Ethagala or the Elephant Rock is one of the seven giant rocks that overlook the town of Kurunegala in Sri Lanka. With a face reaching over 316m; the rock has a shape of a crouching elephant, and is called Ethagala or Hasthisailapura in Sinhala. It also has the much historic significance in the form of the giant Samadhi Buddha statue on its summit.
The History of the Region
Sathkorale, the area where Ethagala is located, was inhabited for millennia as proved by Pre-Christian rock inscriptions in many parts of the district. The people were engaged in paddy cultivation along with coconut plantation; and many small irrigation tanks were built here through the centuries to assist the farmers. However, Sathkorale gained ultimate prominence between the 12th to the 14th centuries as 4 capitals were located here. King Parakramabahu ruled as regent at Panduwasnuwara; before ascending the throne at Polonnaruwa in 1153 AD. The world’s first peace treaty was signed between him and King Gajabahu II of Polonnaruwa; the rock inscription of which can still be seen near Gokarella, about 15 km from Kurunegala.
It was in this era that Ethagala started receiving many visitors such that steps were cut into the rock in order to reach the summit. However, it the exact time this happened is unknown.
The Samaddhi Buddha Statue
Unlike during the Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa eras, when large dagobas and Buddha Statues of immense proportions were built; the Dambadeniya, Yapahuwa, and Kurunegala eras had a dearth of such monuments as the kings were preoccupied with protecting and fortifying their citadels due to the invasions of foreign regiments.
A few decades ago the local Buddhists decided that they had to take care of the lack of large Buddha statues in the area; and decided to build one in the most prominent place they could find – the Ethagala rock. The initial effort to began in 1965, but had to be temporarily abandoned due to differences in the opinions of the political members involved in the attempt. Then in 1995 a new society was formed for this sole purpose and overcame much opposition and obstacles, until 1997 when an acre of the rock surface was granted to the society by the president. The Buddha statue was then built using the monetary contributions of many devotees who also assisted in creating the road to the statue as well.
The Buddha statue was completed around 2012; and stands at 66 feet in height without counting the height of the platform. With the platform the height comes up to 90 feet; and allows it to be seen from many miles all around. The statue itself is believed to be of comparatively lesser quality when compared to the giant Buddha statues of ancient times; the methods of creation used for these having been lost to the mists of time. However, the statue is worth viewing for its uniqueness and for the excellent views from the top of Ethagala.