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Avukana and Reswehera Buddha Statues

Masterpieces of man’s artistry and creative skill

Facing the Kala Wewa and carved out of a large granite stands the tallest standing Buddha statue in Sri Lanka. The Avukana Buddha statue which is more than 40 feet in height is the best example of a standing statue constructed in ancient Sri Lanka. This remarkable rock carving is located in a village called Avukana, near Kekirawa in the Anuradhapura District of Sri Lanka.

The most outstanding feature of the Avukana Buddha statue is that the entire statue is carved out of a massive granite rock face and stands upright and depicts a variation of the Abhaya mudra. It is believed to have been influenced by the Gandhara and Amaravati schools of art in India. The statue is supported at the back by a strip of rock. Anybody who closely observes the features of this massive work of art would notice the impassive face. The left hand of the statue clutches the falls of the robe, at the left shoulder. The right hand is raised with the palm facing left in a pose known as the ‘Asisi Mudra’. The burst of fire above the head of Lord Buddha represents the power of total enlightenment. It is amazing to see the intricately carved pleats of the robe which fall down in natural waves and the manner in which the robe has been draped to define the contour of the body is unique. The statue stands on a lotus flower pedestal called the “padmasana” which had been carved separately and placed under the statue. The total height of the statue is forty two feet.

The talented sculpture who carved this magnificent work is not known. It is widely believed that the statue was carved in the 5th century under the orders of King Datusena and another traditional belief is that it was carved by an individual named Barana. The most popular belief is that the statue was a result of a competition between a master and a student. When the master completed the Avukana statue King Datusena had rewarded him for completing the task and the disappointed student has abandoned his project.  

The Sasseruwa standing Buddha statue is believed to be the partially completed project of the student. This statue which is very much similar to the Avukana statue can be seen at the Reswehera Rajamaha Vihara. The Sasseruwa Buddha statue is recorded to be 39 feet high and depicts Abhaya Mudra with the robe tightly draped to the body, very much like the Avukana Buddha statue. The final finishes on the statue have not been done. The statue stands on a square block of stone. One ear is also left unfinished and also the “Siraspatha” at the top of the head is missing. According to chronicles this statue was done on an order by King Mahasen. Folklore states that a wooden “Siraspatha” and the housing structure around the statue had been destroyed during the North Indian Tamil invasion of Kalinga Maga.  Another traditional belief is that the Sasseruwa Buddha Statue was done as a trial by the same craftsman who sculpted the Avukana statue.

The term “Avukana” refers to the dawn as it means “eating the sun” in Sinhala. The best time to stand on the foot and gaze upon this magical works of art is when the radiant sunbeams rests upon the subtle features of the statues. 

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