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Located on the A9 road (Kandy-Jaffna) about 30 kilometers north to Kandy, Aluvihare Cave Temple has made some major influences in Buddhist history. It is believed that King Devanampiyatissa, built the temple, the pagoda and planted a bodhi tree during his reign, after being introduced to Buddhism.
The temple consists of a series of caves, Buddha statues, Paintings, artistic depictions of hell punishments, and a Bodhi Tree. The large 10m reclining Buddha statue, lotus-patterns and divine soul paintings on the ceiling are impressive. There is a small museum at the entrance that is worth a visit.
During the time of King Valagamba, also known as Valagambahu or Vattagamini Abhaya, the island underwent a famine “Beminitiya Seya” (The Great Famine) for over a decade as a result of a South Indian invasion, corruption, negligence and failures of the irrigation systems. Buddhists monks had to survive in hard conditions during this 12 years of time. With these hardships it was realised that these sorts of events would be dangers for the existence of Buddhism. Until then the Dhamma was preserved by memorizing and repeating the versions. It was becoming a challenge and the monks at the time decided the Tripitaka needs to be transcribed and preserved for future generations to come. They choose Aluvihare Temple to carry out this event. It is believed that about 500 scholarly monks joined this utmost task of first reciting the doctrines, making assessments, and transcribing them on ola leaves known as “Puskola Poth” in Sinhalese. These manuscripts were safely kept in the temple until 1848.
During the Matale Rebellion against the British Government which took place in 1848, the manuscripts were totally destroyed, including many parts of the temple complex. The damage made is still evident.
According to traditional folk stories the temple was first named “Aloka Vihara” (Temple of Light) and later became “Aluvihara”. Another belief is that three of the rocks in the premises were used by a giant for his cooking pot, and the name Alu (Ashes in English) was derived from the ashes from the cooking fires.