Descended from the Heights
By Gagani Weerakoon
Mulgirigala or as many call it Mulkirigala Raja Maha Vihara has been, for centuries, popular among local and foreign travellers for its similarity to Sigiriya and the Dambulla Rock Cave Temple. Dating back to 3rd century BCE, the temple which located at a height of 270 metres (approximately 700 ft.) on a natural rock is known for its ancient wall paintings that mostly depict Jathaka Katha and for the two giant reclining Buddha statues.
While it was considered mainly as a Buddhist place of worship, the Dutch who ruled the Southern coastal belt during the 18th century believed that the tombs of Adam and Eve were located there and thus, called the rock, Adam’s Berg.
The Temple was declared as an archaeological site by the Government on 8 April 1988. Last Saturday, 4 July 2020 (Esala Poya Day) a Sannaspatha was presented to the Chief Incumbent of Hambantota District, Sri Saddharma Keerthi Sri Beligalle Saranapala Thera, which declared Mulkirigala Raja Maha Vihara as a ‘Sacred Site’. The 8 feet tall Smadhi Buddha statue that was placed on the peak of the rock was also declared open for the devotees on the same day.
Mulkirigala Raja Maha Vihara which has been famous for its location, outer appearance, art and sculpture for centuries also entered the annals of the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF), with the placement of Samadhi Buddha statue on top of the rock cave temple.
On 19 June, an MI-17 helicopter airlifted the heaviest ever external load taken on for an underslung operation in the history of SLAF. The MI-17 No. 6 Squadron at Anuradhapura airlifted the eight-feet-tall Samadhi Buddha statue which weighed a mammoth 3.5 tonnes from Mandaduwa Grounds in Weeraketiya to Mulkirigala mountain rock peak, covering 3 nautical miles.
This historical operation was conducted on the instructions of Commander of SLAF Air Marshal Sumangala Dias and under the supervision of Director Air Operations Air Vice Marshal P.D.K.T. Jayasinghe.
The helicopter which conducted this historical underslung operation was captained by Group Captain Priyamal Fernando, Commanding Officer of No. 6 Squadron and co-piloted by Wing Commander Venu Silva. A crew of 20 officers and an airman also joined in ensuring the operation ended successfully.
In addition, a special lifting platform was designed and manufactured by the General Engineering Wing at SLAF Base Katunayake under the guidance of the commanding officer, Group Captain Indika Wickramasinghe. This platform was to ensure safe facilitation of airlifting the Buddha statue. Before the mission commenced, qualified engineers from SLAF as well as State Engineering Corporation verified the designated platform was capable of handling such a large weight.