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Matale Aluvihare temple

  Province Central
  District Matale
  Nearest Town Matale
  Period 3rd Century B.C
  Ruler King Saddhatissa


The Aloka Vihara became Aluvihara. Folklore has many meanings to the name Aluvihara. One is that the Pali word Aloka was Alu (light) in ancient Sinhala and as it was the abode of Theras, it was a Viharaya. Hence the two words have been coined to make it Aluvihara.

Another view is that although there is a huge rock, east of the main rock cave, it has not cut off the light . Therefore it was known as the Aloka lena (cave with light.Surrounded by hills, the famous Aluvihara cave temple 30 km south of Kandy on the Matale-Dambulla road is of great historic importance. The history of Aluvihara is traced back to the 3rd Century B.C in the reign of King Devanampiyatissa. It is believed that the King built the dagoba and planted the Bo sapling.


Historic Aluwihare Temple & Sangayana Perahera

About three kilometres to the north of the Matale town along Matale-Dambulla high-way lies the historic Aluwihare Temple. The history of this majestic, sacred temple dates back to the reign of the great King Devanampiyatissa. After he embraced the doctrine of Buddha, Dhamma under the guidance of Arahat Maha Mahinda, the King built, the first stupa, Thuparamaya and planted the sacred Bo-tree - Sri Maha Bodhiya - in Mahamewna Uyana, for his subjects to pay homage. Thereafter, the king built many dagobas and planted Bo-trees in several parts of Sri Lanka to propagate Dhamma.

This magnificent temple with caves and a row of tall rocks is believed to be one of them. The archaeologists believe that - "Yanthragala" a small box like thing with different compartments made of solid stone to hold relics and precious stones - usually to entomb in stupas - and "chathragala" - a small umbrella shaped thing made of stone to place on the top of a stupa instead of a "Kotha" - a pinnacle - which were part of the stupa then now kept in "Bo-maluwa", was the tradition of the Devanampiyatissa - era to have Yanthragala and Chathragala, in stupas.

How Alu-Lena became - Alu-Wiharaya

To the east of this main cave there is a huge tall rock which should have given a shadow to darken its front view, but for some strange reason and it has given more light and this cave was called Aloka-Lena or Alu-Lena, then. Later when this place was made a temple with Bo-trees - stupas and became a popular place for Bhikkhus to live, it was called - Alu-Wiharaya. And it is also believed that, during the reign of Devanampiyatissa, that there was one Buddhist monk, reading 'Atuwa' - inside this Alu-Lena, God Sakra had provided light - thus it became Alu-Viharaya.

Writing of Tripitaka

Although the writing of Tripitaka was a great event in the history of Sri Lanka, little was mentioned in "Deepawansaya" and "Mahawansaya", written in Anuradhapura period. But "Sara Sangrahaya", the famous Pali Buddhist text written in latter half of the Polonnaruwa period gives the following description of this great event. "Four hundred and fifty years after the Master Attained Parinirvana, the Buddhist monks who learnt by-heart the Tripitaka, for such a long period of time was written down in Alu-Lena in Malay Rata (Matale) by five hundred Arahats."


The history records that writing of Tripitaka had taken three-years, three months and three weeks and was completed on Vesak Full Moon Poya Day. King Walagamba, who reigned Sri Lanka at the time organized a great religious festival to mark this historic event, and on this day in all the temples in the country, 'Pahan Poojas' - were held, specially temples around Matale, thousands and thousands of oil-lamps were lit. It is also recorded that two complete texts were written on gold-plates (Ran Path) and one entombed in Abeyagiri Dagoba and the other at Aluwihare. Two complete Tripitakas with -Atuwa- (commentaries) were kept in Aluviharaya and Maha Viharaya in Anuradhapura. Later copies of Tripitaka were taken to the other parts of the world, from Aluwiharaya. It is also recorded that Ven. Buddhagosha Thera, who visited Anuradhapura, 500 years after King Walagamba era, had lived in Aluwiharaya for some time.

Description and construction

Aluwihare was looted and destroyed by foreign invaders many times, once by the Dutch. In 1739 King Vijaya Rajasinghe who ruled the Kandyan Kingdom, rebuilt all what was destroyed and built a number of new statues. In 1803, an English army, who marched from Trincomalee to Kandy through Aluwihare, was attacked by some Sinhalese in Matale, to retaliate, the English soldiers burnt Aluwihare Temple completely. However, in 1820 the British rulers renovated this temple, burnt by their soldiers.

During the 1848 Matale Rebellion, the British sent an army of Malay soldiers in search of Sinhala rebels to Nalanda and they were attacked by some people in Aluwihare and the temple premises became a battle-field. The Sinhalese lost the battle and fled. The Malay soldiers burnt all the books and destroyed whatever possible and took away the Blue Sapphire embellished in God Vishnu. The British capitalized this event and before long they confiscated all land and property that belonged to the temple and distributed among the foreign planters.

After 1848, Aluvihare temple had its darkest period. It lost the great heritage of the Buddhist clergy which existed for many centuries. The stupa was destroyed the paintings and the statues in the caves, too, faced the same fate. However, the importance of this historic temple was recorded in reports compiled by Governor Sir Robert Chalmers and the famous archaeological adventurer Forbes.

The Modern Period

The Chief Sanganayake of Matale District the Most Ven. Aluwihare Kirthi Sri Saranagkarabidhana Nayake Thera who was the chief incumbent of this temple from 1896 to 1934, worked tirelessly to bring back the ancient glory of this historic place. In 1899, he got the assistance of T. B. Aluwihare - Rate Mahatmaya - and renovated the Uda - Viharaya. Then again in 1904 with the help of L. B. Aluwihare - Lekam Mahatmaya - the stupa was rebuilt. The Nayake Thera was able to get the co-operation of buddhist to build a Gal Thorana - a stone gate-way, and a Sangawasaya - monastery - for the young bhikkhus. In 1924 the Nayake Thera built the Buddhagosha Pirivena to educate the young bhikkhus.

Present Aloka Viharaya

The MP Matale, B. H. Aluwihare, wanted very much to make this temple an International Buddhist Centre. In 1953, he invited the opposition Leader S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike and laid the foundation stone to build this International Buddhist Centre. When Sri Lanka celebrated the 2500 year - Buddha Jayanthi Ceremony, an International Buddhist Library was started. Sir Richard Aluwihare, former IGP donated Rs. 25,000 to start the project and in 1957, Prince Narodam Sihanouk of Cambodia, laid the foundation stone for this Library. In 1974 Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike opened this well equipped International Buddhist Library. In 1971, H. A. P. Abewardena, G. A. Matale - took the initiative to make Aluwihare, a sacred city. The owner of Matale Bus Company, a devoted Catholic, H. Mant, provided the electricity to this great temple.

Sangayana Perahera

The Chairman of Aluwihare Archaeology Preservation Board G. A. Matale Cyril Gamage was able to get the co-operation of Buddhist, Hindus, Christians and Muslims to held the Sangayana Perahera for the first time in 1973 and it is still being held. Usually the Sangayana Perahera was held in August, but this year it will be held on 29th April. Ven. Atipola Medhankara, Nayake Thera, of Aluwihare temple told the writer, it was very difficult to find dancers, drummers and specially tuskers and elephants in August as there are very many peraheras in several parts of Sri Lanka, and the Board has decided to hold Sangayana Perahera in April hereafter.

The Perahera will start from Bernard Aluwihare Stadium in Matale town at 8.00 p.m. on the 29th and will proceed along Dharmapala Mawatha, Main Street and Dambulla Road and will reach the temple by 11.00 p.m. A specially decorated Sangayana Chariot will carry Tripitaka - written on Ola-leaves recently. Twenty Bhikkus will travel in the same chariot chanting pirith. This perahera will be a cultural pageant with Kandyan, low country, Sabaragamuwa and Hindu dancers and drummers and many elephants.