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Aluvihare Rock Temple

By Devik Balami at
Aluvihare Rock Temple

Aluvihare Rock Temple is also popularly known as Matale Alu Viharaya which is located in Aluvihare, Matale District of Sri Lanka. This sacred Buddhist temple is situated 30 km north of Kandy on the Matale-Dambulla road. The construction of Aluvihare Rock Temple can be traced back to the 3rd Century BC to the reign of King Devanampiyatissa. It is believed that the king established this temple only after the introduction of Buddhism to the country during his reign.

It is not to be forgotten that Aluvihare Rock Temple was the historic location where the Pali Canon was first written down in the text on palm leaves. We can also find frescoes in some cave monasteries near this temple.

Etymology

It has been recorded that the various beliefs are associated with the emergence of the word Aluvihara. Some believe that the Aloka Vihara, the temple of light in English, later became Aluvihara. The Aloka is the Pali word which is also referred to as Alu in ancient Sinhalese language. The vihara is the place for the Buddhist monks to pray the Buddha and to spread the teachings of Buddha. Hence the words combined to make the term Aluvihara.

Others believe that even though the temple is situated in a rock cave with a huge rock in the east, sunlight towards the temple is not disturbed by anything. Therefore, it was known as the Aloka Lena, the cave with light in English.

Historical significance of the Aluvihara Rock Temple

During the reign of King Walagamba in the 1st century BC, Sri Lanka faced a 12 years long famine, popularly known as Baminithiyasaya. Due to famine, Buddhist monks had a troubled time and therefore around 60 Buddhist monks migrated to Malaya Rata, the hilly area of the country. They managed to live on the banks of the Mahaweli river. Other monks set off for India.

At the same time, there was also a South Indian Invasion in the country. The King Walagamba was overthrown by a South Indian during the invasion. With continuous effort, the throne was regained by defeating the invaders only after fourteen years.

After ending the famine and regaining the throne by the King Walagamba, the monks returned. The Buddhist monks realized that the existence of the teachings of Buddha will be a danger if the South Indian continuously invade their country. They also felt that memorizing and repeating the Dhamma would be difficult in that period. Then they decided to transcribe the Tripitaka for the preservation and for the use of future generations. The monks selected Aluvihara Rock Temple as the most suitable and secure place to carry out the transcriptions. It is said that 500 scholarly monks gathered together at Aluvihare Rock temple to perform this task. It was written down in Pali language on the leaves of Palmyra or talipot palm by a metal stylus.

Since this word was done on the premises of the Aluvihara Rock Temple, this temple has the most significance for the Buddhism.

Features of Aluvihare Rock Temple

In the premises of Aluvihare Rock temple, there are many caves with ancient inscriptions. These caves are surrounded by modern wall and ceiling paintings. There are also impressive Buddha statues. The main cave constitutes large reclining statue of Buddha along with Standing and seated Buddha statues. One of the cave has terrifying depictions of the hellish afterlife that awaits people who commit sins.

Among the caves, one cave is dedicated to the Indian monk, Buddhagosa. He is regarded as the greatest exponent and interpreter of the Pali canonical scriptures. He also spent several years at the Aluvihara to engage in his scholarly works.