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Mulkirigala Rock Temple

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One of the famed “Temples of the Great Kings” of the Kandyan Era is the Mulkirigala Rock Temple (Rajamahavihara), a short drive north of Tangalle on the southern coast of Sri Lanka. Perched atop a 210-metre naked rock formation, the seven separate cave temples are ranged over an increasingly steep sequence of five terraces, and contain some beautiful and important examples of a unique religious mural painting style. Dating back to the 2nd century BC, the caves also contain statues of the reclining Buddha; one cave is meant to have housed a golden statue of the Buddha 18 cubits in length. There are also some important inscriptions, some fine more recent colourful murals depicting the perils of indulging in sensual depravity - watch out for the she-demons disguised as musicians, a typical ploy – and paintings based on the 550 previous births of the Buddha. Not all of the paintings and statues are in the best condition, and there are few amenities along the way. There are 533 steps to the summit, which the devout will undertake barefoot and bareheaded; best to venture up in late afternoon. The steep ascent from the fourth terrace leads past a Bodhi tree, meant to be a sapling of the sacred Bodhi tree at Anaradhapura. At the summit is the dagoba (funerary relic chamber shrine), and from here there are breathtaking panoramic vistas over the south coast.

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