The Unsung Heroes - Part II
I have spent hours gazing at the beautiful image of what must be one of the world's best examples of a carving out of living rock - The Avukana Buddha standing 42 ft. in height near the Kalavewa tank. The peace and serenity on theface of the enlightened one has been sculpted with a skill surely inspired by the divine and bordering on the miraculous, because to simply call it a "masterpiece" is an understatement. The master sculptor must have walked a thousand miles as he paced up and down surveying his work from all angles, and supervising the workmen and other sculptors as they worked on this project, over a thousand years before Michaelangelo ignited the Italian Renaissance in Europe with his carvings in marble. The Avukana Buddha has been sculptured to soothe the soul and visitors to the site today gaze in wonder and awe at stone come to life in the form of the Buddha. As for the master sculptor, the world will never know his name.
And who was the chief architect, the chief engineer, the foreman of works, the goldsmiths and the craftsmen responsible for The Brazen Palace (The Lovamahapaya) constructed during the reign of King Dutugemunu ? There is an entire chapter in The Mahavamsa describing this building which on completion had 9 storeys. The chronicler at the time wrote "In the most beautiful of palaces there were nine storeys. All the rooms were overlaid with silver and various gems. A gem pavilion was set in the middle of the palace with pillars consisting of precious stones . A bordering of pearl network ran around the pavilion. In this pavilion there is a throne of ivory with a seat of mountain crystal......" This sounds like a building from a land of enchantment in a fairy tale. But this is how it was.No one will ever know who executed this wonder which must have been one of the best in the ancient world.
Down throught the ages, an aura of mystery has clung to the ancient cities and archaeological sites of Sri Lanka. The unimaginable commitment of resources that went into these major construction works attest to the wealth of the land and power of the kings. If only the chroniclers had left us with the names of some of the engineers, architects, artists and mathematicians of ancient Sri Lanka to give them the glory they deserve, it would surely have enriched our heritage. The names of the builders and engineers of the great cathedrals of medieval Europe and artists of the Italian Renaissance are known to the world. But the master brains of ancient Sri Lanka will sadly forever remain unknown.
I will conclude with another wonder of the world which barely merits mention in the Culavamsa - The rock fortress and garden city of Sigiriya. How does one explain the fact that of such a monumental undertaking, not one single detail regarding its construction is described in the chronicle ? It is one of the most magnificient archaeological sites in the world, and in its golden days was one of the most beautiful garden cities in Asia - perhaps even in the world. Even its very name is mentioned in just four places and the paucity of detail regarding its construction is astounding ! The Engineering genius and chiel architect responsible for this wonder must have been inspired and even aided by the Gods in this herculean task - if they were not Gods themselves !
In the next article I will continue to pay tribute to the intelligentsia of a civilisation which ranks on par with that of ancient Greece and Rome. An intelligentsia which gave the world some of the most spectacular monuments ever conceived by the human mind.
Written by : Bernard VanCuylenberg