Gadaladeniya temple, Buddha statues, shrines, muralsEva Stone photo, Gadaladeniya temple, Buddha statues, shrines, murals
 Eva Stone photo, Gadaladeniya temple, Buddha statues, shrines, frescoes

Eva Stone photo, shrine, Buddhist, Gadaladeniya temple
 Eva Stone photo, shrine, Buddhist, Gadaladeniya temple

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.

Eva Stone photo, shrine, Vishnu, Buddhist, Gadaladeniya temple

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.

Eva Stone photo, golden dagoba relic, carved wood box, Gadaladeniya temple

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.

Eva Stone photo, path, entrance, Lankathilake Temple

The unusual thing about Lankathilake is that this one structure houses both the Buddhist shrine AND the hindu devale.

Eva Stone photo, Buddhist shrine, Hindu devale, Lankathilake Temple

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.

Eva Stone photo, Stupa, Main Temple, Lankathilake Temple

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.

Eva Stone photo, scuptures, main temple, Lankathilake Temple

From the small doorway you get a glimpse of the golden Buddha sitting in samadhi posture or dhyana mudra.

Eva Stone photo, Buddha Statue, carved door, entrance, Lankathilake Temple

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.

Eva Stone photo, Buddhist Shrine, Buddha, makara torana, Lankathilake Temple

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.

Eva Stone photo, Bodhisattva, murals, Lankathilake Temple

Eva Stone photo, Bodhisattva, murals, Lankthilake Temple

Embekke Devale

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 cool. 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.

Eva Stone photo, entrance, Embekke Devale, Three Temples Loop

Eva Stone photo, ancient wood-carved pavilion, Kandyan period, Embekke Devale, Three Temples Loop

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.

Eva Stone photo, ancient, wood carving, Na tree, ironwood, Embekke DevaleEva Stone photo, ancient, wood carving, Na tree, ironwood, Embekke DevaleEva Stone photo, ancient, wood carving, Na tree, ironwood, Embekke Devale

Eva Stone photo, ancient, wood carving, Na tree, ironwood, Embekke DevaleEva Stone photo, ancient, wood carving, Na tree, ironwood, Embekke DevaleEva Stone photo, ancient, wood carving, Na tree, ironwood, Embekke Devale

Eva Stone photo, ancient, wood carving, Na tree, ironwood, Embekke Devale

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.

Eva Stone photo, ancient, wood carving, Na tree, ironwood, peacock design, madol kurupuwa, Embekke Devale

There is also one small Buddha shrine to the side of the pavilion area. It's quite colorful with a variety of murals on the walls.

Eva Stone photo, Buddhist shrine, Embekke Devale

Eva Stone photo, Buddhist, murals, wall paintings, Embekke DevaleEva Stone photo, Buddhist, murals, wall paintings, Embekke Devale


Ishanka dias said...

Hi. I read your blog regularly it provides a great insight to our country that we do not normally see. I too went to see this temple trio and was a bit sad to see the condition of the temples. Especially your photo of Lankathilaka on a rainy day was sad. The water leaks and rain would probably erase the pics in the future. I hope I can do something to preserve them. :)
These temples are important mostly because of its picturs on walls. Art during the Kandyan period was very different from early periods and these are the most important remains of them. The pictures on walls depict how the people at that time used to live and the stuff they wear. So the pics are a good source of infor.

Anyway thanks for your post.

Eva Stone said...

Thanks for the feedback on the blog Ishanka! Yes, I do agree about the sad condition of some of these temples... I was shocked at the water damage to the beautiful mural paintings and to the ancient structures in general. Clearly funding is needed to restore and preserve these ancient beauties, which will take some petitioning. Plus accessing the appropriate specialists to undertake such work. However, raising awareness is also tantamount in these situations.

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