Not far away from Colombo is a little known but priceless
cultural heritage of Undiscovered Sri Lanka. It is found at
a len vihara called Pilikuththuwa Raja Maha Vihara, atop a
mountain frontier. It is off Yakkala on the Colombo-Kandy
road, about 30 miles from Colombo and can be visited as a
stop during your journey from Colombo to Kandy. The len
vihara lies in the upper maluwa (higher terrace), just going
past the two giant Bodhiyas looming over the premises.
In ancient time of royal rule in ancient Ceylon, the rock
cave shelters cloistered in the recess of the forests served
to house the recluse Buddhist monks in performing their
meditation chores and other religious observances. Such cave
hermitages were patronised by the ruling kings of the time.
As the years passed, such cave shelters turned into len
viharas (cave temples) and len avasas (abodes of Buddhist
monks). Such len (cave shelters), were gifted by the kings,
queens, and other nobles of the royalty. Foremost among such
noble chieftains were the paramukas (chieftain of royal rank
holding multiple designations).
On the apex of those rock cave shelters were carved
drip-ledges for preventing rain water from falling into the
interior of the cave abode. Below such drip ledges bore the
etched stone inscriptions mostly of Brahmi scripts. In them
are mentioned the names of the donors with their titles and
the names of kings and queens. The name of paramuka stands
gloriously carved on them, denoting the donors’
designations. The ancient concept of cultural values had
been symbolic of the tank (weva), dagaba and rice field (ketha).
Such features are well portrayed in the innumerable
archaeological relics found in the nooks and corners around
Raja Rata, Maya Rata, Pihitirata, Ruhuna Rata and even
extending to the medieval kingdom of Sitawake.
The Portuguese, during their invasion into this area in the
16th century disfigured some of those mural paintings and on
the entrance doorway to the image house of the len vihara.
They disfigured the paintings on the doorway depicting a
doratupala. This doratupala figure is daubed and replaced by
a Portuguese soldier armed with a sword stands. Some of the
Vessanthara Raja’s mural paintings are also disfigured. The
doratupala is the divine guardian of a doorway.
Another striking but spectacular part of the paintings lie
on the rock cave’s ceiling. Here the paintings are well
portrayed having the signs of the 12 lagnas of the
astrological chart, with their symbols well featured. On the
cave roof ceiling if the image house are paintings of the
lotus flower in full bloom and its tendrils winding around
have been artistically executed.
Inside it (in the upper maluwa—terrace) lies a Buddha statue
in reclining pose, a Sammadhi Buddha statue and another
standing Buddha statue. The temple chronicles have recorded
that the paintings on the mural and rock cave ceilings were
later touched up.
Out of the 99 rock cave hermitages harbouring a top
Pilukuththuwa, 84 of them had been identified by the
Department of Archaeology, in the recent past.
This whole region is encompassed by a sea of forest studded
mountains interlaced with coconut woods, while the lush
valleys and dales below are studded with sprawling rice
fields. Among such prominent hills are Warana, Hewakanda,
Belungala and Maligatenna. The time honoured purana villages
that gave support towards the progress of this Pulukunawa
Raja Maha Viharaya are still existing. Among them are
Kinigama, Buthpitiya, Maligatenna, Malwathuhiripi-tiya,
Waturagama and Radwatta.