Comprising a series of caves carved out of rock, the Aluvihare monastery complex is an atmospheric site. It marks the spot where the Tripitakaya – the Theravada Buddhist canon – was first penned in the 1st century BC. Prior to this, the Buddha’s diverse teachings were passed orally from one generation to the next. The ola-leaf manuscripts, which were transcribed from the Pali language by 500 monks, remained safe here until the mid-19th century when they were destroyed by British troops during an attack on the temple.
The monastic caves are linked to each other by a flight of steps and small paths between the rocks and boulders; triangular shapes have been carved into the stone to act as holders for lamps. The first cave temple has a 10 m long reclining Buddha and colorful lotus flower paintings adorning the ceiling. Some steps up, the second cave is also home to a reclining Buddha statue. However, the most striking aspect is the graphic murals on the walls of the cave depicting sinners being tortured in hell. Transgressors are shown being beheaded, their heads impaled, or their skulls being cut open.
The cave opposite this one depicts life-size plaster figures enduring these torments. A gap in the rock between the first two cave temples leads to a smaller cave with a brightly painted exterior. This cave is dedicated to the Indian Buddhist scholar, Buddhaghosa, known for his extensive work on the Tripitakaya. From here steps lead up to a bo tree, a dagoba and a terrace that offers lovely views of the surrounding hills.
To the left of the temple complex, up a flight of steps, is the International Buddhist Library and Museum. Inside are old photographs, Buddha statues and a display detailing how palmyra leaves become old-leaf manu-scripts. more