‘Discovering’ the Discovered; Budupatuna archaeological ruins

“Without education, we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.”

– G.K. Chesterton

The strange stillness of the atmosphere was disturbed only by the sound of the wind and the hasty footsteps disturbing the sandy ground of the arid river bed. The wind was dry and warm. The scorching sun, although was blazing far above the blue sky made it feel as if it was only a mile away. The atmosphere was typical for the Dry Zone during the dry season but the foliage still maintained the lushness which was a pleasing sight to the eye. The surrounding trees were silently witnessing the group of travellers who were journeying towards the lesser-known archaeological site of Budupatuna or Budupatungala set deep inside the Kumubukkan Forest Reserve. 

This area, mainly nourished by the Kumbukkan Oya and one of its branches Wila Oya, remains semi-arid during the dry season. Yet the landscape is adorned with luxurious paddy fields and chennas. Man-made tanks are the fountain of life in this region.

A journey along Wila Oya

The journey in search of Budupatuna started from Kotiyagala, another historical site. From Kotiyagala after passing a vast area of paddy lands and chennas was the Kumbukkan Forest Reserve. It is believed that Kumbukkan Oya was named after the mythological character Kumbakarna, brother of Ravana – the Raksha king of Lanka. Kotiyagala is the closest archaeological site to Budupatuna. Surrounded by important sites such as Mayilla, Habassa, Lahugala, Panama, and Malingawila, Budupatuna is set deep inside the forest reserve lying untouched and unspoiled by modern tourism industry. Although today the area is invaded by the jungle tide, the density of archaeological remains scattered all over the vast area between Kumbukkan Oya, Wila Oya, Hada Oya and Karanda Oya, hint of the ancient civilisation that once flourished here under the Sinhala monarchs. 

The tale of Kumbakarna hints of the antiquity of the region which was later a part of the vast-spread Kingdom of Ruhuna. The walk across the forest reserve for about thirty minutes came to an end as the stroll reached the banks of Wila Oya. Although it was almost completely dry, crossing the river was not an easy task. Walking on a sandy river bed was tiresome as strides felt heavy with each and every step making feet sink deep into the sand. The approximately eight kilometres of journeying across and along the Wila Oya though tiresome, was an excellent opportunity to witness the essence of undisturbed wildlife, blissfully secured from the cruelty of man-kind. A crocodile enjoying the sun on his rough skin in a shallow water pool in Wila Oya looked so peaceful and serene. The fallen tree trunks were littered by the scratch marks left behind by bears. 

The arduous journey along the dried Wila Oya was concluded eventually at the feet of a carved monolith bearing three ancient statues, forlorn for centuries. 


The blissful sight of the carved monolith washed away all the tiredness of the journey, braving the scorching heat for long hours. There were three sculptures, standing next to each other. The three sculptures can be identified as a Buddha in the centre and two Bodhisattvas besides him. The statues were in a devastating state as they have failed to withstand the unforgiving tides of time including the harsh treatments of nature’s forces as well as the ill-treatments of mankind, tempted by greed for treasures. 

Based on the scattered ruins in the surrounding it is clear that this was the image house of an ancient Buddhist monastery. The iconography of the sculptures suggests that they could be dated back to somewhere between the 7th and 9th century CE, Anuradhapura period. 

History of ‘rediscovering’ Budupatuna

Although Budupatuna is a lesser known place to the masses of the country, it was never unknown to the scholars. In the mid ‘80s – in 1985 to be specific – a team of Japanese researchers from Hosei University had visited the place. According to their reports, the Buddha statue and the two Bodhisattva statues were in good condition. The Mahayana influence of the place seems to be the reason behind the keen interest of the Japanese research team. 

Once again in the year 1995, in the book titled, Indian Art and Connoisseurship; Essays in Honour of Douglas Barrett, Budupatuna was mentioned as follows; 

“The rock cut trio of figures represents the Buddha in the centre flanked by Avalokitesvara (with his garments held in position by a tiger skin indicating his ascetic identity) and a Bodhisattva who could well be Maitrya, as in the case of Buduruwagala.”

In 2008, in the classic scholarly work, Eloquence in Stone; The Lithic Saga of Sri Lanka, published by Studio Times published photographs of Budupatuna taken by Lakshman Nadarajah, and a description by eminent historian Dr. Sinha Raja Tammita-Delgoda. 

Since the mid ‘80s, Budpatuna has always been a place of interest for scholars in art history, Buddhist arts and Buddhist monasteries. The place has been visited and studied by them for years and also academic articles and newspaper articles have been published about Budupatuna since then. In recent years, many travel bloggers and vloggers have visited the site and published photographs and descriptions in online platforms. 

The status of the Statues

In photographs published in the year 1985 by the Japanese research team, the three sculptures seem to be intact. The heads of all three statues are seen in a good condition in the first published photographs. 

Photographs taken in the early ‘90s show that the statues have been vandalised. The Bodhisattva standing on the right side of the Buddha was damaged so bad that the face and entire upper body cannot be seen. The Bodhisattva standing on the left hand side of the Buddha remains almost same as it was in 1985. In the photographs taken in 1993, it could be seen that the head and the upper body of the Buddha statue are damaged. 

At present, the status of the statues are same as they were back in 1993. The statues and surrounding ruins were treated harshly by treasure hunters. The fallacy that treasures are hidden inside the head and bust of ancient sculptures is the reason behind these ancient sculptures being targeted by treasure hunters. 

Iconography The Buddha statue 

As the hands of the Buddha statue are broken it is hard to come into a conclusion about the mudras. However, based on what can be witnessed today the Buddha statues must have been created in Abhya Mudra, the most common mudra among the ancient Sinhalese artisans. The robe is shown in the typical style of Sinhalese Buddha statues and the andanaya is shown below the robe. The Buddha is depicted as standing on a lotus pedestal. 

Bodhisattva 1  

The Bodhisattva figure standing on the right side of the Buddha is in a devastating state. This clearly reminds the Bodhisattva statue at Kustarajagala. Although cannot be seen today, traces of an elaborated crown can be outlined. Both hands are folded from the elbow and moved upwards. Without the hand mudras identified it is difficult to classify the name of the bodhisattva. A chatra can be seen above the head of the samabhanga figure standing on a lotus pedestal. Based on the Raja Kumara attire, earliest scholars have suggested that this could be Maitreya Bodhisattva as in Buduruwagala. 

Bodhisattva 2 

The figure standing left to the Buddha is in a more satisfactory state.Although the mudras are not clear both hands are folded from the elbow and moved upwards. The coiffure is similar to the small bronze Bodhisattva statues discovered in Tiriyaya which belongs to the 8th – 9th centuries CE. The garment is different from Bodhisattva figure 1. Unlike the other figure, here the garment seems to be plain and ascetic, most probably a tiger skin. Based on the makutaya and the attire, this figure can be assumed as Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva. 

Influence of Mahayana

Avalokiteshvara is a very popular Bodhisattva in Mahayana. Mahayana peaked in popularity in Sri Lanka during the mid Anuradhapura Period, falling between the 6th and 10th century CE. Avalokiteshvara is depicted in a dual nature in ancient sculptures, as an ascetic or as a young prince. His iconic ascetic hair style called the jatamakuta, is a symbol of identifying him. 

The second most popular Bodhisattva of ancient times in Sri Lanka is Maitreya. However, today he is the only venerated Bodhisattva among Sri Lankan Buddhists. Maitreya holds a special place as he was highly venerated in both sects, Theravada and Mahayana, as the future Buddha. He is also shown in ascetic attire which makes it slightly difficult when it comes to identifying a Bodhisattva figure; whether it is Maitreya or Avalokiteshvara. In such situations the miniature stupa or miniature dhyani Buddha in the jatamakuta clearly indicate that it is a figure of Maitreya. 

There is a large number of Bodhisattvas in Mahayana including Padmapani, Vajradharma, Vajrapani, Manjusri, and female Bodhisattvas such as Tara, Mala Tara, Chunda and Marichi; to name a few. Statues of these Bodhisattvas are identified based on the various symbols and mudras they are bearing. 

Similar sites

Budupatuna is similar to the well-known Budurwala which dates back to the 9th or 10th century CE, Anuradhapura Period. Buduruwagala consists of seven standing statues, including one colossal Buddha and six Bodhisattvas. Another ancient site similar to this is the unfinished rock cut at Mihintale, which is lesser known than Budupatuna. 

Acknowledging previous scholars 

It is ethical and respectful to give due credits and courtesy to the early scholars who first discovered the place and wrote about it and to a number of scholars who published information about the site following the discovery of the site. Budupatuna is a site that is well-known among scholars, history-lovers and travellers, lesser known to the public and unknown to the ill-informed. 

(Pictures in this article are taken by Tharindu Paththapperuma, a travel blogger/vlogger who visited the Budupatuna ruins in July 2018) 

“Confidence is ignorance. If you’re feeling cocky, it’s because there’s something you don’t know.”

-Eoin Colfer, Artemis Fowl

(Pix courtesy Tharindu Paththapperuma)

© සියලූම හිමිකම් ඇවිරිණි. කතෘගේ ලිඛිත අවසරය නොමැතිව මෙහි සඳහන් කිසිවක් හෝ උපුටා ගැනීම, ගබඩා කර තැබීම, නැවත ප්රකාශය, පලකිරීම සපුරා තහනම්ය.

Copyright © All Rights Reserved. The words, ideas and images are the intellectual property of Ama H. Vanniarachchy. All work published here is copyrighted. If you wish to reproduce the work published here, please inform the writer, to get her written permission and acknowledge this site as the source.

Uncategorized, Art history, Buddha statue, Buddhist heritage, Budupatuna, Sinhala Buddhist heritage, Sri Lanka Buddhism, SRI LANKAN HISTORY 

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Quick booking process

Talk to an expert