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The shrine is built on the summit of the rock called Panhalgala in the village of Rabbegamuwa, Udunuvara division of Kandy district, approximately 12 km. from the Peradeniya bridge. It can be approached from two directions, one from the Colombo-Kandy Road and another from the Gampaha-Kandy Road. Lankatilaka, together with another Buddhist shrine at Gadaladeniya and the Embekke Devale dedicated to God Kataragama, all dating from the fourteen century, form an important trio possessing their individual architectural and decorative merits to attract connoisseurs and scholars from all over the world. Overlooking the eastern escarpment of the rock, the surroundings provide a magnificent panorama with distant hills ,paddy fields and diverse vegetation . Apparently the site had been selected as usual for its beauty and peaceful environment , at a proper distance from bustling village life. This hamlet is well-known for its traditional vocations, which are obviously part of its cultural heritage handed down from ancient times.

The temple bears the same name as the famous construction of Parakramabahu I at Polonnaruva. Inscriptional evidence at the site provides information regarding the date, the founder and the chief architect. Accordingly, the foundation dates from 1344 A.D, being the pious dedication of Senalankadhikara, a minister of Bhuvanaikabahu IV of Gampola (Gangasiripura). The chief architect was Sthapatirayar, evidently a South Indian. The original building has undergone several stages of development in later times. the temple has maintained its significance throughout the centuries, as seen from the various donations mentioned in the inscriptions. In the second half of the fourteenth century the scholarly incumbent monk of Lankatilaka was, in fact the grandson of the founder of the temple. According to the Culavamsa, the ruler, Parakramabahu VI of Kotte (1412-1467 A.D), carried out some stucco embellishments. The major decorative elements in the form of murals are possibly the work of Kirtisri Rajasimha ( 1747-1780 A.D).
Besides being an important architectural monument , this shrine is also significant from a religious point of view , since it combines the worship of the Buddha with that of the Hindu gods. The shrine retains special units for the images of Hindu and indigenous deities. This feature of religious synthesis is also evident at Gadaladeniya , which belongs to the same period .

The Lankatilaka image house is a fine example of a Buddhist-Hindu shrine of the fourteenth century. The Buddhist pilimage faces east and the Hindu devale is orientated to the west. This magnificent edifice of brick and stucco, positioned on the saddle of a dominant cliff, originally had a grand flight of steps of about 45 metres leading to the Buddha shrine. The residence of the monks is at the lower terrace and is of the courtyard type. This has the traditional appendage of grain stores and auxiliary functional units. The fields, belonging to the lay-guardians, extend beyond the irrigable land.
To the west of the shrine, and frontal to the devale, is the extended ridge of the cliff, which holds the main gateway leading out of the inner court. The other sacred edifices of the inner court are the Stupa, the Bodhi-tree, the preaching hall, and the kitchen to prepare food for the gods. The secular units in the same court are the official circuit-room and office of the chief lay-guardian. There is a massive inscription in Sinhalese and Tamil indited on the bare rock of the inner court. Beyond the gateway, is a straight long processional path leading up to the depository, meant to hold the symbols and weapons of the deities which were carried in ceremony and placed there for public veneration during the annual festival. With the depository position being about half a mile from the gateway, there was adequate space to locate the many houses of the serfs on the two sides of this main street. The high ground set apart for the serfs for services to the shrine was that found immediately behind the houses. The main street extends beyond the depository to link the shrine to the adjacent villages, and to the other religious establishments. This type of shrine-centred village was a common layout of the rural fourteenth century phase of the Sri Lankan rural planners.

The Lankatilaka shrine is one of the more splendid examples of these Buddhist-Hindu edifices. In fact, it had been designed originally as a type of Buddhist image house where Hindu figures were placed on the exterior in niches at the centre of each of the outer walls and on the two sides of the front facade. This type of shrine-layout has parallels in Hindu examples such as those commonly found in Tamil Nadu and Chandi Singasari in Java. However, with time the outer walls were converted into an enclosed ambulatory with entrances to it from all four directions, frontal to each of the five shrines. The main entrance to the west had an additional vestibule with a mandapa in front.

The edifice was originally meant to have been four-storeyed as described in the inscription, but this masonry structure had collapsed, and today only the ground floor is used, although a part of the second storey remains. The second storey is attributed to have had images, and the remains of the stairway to this are still seen at the back of the main image. The third storey is credited to have had a recumbent image and the fourth, a stupa, in which sacred books were enshrined. Once the two upper floors collapsed, the remaining structure was roofed with a wooden canopy.

Shrine Chamber
The main image of the Buddha in the shrine is in a seated posture and is placed under the makara-torana which occupies the entire rear wall of the room. It is flankled by two upright Buddha statues standing at some distance from the north and south walls. The wall surfaces and the ceiling are all covered with paintings.

West Wall
The greater part of the west rear wall is occupied by the main image under the makara-torana. The remaining portion to the proper left of the image contains a portrayal of two conch-blowers turning towards the Buddha. The part to the proper right of the Buddha shows a king standing in frontal pose, who is probably Kirtisri Rajasimha. The main Buddha image is seated upon a decorated throne under a massive makara-torana, leaning against an ornate cushion decorated with sprigs of flowers and a diamond-patterned border. Each pillar of the torana bears a prancing simha figure, supporting the capital which is decorated with a sculptured makara. Painted representations of the arahants, Sariputta and Moggallana, turning to the Buddha in a gesture of reverence, are all seen to stand on either side. Close to the figure of Sariputta, there is another painted representation of a conch-blower. The arch frame forms the pair of makaras on either side, adorned with figures of painted walking lions topped by a kirtimukha and the tree of Enlightenment. The four great gods of the Hindu pantheon, together with their consorts and respective vehicles, play prominent roles as attendant divinities to the Buddha. The gods, their semi-anthropomorphic vehicles, and the goddess Parvati, hold their hands in a worshipping attitude. Four Suddhavasa-Brahmas, raising their hands in salutation, complete the set of attendant divinities behind the makara-arch.

North Wall
The lower part of the wall is covered with representations of ten arahants holding flowers and turning towards the main image. This painting appears to have been drawn over another row of smaller arahants figures, traces of which are seen in the eastern corner of the wall. Above the arahants are two rows of five identical panels containing representations of ten of the twenty-four Buddhas of the Past. A rectangular panel with a standing image of the Buddha occupies the upper western corner of the wall.

South Wall
The themes depicted upon the south wall, consisting of the Buddha and the arahant figures, are identical with those on the north wall and are arranged in the self-same manner.

East Wall
The narrow portions of the wall flanking the passage are also painted. The area on the southern side contains two large figures of, first a nobleman, probably the donor holding a sapu flower, and next, an attendant holding a basket of flowers. Above them are two square panels depicting two of the twenty-four Buddhas of the Past, a gajasimha motif and flower. The area on the opposite side of the wall is filled in on the lower portion by two monks, corresponding in size and position to the nobleman and his attendant, but this panel seems to have been painted over an older scene, for some remnants of the earlier work can still be seen. Above these are two panels depicting two of the twenty-four Buddhas, similar to those on the opposite side of the passage.

Corbelling and Ceiling
The upper part of the wall, which is corbelled, displays several horizontal bands decorated with various types of floral motifs. The ceiling displays elaborate ornamentation centred on a hamsaputtuva drawn on an ornate background.

The wall surface, consequent to the thickness of the arch, is covered with identical panels on either side. An elephant with a mahout occupied the lower part and an elaborate double-scroll motif covers the space above. The vault displays one of the most exquisite designs known for this type of architectural space, with a hamsaputtuva motif drawn between two narilatas amidst the scrolls.

The narrow portions on either side of the passage which forms the western side of the antechamber, display the scenes of the Seven Weeks after the Buddha's Enlightenment. These are arranged in separate panels, one above the other. The sequence begins on the upper part of the northern side and alternates between the two walls. The events of the Fifth Week occupies two panels one above the other.

North Wall
The painted wall space has been divided into four registers. The three upper rows consist of the portrayals of twelve of the twenty-four vivaranas, commencing from the upper corner on the west and each bearing an elaborate written description of the proclamation concerned. The lowest register contains the first seven of the sixteen sites, beginning with Mahiyangana, Nagadipa, Kalyani, Padalancana, Divaguha, Dighavapi and Mutiyangana. The scenes are separated from one another by an intervening tree.

South Wall
A similar arrangement, as in the opposite wall, displays the balance nine sacred sites on the lowest register, beginning from the western corner, viz., Tissamahavihara, Bodhi, Maricavatti, Sonnamali, Thuparama, Abhayagiri, Jetavana, Selacetiya and Kacaragama (Kataragama).

The arched ceiling is covered with patterns simulating a painted cloth. The centre is filled in by a multi-petalled lotus motif surrounded by regular rows of lotus rosettes. The intervening space is filled with leaf-patterns in geometrical outline. A floral border runs round the composition, while edges are appropriately lined with eave-tile patterns. The edge of the inner vault of the door has a row of overlapping rosettes and a band of floral designs.

The large arched door is adorned on the exterior with panels containing diverse floral scrolls filling the geometrical spaces.

The porch is also arched, containing two pairs of sculptured guardians brandishing swords. The ceiling shows the outlines of flower scrolls that covered the whole space.

The subject-matter conforms to the traditional themes of the Kandyan period, namely, the recording of the twenty-four Buddhas of the Past, the Twenty-four Proclamations, the Seven Weeks and the Sixteen Sacred Sites. No narrative themes have been painted inside the cella. Repetitive depictions of the Buddha, the Buddhas of the Past, and the arahants occupy most of the painted space. Much importance has been given to portrayals of historical figures, such as the king (Kirtisri Rajasimha), the patron (Senalankadhikara) and the incumbent, probably the Pirivena Maha Sthavira, Lanka Senvirat (the grandson of the founder). The four godheads of the Hindu pantheon, Siva, Visnu, Brahma and Indra, whose depictions normally appear in association with the makara-torana in other shrines, have been given here added importance, by being provided with the complete retinue of consorts and vahanas. This is in conformity with the religious synthesis which had been brought about during this period, in accommodating Hindu gods within the Buddhist shrine. The series of Jataka stories are no longer found here, and even the episodes from the life of the Buddha have been reduced to the depiction of the Seven Weeks after Enlightenment and the Sixteen Sites believed to have been visited by him. The most striking feature of Lankatilaka is the important role played by decorative elements, which occupy as much space as didactice and devotional scenes. The designs used are variant and most delicate especially those upon the ceiling, which are unsurpassed in beauty and elegance in the history of art in Sri Lanka.

The majority of the paintings belong to the time of Kirtisri Rajasimha (1747-1780 A.D.). The sculptured Buddha images, makara-torana and its associated divinities were all probably contemporaneous with the founding of the shrine in the fourteenth century, and were apparently remodelled and repainted during the eighteenth century. Instances of repainting do occur in the shrine room and in the porch. Clumsy and decadent imitations of the elegant tree-motif upon the throne of the main Buddha image have been repeated several times upon the walls of the shrine room. The same can be said about certain motifs painted on the corbelled roof of the same room, displaying poor reproductions of older designs.

The traditional pigments of the Kandyan painters have been used, but most colours have been toned down into a harmonious scheme, avoiding the harsh contrasts normally encountered in other temples. The usual colour for the trees is grey-green, although creepers are on leaf-green. Bright red is used for the background of the scenes and for flowers, although pink and grey are applied alternatively for the lotus throne of the painted Buddha figures. The colour combination of green and red for creeper-patterns on a white background is quite distinctive. A special preference for white can be noticed in these paintings. It regularly appears as the background of the decorative themes, the makara figures, the pillars that support the makara-torana, as well as the cushion behind the chief Buddha image. Black gives clear delineation to many complex designs, while gold, applied to the sculptured figures of the Buddha, adds much lustre to the entire colour scheme.

The main Buddha image which is large, is in proportion to the vast size of the shrine. The Buddha figures wear the Kandyan style of robe. There is a tendency towards positive squarish figure being favoured during this time. However, they are distinctive in that there is an elongation of the torso and in the elegant curves, which features could have been taken over from the fourteenth century images of the shrine. The halo has a tall conical shape, different from the cylindrical type with a curvilinear top usually encountered in the art of the Kandyan period.

Each of the trees of Enlightenment of the twenty-four Buddhas shows an individualistic character in the treatment of the branches and leaves. The branches show serrated contours, which have no parallels elsewhere. The kadupul flowers display a developed form, which is a combination of the usual form with that of the other floral motifs. The hamsaputtuva motifs records the best presentation of its kind in the realm of Kandyan period paintings. The narilatas seen among delicate creepers with red flowers are, indeed, among the best of their kind.

The use of the square panels as background for the repetitive depictions of the Buddha recalls the style of Ridivihara, Gangarama and Dambava. The handpose, however, is always the vitarka-mudra, in contrast to the samadhi pose encountered at other places. The occurrence among them, of long panels containing standing Buddha figures, is a special feature, which Lankatilaka shares with Gangarama. The flower sprigs shown on the cushion behind the main Buddha figurre are similar in form to those found at many other shrines, such as Dambava, Dambulla and Gangarama, where such designs are contained within a diamond-shaped frame. Decorative bands consisting of continuous rows of diamond patterns are used exclusively. The alternating circle and diamond motif also appears upon the prabhamandala of the standing Buddha figures, although displaying a rather ornate form.

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