The tale of Ridi Vihara is described thus. It’s about 20 kilometres away from the ancient kingdom of Kurunegala in a small village called Ridi Gama. This temple is believed to be built by King Dutugemunu in the 2nd century BCE, as a monument to the place where he found a silver (Ridi) ore mine which was used to finance the building of the gigantic Ruwanweli Seya. The Mahavamsa describes the discovery of this mine by a trader…. In a southerly direction from the city, at a distance of eight yojanas (8 x 7km) silver appeared in the Ambatthakola-cave. A merchant from the city, taking many wagons with him, in order to bring ginger and so forth from Malaya, had set out for Malaya. Not far from the cave he brought the wagons to a halt and since he had a need of wood for whips he went up that mountain. As he saw here a branch of a bread-fruit-tree, bearing one single fruit as large as a water pitcher, and dragged down by the weight of the fruit, he cut the (fruit) which was lying on a stone away from the stalk with his knife, and thinking: ‘I will give the first (produce as alms),’ with faith he announced the (meal) time.

There came four (Thera’s) who were free from the Asavas (craving). When he had greeted them gladly and had invited them with all reverence to be seated, he cut away the rind around the stalk with his knife and tore out the bottom (of the fruit), and pouring the juice which filled the hollow forth into their bowls he offered them the four bowls filled with fruit-juice. They accepted them and went their way.

Then he yet again announced the (meal) time. Four other Thera’s, free from the Asavas, appeared before him. He took their alms-bowls and when he had filled them with the kernels of the bread-fruit he gave them back. Three went their way, but one did not depart. In order to show him the silver he went further down and seating himself near the cave he ate the kernels.

When the merchant also had eaten as he wished of the kernels that were left, and had put the rest in a bundle, he went on, following the track of the Thera, and when he saw the Thera he showed him the (usual) attentions. The Thera opened a path for him to the mouth of the cavern: ‘Go thou now also on this path, lay brother!’ When he had done reverence to the Thera he went that way and saw the cave. Standing by the mouth of the cave and seeing the silver he struck upon it with his axe, and when he knew it to be silver he took a lump of the silver and went to his freight-wagons. Then leaving the wagons behind and taking the lump of silver with him the excellent merchant went in haste to Anuradhapura and told the king of this matter, showing him the silver.

As a gesture of gratitude the King decided to build a temple on the same ground and sent over 300 stone craftsmen to work on the temple. He also got a large gold plated Buddha statue to be bought from India to be kept at the site. According to the ancient book called “Ridi Vihara Asna”, when the king Dutugamunu was coming to the competed temple with the Buddha Statue brought from India, the cart got stuck between some rocks and couldn’t be moved. The king disappointed, sat on the rock refusing to move until the cart is moved. Arhant Indragupta Thero (the same Thera who showed the merchant the way to the silver mine) saw this and made the statue to float in the sky and travel through air all the way to the temple.

Today this 2200 years old statue can be seen at the very spot that the silver ore was found inside the Pahatha Maluwa protected by a glass casing. This area was part of the Kandyan Kingdom during European occupation and King Kirthi Sri Rajasingha has made major renovations on this temple. Therefore most of the paintings and statues we see today belong to the Kandyan Era.

On the way to the main cave you will come across a curious image house built entirely of stone. This is called the `Waraka Welandu Viharaya’ which translates to ‘the temple where Jak Fruit was consumed’. It is said that that this was the cave which the Indragupta Mahal Thero -consumed the Jak-Fruit (called bread-fruit in Mahavamsa translation) which was offered by the
Merchant. Inside this image house is a seated Buddha statue and all the walls have Buddhist paintings belonging tothe Kandyan Era.

The design of this building strangely resembles a Devale (dedicated to Hindu Gods). There is also a hallway to enter the shrine similar to Devale Design. The 8 stone pillars holding the main roof of the hallway have carvings of female dancers which are not generally found in the Buddha image houses. Therefore it could be that this building was built during a period where the Hindu beliefs were strongly present in the country such as the Polonnaruwa Era or Kandyan Era.

Passing this image house you would enter an entrance hall of the main Vihara complex. Here you would see a massive arms bowl which is said to have been used for Buddha Puja in the ancient times.

The Maha Vihara is located inside a spacious rock cave and contains a 9 metre recumbent Buddha image and the original gold plated Buddha Image donated by King Dutugemunu. At the feet of recumbent Buddha image there is a statue of Ananda Thero, a statue of a Maitre Bodhisattva and then statues of some Deities. It is believed that the last statue of Deity is actually a statue of King Dutugemunu. After these are a row of 5 Buddha statues which is said to have been originally gold plated.

The flower pedestal of the recumbent Buddha image also has a very curious feature. It is decorated with about two hundred 18th century Dutch tiles portraying the life of Christ popularly known as Bible tiles. These are believed to have been presented to King Kirthi Sri Rajasingha (1747 – 1781) by a Dutch Governor who in turn donated it to the temple. From the way these tiles are arranged, the Tiller seems to be clueless of the pictures on the tiles. The roof of the cave is plastered and painted with various patterns. During the Poson season of 2008, a large area of this plaster fell due to heat generated by the large number of pilgrims inside of the cave.

Entrance to the Uda Vihara is through a side door in the Maha Vihara. Here you will pass a protected door frame decorated with ivory carvings. Door frames decorated with ivory are an extremely rare feature for ancient buildings. This door has been subject to vandalism and the lower parts of the ivory are now missing. At the top centre of the decorations is what looks like a vase but closer inspection reveals it a carving of 5 females interwoven together. This design is called “Pancha Naari Getaya” (figure of five women entwined in the shape of a pot). Besides this is a carving of 2 lions. Around these are fragments of the ivory designs which covered the rest of the frame.

The Uda Vihara believed to be built by King Kirthi Sri Raj asingha consists of three chambers and a connecting corridor. The first chamber is dedicated to deity who protects the mountain of Ridi Vihara. He is called “Kumara Bandara Deviyo” The second which is the largest is the Buddha Image house. In addition to the large seated Buddha image this hall contains some curious and unique drawings. These drawings are not on walls but on the sides of the pedestal of the seated Buddha. On the left side is a picture of 3 lions who share one head. This is called “Tri Singha” drawing. On the other side of the seat is another unique drawing called “Vrushaba Kunjaraya” which the entwined heads of the bull and the elephant. On the same pedestal you can see 3 pictures of soldiers with arms. These are believed to be a depiction of Rama and Rawana war.

At the end of the cave, outside the shrine room, there is a painting of “Navanari Kunjaraya”, the figures of nine women arranged in such a way to create the image of an elephant. Inside the temple are stupas. One beside a cave behind the Uda Maluwa and the other is on an altogether separate hill called “Sarasum Gala”.

Ridi Vihara Highlights

Text by Neil Kiriella