Gal Viharaya, also known as “Stone Temple” is a Buddhist temple which is considered to be a UNESCO World heritage Site at Polonnaruwa. Sri Lanka is one of the best locations for Buddha sculptures carved out of solid stone. Crafted during the rule of King Parakramabahu (1153-1186 A.C), Gal Vihara sculptures are still in complete preservation with their irresistible appeal and sublimity. It is evident that the artists of Gal Vihara were of more prominent skill and mastery in the craft of stone sculptures in Sri Lanka.
This is one of the main tourist attractions in Polonnaruwa, featuring in thousands of post card designs of Sri Lanka. Built by king Parakramabahu in 12th Century, Gal Viharaya consists of four Buddha statues carved into huge granite stone was a part of the Uthararama Complex.
The four Buddha statues take the positions of Lord Buddha in the meditation pose on a lotus in which the rock behind the statue is decorated with carvings of “vimana, 15 feet high statue depicts the Lord Buddha’s visit to the Thusitha heaven to preach his mother and guarded by two other statues of God, third is believed by some to be a standing statue of 23ft tall of Ananda Thero at the site of lord Buddha’s passing away, besides the fourth 80 feet long reclining statue of Parinirvana, that is the passing-away of Lord Buddha. These are believed to have been painted with gold and studded with precious stones during king’s era and have been stolen by the treasure hunters.
The 23ft tall statue is thought to be done by a later king as the chronicles talk about only two statues in the seating position and one statue on the lying position which was done by King Parakramabahu (1153-1186). The last massive statue of Buddha in the reclining position shows the signs of Lord Buddha’s at his death and not him resting such as the ear lid falling along the body and one foot slightly behind the other in which the toes are not positioned equally.
The Gal Viaharaya at Polonnaruwa is a cave complex, which was known as the “The Northern Temple” in the beginning of its history which is about 27 meters in length and 10 meters in height at the centre, inclining towards the ends, with sculptures carved on the solid rock in four shrines.
Similar to other various Buddhist shrines in Sri Lanka, Gal Vihara is a shrine of Theravada Buddhism. On the other hand Gal Vihara vouches for the impact of Mahayana Buddhism during the 12th century.