Friday, May 25, 2018

Pilgrimage place in Sri Lanka - Dambulla Cave Temple

Anuradhapura (old bus stand) to Dambulla - Sri Lanka

After browsing enough pilgrimage sites in Anuradhapura (took us 1.5 days to visit 6 places and Mihintale), we continued our journey to two other places - Dambulla and Sigiriya. There was AC van available from Anuradhapura old bus stand to Kandy, but we would drop in Dambulla. It cost LKR 200 per pax but worth taking as the weather was too hot outside and we sure got seat all the way.

The bus left at around 10.30 am and reached Dambulla 1.5 hours later. By the time we reached it was lunch time. We stopped at Ninu Restaurant to have our Sri Lanka food. I had Chicken Kottu (stir fried shredded roti with chicken, egg, chili flakes, and many other sauces) while Sonam ordered a set menu (his favorite veg fried rice with veg, Devil chicken, chili paste, and fried egg on top), and we quenched our thirst with a glass of orange juice each. The weather was really hot there!!!

Dambulla Cave Temple, Sri Lanka

We took tuk tuk to Dambulla Cave Temple from the town. The distance was less than 4 km away and we paid LKR 200. Foreigner had to pay LKR 1,500 per pax (it was expensive as it was the largest and best preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka and also included in the list of World Heritage sites by UNESCO).

Dambulla Cave Temple in Sri Lanka

"The area is thought to be inhabited from as early as the 7th to 3rd century BC. Statues and paintings in these caves date back to the 1st century BC. But the paintings and statues were repaired and repainted in the 11th, 12th, and 18th century AD. The caves in the city provided refuge to King Valagamba (also called Vattagamini Abhaya) in his 14-year-long exile from the Anuradapura kingdom. 

Buddhist monks meditating in the caves of Dambulla at that time provided the exiled king protection from his enemies. When King Valagamba returned to the throne at Anuradapura kingdom in the 1st century BC, he had a magnificent rock temple built in gratitude to the monks in Dambulla

The rock towers 160 m (520 ft) over the surrounding plains.There are more than 80 documented caves in the surrounding. Major attractions are spread over 5 caves, which contain statues and paintings. This paintings and statues are related to Lord Buddha and his life.

There are a total of 153 Buddha statues, 3 statues of Sri Lankan kings and 4 statues of God and Goddess. The latter 4 include two statues of Hindu Gods, Vishnu and Ganesh. The murals cover an area of 2,100 m². Depictions in the walls of the caves include Buddha's temptation by demon Mara and Buddha's first sermon." - Source: wikipedia.org

The first cave - Cave of the Divine King at Dambulla Cave Temple, Sri Lanka

The first cave was called Devaraja lena (lena in Sinhalese meaning cave), or also called "Cave of the Divine King." This cave was dominated by the 14-meter statue of the Buddha. It had been repainted countless times in the course of its history. At his feet was Buddha's favorite pupil, Ananda, while at his head, Vishnu, said to have used his divine powers to create the caves. Source: wikipedia.org

The second and largest cave - Cave of the Great Kings at Dambulla Cave Temple, Sri Lanka

In the second and largest cave, in addition to 16 standing and 40 seated statues of Buddha, were the Gods Saman and Vishnu, which pilgrims often decorated with garlands, and finally statues of King Vattagamani Abhaya, who honored the monastery in the 1st century BC., and King Nissanka Malla, responsible in the 12th century for the gilding of 50 statues, as indicated by a stone inscription near the monastery entrance.

Statues of the King inside the Cave of the Great Kings at Dambulla Cave Temple, Sri Lanka

This cave was accordingly called Maharaja lena, "Cave of the Great Kings." The Buddha statue hewn out of the rock on the left side of the room was escorted by wooden figures of the Bodhisattvas Maitreya and Avalokiteshvara or Natha.

Dagoba or stupa inside the second cave at Dambulla Cave Temple, Sri Lanka

The spring which dripped water from the crack ceiling (inside the cage) - Dambula Cave Temple in Sri Lanka

There was also a dagoba and a spring (inside the cage), which dripped its water, said to have healing powers, out of a crack in the ceiling.

Beautiful tempera paintings above the cave ceiling - Dambulla Cave Temple in Sri Lanka

More ceiling painting inside second cave at Dambulla Cave Temple, Sri Lanka

Distinctive tempera paintings on the cave ceiling dating from the 18th century depicted scenes from Buddha's life, from the dream of Mahamaya to temptation by the demon Mara. Further pictures relate important events from the country's history.

The third cave, the Maha Alut Vihara, the Great New Monastery at Dambulla Cave Temple, Sri Lanka

The third cave, the Maha Alut Vihara, the "Great New Monastery" acquired ceiling and wall paintings in the typical Kandy style during the reign of King Kirti Sri Rajasinha (1747–1782), the famous Buddhist revivalist. In addition to the 50 Buddha statues, there is also a statue of the king.

The fourth cave at Dambulla Cave Temple in Sri Lanka

The fifth cave at Dambulla Cave Temple in Sri Lanka

The above were the fourth and fifth cave.

Dambulla Cave Temple - Sri Lanka

And the above showed you the outer part of the cave, how it looked like. The expensive ticket, climb under hot sun was worth it! :) From there we walked down through the road path that led us to the Golden Buddha Temple. It took us around 10 minutes there.

The Golden Buddha Temple - Dambulla, Sri Lanka

We went up to see the Golden Buddha statue and circumambulated one round. There was small book shop inside the building but most books were in Sinhalese language.

The Golden Buddha Temple - Dambulla, Sri Lanka

People offered the alms to monks statues - Golden Buddha Temple at Dambulla, Sri Lanka

At the front part of the temple, there was a golden stupa. Fyi, the toilet there was charging so expensively!! They charged LKR 100 per pax while usually public toilet charged us LKR 20 ^^"

Sonam and I with the Golden Stupa at Dambulla, Sri Lanka

With the above picture, our visit to the Cave and Golden temples in Dambulla was over. We moved on to another site. Stay tune! :)

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Pilgrimage places to visit in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

Jetavanaramaya Stupa - Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

There were many pilgrimage sites you could visit in Anuradhapura. In this post I would cover places that Sonam and I visited on my 6th day in Sri Lanka, after finished browsing around Mihintale.

1. Jetavanaramaya


Jetavanaramaya Stupa - Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

Jetavanaramaya Stupa in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

Jetavanaramaya Stupa was located in the ruins of Jetavana, in the sacred world heritage city of Anuradhapura. Mahasena of Anuradhapura (273–301) initiated the construction of the stupa while his son - Maghavanna I - completed it. A part of a sash or belt tied by the Buddha is believed to be the relic that is enshrined here. It was one of the tallest structures in ancient world (at height of 122 meter or 400 feet) and it belonged to the Sagalika sect. The compound covered approximately 5.6 hectares and was estimated to have housed 10,000 Buddhist monks. (Source: wikipedia.org)

2. Ruwanwelisaya

Ruwanwelisaya Dagoba at Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

From Jetavanaramaya Stupa, we continued our visit to Ruwanwelisaya on foot, since the location was within the walking distance of approximately less than 10 minutes to reach. We reached there in evening time and many local came wearing white top and bottom going there for praying. Many came with their family members and in a group. This place was amazing and a-must-visit place in Anuradhapura!!! 

Lighted up the butter lamp at Ruwanwelisaya Dagoba in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

Towards the entrance you could purchase butter lamp, incense stick, and Lotus flowers for offering. There was a building for you to light and put the butter lamp, plus to burn and put the incense stick at the place provided (just outside the building).

Ruwanwelisaya Dagoba - Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

Ruwanwelisaya was a sacred Buddhist temple in Sri Lanka, as the stupa contained Buddha's relics. On the outer wall, there were elephant head sculptures. It was one of the oldest stupas in Sri Lanka, built by King Dutugemunu in 140 B.C. with the height of 103 meter or 338 feet. It was renovated in the early 20th century and was finally crown in June 1940. (Source: wikipedia.org)

Ruwanwelisaya Dagoba in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

There were many devotees sitting in a group chanting paritta (prayers in Pali language) with books on their hands, sometimes led by monk with orange robe. It was such a serene place and peaceful, reminded me so much with Bodhgaya. Some paritta recited by them sounded very familiar in my ears. I felt like stopping and joining them in the group :)

I told Sonam I was feeling very happy visiting this place, felt like being home. Seeing many people devoted their time to be there made me envy. I wished there were also pilgrimage site like this near my home, where I could visit on foot, anytime I wanted to. Hehe...  However, it did not stop me to feel very grateful for being there at that moment of time. We circumambulated the big stupa 3 rounds, recited prayers inside my heart and smile was appeared all over my face. Thank you SB for the good karma! Thank you, thank you, and thank you!!! :)

3. Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi
Still barefooted we continued walking towards the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi. Same thing, it was reachable within few minutes from Ruwanwelisaya on foot. Beautiful Lotus flowers were again sold outside the compound area. You could purchase some for the offering to the Buddha statues.

Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi was a sacred fig tree in the Mahamewna Gardens - Anuradhapura. It was said to be the right-wing branch (southern branch) from the historical Sri Maha Bodhi tree at Bodhgaya under which Buddha attained the enlightenment. It was planted in 288 B.C. and was the oldest living human-planted tree in the world with a known planting date. Today it was one of the most sacred relics of the Buddhists in Sri Lanka and respected by Buddhists all over the world. The other fig trees that surround the sacred tree protect it from storms and animals such as monkeys, bats, etc.

In the 3rd century BC, it was brought to Sri Lanka by Sangamitta Theri, the daughter of Emperor Asoka and founder of an order of Buddhist nuns in Sri Lanka. In 288 B.C. it was planted by King Devanampiya Tissa on a high terrace about 6.5 m above the ground in the Mahamevnāwa Park in Anuradhapura and surrounded by railings. (Source: wikipedia.org)

Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

"Buddhists in the Island have had a practice of visiting and paying homage to the most sacred Bodhi tree since time immemorial. It is an annual custom for pilgrims from far-away villages to visit the city of Anuradhapura and to pay homage to the Sri Maha Bodhi. The caretaker of this site provides various offerings on a daily basis since time immemorial. The Buddhists in general have a strong belief that offerings made to the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi have produced significant and positive changes in their life. It has also been customary for many Buddhists to make a special vow before the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi for the safe delivery of their babies without malformations, to cure various ailments and for many other cures. It has also been a long tradition among farmers around Anuradhapura to offer the Sri Maha Bodhi tree the rice prepared from their first paddy harvest. They strongly believe that such offerings lead to a sustained paddy production with the least sufferings from drought, pest attacks including elephant damage." - (Source: wikipedia.org)

Priest gave blessing - white thread as bracelet or necklace at Sri Maha Bodhi in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

Sonam and I went three rounds upon the Bodhi tree, entered the temple for praying, got blessing from the Priest, took the fallen Bodhi leaves as souvenir, and this place reminded me of Bodhgaya once again. Thank you SB for the good karma :)

4. Thuparamaya

Thuparamaya in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

Thuparamaya was an ancient Buddhist temple in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. Located in the sacred area of Mahamewna Park, the Thuparamaya Stupa was one of the earliest Dagoba to be constructed in the island, dating back to the reign of King Devanampiya Tissa (247-207 B.C.).

Mahinda Thera introduced Theravada Buddhism and also Chaitya worship to Sri Lanka. At his request, King Devanampiya Tissa built Thuparamaya in which he enshrined the right collar-bone of the Buddha. Thuparamaya Dagoba was built in the shape of a bell. This dagoba was destroyed from time to time. During the reign of King Agbo II it was completely destroyed and the King restored it. What was seen presently was the construction of the dagoba, done in 1842 AD (Source: wikipedia.org).

5. Isurumuniya Temple

6th century Gupta style Isurumuniya Lovers stone carving - kept inside the museum

The name of Isuru-muniya (Isurumuniya Lovers) - the 6th century Gupta style carving on the stone - was said to represent the King Dutugemunu's son, Saliya, and maiden Asokomala (low caste), for whom he gave up the throne.


Entrance ticket to Isurumuni Raja Maha Viharaya - LKR 200 for foreigner

Isurumuniya temple was built by King Devanampiya Tissa (307 B.C. to 267 B.C.) who was at that time ruling the ancient Sri Lankan capital of Anuradhapura. After 500 children of high-caste were ordained by Maha TheraIsurumuniya was built for them to stay. Entrance ticket was LKR200 for foreigner and free for local resident.

Isurumuniya Temple in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

There was a temple connected to a cave (old shrine room) and above that, there was a cliff. A small white stupa was built on it. It could be seen that the constructional work of this stupa belonged to the present period.

A horse with a man stone carving at Isurumuniya in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

On the rock just next to the old shrine room there was the figure of a horse with a man stone carving. Sonam and I almost missed it and found the place before we left :)

Elephants carving on the rock at Isurumuniya in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

Pond at Isurumuniya in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

Lower down on both sides of a cleft, in a rock that appeared to rise out of a pool, had been carved the figures of elephants.

Royal family carving stone at Isurumuniya in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka (Photo source: Google.com)

The above royal family carving was carved on a granite plate, could be found inside the museum in this place. The middle man in the carving above was King Dutugemunu himself.

Isurumuniya in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

It was quite few areas to browse at. Inside the new shrine room, you could get the blessing from the monk who recited prayers and tied the white thread as bracelet onto your wrist, which was said to give you protection and good luck. Outside the building there was a cave with many bats hanging on top - you could see it from the outside.

6. Mirisawetiya

Mirisawetiya in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

From Isurumuniya we took tuk tuk to Mirisawetiya. The distance was less than 2 km between two places.

Mirisawetiya in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

King Dutugamunu (161 B.C. to 137 B.C.) built the Mirisaveti Stupa after defeating King Elara. After placing the Buddha relics in the sceptre, he had gone to Tissa Wewa for a bath leaving the sceptre. After the bath he returned to the place where the sceptre was placed, and it is said that it could not be moved. The stupa was built in the place where the sceptre stood. It is also said that he remembered that he partook a chilly curry without offering it to the sangha. In order to punish himself he built the Mirisavetiya Dagoba. The extent of this land is about 50 acres (20 ha). Although the king Kasyapa I and Kasyapa V renovated this, from time to time it was dilapidated. (Source: wikipedia.org)

There was another place you could visit there in Anuradhapura called Abhayagiri Dagoba (major monastery site of Mahayana, Theravada and Vajrayana Buddhism), but we did not have so much time as we planned to be in Kurunegala on 13th April to experience Sinhalese New Year at friend's friend's place (but we ended up not going as the Sinhalese New Year were actually falling on 14th April), and we had few more places to go before going back to Ragama. Lucky that many places mentioned above opening until night time so we could visit few of them in one day.

We were lucky too being able to find a very nice place to stay (very very last minute - when we were at Thuparamaya Dagoba (our last place to visit that night) by checking Google map for the location and browsing Agoda for the fare and review. The tuk tuk driver was able to recognize the name of the place too - called Lievi's Tourist Accommodation - lucky us because we both were very hungry and tired, the sky had already been so dark, the small town was very quiet at night and the guest house's location was not so obvious - a bit isolated (not at center area - really not as what I imagined).

Lievi's Tourist Accommodation in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. Highly recommended!!! :)

The room and bathroom was clean and nice (except the pillow was too hard). The ceiling fan was there. The place was quiet and view was beautiful. Most important, the staff was amazing! He was friendly, able to offer us the price as per Agoda's rate (room - with fan and breakfast for two at LKR 3,000 with dinner was charged separately). He arranged our dinner and breakfast perfectly. Food was nice and up to the standard. He lent us mosquito electric repellent and hair dryer upon my request. He was even able to drive us to Isurumuniya the next morning (by tuk tuk). He told me his name but I forgot. Anyway, if you are looking for a place to stay, you can try this one! :)

Overall we had wonderful time visiting all the places mentioned above even though we both were very tired from the long train journey, climbing up staircases, walking down places, stomach hungry from the missing lunch and finally had late dinner at 9.30 pm, with backpack following me throughout the whole journey, and so on.

We also had hard time remembering and spelling the right name of each places we were going to visit (as sometimes we had to take tuk tuk and had to tell the driver the place name) - Anuradhapura or Anudharapura? Jetavanaramaya.. uggghhh.. so long!!! Isiru... I mean Isurumuniya.... (while looking at Google for the right spelling). Lol!  It was all worth it anyway! I loved the places very much and grateful for being able to visit them. Well, let me stop here and stay tune for more posts!!! Hope you enjoyed reading it so far! Cya! :)

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Pilgrimage places in Sri Lanka - Mihintale, Anuradhapura

One of Buddhist pilgrimage sites in Anuradhapura - Mihintale, Sri Lanka

My main motivation to visit Sri Lanka was to visit Buddhist pilgrimage sites. It had just became my interest these past few years to visit Buddhist pilgrimage sites while traveling. I knew and saw many Buddhist followers and monks from Sri Lanka who visited Buddhist pilgrimage sites in India, but did not expect that majority of its population was Buddhist (70% of the country's population was Buddhist - Theravada Buddhism). I never even thought of visiting the country before, until Tashi introduced me to Sonam who was currently studying there.

Planning Sri Lanka's itinerary :D

Sonam told me Anuradhapura was the must visit place if I was interested to visit the pilgrimage sites although he himself had never gone there before. So since it was our first visit, we both relied a lot on Google map while planning which places to go, which one to visit first, how to go there; checked on Google regarding the information of each place; asked local about how far the distance from one place to another, which transport to take, how much roughly it would cost, etc.

Train journey from Ragama to Anuradhapura - 11 April 2018

On my 6th day in Sri Lanka (11th April 2018) after having breakfast, Sonam and I started our journey from Ragama Junction railway station. The train delayed for 20 minutes. It departed only at 9.35 am. It took us 5 hours to reach Anuradhapura and we only managed getting the seat 2 hours after we boarded.

Once reaching Anuradhapura railway station Sonam bargained with the tuk tuk driver asking for local price to reach Mihintale - our first destination. Fyi, the tuk tuk driver there would usually ask much higher fare (up to double fare) for tourists.


Entrance - Mihintale, Sri Lanka

Mihintale was believed by Sri Lankan to be the place where a Buddhist monk - Mahinda (son of Emperor Ashoka of India) - met up with King Devanampiyatissa, which inaugurated the presence of Buddhism (the birth of Buddhism) in Sri Lanka. It was located 13 km east of Anuradhapura. It took about half an hour by tuk tuk to reach from Anuradhapura railway station. The driver dropped us at the entrance and we continued our visit on foot.

The entrance towards Kanthaka Dagoba or Kanthaka Cetiya - Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

Kanthaka Dagoba or Kanthaka Cetiya at Mihintale - Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

First, we visited Kanthaka Dagoba or Kanthaka Cetiya - a circular stupa with four frontispiece decorated with sculptures of dwarfs, animals, human, divine figures and floral motives. Each frontispiece had different animals on top of the square pillars - the elephant on the east, the lion on the north, the horse on the west, and the bull on the south (Source: wikipedia.org). It was located on the right side from the main entrance. We had to go up through staircases to reach the place.



From there we moved on to Ataseta Cave - the cave of Vasali - by passing through big rocks. You could sit on the rock there to get some fresh air, overlooking the beautiful view of Maha Stupa.

Singha Pokuna or Lion's Pond at Mihintale, Sri Lanka

Next, after passing by the car park, on your right you could have a look at the Singha Pokuna - lion standing with two legs' pond. It was the place to collect water supplied from Naga Pokuna through the tunnel for the use of bhikkhus (monks) - which could also be found on the way up towards the Alms Hall - figures of snakes with the hoods spread out in the background.

The Alms Hall or Refectory in Mihintale, Sri Lanka

The above picture was the Alms Hall or refectory - the place where daily alms were provided for bhikkhus who resided in the Chetiya Pabbata Vihara.

Mihintale stone inscriptions - two large slabs of granite

Next to it you could find the Mihintale stone inscriptions - two large slabs of granite contained rules and regulations related to administrative purposes of the monastery.

Kept walking and you would be directed towards ticket counter. Foreigners had to pay LKR500 while it was free of charge for local resident. After that you would be directed to a place where you could store your shoes safely guarded by a staff. Lucky for us that the weather was not hot (it was rather cooling and dry), or otherwise our barefoot would be so painful stepping on the hot sands, little stones, and big rocks.

Ambasthala Dagaba at Mihintale, Sri Lanka

Ambasthala Dagaba was said to be built by King Makalantissa. The ruins showed that there had been house built encircling the stupa. The Dagaba itself contained the relics of the great Apostle Mahinda. It was in this place where King Devanampiyatissa first met the Arahat Mahinda. (Source: wikipedia.org)

Mihintale Buddha Statue - Sri Lanka

We had to hike to a giant stone to reach the above Buddha statue. As I said previously, we were very lucky that the weather was not hot, because otherwise we were not able to climb through the hot stone.

Captivating view from the Mihintale Buddha statue - The rock and iron hand railings to go up

The view from this place was amazing!!! Worth the hike :) I did not expect that the place could offer such an amazing and peaceful view. Loved it so much!

Aradhana Gala at Mihintale, Sri Lanka

Next was to climb another huge rock to the top of Aradhana Gala. History said that Mahinda came to Sri Lanka by travelling through air and this was the place where he landed. (Source: wikipedia.org) It was windy and it offered another beautiful view up there :)

Maha Stupa at Mihintale, Sri Lanka

And finally to the top where Maha Stupa was located. It was built by King Mahadathika Mahanaga and restored afterwards.

Mihindu Seya Stupa - Mihintale, Sri Lanka

We encircled the stupa one round and halfway found the above - Mihindu Seya Stupa.

View of Anuradhapura from Maha Stupa in Mihintale, Sri Lanka

From there we could see the view of Anuradhapura and the surrounding areas.

Bodhi tree at Mihintale, Sri Lanka

With that we had covered most places in Mihintale. We walked back to where we came from, took tuk tuk and visited more pilgrimage sites in Anuradhapura. Overall, it was a great place to visit and worth visiting. So, stay tune for more upcoming posts!! :)
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