The Mysterious Edifice – Nalanda Gedige

The Mysterious Edifice – Nalanda Gedige

When you study the ancient history of Sri Lanka, the ancient history of Sri Lanka goes back to 6th Century BC with the arrival of North Indian Aryan prince “Wijaya” & his 700 followers. But according to the archeologists & their excavations, Sri Lanka was blessed by kind of an advance civilization by the time princess Wijaya’s arrival. Archeologists have found remnants of human settlements that bring us to 9th Century BC. That means over 3000 years Old history. The Kingship emerged in the country with King Pandukabhaya who became as the first true Sinhalese King during the period of 437 BC to 367 BC (5th Century BC). The real coronation system of the ancient Kings was introduced to Sri Lanka at the time of the great King, King Devanampiyatissa in 3rd Century BC (240 BC to 210 BC) by the great emperor of India at that time, Emperor Ashoka. That was the turning point of the cultural changes ever happened in Sri Lanka. The most important incident was introducing Buddhism to Sri Lanka in 243 BC by the Arahat Mahina Thera during the reign of King Devanampiyatissa. Since then Buddhism was vastly spread all over the country along with the Buddhist tradition, its customs and Buddhist arts. Now when you are traveling around the country, you will be lucky to visit & witness the magnificent ancient heritages in Sri Lanka. Anurdhapura, Polonnaruwa, Dambadeniya, Yapahuwa & Kandy Kingdoms still hold these fascinating ancient creations that you can understand the existence of an advance ancient civilization.

History of Nalanda Gedige

When you are traveling from historical town, Dambulla to the last ancient kingdom of Sri Lanka- Kandy, there is a very special ancient monument that should not be missed. This beautiful unique style structure is called “Nalanda Gedige” & located in Matale District.  Nalanda Gedige is an ancient complete stone temple & its original location is considered as the Sri Lanka’s geographical center. The Word “Gedige” defines that the entire structure is made out of stones or granite even the roof. So this is one of perfect example of Gedige styled (Vaulted roof) structures in Sri Lanka. According to the archeologists, this building was built between 08th Century to 10th Century AD (One thousand years old). Further, the archeologists believes that this mystical edifice has a mix of Hindu & Buddhist architecture. The structure was rediscovered in 1893 by the British Archeological commissioner of Sri Lanka at that time, H.C.P Bell. As Nalanda Gedige was built between 8th & 10th Centuries, this was a time of great turmoil on the island with the South Indian Kings establishing themselves in the aftermath of Sinhalese monarchy’s demise. Specially the during the period of powerful South Indian ruler, Emperor Raja Raja & his son Rajendra in 10th Century AD. Some historians & scholars believes that Nalanda Gedige was a bold attempt at a fusion of Sinhalese & Tamil cultures.  Some says the structure was constructed completely as a Hindu Temple in “Pallawa Style” and later used by Buddhists. Anyway the mystery is unsolved. When it was found, it was covered by a thick jungle, swallowing the sanctum into its deep, dark embrace. This solitary granite structure was set on an elevated ground in paddy fields, surrounded by low hills and wooded hamlets.

British Archeological commissioner, H.C.P Bell had a plan to dismantle and relocate the entire structure to a more visible location. He felt that the building was located in an insecure location, an elevated location that could collapsed at any time and could cause massive damage to Nalanda Gedige. But he could not fulfil his plan until many years later as he had to leave his position as the Archeological commissioner. In 1980s, the waters of the newly built Bowatenne Tank threatened to flood the shrine. As a result, researchers took advantage of the opportunity to dismantle the ruin and reconstructed the structure on the tank’s retaining wall where high above the waters.

The Architecture of Nalanda Gedige

The structure is called “Gedige Style” means the entire structure was built in stones, even the roof of the building. It is completely sealed off. Nalanda Gedige is an odd mix of Buddhist and Hindu architectural styles. Structures such as the “Mandapam” or the waiting hall are distinctly Hindu. There are some Tantric Buddhist carvings can be seen and some are erotic but eroded that similar to the famous ones at Khajuraho in India. The richly decorated façade sections are in the style that flourished in Madras in South India in 7th Century AD. The entrance passage was originally roofed, a main central shrine and an ambulatory round this holy center. The southern Section, on the other hand has a semi circular niche with a high relief squat figure of “Kuvera”- The god of wealth seated on a lotus plinth an image only found in Sri Lanka.

An esteem researcher, Sir Roland  Raven Hart describes this hybridization while writing in Ceylon: “History in Stone (1964)” as follows;

“Elsewhere there are plenty of Hindu buildings, and plenty of Buddhist ones, and some muddled mongrels; but here the styles are interwoven. The ground-plan is Buddhist, the vestibule pure Hindu and so is the little windowless shrine: the plain moonstone and crocodile balustrade and rivers of dwarfs and architrave of the doorway are Sinhalese, and jambs Tamilian; even the sculptures are fairly shared. The whole effect is charming and for me unexpectedly classical, nor did I find the exterior “over-richly decorated” as did Bell, though it is crowded with pilasters and horseshoe false windows and more jolly dwarfs. And the dome must have been a worthy climax when all its four faces were present, each with horseshoe niche and statue, instead of the one only which was found.”

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