There are three kinds of Buddhist worship. Buddhists worship the physical remains of the Buddha. (Sharirika Dhathu in Pali). The second category of Buddhist worship is objects of use and association of the Buddha. We call them Paribhogika wastu in Pali. Thirdly, significant symbols including anionic and iconic depictions of Buddha are worshipped. They are known as Uddesika wastu in Pali.
Essential components in a Buddhist Temple
The above three kinds of Buddhist worship are represented in a Buddhist temple by Chaittya (Pagoda), the Bo tree and the shrine room with the images of the Buddha. These three components are essential for a place of Buddhist worship to be fully fledged sacred place where the devotees can attend to the religious rites. In Sri Lanka there are many places of worship equipped with the above components. In very many sacred places of worship there are other items in the premises. There is the monastery where the priests live to attend to religious rites and to preach Dharma. There is the alms hall where Dana is served to the priests. There is also the Dharma sala where Dharma is preached and there is accommodation for the devotees to sit and listen.
The shrine room, the main section of a Buddhist place of worship
Today, in every Buddhist temple there is a shrine room. The main object of worship in the shrine room is the Buddha statue created in three postures – “Samadhi”, the sedentary meditating position, “Hiti” or standing position, and “Satapena” – sleeping, reposing or reclining position Devotees worship and observes religious rites before this statue. They enjoy the Buddhalambana Preethiya -The pleasure connected with Buddha by meditating on Him. Seated in front of a Buddha statue and looking at it with devotion they meditate on the virtues of the Buddha. Buddha’s virtuous and benevolent qualities are depicted in these statues as evident from those available not only in Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa but also those found in various places in the down South including Tissamaharamaya, Yatala Vehera, Situlpawwa and Veherahena.
Thuparamaya - the earliest known Buddha statue
The earliest literacy reference to the existence of Buddha statues in Sri Lanka is associated with King Devanampiyatissa and is contained in the “Mahawansa” the main Buddhist chronicle. It is said that King Jettatissa 1 had moved the great and beautiful stone image that was placed by King Devanampiyatissa in the “Thuparamaya” to the Pacina Tissa Pabbata Vihara. It should be noted that this image is not mentioned in the verses connected with King Devanampiyatissa. Mahawansa also refers to a golden image of Buddha among the contents of the relic chamber of Maha Thupa- Ruwanweli Seya constructed during the reign of King Dutthagamini. In the midst of the relic chamber the king placed a Bodhi tree. He placed a shinning Buddha image made of jewels –splendid in every way. On the throne, the cost of which was one “Koti“to the East of the Bodhi tree he placed a shining golden Buddha image. The body of this Buddha image was duly made of jewels of different colours, beautifully shinning.
Ivory carvings of Bodhisattva
Chulawansa credits King Jettatissa II with the ivory carvings of a Bodhisattva. The youthful King Jettatissa was experienced in the art of ivory carving. Extraordinarily skilful, he carried out many different works and taught the practice of his art to many people. At the request of his father he made a beautiful, charming figure representing Bodhisattva as beautiful as it had been produced by miraculous power as well as a chair of gold with an umbrella and a mandapaya with jewels. However, the references contained in Mahawansa relating to Buddha images allegedly made during the early Anuradhapura period are uncorroborated by examples. These references may have been a later invention to give some credibility to certain images existing at the time of writing.
The largest Abaddha Buddha statue- Maligawila Buddha statue
The largest Abaddha Buddha statue is the one at Maligawila in Dambagoda sacred area. During the latter part of the nineteenth century this Buddha statue had been bored and destroyed by treasure hunters and had been renovated in 1990 to mark the completion of one hundred years after the establishment of the
Mahailluppallama Buddha statue which has been constructed according to the art of Amarawathie sculpture is regarded as the oldest Buddha statue in Sri Lanka in the standing position. According to Prof. Senarath Paranawithana this is one of those Buddha statues imported from Amarawathie Buddhist centre in Andra Pradesh, South India.
A Buddha statue in the standing position, belonging to the Amarawathie culture is found in the National museum. Statues belonging to this culture were also recovered from Welgam Vihara in Trincomalee, Upulvan Viharaya in Devinuwara, Nalanda Gedige, and Maha Kuchchikudi in Vauniya. A Samadhi Buddha statue belonging to the seventh A.D. which was recovered from Pandarallawa is at Mahapathana archaeological centre in the
A number of such Images are preserved in Anuradhapura. A considerable number of statues constructed according to this sculpture are found in Ruwanweliseya Maluwa and Medirigiriya Watadage. Evidently all these are Anabaddha Buddha statues. The Buddha statue in the “Samadhi”- meditating position at Anuradhapura Mahameuna Uyana is a unique work in the art of modelling. This is also an Anabaddha Buddha statue.
A similar Buddha statue is found at Mahadivulwewa archaeological centre. There are many Samadhi Buddha statues in Anuradhapura Abayagiri Viharamaluwa and
Most of the Samadhi Buddha statues found in Sri Lanka are similar in form to those belonging to Gandhara, Madura and Gupta periods in ancient India. The manner in which the feet are placed is called “Padmasana”- the lotus position. The right foot is placed on the left foot with the soles or under sides of the feet turned upwards. This position is also called Chirasana Mudra.
Foot print of the Enlightened One- Buddha pada or Siri Pathul
The most popular substitute for Buddha image was the imprint of His feet known as Siripathul gal or Buddha pada. Among the various symbols carved in them are Orikusa, Sivasta, Swastika, Trirata, Matsyayugma and Dharmacakra emblems in the centre.
Buddha images worshipped by Hindus
Some discarded stone sculptures include an ancient Sri Pathulgala of the Polonnaruwa period worshipped by Hindus as Shakthi – energy. They are symbols of everlasting collision as well as mutual influence between Buddhism and Hinduism in Sri Lanka.