Gal Vihara – Polonnaruwa

This is a group of beautiful Buddha images that probably marks the high point of Sinhalese rock carving. They are part of Parakramabahu I’s northern monastery. The Gal Vihara consists of four separate images, all cut from one long slab of granite. At one time, each was enshrined within a separate enclosure

The standing Buddha is 7m tall and is said to be the finest of the series. The unusual crossed position of the arms and sorrowful facial expression led to the theory that it was an image of the Buddha’s disciple Ananda, grieving for his master’s departure for nirvana, since the reclining image is next to it. The fact that it had its own separate enclosure, along with the discovery of other images with the same arm position, has discredited this theory and it is now accepted that all the images are of the Buddha.

The reclining Buddha depicted entering parinirvana (nirvana-after-death) is 14m long. Notice the subtle depression in the pillow under the head and the lotus symbols on the pillow end and on the soles of Buddha’s feet. The other two images are both of the seated Buddha. The carvings make superb use of the natural marbling in the rock. The one in the small rock cavity is smaller and of inferior quality.

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