An Ancient Network of Cave Temples

Cave paintings at the Pilikuttuwa temple Sri Lanka

‘When her days got boring, she would set about the world exploring’ is a quote by Dallas Clayton that I stumbled upon recently. It’s something I relate to. If I don’t travel at least once a month, I get restless and start dreaming about the next time I will be off exploring.

My last adventure wasn’t too far from home. It was a hike to two cave temples in Gampaha, a city just one and a half hours from Colombo. The name ‘Gampaha’ which translates to ‘five towns’ is as the name suggests, made up of five towns. It has a rich history that is seldom known by its residents and others who often consider it just a city that you pass on the way to Kandy. You don’t need to go all the way to Kandy or Dambulla to see beautiful temples and ancient cave paintings. Gampaha is home to a network of fascinating historic cave temples that date back to the Anuradhapura period that include Uruwala, Maligathenna, Warana, Miriswatta, Koskandawala and Pilikuttuwa; all of which are in close proximity to each other.

I traveled with a group of my friends, Kala, Shanika, Ayesh and Eroshan. We started at Maligathenna, a charming cave temple with intricate paintings. The main temple is at the foot of the rocky mountain. It has a meditation hall that is actually built in to a cave, and once you enter, the naturally cool air makes the place seem air-conditioned! It’s a serene place perfect for meditation and for listening to the resident Monk preaching the Dharma.

 

The entrance to the Meditation hall cave at the Maligathenne Temple
The entrance to the Meditation hall cave at the Maligathenne Temple
The entrance to the shrine at the Maligathenne Temple
The entrance to the shrine
The dagoba at the Maligathenne Temple
The dagoba at the Maligathenne Temple

We then set off to see the Stupa at the summit along with several other devotees of all ages. The scenic hike through the forest with the fresh air led us to the peak where we witnessed an amazing 360 degree view of the surrounding area; miles of greenery.

 

On the way to the Summit Maligathenna Sri Lanka
On the way to the Summit
Stairway to heaven Maligathenne Sri Lanka
Stairway to heaven
Stone stairs to the stupa Maligathenne Sri Lanka
Stone stairs to the stupa at the summit
The Stupa at the summit Maligathenne Sri Lanka
The Stupa at the summit
The amazing view from the summit Maligathanne Sri Lanka
The amazing view from the top
In awe at the view at Maligathenne Sri Lanka
In awe at the view at Maligathenne Sri Lanka

The next part of our hike was to the Pilikuttuwa cave temple. Like before, the temple was situated at the foot of the hill and there was a place of worship referred to as a ‘Budu Geya’ which was half cave and half building with a flower pattern drawn on the ceiling of the cave.

 

The road sign leading to Pilikuttuwa Temple Sri Lanka
The road sign leading to the Pilikuttuwa Temple
Flowers for sale at the Pilikuttuwa temple Sri Lanka
Flowers for sale
The Pilikuttuwa cave temple Sri Lanka
The Pilikuttuwa cave temple
Paintings inside the shrine at the Pilikuttuwa tempel Sri Lanka
Paintings inside the shrine
Cave paintings at the Pilikuttuwa temple Sri Lanka
Cave paintings at the Pilikuttuwa temple

Once you walk further up the hill, there are several small caves along the way, some with small temples or Hindu Kovils with detailed cave paintings that date back to the 1800’s. Some caves had carefully constructed drip ledges on the edge of the caves to prevent water from dripping in to the cave, some had door frames carved on to the rock and some had ancient inscriptions.

Another small cave shrine at the Pilikuttuwa temple Sri Lanka
Another small cave shrine at the Pilikuttuwa temple
A mural of King Valagamba offering flowers at Pilikuttuwa temple Sri Lanka
A mural of King Valagamba offering flowers
Monkeys watching us as we drink some tea at the half way point at the Pilikuttuwa temple Sri Lanka
Monkeys watching us as we drink some tea at the half way point
ancient cave inscriptions at the Pilikuttuwa Temple Sri Lanka
Ancient cave inscriptions at the Pilikuttuwa Temple
ancient cave inscriptions at the Pilikuttuwa Temple Sri Lanka a
A drip ledge and ancient cave inscriptions

The view from the top was incredible from here as well. We could even see the Stupa that was located at the Maligathenna summit as well as the buildings in the city of Colombo in the distance and the fog that surrounded it!

The Maligathenne Dagoba from the Pilikuttuwa temple summit
The Maligathenne Dagoba from the Pilikuttuwa temple summit

This network of cave temples, a space where Arhats and meditational monks resided, seems like an ideal place for a challenging game of hide and seek! In fact, legend has it that these cave temples were a refuge for King Valagamba when the Anuradhapura Kingdom was invaded. One of the cave paintings had a mural of King Valagamba offering flowers to the temple.

It is also stated that Hiripitiye Rala, the Diyawadana Nilame [Lay custodian] of Dalada Maligawa [the Temple of the Tooth Relic] hid the Tooth Relic here when riots broke out during the Portugese period after Don Juan Dharmapala of the Kotte Kingdom converted to Christianity.

After the Pilikittuwa hike, we had a hearty lunch and then found a small stream with cool fresh water to bathe in…! It was the perfect end to a perfect day full of history, scenery and nature!

A stream in Gampaha Sri Lanka
A cool stream for a quick dip!

 

 

 

 

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