THE TRAVELOGUE @ THE TRAVEL ROOM
There's hell to pay in Aluvihara!
As we wandered down the busy road from Matale, a town chosen for both its convenience in location to the cave temples of Aluvihara and as a break point in yet another slow and torturous journey on Sri Lankan public transport we spied a large gold Buddha way up on the hill and knew our destination must be close.
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I use the term complex quite loosely as there are 5 caves, hewn into fallen rocks which contain a small but famously bizarre array of religious depictions. There are the usual suspects such as the reclining Buddha (no wonder Buddha ended up such a fat fellow if he reclined as much as all these carvings show!) or two, but then you find a cave with the Buddhists depictions of hell painted all over it. In these depictions it would appear that their version of the netherworld entails you being impaled through one of your orifices on a pike or stake, repeatedly.
There is an inordinate number of unfortunates being or about to be turned in to human skewers. You could say that the painters were mildly anal obsessed with the quantity of skewering going on, unless the victim was a women, then she got to play orifice roulette. Wandering out of this cave brought us to a magnificently poor mannequin reenactment of Buddhists hell which also had the usual skewering and entrails dangling, but then has the unusual sight of a British soldier shooting two locals tied to a tree. A definitely unique version of hell.
The beach in Negombo (looking South), Sri Lanka
A compulsory 200SLR ‘donation’ got us through the gates, but without our much needed footwear; much needed if we wished to get to the gold Buddha majestically staring down at us. Quickly we realized that goldy on the hill wasn’t what we had come to see as we were directed to what can at best be described in polite company as a scarce museum containing the rewritten (rewritten as the originals from the first century were destroyed during one of the many revolts against the British) Buddhist tipitaka and a newspaper clipping from the 50’s congratulating the local police chief for catching the Duke of Edinburgh before he fell after tripping on a step in the complex.
You can picture the scene in that version of hell,
Dilshan: So what are we doing today Sunil
Sunil: Well since we are stuck in Buddhist hell I guess we are being shot by the British at 3.00pm again.
3.00pm comes around and the British troops also stuck in this Buddhist hell turn up (or maybe they are on loan from Christian hell?) and shoot the two Sri Lankans for their sins.
As you are in hell and already dead, I guess at 3.01pm you reanimate, so as the British troops head back to Christian hell they depart with the farewell of 'see you two at 3.00pm tomorrow. Don't be late or there will be hell to pay.'
Newspaper article from the Ceylon Times on Oct 28 1956 congratulating the local police chief for catching the Duke of Edinburgh preventing him from having a nasty fall on display at the Aluvihara museum
Below: A depiction of Buddhist hell, with the 'devils' impaling the sinners at Aluvihara caves
Above: A reclining Buddha at the Aluvihara caves, Sri Lanka
One of the other depictions of hell; a sinner has his brains eaten whilst he is still alive!
Buddhist hell truly seems to be an odd place and as we trundled out of the caves and retrieved our footwear from the disconsolate 'footwear guard', we spied two other travellers who looked equally perplexed, thus we left feeling slightly vindicated in the knowledge that we were not the only ones who thought that the Aluvihara caves were also just a little bit odd.
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