Athugala Temple | The Elephant Rock in Kurunegala

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Kurunegala city which is located 90 kms off Colombo (the capital city) is popular among people mainly due to the existence of the giant rock namely “Athugala” (Elephant rock) at the heart of the city. Kurunegala, commonly known as “Athugalpura” is an entrance to many different places of religious significance. Nevertheless, most of the foreign visitors still do not consider Kurunegala as a tourist city but only an enroute to many other sites. That is mainly because some of the attractions like “Badagamauwa forest reserve, Rambodagalla Buddha statue, Athkanda temple and Padeniya temple” are lesser known to tourists. From among all these hidden resources, let me bring into limelight about one spot which has not drawn enough attention.
Rambodagalla is a small town which is located 30 km north east of kurunegala on Kurunegala-Keppitigala road. Although it is a remote town, it can be considered as an area which has a unique religious importance. The religious significance which spreads across this rural town is mainly due the existence Rambodaglla Samadhi Buddha statue .The statue, being 67.5 feet in height is considered to be the world’s largest granite statue of Samadhi Buddha. Some exceptional characteristics that make the statue standalone from among all other similar monuments can be listed as follows
The gigantic Buddha statue was carved out of a huge rock in the premises itself.
The base of the statue is nicely carved with a series of elephants, swans and flower buds.
The beautiful granite pond surrounding the statue which is 7 feet in depth makes the statue more pleasing to the visitors.
The path leading to the statue is through a small forest patch. Therefore, anybody can hear the twittering and whistling sounds of forest birds.
The environment is calm and greenish. The atmosphere is comfortable.
All these features can be considered as some extraordinary characteristics seen in this creation as well as within the region in which it is located. The construction phase of the statue is more than a decade. There is a wonderful story behind this massive construction. The idea of undertaking such a massive project was first put forward to the chief incumbent of the Rambodagalla temple, venerable Egodamulle Amaramouli by a Dhamma school boy who had narrated the sad story regarding the barbaric destructions of Buddha statues in Afghanistan. Actually, a 12 year old boy’s initial idea was to destroy some of the mosques in the area as a revenge for this destruction. But chief incumbent of Rambodagalla temple peacefully explained him to take reconstructing measures of the statue rather than destroying another monument of religious significance. In March 2001, the Taliban had exploded two massive Buddha statues that were built in the 6th century in central Afghanistan because they viewed these statues as pagan idols. Before being destroyed in 2001, they were the largest examples of standing Buddha carvings in the world and were once a symbol of Afghanistan’s rich historical past. Finally, the carving of the statue in Rambodagalla was undertaken in 2002 by some skilled Indian sculptors in response to the destruction of these ancient Bamiyan Buddha statues with bombs by the Taliban terrorists in Afghanistan. The statue was officially unveiled to the public in 2015 by former president of Srilanka, Maithreepala Sirisena. Anybody who sees the creation realizes that the task of constructing such a huge statue had not been easy. We should appreciate the effort of the artists in coming out with such an alluring landmark.
In addition to that, visitors can access the shrine room and Dhageba within the premises itself because they are just a stone’s throw from the Buddha statue. The shrine room and the Dhageba were built on another large rock facing the Buddha statue. Standing on the rock boulder, anyone can have a better view of the landscape around consisting of a wide range of hills.
It is sad to note that this glamorous Buddha statue that has a unique specialty does not attract international visitors. Only a few locals are seen visiting this spectacular site. Unlike other religious attractions in Srilanka such as “Ruwanweliseya, Vatadage, Gal vihare”, this site is not crowded with foreign travellers. This shows that the site is not yet famous among the foreign tourists. It is a must visit place but unfortunately it is hidden from the view of the people. Also, the relevant authorities have not included the site in tour packages. If Srilanka wants to attract more tourists to the country, they should market the lesser known attractions in the country. They should include such a tourist hotspot in tour itineraries. Otherwise, the beautiful sites will eventually get abandoned and fade away from the eye of the public. Lack of publicity given by the country towards promoting religious and historical attractions which hold Srilankan identity is the main reason for these glamorous landmarks to become deserted with the time being.
As far as I am concerned, Rambodagalla town has a greater potential to attract more visitors, both local and international. This elegant statue of Lord Buddha should be included in everyone’s bucket list.

By D.M Navoda Dissanayake, Srilanka

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