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Nalanda Gedige, Matale Attractions

Nalanda Gedige, Matale

One of the more intricately done historical places in Sri Lanka is the Nalanda Gedige. Historically a gedige is part of a monastic building, specifically an image-house or pilimage. Nalanda is situated in the Matale area, some 29 kilometers off Aluvihara. The latter is well-known for having been the site where the Theravada Buddhist teachings were compiled in written form after a period of over four centuries to that date. To this day, this compilation is known as the Tripitaka. The Nalanda Gedige does contain images in it, to wit a standing Buddha statue and some others, not nearly as well-preserved.

While it is not much of a structure in terms of size and the history connected to it, it is still an intriguing place. Indeed, hardly anything is known about the Nalanda Gedige besides the fact that it is a marriage of both Buddhist and Hindu artistic traditions.

Looking closely at the building shows you a structure broadly similar to many old South Indian temples, specifically Siva temples like those in Polonnaruwa. The Gedige might have been built somewhere in the blank spot between the Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa kingdoms. During this time there was a great deal of interaction between the Sinhalese dominion and the many warring states of Tamil Nadu. The two cultures seem to have mingled quite peacefully in terms of the arts.

There are no images of Hindu deities here. There is, however, a figure of Kuvera or Kuber, the god of wealth, seated on a lotus. Kuvera is often recognized as a uniquely Lankan deity with roots dating back to the Rakshasa culture. The image dominates the semicircular area carved directly into the outer face above the doorway. Some of the other images are a little less conventional. One figure is particularly racy, with two men engaging in sex while seated on a lion, or a lion-shaped piece of furniture. Clearly neither Indian nor Sri Lankan culture recognized homosexuality as taboo. There is also an example of something unsettling here, with a tiny, goggle-eyed face staring out from one of the large granite blocks used to make the building. Almost everything at the Nalanda site is made of individual blocks, fitted precisely like in many South Indian constructions of the time. Nalanda Gedige is one of the best places to visit if you are traveling through Matale from Dambulla to Kandy.



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