Aluvihara Rock Cave Temple, Matale, Sri Lanka


Aluvihara Rock Cave Temple, Matale, Sri Lanka

The Aluvihara Rock Temple (also called Matale Alu Viharaya,) is a sacred Buddhist temple located in Aluvihara, on the road from Dambulla to Matale.

Surrounded by hills, the Aluvihara cave temple can be traced back to the 3rd Century B.C., during the reign of King Devanampiya Tissa (from 307 B.C. to 267 B.C.).

It is believed that the King built the Dagoba (Stupa), planted the Bodhi tree sapling, and founded the temple after the introduction of Buddhism to the country during his reign.

Aluvihara Rock Temple was the historic location where the Pali Canon was first written down completely in text, on ola (palm) leaves.

The Pāli Canon, or, as it more widely known, the Tripitaka, is the complete collection of the sutras and scriptures of Buddhism.

The Pali Canon is the earliest known and most complete early Buddhist Tripitaka. It is basically the full Bible of Buddhism.

Before this, the teachings and stories were preserved only orally.
It was committed to writing in Sri Lanka, approximately 454 years after the passing of Gautama Buddha.

In South Korea, Jules and I saw the whole Tripitaka written on massive, well preserved wood panels, and we also have seen it chiseled into stone, the lifetime work of one man.

The Tripitaka was written by members of the Buddhist Sangha in many of the major Buddhist Asian Countries.
It was written in Pali, Sanskrit, and other Asian languages, but somehow the surviving Sri Lankan version, written on palm leaves, is the most complete.

While we were standing by the old stupa and the Bodhi tree, we saw a few devotees chanting the sutras.
Their faces were full of devotion.

This shift from oral to written transmission of the sutras was carried out due to the fear that the doctrine would be lost during the upheavals caused by repeated South Indian invasions.

It is said that 500 scholarly monks congregated at the remote and hidden Aluvihara Rock temple, to perform the difficult task of first reciting the doctrines and agreeing on an acceptable version, and then transcribing it.

The entire transcription was done on narrow, long books made of palm leaves, gathered and made from the leaves of Talipot palms.

The old library of Aluvihara Rock Temple, which had safely housed the volumes of these transcribed precious manuscripts for so many centuries, was totally destroyed during the Matale Rebellion in 1848.

Many parts of the temple complex were destroyed and it took a long a time to reconstruct it.
It took almost a hundred years to recompile and rewrite some of the manuscripts, as this time there were fewer monks engaged in this elaborate task.

Aluvihara Rock temple has caves with ancient inscriptions spread across the hills.

These caves have some exquisite fresco paintings on the walls and ceilings. There are also impressive statues and images of Lord Buddha.

The main cave has a large reclining statue of the Buddha, and by his side there is a standing Buddha and a seated Buddha.

The cave temple also has some images of the Buddhist interpretation of Hell.

Some people believe that paintings depicting terrifying scenes of the hellish realm on Buddhist temple walls are done to remind devotees of the hell that awaits people who commit sins.

That is not exactly true.
The Buddhists believe that you can be reborn in one of the six realms of existence, based on your behavior, merit, and the quality of mind and heart that you cultivated in your past incarnation.

Thus it is believed that if a child is born blind, deformed, or is born into great poverty, it is “paying off” some bad Karma from past lives.

But this explanation is of course incomplete and simplistic, and mostly held by simple minded village people.

All six realms can be experienced not after rebirth, but in the life you live right NOW.

The hell that is depicted in this temple, in paintings on the walls and in an installation of statues of tortured people in one cave, is some people’s daily reality today.

It includes a human leg being sawn off, brain surgery, heart surgery, and a painful Caesarian childbirth, among other ‘modern day’ tortures.

It also includes terrible afflictions that were imagined in ancient times, but that today you would call “flesh eating bacteria,” and all sort of other terrible afflictions that actually do happen to some humans today.

It is sad, but the only way to move out of the hellish realm in this life is to raise our consciousness and to bring more light and illumination into our lives.

As we stop engaging daily in useless activities like envy, anger, ignorance, gossip, sarcasm, mean irony, self berating, harsh judgments, guilt, hatred, negative thinking and self fulfilling disasters, we are free to see the beauty that is inherent in real life.

As we live a good and loving righteous life, doing good by everyone ALL THE TIME, we raise our vibrations and attract higher and finer experiences into our lives.

As we become more wholesome, less self destructive and more refined, it reflects in our BODY and SOUL.

A refined and light-filled body, in combination with a refined and illuminated mind, is above the lower vibrations of sickness, aging and terrible misfortune.

One of the caves in the temple is dedicated to the revered Indian monk-scholar Buddhagosa.
His sculpture is outside the cave, and he is regarded as one of the greatest proponents and interpreters of the Pali canonical scriptures.

He resided at Anuradhapura during the 4th and 5th centuries, and he spent several years at Aluvihara, engaging in his scholarly work.

Outside the temple, I saw a Buddhist groom with his best man.
They were dressed in the traditional Sinhalese regalia, with a wide-shouldered vest, studded with jewelry and the traditional pants.
In his front chest pocket, he carried a curved knife with an animal head.

I have seem a few Buddhist Sinhalese grooms by now, and they always look fascinating.
Luckily they all oblige my curiosity and allow me to photograph them.

The Buddhist Sinhalese marry on an auspicious day, at an exact auspicious time.
For example, the exact hour and minute, as determined by the oracle, might be 10:10 on the 10th of the month.
Or 12:12, or any other auspicious time.

While in Sri Lanka, whenever we see a wedding procession, I always stop to admire their regalia and jewelry, to look at the ornately dressed dancers and to wish the couple a happy marriage and to congratulate them.
The young couple seem so happy and they blush and thank me in sweet voices.

There is also a famous Kovil Hindu temple in Matale.
It has the tongue twisting name of Arulmihu Sri Muthumariamman Thevasthanam.

Unfortunately for us, it is undergoing a major renovation.
Dozens of artisans were standing on scaffolding, repainting the many statues and paintings inside the temple.
The smell of turpentine was nauseating, and like in all temples, we were required to walk barefoot in the filthy construction mess.
Still, many devotees along with many tourists in cars and buses, stopped to pay an entrance fee to see this Kovil.

The place is indeed in need of a major redo.
These old temples need to be updated periodically, in order to be preserved in good shape and to be safe for the many worshippers who come daily.
Maybe when it will be finished, it will look great again.

“The forest breeze,
Scatters petals of flowers and tree leaves
At the entrance to the cave.

Birds collect twigs for their nests
Bees hum in nearby trees,
The brooks are filled with cool water.

The saffron clad monks do not indulge in idle talk
Nor do they ever gossip
They utter only kind words
Thus devotees wait upon them
And regularly gather at the temple.”

Sri Lankan poetry, author unknown.

Always with blessings of love and light,


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