Temple by the Rocks Godawaya Ancient Temple

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By Ama H.Vanniarachchy

“If you are delighted to be in ancient ruins, you are either a curious historian or a romantic person!”

– Mehmet Murat ildan

Southern Sri Lanka is known for its beautiful rocky beaches, turquoise blue seas and lush green patches of forests close to the beach. This part of the island is also known for the rich cultural legacy it has inherited from the past and is still being preserved. A large number of ancient temples in the region are like miniature art galleries and museums as they preserve age-old traditions, rituals and places that display the arts and architecture of ancient Sri Lanka.

These little temples are perfect places for travellers who love to explore the country’s history and culture. Almost all of these ancient temples are built by causing the least damage to nature and not disturbing the natural landscape. Hence, these temples are ideal combinations of the wonders of human creation and nature’s creations. 

The Godawaya ancient temple or the ancient Gota Pabbata Rajamaha Viharaya at Ambalantota, Hambantota is one such place where one can enjoy the mysteriousness of the unknown past and the beauty of Mother Nature. 

The past glory 

Although it was disheartening to see how the Anuradhapura period granite Buddha statue lies in pieces, helplessly, under a large banyan tree, the place does not disappoint one with its serene atmosphere and the scenic beauty of the Indian Ocean. Day by day, the features of this statue are fading away as it fails to withstand the harshness of nature. The stone pillars that once stood tall and proud, are now swallowed by the jungle tide. 

The original name of this place had been Gota Pabbata Pattana or Goda Pavata Pattana hence the temple is known as the Gota Pabbata Raja Maha Vihara. The history of the temple and the Pattana (port harbour) dates back to the 2nd century CE. Historical and archaeological data suggest that this temple was a prominent religious and administrative centre from the time of King Gajabahu I (113 –135 CE). 

Stone pillars, stone slabs and bricks are scattered all over the place, along with the foundation of an ancient building. 

There are parts of an ancient granite Buddha and Bodhisattva statue which are in a very dilapidated state which is tragic. These statues can be dated to the second half of the Anuradhapura period, approximately to the 8-9th centuries. 

The famous  inscription

Beyond the banyan tree, there is the famous Godawaya inscription. The inscription is in a bad state as it has almost given up its battle against the harshness of nature. 

This inscription says that Ahalya, one of Gajabahu I’s ministers, inscribed it there and proclaims the king’s order to donate the harbour’s taxes to the temple.

Opposite this is a small whitewashed stupa that is built on a rock hill. The view on the top of this small rock hill is breathtaking. The rocky and sandy bay and the silver-blue sea that expands beneath the bright blue sky create a mesmerising view. 

The ancient harbour

This harbour, known as Godawaya, was an important harbour of the ancient Ruhunu kingdom and played a significant role in the ancient maritime Silk Road which had trade links with China in the East, with the Red Sea areas and with the Mediterranean. The connection between the Godawaya Harbour and this temple is that the king had proclaimed that tax money would be donated for the maintenance of this temple. This once again is evidence to mark the significance of this ancient temple. 

Archaeological  work and the present situation

International and local archaeologists have done extensive research at this place including excavations and explorations. Through such research work, the place’s history has been dated back to prehistoric times. 

A wildlife sanctuary and a turtle nesting place

Godawaya is not only important due to its cultural heritage; it is a wildlife sanctuary. The beach is known as a nesting place for Leatherback turtles. 

Today the temple, ancient harbour, and the prehistoric site are not being maintained well and there are no information boards that will enlighten the visitors. It would be great if the Department of Archaeology consider this place to be protected and well maintained. 

“There is nothing sadder than remembering how wonderful a ruined place or someone once was!” – Mehmet Murat ildan