The Masterpiece of Ceylon woodworker – Embekke Devalaya

“The pearl of the Indian Ocean” is one of the best phrases to explain Sri Lanka, since this small island inherits graceful nature as well as a proud history. Great rulers of Sri Lankan monarchy had illuminated this paradise by creating wonders (such as Sigiriya, enormous stupas and statues of lord-Buddha, etc.) of the world. As everyone knows, Sri Lanka is a prominent Buddhist (Theravada) country and the lifestyle of Sinhalese has based on a civilized cultural frame. Therefore, these miraculous creations can be considered reflections of the attitudes and believes of our ancestors. However, the powerful invaders were able to influence, not only the kingdom but also the entire culture of the country. 

Wood cravings based on ancient culture

Embekke Devalaya is one of the sacred places that dedicated to God Katharagama and this temple was built by King Vikramabahu III (1359-1374 AD) of Gampola era. According to a folk story, a drummer who had suffered from an incurable skin disease got cured after worshiping God Katharagama. Therefore, he paid his gratitude by visiting Katharagama Devalaya (which locates in the South of the island) annually.

After many years, God Katharagama had instructed this devotee to conduct rituals of worship in a place where miracles were taking place. At that time, this Embekke temple premises was a beautiful flower garden that belonged to Queen Henakanda Biso Bandara and there was a miraculous tree that excretes blood, while someone tried to cut it down. One day this queen had seen God Katharagama in a dream and she asked King to build a temple for God Katharagama since that drummer confirmed this place as a sacred place. 

Ancient traditional casts, which arrived with Arahath Mihindu Thero had strongly impacted by Indian invaders in this era. It can be clearly observed while examining the architecture of Embekke Devalaya. 

Major buildings located inside of Embekke temple are “Vahalkada” (the entrance), “Maha Devalaya” (main shrine), “Muluthengeya” (the kitchen), “Vee Atuwa” (rice container). “Sinhasana Geya” (the throne house) and “Rittageya”/“Embekke Ambalama” are other two constructions that can be seen outside of the temple premises. The entrance and main shrine are the most enchanted locations of this temple, as there are many hypnotized wood craving which was designed by Delmada Mulachari. Main Shrine is composed of “Digge” (dancing hall) or “Hewisi Mandapaya” (drummers’ hall), “Garbha” (sanctum), “Pirith Kiyana Ge” (Dhamma enchanting house), “Antharalaya” or “Mada Digge” and “Sandun Kudama”. 


Splendid wood cravings of Sri Lanka

The woodcarvings of Embekke Dewalaya were designed on native wood such as Gammalu (Pterocarpus marsupium), Halmilla (Berrya Cordifolia), etc. “Vahalkada” contains 10 wooden pillars while 32 pillars are composed to construct “Digge”. A pillar is composed of two octagon parts and two cubic parts arranged in an alternative manner. One of the octagon parts acts as the base of a pillar while others placed just above the cubic medial panels. “Pekada” or the cubic shaped upper part (where the pillar supported the beam) of these extraordinarily shaped pillars decorated with a down faced, modified traditional Binara Flowers [1] and lotus flowers [2]

Wood carvings inspired by mythical stories

Each and every pillar of “Digge” beautify with four woodcarvings such as mythical animals (eg. “Hansapoottuwa” /entwined swans [3], “Kidura” /the mermaid [4], “Bheruda Pakshiya” /double-headed eagles [5], “Narilatha” /Women emanating from veins [6], “Wrushabha Kuncharaya” /elephant-bull hybrid [7], “Athkanda Lihiniya”/elephant-eagle hybrid[8], “Gaja-Singhe” /elephant-lion hybrid[9], “Makara”/dragon[10], “Sarapendiya”/Swan-lion hybrid[11], “Gurula”/human-bird hybrid [12]), cultural moments (eg. female dancers [13], solider [14], traditional wrestlers, a soldier sitting on horseback) and  traditional floral designs (eg. Lotus flower [15] and “Liyawel”/floral creepers [16]). 

Every mythical creature which used to decorate medial panels had a story and based on either folk story or “Jathaka” story (story based on previous lives of Lord Buddha). As examples, “Kidura” was the main character in “Chandra-kinnara Jathakaya”, while “Athkanda Lihiniya” was a gigantic bird who could carry-off the elephants. “Gurula” is a significant mythical animal in both Hindu and Sinhala literature. “Narilatha” is a beautiful natural flower blooming in Himalaya and the morphology of this flower is similar to the female body. “Makara” is a famous conceptual creature in most Asian country including China, Japan, Korea, India, etc.

Wood cravings based on ancient culture 

Breast-feeding mother [17] is one of the special woodcarvings as it expresses the humanity of the Sri Lankan society. The woodcarving which named traditional wrestles [18], indicates the ritual game of goddess, “Ankeliya”. The figure of a soldier sitting on horseback [19] is another important wood carving as he dressed up as a cowboy. 

Total 514 wood cravings of “Digge” composed with 128 medial panel carvings of 32 wooden pillars, 256 floral creepers design carvings (at the bottom of pillars), 64 Pekada design carvings, 30 beam design carvings and 36 design carvings on cross bars[20]. Traditional motifs such as “Liyawel”, “Arimbuwa”, “Gal Binduwa” etc. decorates the beams and crossbars of the roof. 

[20] The beams and crossbars of the roof

Amazing architectural wood carving

“Madolkurupawa” [21] is another exquisite architectural wooden structure that jointed 26 rafters together, with a single kingpin.   

[21] “Madolkurupawa”

Embekke Devalaya can be considered as “the masterpiece of Ceylon woodworker”. You may be either an enjoyable traveler or a keen explorer; but definitely, Sri Lanka will be a memorable destiny of the journey of your life.



About Post Author

Leave a Reply