Idea #379 – Visiting the monastery of Aluvihara in Sri Lanka
The monastery of Aluvihara sits right next to the main Kandy–Dambulla highway. Despite its modest size, Aluvihara is of great significance in the global history of Buddhism, since it was here that the most important set of Theravada Buddhist scriptures, the Tripitaka, or “Three Baskets”, were first committed to writing. During the first five centuries of the religion’s existence, the vast corpus of the Buddha’s teachings had simply been memorized and passed orally from generation to generation. Around 80 BC, however, fears that the Tripitaka would be lost during the upheaval caused by repeated South Indian invasions prompted the industrious King Vattagamani Abhaya to establish Aluvihara, staffing it with five hundred monks who laboured for years to transcribe the Pali-language Buddhist scriptures onto ola-leaf manuscripts. Tragically, having survived almost two thousand years, this historic library was largely destroyed by British troops when they attacked the temple in 1848 to put down a local uprising.
The heart of the complex consists of a sequence of cave temples, tucked away in a picturesque jumble of huge rock outcrops and linked by flights of steps and narrow paths between the boulders. From the first temple (home to a ten-metre-long sleeping Buddha), steps lead up to the main level, where a second cave temple conceals another large sleeping Buddha and various pictures and sculptures demonstrating the lurid punishments awaiting wrongdoers in the Buddhist hell – a subject which seems to exert a ghoulish fascination on the ostensibly peace-loving Sinhalese. Opposite, another cave houses a similarly gruesome tableau vivant showing bloodthirsty punishments meted out by Sri Wickrama Rajasinha, the last king of Kandy.
This is where?
Temple of Aluvihara, Matale, Sri Lanka