Built during the reign of Dutthagamani of Anuradhapura, the temple is considered as the place where the silver ore, which provided silver to complete Ruwanwelisaya; one of the largest stupa in Sri Lanka, was discovered.
Approximately 18 kilometres northeast of Kurunegala, Ridi Viharaya is located in the city of Ridigama. Kurunegala is located 94 kilometres northeast of Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka. The temple is approximately 10 kilometres from Ibbagamuwa, in the A6 highway, which connects Kurunegala and Dambulla.
Dutthagamani of Anuradhapura, a Sinhalese king of ancient Sri Lanka, known for his campaign that defeated and overthrowed the usurping Tamil prince Elara of Chola Kingdom, reigned from 161 BCE to 137 BCE in the Anuradhapura Kingdom.
Upon his victory over Elara, he initiated construction of Ruwanwelisaya, also known as the "Great Stupa", one of the tallest monuments built before the 20th century. Among other materials, silver was required for the basement of the stupa.
In the meantime, some merchants were travelling from the central highlands of Sri Lanka, to the then capital of the country; Anuradhapura. According to the chronicles, they saw some ripe jackfruit in the Ridigama area; cut it and thought of offering the first half to Buddhist monks as a ritual.
The last monk, known as Arhat Indragupta, after partaking the jackfruit, directed the merchants to a path which led to a cave with a silver ore. They informed the monach of their finding after arriving in Anuradhapura.
He was much elated upon hearing the news.
The ore provided the required amount of silver for the construction work. In gratitude, he built a temple complex on the silver ore, employing 300 masons and 700 others including his chief artisan [[Vishwakarma Prathiraja[[.
Associated buildings, structures and locations
A rock to the right of the entrance, which is believed to be the place where the initial temple was built. It is also considered that this was the place where king Dutthagamani dressed prior to worshipping the temple. A small stupa is located on top of this rock.
Waraka Welandu Viharaya is a Polonnaruwa era building, considered as the place where the Arhat monks accepted jackfruit from the merchants. The name "Waraka Welandu Viharaya" (temple which the jackfruit was consumed) implies this notion.
This small Gedige-type building of the size of a room, is built in stone and contains a number of Kandyan era paintings. Its stone roof rests on eight stone pillars, which are decorated on all four sides. Hindu influence can be observed in the carvings of female dancers, which are usually not found in Buddhist temples.
Located in front of the Maha Viharaya, the Hevisi Mandapaya (or the drummers' pavilion) contains a rice bowl and other objects of historical value. A centuries-old Pallakkiya, which was used to carry elderly monks, can also be seen hung on its roof.
Maha Viharaya, or the main temple, is located inside the Rajatha lena (or the silver cave); a massive rock which takes the shape of a cobra head. This cave is considered as the place where the original silver ore was found. Various monarchs, including Amandagamani Abhaya (21-31 CE) and Parakramabahu I of Polonnaruwa (1153-1186 CE) have sponsored the reconstruction and expansion of this temple, which is the oldest of all buildings in the complex.
Other statues: including an ancient statue which is believed to be of king Dutthagamani, eight standing Buddha statues, an Avalokiteśvara statue and a reclining Buddha statue donated by Burma can also be seen inside this building.
The floor in which recumbent Buddha statue is placed, is decorated with Dutch era porcelain floor tiles: popularly known as "Bible tiles". These blue-and-white tiles portray various biblical figures and stories such as expulsion from the Garden of Eden, dove of peace, prophets of yore, the last supper, burning bush and the creation of man.
There are also sculptures of Hindu deities around the main statue. The chamber contains paintings of mythological animals and Ravana: a main character of the legend, the Ramayana. A stupa is located by the right side of this temple. At the entrance, is a Hindu devalaya, which is dedicated to the protector god of the area.
Paintings and sculpture
The cave walls of the Rajatha lena are painted with images that relate to incidents of Gautama Buddha's life. Some of these frescos were never completed, but early sketches can still be seen. The cave walls contain small carved out drains known as "Kataram", to drain rain water away from the paintings.
The Maha Viharaya houses a special kind of sculpture: Pancha Nari Ghataya. It appears as a vase at a distance, but five entwined maiden figures are revealed when observed closely. The sculpture is carved entirely out of ivory. Two lion carvings done in ivory can also be seen on either sides of the main carving.
The roof of the Maha Viharaya is rested on wooden pillars decorated with flower designs. On the sides of the seated Buddha statue at Uda Viharaya, drawings of Sath Sathiya (the way Gautama Buddha spent his first seven weeks after enlightenment) and Kandyan era symbols such as Nawanari Kunjaraya (nine entwined maiden figures in the shape of an elephant), Thri Sinha Rupaya (three seated lion figures with one head), Vrushba Kunjaraya (heads of a bull and an elephant entwined) and Sarpenda can be seen. Initial paintings of Uda Viharaya were done by an acclaimed artist of Kandyan era, Devaragampala Silvath Thena.