The elegant entrance to the divine pathway; The Guard-stones and Balustrades of Ancient Ceylon

“The greatest scientist are artists as well”

-The great scientist Albert Einstein-

If you once visit the ancient cities of Ceylon, you will realize the meaning of this quote, since all our ancient heritages are the mind-blowing wonders which have created scientifically. Ceylon artists have given the life to the lifeless rocks by craving gigantic statues of the Lord-Buddha. Sigiriya is also a natural rock that created as an amazing fortress by our artistic ancestors. Even a small piece of art included in the masterpiece composed with a wonderful meaning. As a leading Theravada Buddhist country, the statues of Lord-Buddha have been established on the higher place of the temple. Most of the time, you may see those sacred statues on the top of a rock or hill. Hence, devotees are climbing up to worship them, and stairs can be often seen in those places. 

Both sides of the open spaces of these stone stairs are covered by an elegant architectural feature called “Korawakgala”, (Balustrade). This part is end-up by another beautiful craving called “Muragala”(Guard stone). Not only in temples but also in royal buildings also light up with these ravishing stone cravings. 

In some temples, you may see the verticle wall between two steps is elaborated with some small traditional motifs such as “Liyawal”/ floral creeps or dwarf figures called “Wamana”.  (e.g. Anuradhapura Queens’ place / “Biso Maligawa” and Polonnaruwa “Vatadage”). “Sandakada Pahana” or the moon-stone can be considered as the last step of the stairs. (More details: https://a2zsrilanka.com/the-aesthetic-wisdom-of-ceylon-artist-sandakada-pahana-the-moon-stone/).

Polonnaruwa Vatadage
Anuradhapura “Biso Maligawa”

Korawakgala” or balustrade

Created with a decorated stone plank

This beautiful feature is created with a decorated stone plank. The length and the width of this stone craving depend on the length and the width of the stairs. The dragon head is initiating part (top of the stairs) of the “Korawakgala” which can be seen in the Anuradhapura and the Polonnaruwa epochs and the flames or wave or a trunk of an elephant flowing downwards from the mouth of the dragon. Most of the time (especially outside) this aesthetic art-piece is composed of the dragon, the lion, the “Gaja Singha” (the hybrid of the elephant and the lion), and female decorations. This dragon concept has changed to “Gaja Singha” in Gampola and Kandy eras as well as the material which used to create “Korawakgala” has changed to brick and cement. 

Abayagiriya “Rathna Prasada”
Korawakgala – Vatadage – Polonnaruwa
Gadaladeniya – Kandy

“Muragala”

The Guard Stone

Our ancestors have believed that some spirits belong that sacred place was protecting it as treasures. Therefore, These “Muragal” or the guard stones were used to indicate this concept. Initially, these guard stones were created with plain stone slabs. Then it has changed to “Pun kalasa” (Prosperity pot) which indicates prosperity. After that short-limbed dwarf figures called “Bahirawa” were used as the guard stones. In the Abayagiri temple, there are two types of guard stones are placed beside the same stairs which are known as “The Sanka” and “The Padma” The “Sanka” is wearing a conch shell as a head-dress while “The Padma” wears a lotus as a crown. According to the opinion of some archeologists, these dwarfs are indicating the treasures of terrestrial and marine treasures of the land. 

Five-headed cobra

The guardian of the water

The guard stones near water bodies (e.g.: near the “Kuttam Pokuna” in Anuradhapura) are composed of a five-headed cobra. The number of heads of this serpent can be changed five to seven.  Most of the time this type of guard stones can be found near water reservoirs. Because our forefathers have believed as the serpent (cobra) was the guardian of the water. 

The guard stone of five-headed cobra

“Rathna Prasadaya”

The ideal guard stone

According to archeologists, the ideal guard stone is situated in “Rathna Prasadaya” – the jewel palace of Abayagriya. You may see a god-like figure who stands in a thrice bend posture. Five headed cobra hood has covered his head while he carries the sword in one hand and a “Pun Kalasa” on the other hand. Some are belives that the god-like figure indicates the great king gods named Dvutharasta, Viruda, Virupaksha, and Vaishravana who mentioned in Buddhism. The curved part of this guard stone is elaborated from the pandal or arc with the four dragon heads. There is a pair of male and female figures in between two dragon heads. 

The famous archaeologist of Ceylon, Prof. Senerath Paranavithana has suggested that those human figures reflect that the deep concept of Buddhism. That simply means all living beings in this world have to die someday. Also, there is a small dwarf figure called “Wamana” is standing at the foot of the area of the large figure. There is a directional animal (Lion – North, Elephant – East, Bull – South, Horse -West) that can be seen as one side of the guard stone.

The guard stone of “Rathna Prasada” – The jewel house – Abhayagiriya

Though these eye-catching art-pieces can be commonly found in the Anuradhapuraya and the Polonnaruwa epochs, due to the influence of the invaders, in the Kandyan era these are changed to the complete statues. 

Sri Lanka is a proud nation thus our country consists of both natural and cultural heritage. If you once visit this miraculous island, you will learn many lessons for your life by observing these mind-blowing glories ancient remains in the little paradise. 

References:

  1. http://universitypublications.net
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/

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