Rock Carving - Sri Lanka - Aukana

What may be called one of the wonders of the world is the tall, standing statue of the Buddha at Aukana, another architectural marvel of the ancient Sinhalese. The rock cut statue which stands 39 feet above its decorated lotus plinth and 10 feet across the shoulders, belongs to the period of King Dhatusena (459-477 AD), the builder of the great reservoir Kalawewa. It has been very well preserved over the years and is a joy for anyone to see and appreciate. It is a unique creation by an unknown sculptor. 

The description in ‘The Handbook for the Ceylon Traveller’ gives a vivid picture of the Avukana statue: The best time of the day to view this statue is dawn. The first rays of the morning sun bring out the rich hues of the rock image and makes it seem to come alive against the deep green of the trees beyond. As the sun rises higher it reveals the serenity of the exquisitely carved face: rising higher still, the sunlight picks out the gracefully carved robe, each pleat of which is a triumph of art.

The Aukana Buddha colossus in stone is also easily accessible through the Mahaweli System H, at Galnewa. This Aukana Buddha statue is 46-feet high, resting on a fine lotus stone pedestal. The symbolic gesture carved on the statue, called Mudra is in the form of Ashiva Mudra which signifies giving or blessing.

Aukana Buddha Statue

Not far from Avukana, just seven miles away as the crow flies, is another tall statue at Sasseruva. The two statues are believed to have been the work of a ‘guru - gola’ (master and pupil) team. There is an interesting tale behind the construction of the two statues. The completion of either masterpiece was to be signalled by the ringing of a bell. 

The master and pupil got down to the job of finishing the statues furiously and one fine day the sound of the bell was heard. The master had completed the statue at Avukana. The unfinished Sasseruva statue remains at the site of an ancient cave monastery. Though virtually the same height as the Avukana statue, the other does not have the same finish as Avukana.

Another colossal Buddha statue is the one at Maligavila near Buttala, considered as one of Ruhuna’s most remarkable ruins. Dating back to the 7th century, the statue carved out of a single rock is 34 feet in height and 10 feet across the shoulders. It was found fallen and was raised with great effort only a few years ago. 

The tallest among the rock-cut Buddha statues is the one at Buduruvagala near Wellawaya. It is 51 feet in height and is unique in that it stands in between images of ‘bodhisatvas’, each of which is 40 feet tall and smaller than the Buddha. Renowned archaeologist, Dr S Paranavitana calls it “a remarkable creation of the Mahayanists of Ruhuna” and dates it to the 8th or 9th century.

The ‘bodhisatva’ on the Buddha’s right hand side has been identified as Avalokitesvara, with the goddess Tara on his left, in the ‘tivanka’ (thrice bent) pose. In all, there are seven figures carved on the rock. The other is believed to be either Maitreya, the future Buddha or Vajirapani. The figures look down on the Buduruvagala tank making it a very picturesque setting.