Nilagiri Purana Raja Maha Viharaya

Traditional Siththara

Sri Nilagiri Purana Raja Maha Viharaya lies in the village known as Nilagama in Galewela lying 20 minutes from Galewela town. Nilagama is the home for the traditional Siththara (temple mural artists) families who has sustained this art for thousands of years.

When the Theri Sangamitta arrived in this country in 249 BC with the sapling of the original Sri Maha Bodhi, an entourage of families from eighteen types of crafts arrived in Sri Lanka. Among them was Sittara families who painted temple murals. These families settled in various parts of the country and the Sittaras were finally settled in Balawatte serving Gampola area during the reign of king Kirthi Sri Rajasinhe (1747 – 1781).
To restore the murals of Dambulla Rajamaha Viharaya, the king wanted these artists close to Dambulla and gifted them land in this area and whole families moved to the current location and the name of the village became to known as Nilagama, in English simply “Official Village”. This temple is believed to be first built by the king Devanampiyatissa (250-210 BC) of Anuradhapura kingdom. The murals we see today at the Sri Nilagiri Rajamaha Viharaya has been of course done by the Sittaras of Nilagama. The main shrine of the temple in built inside a cave 60 feet long 10 feet deep and about 12 feet in height. The walls of the shrine is atleast 2 feet thick and the inner walls are covered in murals from the life of Buddha. A mural of Buddha preaching to the Paswaga Thausan, the first disciples of Buddha decorate the roof of this shrine.
In addition to the murals, two ancient Dragon Arches (Makara Thorana) can be seen preserved at this shrine. Unfortunately although this site has been declared an protected archaeological site, no preservation has been done and the murals are badly damaged by rain water seeping through the roof and others are fading.

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Nilagama, Bambaragaswewa, Galewela, Sri Lanka.
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