An Unfinished Ode to Seethavaka
There are those excursions that shock us; some with their beauty and others with their tales. Rarely do you get to see something that embodies both with effortless ease. Travelling through the Western Province of Sri Lanka, I was surprised to hear the name of a historic attraction that I have never heard of before or even seen anyone talk about. Barandy Kovil. I was intrigued. So in-keeping with my usual knack of satiating my wanderlust, I decided to go and explore this eccentric Barandy Kovil. It is an experience that I can say, in hindsight, that I cherish the most out of all my travels.
When should you go there?
What you need to know is that the Barandy Kovil is located in the historical region of Seethavaka which falls under the Wet Zone of Sri Lanka’s Western Province. As such you really cannot escape the slight drizzles at least but you can make sure to avoid the torrential pours. December through February and August to September, being the dry season would be your best bet to go here.
How long would it take for the journey?
If you are leaving from Colombo it will be much easier for you to travel and will take you close to two hours in a private vehicle with traffic. If you are travelling from out of the western province, like say Kandy, it will take you considerably longer to get there.
How can you get there?
The best part about going here was that it was not hard to find at all, which surprised me seeing as I had never even heard of the place before. Carry on from Colombo along the Hatton road to the Avissawella-Ginigathhena road and come to Thalduwa. Ask anybody around and they will point out the way. Also the big Department of Archeology board makes it quite easy to notice.
Sneak peek into Barandy Kovil’s story
It is not possible to know the story of this incredible kovil and walk in there through the massive gates installed by the Department of Archeology without feeling chills run down your spine. Trying to get directions, I had a chat with some locals who filled me in on the tale of the Barandy Kovil.
The story is one that is obscure from the start. Nobody really knows without any doubt that the design was done by King Rajasinghe I but it is heavily speculated to have been so. The reasons behind the erection of this kovil are even murkier. Having committed the murder of his father King Mayadunne of Seethavaka, King Rajasinghe was overcome with guilt and overwhelmed with knowledge that according to the Buddhist faith he followed, his sin could never be absolved. Fearing karma, he turned to Hinduism where a group of Arittas, six of them to be exact, who were very close to the king, helped him build this. According to advice given by Hindu priests, building a kovil in the name of the Lord Shiva (Barandy is another name for Shiva), would absolve the king of his patricide. Hearing about the scandal, Buddhist priests revolted against the king and carried their uprising all the way to the site of construction. Furious and unable to control himself, the king ordered them to be killed in pairs where each pair was tied together and drowned in the river that ran close to the kovil. It is said that there were 119 priests killed that day and to account for the 01 missing partner in the final pair, a wild monkey was tied with the last priest and drowned. To this day the exact location of where there were all drowned is known as the ‘kala mediri vala’ or the Firefly Hole, deriving its name from the fact that the water there is so deep, no matter how big a light was shone, a person at the bottom would only see it as a firefly.
That is just one speculation of the Barandy Kovil’s shrouded past that comes to an abrupt stop with the demise of King Rajasinghe, never to be started again until H C P Bell restored it in 1980 realizing that the site had huge archeological value.
The elegant carvings of the stones that interlock each other in a unique pattern to make this kovil enchanted me while the hidden elephant carvings that can be seen made me wonder why it was there. The carving of a parrot that seemed oddly out of place made me think what other secrets have been buried along with the legend of Barandy Kovil.
As I walked out, I couldn’t help but admire the raw beauty of the Barandy Kovil and no matter how muddied and troubled the waters of its past may be, the unfinished Barandy Kovil will always remain an ode to beautiful Seethavaka; a whispered prayer that perhaps fell on deaf ears.
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