Maha Saman Devale, Ratnapura

Maha Saman Devale, Ratnapura
Saman Devale, Ratnapura. Drawing by Barbara Sansoni
Saman Devale, Ratnapura

THIS TEMPLE, dedicated to one of the four guardian deities of the island, was constructed on the site of the Portuguese church and fort after the area was recaptured by the Kandyan kingdom. There is some evidence to suggest that there was an ancient devale (described as a "Hindu temple") here before Portuguese times.

The present devale is approached from the north east up a long processional way, and then through a gateway with an adjacent bo tree, which leads into a large rectangular outer enclosure. It is here that the elephants are dressed for the perahera procession during the annual festival.

From this outer enclosure a flight of twenty five stone steps leads up to an inner quadrangle which contains the main devale, together with a pair of Buddhist shrine rooms symmetrically disposed, some rooms for priests, and a well flanked by high walls.

Both areas are enclosed by dwarf masonry walls about five feet high, with tiled roofs on pillars above them.

At the top of the steps a portico of four carved wooden pillars fronts a stone doorway which leads into the spacious main portico of the temple, fifty four feet long by twenty feet wide, with twenty masonry piers arranged in four rows which carry the heavy wooden trusses of the tiled roof. A long prayer hall lies behind this portico, and behind this the multi storeyed shrine room, the doorway of which is flanked by relief statues of Hindu deities.

The flanking Buddha shrine rooms are raised on platforms, and surrounded by colonnades. Each of the shrines houses a statue of the Buddha and some valued relics which are carried in the perahera.

"The Maha Saman Devale, Ratnapura is very impressive—the grandest in size and setting of all the devales I have seen. Approached up long stone steps flanked by dug out boats on either side (ready for the annual goods) one senses at once that one is entering a place of myths and legends and offine style and historic Importance. Here a king at war must have been a king indeed and the
palatial walauwas in the province seem a right and proper architectural support to the central place Of worship of its people. The devale compound is bound by a low, tiled and windowed, wall within which its space is ordered and emphasised by pavilion roofs, culminating in a three tiered tower at one point, with two other deeply eaved shrine roofs for balance on the vast flat quadrangle. The impression is of triangular weight airborne on carved pillars on a flat sandy expanse, glimpsed through ever changing frames as one walks through the cloisters."—Barbara Sansoni

Drawing, photo, and text courtesy of The Architecture of an Island: The Living Legacy of Sri Lanka (Colombo: Barefoot (Pvt.) Ltd., 1998) pp. 116-117