Nestled among the mist encrusted mountains of the Samanala range, a dome of the replica of India’s Bodhgaya comes into view as one gets closer to Kudawa, Ratganga area. When you are right in the centre of this breathtaking site, it instantly dawns on you that its architectural structure has a strong resemblance to Bodhgaya in India.
Adjacent to it, there is a chamber in which the Buddha having a religious discourse with eighty Arahaths portrayed through finely sculpted statues. A Buddhist monk, at the entrance, guides you to the place and gives a vivid description on sculptures about the important events of the Buddhist literature the birth of Siddhartha, Sath-Sathiya etc.
A first time visitor, if not told by someone, can be deceived into believing that he has really visited Dambadiva (A pilgrimage to the places of Buddhist worship in Bihar). Yet, this is Punchi Dambadiva, located 22 kilometres north of the Ratnapura district.
Ven. Chandraloka Thera
Situated among the forest hills, the religious site, created with the permanent models of the places of worship in India, associated with the key events of the Buddha’s life, is thronged by devotees from almost all parts of the country on a daily basis.
The religious site has been developed under a concept by Chief Incumbent Ven. Gilimale Chandraloka Thera for the benefit of Sri Lankan Buddhists who are unable to afford a pilgrimage to India given the high cost involved.
Ven. Chandraloka Thera explained the circumstances that motivated him to develop this sacred site.
“When I was doing my studies at Kande Vihare Pirivena in Aluthgama, I had the chance to go to India on a pilgrimage in 1980. A Sri Lankan monk, resident at Mahabodhi Temple at that time, showed me the place where the Buddha addressed eighty Arahaths in a religious discourse. That image was imprinted on my mind. I thought it was my religious and pious duty to make a permanent portrayal of it through cement and paint structures for veneration of Buddhists. That is how I got my initial idea for this project,” he said.
Later, in 1981, Ven. Chandraloka Thera, after completion of his studies, began to build his temple at the present location.
“My village is two to three kilometres away from this place. I started living at this temple exactly on April 14, 1981, the New Year Day. I lived in a thatched mud hut. I knew people from all over Ratnapura at that time because of my participation in sermons. Therefore, they always offered me alms. I never ran short of food. In the meantime, I thought of implementing the concept developed during the pilgrimage to India,” he said.
As part of his efforts to convert his temple premises of over 20 acres to a sacred site, he undertook the
nstruction of a model of Dam Sabha Mandapa at Jethawanaramaya in India, the place where the Buddha addressed eighty Arahaths as described in Buddhist literature.
The event is portrayed through fine sculptures in breathtaking beauty, arousing proud feelings about Buddhism in the minds of religiously devoted people. On the walls of Dam Sabha Mandapa, there are artistic paintings depicting various events associated with Buddhism and the Buddha’s life. For an artistic mind, there are a lot to see and interpret. This is believed to be the first such model constructed elsewhere in the world.
The replica of Bodhgaya, identical to the one in India in art, architecture and grandeur has been constructed for Buddhists to view and venerate. Twenty Indian engineers, artists and masons were hired to construct this building, and the total cost stood at Rs.130 million. Ven. Chandraloka Thera said funds for the project were given by well-wishers who were keen on having the model of Bodhgaya built at this location.
“After sermons, I asked devotees to make contributions. I sold Aadhara Pathra (a note in exchange for donations). It became a reality finally,” he said.
Next to Dam Saba Mandapa, is the Buddha statue in his posture of Parinibbhana at Kusinara Nuwara. The face of the statue has been sculpted to depict three different expressions when looking at from three different angles. From one angle, the Buddha is seen with a smiling face, a sign describing the fact that he had a back and forth revision of Dhamma before attending Parinibbana. The other expression shows the Buddha’s pain in exhaling the last breath at the death bed. Third expression shows the Buddha lying in death. Resident monks say eyes of some devotees are welled with tears when looking at the statue from this particular angle. It is really an artistic marvel.
Sculpted within premises is the Buddha delivering his first sermon to his five disciples at Isipathanaramaya. Also planned is the construction of a replica of Dammika Seya in India. There, Dammika Seya has been built with the enshrining of sacred relics of five disciples.
Started in 1981 as a thatched mud hut, this temple has been developed during the last 29 years into a leading place of Buddhist worship. Bus loads of people arrive there every day. Facilities are available within the temple premises for accommodation of pilgrims. Some pilgrims stay their overnight, prepare meals and offer them to the resident monks as alms.
The chief incumbent said that all 365 days are booked by groups and individuals for alms givings to the resident monks, and for offerings at religious rituals associated with Buddhism.
Further, Ven. Chandraloka Thera has planned to put up replicas of the birth of the Buddha at Lumbini under a Sal Tree in full bloom, and the event depicting the naming of Siddhartha the Royal Park.
Before the development of this temple as Punchi Dambadiva, the area had been a hilly region covered with forest, at the foot of Samanala range. Life had been arduous for people in villages nestled among these steep mountains. The land where Punchi Dambadiva stands today had been earmarked for forestry several decades ago. In fact, it had even been used to obtain logs for the wood-milling plant of the Plywood Corporation in the latter part of 1960s.
Once trees were felled, the abandoned land had been used as a farm for the cultivation of local potates such as manioc and sweet yams for the consumption of people hit by a severe food shortage in early 1970s. Later, it was handed over to the Plantation Corporation.
During the time it was in the hands of the Plantations Corporation, it was offered to the temple by the then government.
Following the development of the new religious site and with its popularity spread across the country, people’s living standard improved by way of better infrastructure facilities. Electricity was provided to villages in the 1980s. Today at least 20 passenger buses provide mobility for the people living and travelling in the area.
Mist encrusted picturesque mountains, coupled with cold weather, offer a fantastic experience to visitors. They even make it a point to have a bath in Ratganga, a river that gorges out a large splash of water beside the temple from its origin in the Samanala range. According to resident monks, wild animals such as sambur frequent the temple. The religious value and the scenery of the area speak volumes about the potential to develop it as a major tourist destination, giving a boost to the overall economic growth as well.