Guest Author: Karen Martindale, current NAP student
After several days of cleaning, organizing and preparing for the arrival of the shipping container, we were all ready for a change of scenery. On Sunday, we decided to visit Mulkirigala Raja Maha Viharaya, a rock-cut Buddhist temple complex, which dates to the 3rd century BC.
The temple is made up of a series of large and small terraces with smaller shrines cut into the rock, all painted with gorgeous murals, kept in good condition through restoration and a wax coating. The murals range in subject from good deeds by Buddha to scenes of evil demons and sinners being punished. One of the shrines was obviously influenced by the 18th century Dutch settlers. While the temple complex itself dates to the 3rd century BC, most of the murals seen today date to much later periods.
One thing I thought was rather interesting was that all of the Buddha statues in the shrines were large and reclined. The pose with the Buddha reclining with his head in his hand represents the Buddha as he passed into Nirvana at the age of 80. The size refers to a myth wherein a giant, Asurindarahu, wished to meet the Buddha but refused to bow to him, so the Buddha reclined but was still larger than the giant; he then showed him all of the heavens, humbling the giant.
Once we finished exploring the shrines, we made the final trek up the stairs to the last terrace, where a monk waited in a dagoba to give blessings, and we were able to see some of the area below through the treeline.
This made for a wonderful morning, and the trips up and down the stairs certainly made us work up a sweat—and our appetites! We made our way south to the Mangrove Chalets and Beach Cabanas at Marakolliya Beach to have lunch (and they certainly deserve all the good reviews we read) and relaxed for a little while on the beach. It was very postcard-picturesque: the side of Sri Lanka that tourists see, and not the Sri Lanka we experience daily.
All in all, it was a great way to spend the day and left us refreshed and ready to get back to work on Monday.