Lankatilaka Temple ( Image House ) – Polonnaruwa
Lankatilaka Temple is one of the most symbolic buildings of the ancient empire of Polonnaruwa. A couple of great walls, each with a diameter of 4m & 17m, form a narrow path leading to a very majestic, though presently headless Buddha statue, however standing, over 14m high. Built by King Parakrabahu, the shrine is a visible difference in terms of Buddhist architecture. Instead of the symbolic stupa, the consideration is directed on the giant figure of the Buddha, which fills up the whole space within the shrine.
Construction and Materials
The construction of the Lankathilaka Image House showcases the mastery of brickwork in ancient Sri Lanka. Every aspect of the building, including the walls and the Buddha statue, is meticulously crafted using bricks. The choice of bricks as the primary material not only exhibits the engineering capabilities of the time but also lends a distinct aesthetic appeal. The outer walls of the image house bear witness to the skill and creativity of the artisans, with intricate designs and carvings adorning their surfaces. This attention to detail creates a visually captivating experience for visitors, transporting them to an era of exquisite artistry.
Entrance and Pillars
As one approaches the Lankathilaka Image House, two massive pillars made from bricks stand tall, serving as a grand entrance to the historical site. The most towering pillar reaches a staggering height of 58 feet, leaving visitors awe-inspired by its sheer magnitude. Considering the current size, it is believed that these pillars were even more imposing before the ravages of time took their toll. Historical chronicles indicate that the image house once boasted five stories, emphasizing its grandeur and significance. These pillars and the entire structure provide a glimpse into the architectural marvels that adorned the ancient city of Polonnaruwa.
Within the Lankathilaka Image House, the stairways leading to the upper floors are a marvel of ingenuity and engineering. The design of the stairs deviates from the conventional norm, with each step measuring a mere 4 inches in width and about one foot in height. This unique arrangement renders the stairs seemingly impossible to climb using the standard method. Instead, visitors are compelled to ascend sideways, keeping their backs against the walls. This design choice ensures that individuals never turn their backs on the Buddha statue as they go to the upper levels—a gesture of respect and reverence in ancient Sri Lankan culture.
Gedi-Ge Style Building
The Lankathilaka Image House is an outstanding example of the Gedi-Ge architectural style prevalent during that era. The defining feature of this style is the construction of vaulted roofs using bricks, either in a semi-spherical fashion or as arches. Sadly, the top of the Lankathilaka Image House has succumbed to the passage of time, leaving behind only remnants of its former glory. However, even in its partially ruined state, the image house exudes an aura of grandeur, providing a glimpse into the architectural prowess of ancient Sri Lanka.
Symbolism and Significance
Beyond its architectural splendour, the Lankathilaka Image House holds more profound symbolism and significance. The unique stairway design ensures visitors maintain a respectful posture throughout their ascent, never turning their backs on the Buddha statue. This architectural consideration underscores the cultural and spiritual importance attached to the site. Furthermore, the Lankathilaka Image House is the country's sole location where a Nagini image—a representation of the female Naga deity—can be found on a fence. Typically, the entrance of ancient Buddhist temples features a moonstone, two guard stones, and fences. However, the Nagini carving on the left fence, with hoods equal in number to the Naga on the opposite side, reveals the significance and equal importance bestowed upon both the Nagini and the Naga.
The Polonnaruwa Lankathilaka Image House stands as an architectural marvel, embodying the artistic brilliance and spiritual devotion of ancient Sri Lanka. Its construction entirely from bricks, intricate carvings, and the imposing Buddha statue exemplifies the craftsmanship and engineering prowess of the era. The unique stairways, the remnants of the Gedi-Ge style roof, and the Nagini image on the fence further enhance the historical and cultural significance of the site. Visitors to this awe-inspiring structure can immerse themselves in the rich heritage of Sri Lanka, marvelling at past accomplishments while forging a deeper connection with the country's vibrant history.
1. Can visitors climb the unique stairways in the Lankathilaka Image House? Yes, visitors can climb the impressive stairways; however, they must move sideways with their backs against the walls. This design ensures respect towards the Buddha statue.
2. What is the significance of the Nagini image on the fence? The presence of the Nagini image on the left fence is a rare and significant feature. It emphasizes the equal importance of the Nagini and the Naga as guardians and holds cultural and spiritual significance.
3. Are there any intact roof parts in the Lankathilaka Image House? Unfortunately, the top of the image house has been destroyed over time, leaving only remnants of its original grandeur.
4. How tall are the pillars at the entrance of the Lankathilaka Image House? The most towering post at the entrance reaches a height of 58 feet, creating a majestic and awe-inspiring sight for visitors.
5. What is the material used to construct the Lankathilaka Image House? The entire building, including the walls and the Buddha statue, is built using bricks, showcasing the mastery of brickwork in ancient Sri Lanka.