Potgul Vehera Statue

An imposing 3.5-metre-high statue of a bearded figure, thought to date from the ninth century, which has become one of Polonnaruwa's most iconic images. It's usually claimed that the statue is a likeness of Parakramabahu himself, holding an object which is either - a palm-leaf manuscript, representing the "Book of Law", or a yoke, representing the burden of royalty (the less reverent claim it's a slice of papaya). Another theory holds that the statue represents a sage named Pulasti, a hypothesis lent credence by its position near the monastic library

Background

  • Built : Unknown, but possibly under ruler Parakramabahu I (1153-1186).
  • Location: Northern edge of Potgul Vehera monastery, three kilometers south of the citadel’s walls

Defining Features

The massive bearded figure — 3.3 meters/ ii feet tall — dominates the rock face.

  • The non-idealized features — affording the figure a highly personalized physical presence — signal that the statue represents a historical person rather than a deity or other otherworldly entity. While the identity is unknown for sure (there is no inscription), it is most likely the sage Pulasti (mythological founder of the city) or the esteemed ruler Parakramabahu I.
  • Conical hat. He wears a conical hat, which can in no way be mistaken for a royal crown. While this has led some to favor the sage identification, there are many examples of rulers presenting themselves as pious religious figures.
  • Closed eyes. The eyes appear as if closed, signaling deep concentration.
  • Palm leaf manuscript. While there is also debate over what he holds in his hands, it is likely a palm leaf manuscript, which marks the bearer as a person of wisdom, intelligence and high education.
  • Bare upper body. The figure’s upper body is bare, a symbol of his simplicity and ascetic orientation.
  • Skirt with visible folds. His skirt is tied with a graceful flowing knot. Showcasing natural-laying folds, the skirt is emblematic of the Polonnaruwa style that broke with the earlier no-fold aesthetic of Anuradhapura.
  • Implicit movement. He appears to be moving forward, lifting his right leg, with his heel just beginning to leave the ground. No doubt, he is a man of action, not confined to religious studies.

 

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