Gadaladeniya Rajamaha Viharaya is an ancient Buddhist temple / monastery resting serenely on a flat rock called Diggala Rock, in Pilimathalawa, Kandy. An inscription on the temple reveals its original name as being Dharmakirthi Viharaya, named after the monk Silavansa Dharmakirthi Sanghanayaka, who was the founder of the temple. It came to be known as Gadaladeniya Rajamaha Viharaya much later in the 15th century, taking on the name of the village in which the temple is located. The village of Gadaladeniya is just 18km from Kandy, and 6km from Peradeniya.
The temple was built under the patronage of King Buwanekabahu IV back in 1344, and designed by an architect Ganesvarachari, who was of south Indian descent. As such, the architectural style of the temple is primarily Dravidian whilst also incorporating some aspects of Sinhalese architecture from the Polonnaruwa era as well as other Indo-Chinese influences.
Gadaladeniya temple has earned a reputation for its paintings, which are considered as being amongst the best from the Middle Ages. Another unique aspect of Gadaladeniya Rajamaha Viharaya is that the main part of the temple is built entirely of sculptured granite. The two shikharas or towers, however, are made of brick, and are on top of a large slab of stone. Guarding the entrance to the main shrine room is a makara thorana, or dragon’s arch, decorated with images of several Hindu deities. Inside the shrine room is a seated Buddha statue, flanked by four standing statues. Adjacent to the main shrine room is a devale or a Hindu shrine for the Hindu god, Vishnu. Vishnu is held in high reverence by the Buddhists in Sri Lanka since according to the Mahavamsa, or the “Great Chronicle” of Sri Lanka, it is believed that he was selected to be the guardian of the island and Buddhism after Buddha’s passing away.
Next to the devale is another shrine, named as the Vijayothpaya or Vijayantha Prasada after the palace of the god Indra. This stupa, believed to have been built by King Parakramabahu V, is built on a rock. It has a square roof propped up by four stone pillars. Surrounding this stupa are four identical stupas, also built on platforms of stone, and come with their individual shrine rooms with seated Buddha statues.
Two more structures can be found on the temple grounds, with sandakada pahana known in English as moonstone, at the entrance. The two structures come replete with stone carvings of drummers and dancers, wrestlers as well as lotus petals. Yet another distinctive feature of the temple is the unique three-sided twin pillars of the mandapaya, with such pillars being found only on one other temple, in Yapahuwa.