Vessagiri (24) 


To the south of Isurumuniya, there is a large outcrop of rocks on the left. These are the remains of the Vessagiri monasteries (marked as A,B,C on the map). The complex was founded during the reign of King Tissa in the 3rd century B.C. as the Mahavamsa tells us that King Tissa built the Vessagiri Viharaya in a place where 500 vessas(the 3rd caste) dwelt. The monastery must have been extensive and included the ancient ‘Issaramana’, which means a place fitting for ascetics.

Vessagiri perfectly illustrates one of the great themes of Sri Lankan architecture – massive stone buildings against a landscape of rocks and caves. This side has been plundered of nearly all its original Architecture and the stone have been incorporated in to more modern buildings. To reconstruct what it looked like requires imagination. Rock ‘A’ would have been joined together by stonewalls in the cracks between its boulders. All around the summit are tracks of foundations for a large building, the walls of which would have soared upward continuing the shape of the rock. On the southern side there remains the grand staircase which led up to the building.

The next groups of rocks ( B on the map) are the largest of the group and it is popularly known as ‘Kassapagiri’, After King Kassapa, the parricide King and builder of Sigiriya. He was the inspiration behind the rebuilding of this site in the 5th century A.D. When he transformed hermit caves in to a vast rock monastery.

Rock C is another monastic complex and there is another cave, with its stone doorway and the frames for the walls and windows intact. It is interesting to notice a boulder from which pillars have been cut. The notches that appear on the sides of many of the rough-hewn pillars at Anuradhapura, are the result of cutting a line of hales in to the gneiss and the splitting the rock down the grain.