Pretty, right? Such was the scenery en route to Buduruwagala. The elephant-shaped rock (below) has seven huge Buddhist figures carved into it. We went with Samantha and the requisite guide. I’m not sure that the following info was explained as the guide was quite hard to understand, the midday heat was, well, hot, and cheeky Samantha was on the lookout for snakes. He eventually found one hanging in a tree.
Guides in Sri Lanka (okay, the planet over) tend to prefer local lore to current historical scholarship (especially the case at Sigiriya in the north). I don’t mind this, as the history can be found in a book, and lore tells at least as much about people and their identity.
Reading about Buduruwagala now, it doesn’t seem to be called a temple, but I’m quite sure that locals referred to it as a rock temple. It was carved in the 10th Century, at the end of the period when Mahayana Buddhism was popular in Sri Lanka, as well as Theravadan Buddhism, which continues to thrive in the present day. These Mahayana carvings feature the Buddha, tall at center; Avalokiteshvara, in white at left; and Aryathara (Tara) and an attendant further to the left.
In the slideshow (part iii), there is a photo (before the incense box) of three more figures. On the right is Vajrapani holding a dorje, a thunderbolt which is a tantric symbol seldom seen in Sri Lanka (but common in Tibetan/Vajrayana Buddhism). Natha, the future Buddha, is in the center, and Vishnu is at the left.
Buduruwagala translates from Sinhala as “stone images of the Buddha.” At 51 feet it is the tallest rock carving of Buddha in Sri Lanka and arguably the world, after the loss of the Bamyan figures to the Taliban.