Sri Lanka, Aluvihara
If the idea of a monastery built in a cliff face sounds intriguing, try to drive off 3 km on the road north of Matala, 20 km from Kandy to see Aluvihara. This unique group of monastic caves, picturesquely located among the rocks, which are high above the valley. Legend has it that the giant used three rocks as the basis for his pot, and the name Aluvihara (ashy monastery) refers to ash from cooking on fire.
Aluvihara is one of the most important cultural sites in Sri Lanka. It is believed that Buddhist doctrines were first recorded on palm leaves here, in the 1st century BC, during the reign of King Vattagamini Abaya. This record of Dhamma is known as the “Tripitaka” and now it is the main guide book of the Dhamma for Theravada Buddhism. Two thousand years later, in 1848 the library of monks was destroyed by English troops. A long process of restoring the manuscript to this day occupies monks, scribes and artisans. For a small fee in the form of donations for the needs of the temple, you can visit their seminar on writing on palm leaves.
In the first cave to which you fall, there is an image of a 10 meter reclining Buddha and an impressive painting in the form of lotus flowers on the ceiling. The other is filled with a cartoonish painting of the sphere of hell: before you deviate from a straight path to paradise, you will think twice, when you see statues of devils punishing sinners in the afterlife. In one scene, a sinner with an open skull and two demons cutting his brains is shown.
Despite the historical significance of Aluvihara, painting and sculpture, which can be seen in its cave temples, are modern.
At the top is Buddhaghoshi’s cave – the dwelling of an Indian scientist, who is supposed to have spent several years here while working on the Tipitaki. Although historians claim that Buddhaghoshi lived in Anuradhapura in the 6th century AD, there is no clear evidence of this. Nevertheless, the walls of the caves are painted with scenes that show how Buddhaghoshi works on manuscripts.
The stairs lead to the top of the cliff, where you will find Dagobah (a place for storing relics) and enjoy a stunning view of the surrounding valleys.