The white stupa of Lankathilaka Buddhist Temple, from the Gampola Kingdom, Sri Lanka’s Surprising Span of Carvings
Lankathilaka Buddhist Temple, from the Gampola Kingdom – Sri Lanka’s Surprising Span of Carvings

As you might already know, the history of Sri Lanka is just amazing to explore! The ancient kingdoms, colonial period, the Sri Lankan independence movement! Of course, all these eras have noteworthy features of their own. And indeed, they are worth getting to know. However, when considering the ancient successive kingdoms in Sri Lanka, the Gampola Kingdom holds a significant place. Its rulers, the invasions that took place, and, why not? It was an era with rich traditional arts and crafts.

To be specific, Gampola Kingdom includes Embekke Devalaya which is famous among Sri Lankans for wood carvings. Similarly, we can consider the Gampola period as one of the best for fine pieces of temple arts and crafts. However, some people refer to this kingdom as the temple city. Thus, its delight can never be missed. Hence, we thought of sharing with you about this wonderful golden era, Sri Lanka’s surprising span of arts, and crafts!

Establishment of the Kingdom of Gampola

In brief, the Kingdom of Gampola was established in the year of 1341 A.C. Kurunegala Kingdom was the preceding kingdom to Gampola. Further, it was King Vijayabahu V who shifted the ruling capital from Kurunegala to Gampola. However, it was King Buwanekabahu IV who developed Gampola as a kingdom. Moreover, Gampola was famous as Raigama as well.

After the death of King Buwanekabahu IV, his brother Prakramabahu V who used to reign from Dedigama became the king and moved to Gampola. He was then dethroned by King Buwanekabahu IV’s son Vikramabahu III and he became the heir to the throne. King Vikramabahu III brought the tooth relic to Gampola with a festival in honor of the tooth relic. Further, he built the rock temple Gadaladeniya and a shrine at Niyamgampaya in Gampola.

However, this kingdom is mostly remarkable among the other kingdoms because of the three elegant temples located in Pilimathalawa.

Co-Rulers of the Gampola Kingdom

Other than the king, there were co rulers-ruling in the kingdom. Of course, that is a salient feature of this kingdom. However, King’s brother King Parakramabahu V was ruling in the Dedigama area. At the same time, the king’s son Vikramabahu III co-ruled the kingdom with the king, for a short period of around three to four years.

Chief Ministers of Gampola Kingdom in Action

The chief ministers of the kingdom became more powerful than the king sometimes. Indeed, that was an interesting fact about the governance of this kingdom. However, this made the ministers take leadership in spreading the power of the kingdom by defeating their monarchies, while the kings fled from their enemies.

Chief Minister Senadhilankara

Senadhilankara was one of the powerful chief ministers in the Gampola Kingdom. King constructed the famous Buddhist temples such as Lankathilaka Raja Maha Viharaya and Gadaladeniya as a request from this chief minister, Senadhilankara. Both of these temples are located at the birthplace Singuruvana of the chief minister.

South Indian Invasions to Gampola Kingdom

During the Gampola Kingdom, a group of South Indian invaders of Arya Chakravarthi was ruling and gaining power in the Northern territory. This was one of the biggest threats during that moment. However, at this time, there was a family known as the Alagakkonara. They were South Indian in origin. Later, Alakeshwara descended from this family, and he became powerful. Besides, he was the active hero of the period where king Buwanekabahu V was ruling.

As the king left the palace due to enemies’ attacks, Weera Alakeshwara started defending the kingdom to protect it from the enemies. With the Sinhala armies, he freed the lost territories for the monarchies. However, historical evidence proves that Weera Alakeshwara was the de-facto king of this period till his death.

Last King of the Gampola Kingdom

The last king of the Gampola Kingdom was King Buwanekabahu V. He ruled the kingdom while residing at Ganga Siri Pura. However, he ruled the country for 29-30 years. During his period, a grandson of Gurulugomi Kavishwar wrote a great piece of Sinhala literature. It is still famous as Mayura Sandeshaya. Besides, it mentions that the king and the council had sought blessings from God Upulwan.

Later, the king arrived at Jayawardenapura Kotte. During this time King Weerabahu II ruled Raigama. However, King Vijayabahu VI grabbed the throne from Weerabahu II. King Vijayabahu VI was from Alagakkonara’s family. The Chinese ambassador at that time was Zheng and he was unhappy with this change in the throne. As a result, he carried King Vijayabahu VI to China. Finally, it marked the end of the superior Kingdom of Gampola. Later, the kingdom shifted to Kotte.

Significant Creations from the Gampola Kingdom

Even though the Gampola Kingdom lasted for a short period of time, when compared with other historical kingdoms in Sri Lanka, you are still able to visit a number of significant places that belong to this kingdom. Some of them are as follows.

  • Niyagampaya Temple
  • Lankathilake Temple
  • Gadaladeniya Temple
  • Embekke Devalaya

They are indeed impressive cultural and religious attractions on this splendid island. The following briefs will surely prove this factor.

Niyangampaya Temple

Niyangampaya temple does not have a clear origin. The Chulawamsa chronicle introduces this temple as Niyamam Prasada. Similarly, Mahavamsa says that King Surathissa built this temple in a picturesque place near the bank of Mahaweli River. In addition, it says that King Vijayabahu IV did some renovations in the Niyangampaya temple on his way back from Sri Pada.

Lankathilaka Temple

Lankathilaka Temple is a great piece of work that boasts supremacy in architecture. This temple mostly consists of brick structures that were built on the giant Pahangala rock. Chief minister Senadhilankara built this temple with the auspices of King Buwanekabahu IV in the year 1344 A.C. The entrance of the temple is made up of bedrock and it is believed that the temple originally had 4 stories. However, there is belief that the architecture of Lankathilaka Temple is similar to the architecture of Gedige which belongs to the Kingdom of Polonnaruwa.

Even though the main intention of constructing Lankathilaka Temple was worshipping Lord Buddha, they have built up worship places for some well-known deities such as Vishnu, Saman, Vibhishana, Ganapathi, Skanda Kumara and Kumara Bandara as well. They believed that God Kumara Bandara was entrusted to protect the temple from bad influences. In addition, there is a rock inscription in the temple which comes in both Sinhala and Tamil. It brings the classical story of the temple.

Moreover, if you get a chance to visit Lankathilaka Temple, you will have the opportunity of observing the unique features within the temple like Makara Thorana (Dragon Arch) and Suvisi Vivarana as well. In addition, the unique designs of arches and sculptures of Ghandarv and Gaja Lakshmi art which belongs to the 14th century further enhances the esteem of the temple.

Gadaladeniya Temple

Gadaladeniya is another creation which belongs to the Gampola era. It is popular throughout the whole world for its magnificent stone carvings. In addition, people from all around the world visit Gadaladeniya for its beautiful murals. Although they are faded at the moment, they are still visible in the inner shrine room. Besides, the old jack wood door in the temple with original paintings is also another most attractive showpiece of this site .

Another main feature of the temple is the housing of the main stupa under a roof and other four smaller stupas around the main stupa. Similarly, you can see a picturesque natural pond full of Manel flowers by the side. Besides, the visitors can observe the inscription that is carved in bold granite near the Bo tree.

The chief architect who is responsible for this amazing masterpiece is Ganesvarachari. He was a South Indian. And the interesting fact is that he did majority of these carvings according to a Dravidian style of South India. That has indeed added a unique flavour of beauty to this wonderful site.

King Buwanekabahu IV secured the credit of constructing Gadaladeniya Temple. However, King Vikramabahu III improved it later. During the Kandyan Era, Kandyan kings did not focus a lot on Gadaladeniya Temple. As a result, King Weera Parakrama Narendrasinghe (1707-1739) handed over it to Venerable Welivita Sri Saranankara Thero.

The Deity Guardians of Mother Sri Lanka at Gadaladeniya Temple

Sri Lankans consider God Upulvan, God Saman, God Vibishana and God Skanda as their four deity guardians. They used to worship these gods at both Gadaladeniya Temple and Lankathilaka Temple. The other amazing thing is that from the earliest times, the Devalaya and Buddhist Temples had a combined relationship in them.

Unfortunately, Portuguese caused a huge damage to Gadaladeniya Temple during their period. However, it caused an innumerable damage to the arts and inscriptions. Since then it was restored and protected up to now.

Embakke Devalaya

Embekke Devalaya is much popular across the world for its exquisite works of wooden sculpture. King Vikramabahu III receives the honour of constructing it. Embekke Devalaya is located in Pilimathalawa and is approximately referred to as the temple village. This reason is the availability of so many religious temples in the vicinity.

In terms of architecture, you can see Madol Kuruppawa, made by a union of twenty six beams in the form of a giant pin. King Vikramabahu III kept the original foundation of the Embekke Devalaya and the kings who ruled later improved it over the years. However, the great wood work which you are able to see here is a result of its later improvements. If you are visiting the Embekke Devalaya, you have the ability to observe the Embekke Ambalama on your way to devalaya.

Ruins of the Gampola Kingdom

Among the sculptures and carvings in the Gampola period the different types of Buddha statues developed in this period takes a prominent place. The architects made them using bricks, metal, wood and plaster. In addition, they are ranging in size from smaller to larger statues. You can see them commonly in Gadaladeniya, Lankathilaka, Vijayothapaya, Ganegoda, Madanwela and Aludeniya. The special feature of the statues in this period is that most of the statues have been erected in the open places rather than placing them inside image houses.

The engravings and carvings that belong to this period are most common at the bottom of the walls and entrances. These engravings are still safe and they are still visible in Gadaladeniya, Niyamgampaya and Alawathure temples.

The Bottom Line

Gampola Kingdom was marked bold in history due to the threats of South Indian Invaders from one side, the Chinese emperor from another side and Protuguese invasion at the top of it, which were very hard to handle. Thus, you can recognize the Gampola period as a stressful period in politics. However, Gampola Kingdom is a silver lining for all the rock, wood and clay carvings in Sri Lanka’s history. Hence, there is certainly no harm in introducing Gampola Kingdom as the golden era of temple arts and crafts!