Awukana Buddha Statue, also famous as Awukana Pilimaya is another incredible stone creation that reveals the extraordinary talents of the ancient Sri Lankan sculptor. It is located in Kekirawa, about 175 km away from Colombo to the Northcentral of Sri Lanka. Thus, a tourist who visits the ancient Kingdom of Polonnaruwa, Anuradhapura or Habarana should not miss seeing this sculpture in the same province. Moreover, Awukana Pilimaya is indeed one of the best marvels from the delightful history of this beautiful island of Sri Lanka. Hence, it is a ‘must not miss’ creation to witness by your naked eye for many reasons. Let us get to know why!
Appearance and the Unique Features of the Statue
Awukana Buddha statue is a 38 feet and 10 inches tall figure of Lord Buddha in the standing posture. Moreover, it is a delicate carving out of a large granite rock face which is 42 feet in height. The image is not a free standing statue as it has a narrow stripe of stone at the back connecting it to the rock, not entirely separate. The ruins of the walls around the sculpture reveal that the statue has been originally in an image house. A gigantic image house which is a creation of stone and brick with 74 x 63 feet in dimensions as ruins can determine.
Here is a detailed description of the features of the Awukana statue, which is truly fascinating to know!
Upon the head of the image, there is a symbol in the shape of a flower bud. It is the ‘Siraspota’. This Siraspota symbolizes the sparkle of the supreme knowledge belonged to Lord Buddha. Also, this symbol is a common feature of the Buddha statues and images during that time.
Face and the Eyes
The face of the statue looks extremely calm and kind. The eyes partially closed. Nevertheless, the statue faces the great reservoir ‘Kala Wewa’ in the proximity of the Awukana Pilimaya, which is also a creation of King Dhatusena in 460 AD. The overall expression of the face gives a feeling of supreme spirituality.
The robe of the Buddha statue appears delicately around the tall body with folds, which is impressive. The folds are in single groves and reveal the incredible creativity of the ancient stone carver. Moreover, the drapery falls over the left shoulder of the statue and covers the body. The tight drapery through which the curves of the body reveal, gives a feel of life to the stone creation. The right shoulder is left uncovered as the monks wear it. In later eras, the poets and the writers have compared this robe’s folds to the waves of Kala Wewa. Thus, no other example is required to depict the perfection of the even folds carved out of such a hard stone.
The way of keeping the hands of a Buddha statue is generally symbolic. Similarly, the right hand of the Awukana Pilimaya also expresses a symbol.
The left-hand holds the robe at the shoulder. The right hand of the figure depicts ‘Abhaya Mudra’. The hand is held upright up to the shoulder level with the open palm facing outward. As per many Indian religions; it is the symbol of fearlessness, protection from evil and peace. Abhaya mudra is a common feature of many Indian sculptures as well. It makes us believe something new. Yes, it signifies that apart from the Anuradhapura school of art, Awukana statue has attributed the characteristics of ‘Amaravati’ and ‘Gandara’ schools of art as well.
The Posture and the Proportion
Meanwhile, it is not only the features, but the posture of the statue is also meaningful. The ancient stone artist had created this great sculpture in accordance to a unique position. The speciality lies in the sculpture’s degree of alignment. The alignment allows a raindrop that has fallen on the nose to glide and fall straight down between the legs. There is a small depression in between the legs of the statue. Many believe that it is created naturally due to the raindrops fallen over the years while some believe it is purposely there to catch the raindrops. We cannot even imagine how well this unknown sculptor has done his maths to maintain such a balance in the creation. Those talents are unbelievable during a period with less developed technology.
The details of the Awukana Buddha statue express that, the proportion of the statue’s body is nine times its face. It again brings the whole structure a well-balanced appearance.
There is a pedestal at the bottom of the statue on which the statue stands. It is also a stonework, a carving of a double petaled lotus. The name of this stone pedestal is ‘padmasana’ or the ‘Lotus seat’. It is said that the ‘Padmasana’ has not been there in the original creation but added in later years.
When and Who Constructed the Awukana Buddha Statue?
There have been several eras of ancient Sri Lanka such as Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Kandyan era, etc. Over the years, the excavation unravels several beautiful creations of ancient Sri Lankan artefacts belonging to each of these periods. Archaeological experts decide or determine the history of those structures based on their features and other external factors. Thus, as per the archaeological experts, the Awukana statue belongs to the Anuradhapura school of art.
There is no proper record to find out exactly when this statue came into existence. A discovery took place in 1952 in the premises. It resulted in finding an inscription on a granite slab on the Northern wall of the structure. Accordingly, the Awukana Buddha statue is a creation in the latter part of the 1st century AD. Meanwhile, there is also a record in the historical record book ‘Culavamsa’. It is about a Buddha image that came up during the reign of King Dhatusena in the 4th-5th century. The details in the chronicle about the said Buddha image matches the Awukana Buddha statue. Thus it is trustworthy too.
The Story Behind the Construction
Moreover, there is an interesting story behind the construction of this statue. It has a connection with another stone carved figure that is in Sasseruwa, around 16kms away from Awukana. It has similar features to the Awukana statue. People believe that those two images are a result of a competition between a teacher and a pupil. According to the sayings, they started work together in two different locations- Awukana and Sasseruwa. The two agreed upon ringing a bell by the one who finishes the work first. Thus, there is a belief that the teacher had finished work early, and Awukana Pilimaya is the result of that. In contrast, the student could not complete the other statue. It is the image of Sasseruwa, which is visibly in an incomplete status even today.
Excavations, Conservation and Current Situation of Awukana Buddha Statue
Based on the value depicted by this immense stone sculpture, Awukana Buddha Statue has been declared as a protected area. That was by the archaeological department in 1941. Later in 1948, the conservation commenced protecting such an incredible creation that portrayed the ancient Lankan’s extraordinary talents.
Besides, some excavation was carried out near the Lotus Pedestal in 1952. The archaeologists could discover five statues buried near the pedestal made of bronze. The statues contained five guardian deity figures, namely Indra, Varuna, Brahma, Kuvera and Yama. The figures were in a stone vessel. The statues must have been buried when inserting the pedestal to the statue as archaeologists believe. However, it also provides the clue that there might have been a monastery on the premises.
Currently, the archaeological department in Sri Lanka and the Civil defense force take care of the site trying their best to improve facilities for the visitors.
Other Buddha statues with Similar Features to Awukana Buddha Statue
There are some other Buddha statues with similar features in some other places of Sri Lanka. It is essential to check on those statues while on the journey of exploring the Awukana statue.
Sasseruwa Buddha Statue in Raswehera
Sasseruwa is around 16kms away from Awukana in the Central Province itself. The name of the temple is Raswehera Rajamaha Wiharaya, a creation of the King Devanampiyatissa (307-267BC). Sasseruwa, orRaswehera is the most famous for the Buddha statues with similar features to the Awukana statue.
It is a standing statue of 39 feet in height. While it has many similar features to the Awukana Pilimaya, the figure at Raswehera has an unfinished touch. Just like the Awukana Buddha statue, this depicts Abhaya Mudra. The drapery is clinging to the body, which is another similar feature. Unlike the Awukana statue, there is no trace of a ‘Siraspata’ on the sculpture’s head, and the pedestal is just a stone slab without any decoration. The ear of the statue is also incomplete. There has been a wooden frame around the figure for protection which is now invisible following Tamil invasions.
There are two stories behind the construction of this statue at Sasserwa. One is the story about the teacher and the pupil which you read earlier in this article. The other is that the Sasseruwa statue was also built by the same sculptor who did the Awukana Pilimaya. That was as a practice trial before making Awukana.
Besides the statue, Sasseruwa is famous for its Bo Tree as it is a branch of the sacred Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi.
Buduruwagala Buddha statue
Buduruwagala, probably a hermitage for monks in the past, is located about 6.4km Southeast of Wellawaya. The meaning of the name Buduruwagala is, “the rock of Buddha images”.
As the name depicts, it is an ancient Buddhist temple belong to the 9th-10th century. There is a vertical stone slab with seven carvings of sculptures in this temple. What is similar to the features of Awukana statue is the sculpture in the middle of the seven statues. The height of this statue is 51 feet, and this is the tallest of the standing Buddha statues in Sri Lanka. Similar to the Awukana statue, Buduruwagala statue also has a “siraspata” upon the head, and the right hand symbolizes the ‘Abhaya Mudra’. The left-hand holds the robe at the shoulder. There is a little orange colour visible on the robe of the statue which drapes around the body. It says that the figure was once having bright orange paint on the surface.
Another speciality at Buduruwagala is the mustard oil lamp. It appears as a carving on the same rock surface in the shape of a flame. This lamp is 3 feet in the width and 4 feet in the height. It is said that the inner wall of this carving is always wet, and the smell of the liquid resembles mustard oil. However, the source from where the mustard oil comes is not yet unravelled.
Maligawila Buddha Statue
Maligawila Buddha statue is another rock sculpture that is similar to the Awukana Buddha statue. It is located in Maligawila in the Monaragala district.
A prince, namely Aggabodhi had instructed to carve this Buddha statue in the 7th century, using limestone. The statue is 37 feet tall, and it is the most towering, free-standing stone figure of Lord Buddha of Sri Lanka.
The historical records say that when discovering it in 1951, the statue was lying in broken pieces. However, later in 1980, the Maligawila statue was reconstructed under president Ranasinghe Premadasa during his period.
Today, this fine Buddha statue in Maligawila stands gracefully and many pilgrims visit it daily.
Among all these stone carvings, Awukana Pilimaya, or the Awukana Buddha statue is well preserved for all the thousands of locals and tourists who visit it daily. The delicate carving of the robe’s pletes and the serenity reflected through the face’s features is worth staring for some time seated at the foot of the lotus pedestal. Thus, for sure, one can picture the sculptor slowly and steadily transforming the hard rock into this soft creation while feeling the breeze that touches through the waters of Kala Wewa reservoir.
Close your eyes, yes, that tingling sound you hear in your mind is nothing, but the iron hitting the rock busy creating something marvelous to stare at by the centuries ahead!