By Helasingha Bandara –
Twenty kilometres off the Mallawapitiya Junction of Kurunegala, along the Rambadagalla-Ridigama road, Rambadagalla Monaragala temple is situated. On the entrance to the temple it does not feel that such a treasure is hidden a little further back on the rocky climb. After a climb of a few hundred yards, without being aware of what is on offer, the traveller, the pilgrim, the devotee or whoever it may be, is suddenly faced with this magnificent creation of massive white granite statue of the Buddha, a miracle of the modern world, a beauty beyond belief. The awe inspiring sight of the monumental statue hewn out of the rock causes a similar feeling that visitors get when they come to the large main entrance of the Taj Mahal to suddenly wake up from their trances to see the amazingly gigantic white marble beauty in front of them.
The statue is a religious symbol but it is also a work of art, particularly as it is being carved out of the rock face by hand. The artists have been working on the rock to create this magnificent piece of art over ten years since 2002 and it is not finished yet. Its beauty, its fineness and the volume is unparalleled. It is the largest seated (Samadhi) granite Buddha statue in the world, measuring 67.5 feet in height including the pedestal and 67.5 feet wide from knee to knee. It is designed to emerge from a pond to be seated on a lotus, symbolizing the birth of prince Siddhartha who later became Gautama the Buddha and his legendary on-birth walk of seven steps that were received by lotus flowers that sprang out from the dry earth. This master piece of art does not only belong to the Buddhists of the world, but to the entire world and thus should become world heritage. The world should not fail to see this most admirable miracle on the rock face while it is being carved out by hand.
Buddha’s of Bamiyan
Buddha’s of Bamiyan were two 6th century monumental statues of standing Buddha carved into the side of a cliff in the Bamiyan valley in the Hazarajat region of central Afghanistan, 230 km (140 mi) northwest of Kabul, at an altitude of 2,500 meters (8,202 ft). Built in 507 AD (the largest one in 554 AD), the statues represented the classic blended style of Gandhara art.
The two most prominent statues were the giant standing Buddha’s Vairocana and Sakyamuni, identified by the different mudras performed. The Buddha popularly called “Solsol” measures 53 (174 ft) meters tall and “Shahmama” 35 (115 ft) meters – the niches in which the figures stand are 58 (190 ft) and 38 (125 ft) meters from bottom to top.
They were blown up with dynamite and destroyed in March 2001 by the Taliban, on orders from leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, after the Taliban government declared that they were idols. Before being blown up in 2001, they were the largest examples of standing Buddha carvings in the world (the 8th century Leshan Giant Buddha statue is taller, but the statue is sitting). Since then the Spring Temple Buddha has been built in China and at 128m (420 ft) it is the tallest statue in the world. Plans for the construction of the Spring Temple Buddha were announced soon after the blowing up of the Bamiyan Buddha’s and China condemned the systematic destruction of the Buddhist heritage of Afghanistan. International opinion strongly condemned the destruction of the Buddha’s, which was viewed as an example of the intolerance of the Taliban. Japan and Switzerland, among others, have pledged support for the rebuilding of the statues (Wikipedia).
The conception of the idea
The destruction of the Buddha statues in the Bamiyan Valley aroused sadness, anger and other sentiments among the Buddhists all over the world. Sri Lanka was no exception. At the Rambadagalla Monaragala temple, there was a gathering of children in May 2001. The subject was the destruction of Bamiyan Buddha statues. In response to a 12 year old child’s suggestion to destroy a few mosques in revenge, the learned Egodamulle Amarapoli Thera, the incumbent nayaka Thera of the temple has said “true Buddhism does not encourage revenge or for that matter violence. It is a non-violent doctrine. Instead of thinking destructively why don’t we think constructively? The world has lost an invaluable creation of art, a symbol of love and peace. Why don’t we create something to replace the lost treasure?”
In the belief that the Monk meant creating a stone statue, the children had collected 1358 Sri Lanka Rupees equal in value to about 7 UK Pounds (it has so far cost 40 Million Sri Lanka Rupees, equivalent of about 200,000 UK Pounds). The determination of the little ones, their desire and the devotion inspired the Venerable Amarapoli Thero to engage in a quest to create the world’s largest seated Buddha on the face of the rock in the temple premises. The magnificent granite statue that is emerging on the rock face nearing completion is the result of the conception of that idea.
Non Buddhist contribution
The head monk’s search for someone to create the statue became futile as there was no trace of the art of stone carving in Sri Lankan. The skills have long been disappeared from the island. During the past 800 years no statue has been carved on stone in Sri Lanka. However, the Venerable Monk was determined to find a way and finally he learned about the stone statue of Hanuman (the Hindu monkey god) in Ramboda. On a fact finding mission to Ramboda, he accidentally came upon Devanayagam Eassuwaren, the head of the Eassuwaren Group. That meeting was the catalyst of a series of meetings, both in Sri Lanka and in India that ended up with the finding of Muththiah Sthapathy, the main sculptor and his crew from southern India.
The statue was designed and the plans were in place when Nirupama Rao, the then High Commissioner of India in Sri Lanka, heard about it and contributed 2.5 Million Sri Lanka rupees to start the work. The monetary aid from India was supplemented by both monetary and material help from the Sri Lanka Government on a request from the late Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle. The creators and the sponsors were all non Buddhists at least to start with. This is clear enough indication that religious intolerance is not something everyone condones. In fact the decision of the Maha Thera to create this monumental statue, instead of taking revenge upon local Muslims and the contribution made by the non Buddhists, give ample reason for the so called “saviours of Buddhism” not to engage in religious or race hate campaigns.
It is anticipated that another one and a half years of work is needed to complete the statue and the entire surrounding of the statue. Although this enormous task started with only 1358 SR (7 UK pounds), it has so far cost about £40M SR (200,000 UK pounds). The initial estimates of the cost of the project were made more than 10 years ago. Due to the length of the project, the true cost has exceeded these estimates and at the moment, at least another 20M SR (£100,000) is needed to complete the statute together with the surrounding esplanade including Greek Amphitheatre style steps for the viewers to sit and watch this treasured piece of art.
Miracle within a miracle
The constructors had to remove about a 70 feet by 40 feet block of rock to create a cliff for the artists to start carving the statue out. Starting from the face of the statue, the little team of 10 artists has created this colossal statue with chisel and hammer. Once completed it would be another modern wonder, a miracle with unparalleled magnitude, fineness and beauty that the hand of the man has created. The world can visit and please their eyes and minds and concentrate on peace and love.
Sri Lanka boasts about its historic heritage of stone art: “Wishmitha galwaduwaneni oba hata apa naygethi novedo” – Are we not indebted to you, the miraculous stone mason? Those stone masons have miraculously disappeared without a trace from this land. This leaves us with a slight doubt in our minds as to whether the stone carvings of the past were also done by the hired hands from India. However, the past ten years have presented an unprecedented opportunity for Sri Lankans to learn the lost art. Despite the Maha Thera’s efforts, no authority, University or any other institution has encouraged or sponsored any one to learn this finest of fine arts – it is a miracle within a miracle! Sri Lanka seems a miraculously unpredictable place on earth.
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