Temple of historical significance
To the south of the heavily populated town of Dehiwala is Subodarama
Road on the landside of Galle Road. About 200 metres along this narrow
road, located on a small hillock, is the historical Karagampitiya
Buddhist temple with its statues and paintings standing for over 300
In the past, Karagampitiya belonged to the ancient Kingdom of Kotte
and came under the region of Medimala, the western coastal area of which
was exclusively allocated to the fishing community whose primary duty
was to supply fish to the royal palace during the reign of King
Parakramabahu VI (AD 1411-61). The eastern slopes of the Medimala
region, which was rich in plantation, was reserved for the King's
relatives (Medha-Maila) and came to be known as 'Nedimala'.
Replica of Footprint ( Sripada geya)
Karagampitiya had been a vast coconut plantation and its few dwellers
were assigned the task of supplying coconuts and coconut produce to the
palace, which were taken in bullock carts. History records that it was
Parakramabahu VI who established himself and founded what came to be
called the Kotte Kingdom in 1415. His capital initially was at Raigama.
He reigned for fifty five years and was the first Sinhalese King since
the days of Parakramabahu I and Nissanka Malla, to bring the whole
island under his rule, and the last ever to do son.
On a request made by the king's relatives, a Devalaya was constructed
on the Karagampitiya hill-top in proximity to a giant Na tree with the
two-fold aim of providing protection to the sea-faring fishermen and
safeguarding the kingdom from enemy invaders. The trusteeship of this
devalaya was later transferred to the Natha Devalaya in Pepiliyana. The
Portuguese destroyed the devalaya in an attack and made use of its
massive stones to erect the St Anthony's chapel in Mt Lavinia. During
the Dutch period (AD 1658-1796) a church, which still remains intact was
built on the eastern slopes of the Karagampitiya hill, with a wayside
Inn almost opposite. The first incumbent of the Karagampitiya Subodarama
temple, the Ven Hikkaduwe Indrajothi Thera had spent much time in this
The ancient Subodarama has been constructed on different levels of
land-soil. The Sathsathi Geya depicting the seven weeks the Buddha spent
immediately prior to his Enlightenment, the Dharma Salawa in which
sermons are held on poya days and the Sripada Geya, were constructed
around the year 1895. The statues in the Viharage was sculptured by the
same sculptor who did those of the Kelani temple in 1780 during the
reign of King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe, which were destroyed by the
Portuguese, and bear much resemblance to the Kelani temple statues.
There is a speciality in the eyes of the reclining Buddha statue in the
temple. They consist of two priceless blue sapphires embedded. The
sapphire eyes can be seen only when a light, a coconut oil lamp, is held
against them. A torch light is not permitted to be flashed as it is
considered degrading to do so into the eyes of even a Buddha statue.
Built in the 1820s, the Image Hall of the temple consists of mosaic
patterns of the 18th century hill country and those of the 19th century,
linked to the low country. The wall paintings belong to the third
quarter of the 19th century. Those on the inner walls are contemporary
with the Rankoth Viharaya in Panadura and had been completed in 1897.
The attractive floor area of the temple near the entrance door had been
embedded with VOC coins of the Dutch era, but none of them remain today.
Dutch ceramics and tiles can be seen in the hall area including the
aisles. The statues of the Buddha which look almost alive and the
paintings of the Viharage had been done in the years 1932 and 1950.
An important aspect of the viharage is the decorative motif on the
main door of the temple above which is a Makara portico, a unicorn and a
figure of a female donned in mortar. In addition, is sculptured the
figure of Queen Victoria who was enthroned Queen of Great Britain and
the British colonies to which Ceylon at that time belonged. The
inner-walls of the image house have been dedicated to paintings of
Jathaka stories relating to the Buddha. The lower part of the walls
portray designs of flower petals.
Stairway leading to the temple
Temple from a distant view
At the inception, the temple had been known as Sunandaramaya, the
name being adopted from the centre of the Lanka Amarapura Nikaya at
Ambalangoda which was formed during the reign of Sri Wickrema Rajasinghe
in 1800. Work on the Chaitiya was completed in 1796 and a sapling of the
Sri Mahabodiya of Anuradhapura was planted.
The sermon hall is furbished in polished timber most beautifully and
carry paintings as well. A timber fence also decorates the viharage. Due
to the suppression of Buddhism during the colonial era, there had been
restrictions imposed on temple activities and the Governor's permission
had to be obtained to conduct pinkamas and peel the bells of the temple.
This temple however has had the patronage of leading Sinhala warriors
and chieftains including Vilbawe the pretender, who obtained advice from
Hikkaduwe Wimalagnana Thera, the second incumbent of the temple. Records
reveal that up to the present day, there have been no loss than six
Viharadhipathi who held position in this temple.
Mention has been made of this Subodarama temple in 'The Book of
Ceylon' written by Henry William Cave in 1909 and in 'A New Model of the
Universe' by P D Ouspensky in 1914.
Ouspensky statues that the Buddha statues have look almost alive and
has similarities with the Phoenix statutes of Egypt.
The brightness of the eyes, the author states, seems to reflect the
understanding of the world.
This book was translated in German and there have been many
foreigners visiting the temple to admire the Buddha statues here, which
reflect the historical importance of the temple.
Details of the Subodarama temple are seen in stone engravings in
Pepiliyana temple in the Thisara Sandesaya and the Paravi Sandesaya
written by the Ven Hikkaduwe Sumangala Thera.
The valuable paintings in this temple are of immense value to
students of art and painting. Unfortunately, the upper parts of the
motar walls have peeled off, and the paintings in certain places have
become discoloured. It will be the duty of the relevant authorities to
restore and preserve the paintings and statues of the historical
Karagampitiya Subodarama temple for posterity.