Lankatilaka Vihara

Lankatilaka consists of a huge headless standing Buddha statue, over 14m high, hemmed in between two narrow walls. Built by Parakramabahu, the shrine emphasizes the change in Buddhist architecture and thought from the abstract symbolic form of the dagoba to a much more personalized and devotional approach, in which attention is focused on the giant figure of the Buddha, which fills up the entire space within the shrine.

Lankatilaka Vihara has its entrance is guarded by statues similar to those in the Vatadage and decorated with yet more guardstones and makara balustrades adorned with lions and dwarfs. More unusual are the intriguing bas reliefs on the exterior walls, showing a series of elaborate multi-storey buildings, probably intended to represent the houses (vimanas) of the gods.

Image houses were Polonnaruwa’s greatest architectural achievements, arguably the equivalent of Anuradhapura’s colossal stupas. And Lankatilanka is the best of the best. The biggest image house in the ancient city maintains more than enough of its original decoration and scale to inspire wonder in all who walk among its ruins.

Background

Built. Under ruler Parakramabahu I (1153-1186).
Location. Just south of Kiri Vehera, at the center of Alahana Parivena monastery. – Toggle Map above

Layout

Largest image house. At 55.2 meters/181 feet in length, Lankatilanka is the largest image house in Polonnaruwa; this compares versus lengths of 38.4 meters/126 feet and 40.5 meters/133 feet at Thuparama and Tivanka, respectively.
Gedige type. It conforms to the gedige type: thick walls, all-brick construction and (possibly) a vaulted roof.
Three connected chambers. Like Tivanka, Lankatilanka has a more developed layout than that of Thuparama. The most important chamber — the square sanctum in which the Buddha image resides — is reached by first passing through an entrance hall on the east end and then a mandapa..
Secondary entrance. A trademark of these structures, a secondary entrance is cut into the
mandapa’s right wall. As we have indicated in profiles of similar structures, this was
likely done to assure that visitors kept the Buddha in the sanctum on their right sides, consistent with the practice of clockwise circumambulation.
Roof gallery. As at Thuparama and Tivanka, a set of stairs on the south side of the mandapa led to a roof gallery that allowed face-to-face veneration of the standing Buddha image in the sanctum.
Incremental internal gallery? The height of the columns in the sanctum (and the wooden beam-sized holes in the walls) indicate that the room might have had an internal mezzanine gallery, for even closer Buddha interaction.
Circumambulation corridor. A narrow corridor (now closed) behind the Buddha allowed for ritual clockwise circumambulation inside the sanctum (yellow highlights in figure above).

Appearance

Lankatilaka Vihara

Colossal Buddha. Although the brick-built Buddha image has lost its head and nearly all of its stucco decoration, it still commands quite a presence at nearly 12 meters/39 feet in height
(red highlights in figure above). Judging by what remains, it appears that his robe had prominent natural-falling folds, consistent with the Polonnaruwa aesthetic. As is typical, he stands on a round platform that originally carried lotus flower decoration.
Elaborate entrance. Dating from slightly later than the structure (late 13th century), the guardstones and railings at the entrance are executed to a very high standard, approaching that of Vatadage. Just beyond, the 16-sided columns still hold some of their original figurative reliefs.
Exceptional wall decoration. As at the other two referenced image houses, the exterior faces of the walls are decorated with miniature multi-domed shrines that hold deity images, consistent with south Indian Hindu temple precedent. However, the scale is simply incredible here: the decoration covers towering stucco-covered brick walls that rise nearly 17 meters/55 feet, broken up by string courses that give the appearance of three internal floors. Further, the decorative program now includes large images of deities that stand in swaying three-bend postures.

 

Decorations on South Wall

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