Mulkirigala Raja Maha Viharaya, an ancient temple built on a 673ft high rock, is identical to world-famous Sigiriya Rock Fortress, earning itself the name ‘Little Sigiriya’ by locals. Although not as famous as Sigiriya, Mulkirigala is a prominent landmark in the Buddhist history of Sri Lanka. While Sigiriya Rock Fortress is famous for its cultural aspects, Mulkirigala is more bent on religion, having a lot of murals and paintings that tells the story of Buddhism and its values.
Mulkirigala Rock Temple is located in the district of Hambantota, the Southernmost seaside district of Sri Lanka. It is located 21km away from Tangalle, and easily accessible within minutes via the Southern Expressway. After taking the Beliatta exit from the Southern Expressway and heading on the Beliatta-Weeraketiya main road, Mulkirigala Rock Temple is only 2km away from the Mulkirigala Junction.
According to the ancient Pali chronicle Mahavamsa, where Sri Lankan history is recorded from the first local king himself, Mulkirigala Rock Temple was built by King Saddhatissa in the third century. There is a local legend about the Rock Temple, where a Vedda, ancient inhabitants of Sri Lanka, informed the King about a great rock on which a temple could be built, while the King was out hunting. After the construction of the temple, it received royal patronage during the same time, as a temple in which one of the 32 Bo saplings of Jaya Sri Maha Bodhiya (the branch of the Bo tree on which Lord Buddha himself leaned on when reaching enlightment)was planted.
Mulkirigala Rock Temple had been known by many names throughout history. ‘Samudda Pabbatha’, ‘Giriba Vehera’, ‘Dakkina Pabbatha’ and ‘Mulangiriya’ are few of the mentioned names for Mulkirigala. Some people also believe it to be one of the 64 great temples built all over the island by King Kawantissa.
During the 18th century, the Dutch who ruled Sri Lanka had confused Mulkirigala with Sri Pada (the Adam’s Peak), and had called it Adam’s Berg, believing that the tombs of Adam and Eve lies there. This confusion had made Mulkirigala somewhat famous among foreigners as well.
What To See
Mulkirigala Rock Temple contains a mixture of religious and non-religious murals and sculptures. There are several sculptures of reclining Buddhas, including 15 statues of Buddha on His death bed. Wall paintings at Mulkirigala depicts excellent examples to the arts and drawings of the Kandyan era of Sri Lanka, as the remaining temple ruins belonged to the Kandyan era, which were brought to life by one of the last Sinhalese Kings, King Keerthi Sri Rajasinghe, after being neglected for centuries after the reign of King Parakramabahu the Great.
Mulkirigala Rock Temple consists of seven cave temples, located in five different terraced areas, all at different altitudes. These five terraces are called Lower Terrace, Bo Tree Terrace, Great King’s Temple Terrace, Upper Bo Tree Terrace and Chetiya Terrace.
The Lower Terrace, which is the first terrace guests encounter, contains two caves, the first one known as ‘Cobra Cave Temple of the Great King’. It contains a large reclining Buddha statue, as well as painting of local Gods such as God Saman, God Kataragama, God Vishnu and God Vibishana. The second cave on the lower terrace is called the ‘Paduma Rahath Temple’, and it carries a painting of a large reclining Buddha, as well as paintings of ‘Jataka’ stories, which depicts the past lives of Buddha.
The Bo Tree Terrace and the Great King’s Temple Terrace contains of a vast number of caves, all inclusive of reclining, seated Buddha statues as well as of His disciples. The caves also contain colourful paintings of ‘Jataka’ stories, still preserving to this day.
There is a unique stairway carved into the living stone, which is found nowhere else on the island, to reach the Upper Bo Tree Terrace, where the sapling of Jaya Sri Maha Bodhiya is planted. From the Bo Tree Terrace, another stone stairway leads to the Chetiya Terrace, where a Dagoba which contains Buddha’s relics reside.
Mulkirigala Rock Temple is a must-see place on your visit to the Southern coast of Sri Lanka. It has both cultural and religious value, making it one of the most prominent Rock Temples on the island. For all those who are interested in the history of Sri Lanka as well has the Buddhist history and the paintings of Kandyan era, Mulkirigala Rock Temple will be an unforgettable visit.