The day before leaving Ella I happened to be standing near a rack of postcards while Anil was adding some more money to our mobile phone, when I spotted a card showing some standing Buddha statues that we had not managed to see while we were touring around Sri Lanka. They looked amazing and I regretted not visiting them. I checked on the back of the card and read the name ‘Buduruwagala’. Later that evening, I looked up the location of the statues and was startled to see that they were very near the small town of Wellawaya, a town that we had passed through both times we had driven to Ella, each time coming from a different direction.
What was clear to me as well was that the next day, we would be passing through Wellawaya a third time and I made up my mind to suggest to Anil that we stop and visit the monuments. I didn’t think he would be too keen but it was worth a try. I should remind you that Wellawaya is the place that I mispronounced to Manjula. I couldn’t really decided if I wanted to push Manjula to tell me what it was that I had said that made him laugh so hard, with a hint of a blush as well.
As we set off the next morning, I mentioned the Buddha statues near Wellawaya and Manjula looked at me with a twinkle in his eye, “Wella….what?”, he said. He knew the place I wanted to go, and surprise, surprise, Anil agreed to make the slight detour. The site is only 5km off the main road and wouldn’t take a lot of time to see, and besides, it was at the beginning of our trip back to the coast and we had plenty of time to get there in the day.
Budu means ‘Buddha, Ruva, means ‘images and Gala means ‘stone’ so it was easy to see that the name of the site was simply descriptive. I wished I had learned more of these simple Sinhala words, because they form part of the syllables of other places we visited and I would have understood their meaning much better. I’m sad to say I haven’t learned even the most rudimentary Sinhala words. I usually make an attempt to learn how greet people in their own language, to say thank you and goodbye, as well as count at least to one hundred, etc. But the fact that so many people speak fairly decent English takes the wind out of my sails.
As we drove to the site where the statues were sculpted out of a rock face, we passed through an area of small lakes. At this time of year, they have flooded one into the other and it was a magical introduction to the ancient carvings. There is an abundance of bird life, with many egrets and herons completely undisturbed by our presence. We arrived at a small museum and an even smaller ticket booth and no, not one, souvenir stand. What a surprise!
The images date to approximately the 10th century and belong to the Mahayana Buddhist school (opposed to the Therevada branch of Buddhism). The central Buddha image is the tallest in Sri Lanka, at 16m and still shows traces of a brightly painted stucco robe. There are two groups of three images each, located to the right and left of the central figure. The white-painted figure is thought to be Avalokitevara (bodhisattva of compassion). The shapely figure to the right of is thought to be Tara, his consort. According to legend, the third figure is Prince Sudhana.
The three figures to the right of the central image seem to be done in a very different style. The central of these three is thought to be Maitreya the future Buddha, with an elaborate crown topping his head. The other two figures are Varajpaini and perhaps Vishnu. The hands held up palm forward; with two fingers bent down indicate a beckoning gesture, as if they are calling you to come closer. I was only too happy to do so.
There were only a few other visitors at the site when we arrived and everyone seemed to be especially moved by the images; no one spoke and people moved around slowly and with great respect. I know I really felt that I was in a very special place, at a very special time. The road to the site is very narrow and it doesn’t appear that the tour buses stop here. That may change, sadly, the sense of peace and serenity at Buduruwagala with the popularity now facing this wonderful island.
Manjula called my attention to a small pond just off to the right of the rock wall. There were lily pads growing in the clear water and I was appreciating its beauty, when he pointed out that it’s the same shape as Sri Lanka. It’s not so obvious in the photo I took, but it is narrow and hooked at the top and teardrop shaped. A tranquil little pool, in a tranquil part of the forest.
As we turned to leave, on of the guards plucked a flower from a shrub and placed it on my shirtsleeve. He called it a ‘gum’ flower, and indeed, the leaves stuck themselves delicately to the fabric. As we drove away, I realized that I had a souvenir from Buduruwagala despite the fact that there was no one selling anything at all.