Standing Buddha in Gal Vihara
Record: 6.93 m
The Gal Vihara (Sinhala: ගල් විහාරය), also known as Gal Viharaya and originally as the Uttararama, is a rock temple of the Buddha situated in the ancient city of Polonnaruwa in North Central Province, Sri Lanka. It was fashioned in the 12th century by Parakramabahu I. The central feature of the temple is four rock relief statues of the Buddha, which have been carved into the face of a large granite rock. The images consist of a large seated figure, another smaller seated figure inside an artificial cavern, a standing figure and a reclining figure. These are considered to be some of the best examples of ancient Sinhalese sculpting and carving arts, and have made the Gal Vihara the most visited monument at Polonnaruwa.
The images of Uttararama follow a different style from the images of the previous Anuradhapura period, and show some significant differences. The identity of the standing image is subject to a certain amount of dispute among historians and archaeologists, some of whom argue that it depicts the monk Ananda rather than the Buddha. Each of the images have been carved in a way that uses a maximum possible area of the rock, and their heights seem to have been decided based on the height of the rock itself. Each statue appears to have had its own image house, as indicated by the remains of brick walls at the site. The Uttararama was where Parakramabahu I held a congregation of monks to purify the Buddhist priesthood, and later drew up a code of conduct for them. This code of conduct has been recorded in an inscription on the same rock face containing the images of the Buddha.
The standing image is the focus of much discussion among historians and archaeologists, since there is a general belief that it is not a statue of the Buddha. The image is 22 feet 9 inches (6.93 m) tall, and stands on a low pedestal shaped like a lotus. It leans back in a relaxed manner, its arms folded across its chest. The statue's face carries a sorrowful expression and the reclining image—which depicts the Buddha's parinirvana—lies next to it, which has led some to believe that it is the monk Ānanda, who is lamenting the Buddha's demise at his deathbed. The remains of the walls, however, indicate that the two images were once in separate chambers, rather than next to each other. Paranavithana believes that the statue is of the Buddha, which depicts the para dukkha dukkhitha mudra or "sorrow for the sorrow of others". However, this is a rarely used gesture in Sinhalese sculpture, and is seen at only a few locations in the country. Another possibility is that the image shows the Buddha during his second week after enlightenment, which he spent gazing at the Bodhi Tree in gratitude for providing him shelter. The image is not mentioned in the Chulavamsa, which only mentions the other three. While this may be an indication that it is not an image of the Buddha, it is also possible that it may have been made at an earlier period than the others.