From the Sigiriya Lake, follow the Sigiriya Road and some three kilometres on, through the Pidurangala Sanctuary, after a few turns, visitors will arrive at the historic Sigiri Pidurangala Raja Maha Viharaya.
Just prior to reaching the Main Temple Entrance (passing the more ‘modern’ mini stupa of the newer Pidurangala Temple) keep an eye out for ruin sites by the side of the Main Road. Please make sure to take some time and explore these ruins.
Here, visitors can walk and look around, noting down the various panchavasa (five-part) ruins that include this monasteries’ vaharagala or former stupa, chapter house, bodhigaraya (bo-tree shrine), preaching hall (cheithya), image house and sangharamaya (monks quarters). All these elements, said to have been gifted by King Kashyapa, combined, would have facilitated the presence of a monastery here, perhaps part of the Uppalavanna Kashyapa Giri Viharaya?
This location played host to a Buddhist monastery even before King Kashyapas’ arrival at Sigiriya. Whilst some mention that this could have been an extension of the monastery at Sigiriya, others comment that when King Kashyapa took over the monastery at Sigiriya he had Pidurangala refurbished to accommodate the 500 monks who had to leave their monastery at Sigiriya.
The temple gets its name from this act of benevolence by King Kashyapa who made ‘offerings of gold’ (pidurangala) here to improve and further grow this monastery complex. Originally named ‘Dala Vehera’ or ‘Dalaha Giri Vehera,’ which later came to be known as ‘Arangala’ (the golden monastery) or ‘Pidu-Rangala.’
Passing the ruins, visitors will arrive at the Main Entrance of the Sigiri Pidurangala Raja Maha Viharaya. From the car park, ascend a few steps to arrive at the new monk’s quarters. Foreign visitors are expected to make a LKR 500 donation to the custodian here. The custodian will also gladly explain the route to the top and the sights that can be seen.
Pressing on, a few steps later, visitors will be able to see the temple’s ‘modern era’ stupa with a white Samadhi pose statue of Lord Buddha appearing to the right of the stupa peak, on an elevated landing. The stupa is believed to mark the spot where King Kashyapa of Sigiriya was cremated. Passing the stupa, up the stairs, visitors will then progress to the first landing, that plays host to an Image House and Bo-tree Shrine, both of more recent times.
The Image House and Cave Temple features statues of Lord Buddha in meditative (samadhi) and other poses and the ceilings and walls are decorated with cave art and murals. A brick building had been constructed in 1933 to cover and incorporate the mouth of the cave.
From the Image House, passing the Bo-tree shrine, visitors will begin their ascent to the top of Pidurangala. The first phase comprises of neat rock cut steps that are easy to climb and navigate. After around 20 minutes of walking along the path, visitors will arrive at a flat terrace with many caves.
This area provides a good example as to the use of Pidurangala as a monastery. To your right, visitors will be able to see the ruins of various cordoned off sections/rooms (kuti) that were said to have been used by meditating monks as their rooms or quarters. Passing this are two rock cut ponds said to never run dry. These ponds may have been used by the monks for their bathing etc.
Passing the ponds is the most serene sight of this Terrace, a 49.5 foot long, recumbent statue of Lord Buddha, made solely with brick, lime and clay. Once the ‘largest reclining Buddha image’ of its kind in the world, today the bricked up areas closer to the head of the statue are from when cruel treasure hunters raided this statue across the 1960s, all in search of jewels and riches.
Opposite to the Buddha statue, in a fenced off square, is a Brahmi rock inscription said to mention details of those who made donations for the statue to be first built. The statue, especially given its generous length, stands proudly overlooking the mighty Sigiriya rock in front of it. Don’t forget to notice the drip ledge that outlines the whole cave that once kept rainwater at bay.
According to legend, King Kashyapa would pray to this statue each day from the Lion Paw Terrace at Sigiriya. The theory that the famous Sigiriya damsels are worshipping the Pidurangala rock may be further understood, as from here, the direction of the damsel frescoes match the theory!
Make sure to spend some time here catching your breath and enjoying the splendid views.
RIGHT ON TOP
The second phase of reaching the summit of Pidurangala begins just passing the head part of the Lord Buddha statue. With no steps, visitors have to tough it out a bit and make their way forward, till they see two giant leaning boulders to their right. Visitors should carefully navigate through the boulders (one at a time) in order to reach the top of Pidurangala. This part may require some nifty footwork and a tight squeeze but its fairly easy.
Upon reaching the steeply sloped summit of Pidurangala, visitors will be overjoyed by a spellbinding 360 degree view and a magnificent vista, similar to that from the top of Sigiriya. Take plenty of time to walk around the entire rock top, enjoying the cool breeze and a extremely liberal sense of freedom as the magnificence of the moment, takes your breath away.
Towards the centre of the rock are the minor ruins of a small stupa that was said to have been used by the residing monks. The summit of Pidurangala also offers a remarkable view of Sigiriya as it stands proudly in front. A sea of green spans out across in all directions; an inspiring view. By looking carefully, visitors can also see the ant-like figures of those making the final ascent to the summit of adjacent Sigiriya!