Gal Vihara Complex

Gal Vihara Complex - the pinnacle of rock carving in Sri Lanka

Gal Vihara (“Stone Shrine”), represents the pinnacle of Sri Lankan rock carving. The four Buddha statues here, all carved from the same massive slab of granite, originally formed part of the monastery complex — each statue would originally have been housed in its own enclosure – you still can see the sockets cut into the rock into which wooden beams would have been inserted behind the standing image (sadly, the modern answer to protecting the statues from the elements is a huge and unsightly new metal shelter). Images of Gal Viharaya are the most impressive sculptures found at Polonnaruwa built in 12th century A.D. by King Parakramabahu the 1st.The great Buddha images of different postures are carved in one granite rock.

The first is a samadhi image in meditation posture while the second is inside a cave and the third standing buddha image with crossed arms and the fourth is a recumbent Buddha image depicting the passing away. The third standing Buddha image is highly appreciated as it indicates Buddhas great mercy and sorrows also see the ability of the artist who made the black patch going over the nose and avoided going over the eyes.

The massive reclining Buddha, 14m long, is the most famous of the four statues – indeed one of the most celebrated sights in Sri Lanka – a huge bin supremely graceful figure which manages to combine the serenely transcen­dental with the touchingly human; the face, delicately flecked with traces of natural black sediment, is especially beautiful.

The seven-metre-tall standing Buddha next to it is the most unusual of the set. Its sorrowful expression and the unusual position of its arms led some to consider it an image of Ananda, the Buddha’s disciple, grieving for his departed master, though it’s now thought to represent the Buddha himself. Two splendid seated Buddhas complete the group, though they lack the classic, iconic simplicity of the reclining figure, being posed against backdrops whose elaborate detail is rather unusual by the austere standards of Sri Lankan Buddhist art. The smaller seated Buddha is placed in a slight cave-like recess seated in the dhyani mudra (“meditation posture”) and looking rather Oriental in style; other deities sit in the background, along with a distinctive arch modeled after the one at the great Buddhist shrine at Sanchi in India.

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