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Embekke Temple in Sri Lanka: A place with some of the best woodcraft in the world

In the Udu Nuwara area of the Kandy district lies a temple with a history of over six centuries. Built during the reign of King Wickremabahu III (1371-1394AD) who ruled in the Kingdom of Gampola, the temple is practically covered in wood carvings. The woodwork is confirmed by UNESCO as some of the best and most detailed in the world. The temple is dedicated to the god known as ‘Murugan’ by the Hindus and ‘Katharagama deity’ by the Buddhists.

Embekka Devalaya in Sri Lanka: The Story

Legend states that the King Vickramabahu III’s consort; Henakanda Biso Bandara woke from a strange dream in which the god appeared and asked to build a temple for him. On finding that a drummer Rangama had the same dream, they considered it a portent and built a temple together. The original temple was supposed to have been a three story building that unfortunately did not survive the ravages of time.

Embekka Devalaya in Sri Lanka: The Structure

The temple consists of three main areas. The first is the Sanctum of Garagha which is the inner sanctum where the statues of the god is located. Next is the Dance Hall or Digge which is representative of the king’s consort Henakanda Bandara, and where dancing events were held in the times of the kings. The final section is the Drummers’ Hall, representing the drummer Rangama and where musical events were once held.

Embekka Devalaya in Sri Lanka: The Woodcraft

Except the Sanctum the rest of the temple is made almost entirely of wood. From carved wooden pillars in the Halls which have open sides to the beautifully crafted roof, the entire are is covered in carvings. The bases of the pillars are octagonal in shape while their tops end in the shapes of a four leaves stacked in a square. The pillars have various images carved into the sides of the bases. In addition carvings adorn the beams, rafters and doorframes.

Notable carvings among these masterpieces were those of the entwined swans, double headed eagles, entwined rope designs, breast-feeding image, a soldier fighting on horseback, female dancers, wrestlers, women emanating from a vein, bird-human hybrid, elephant-bull hybrid, elephant-lion hybrid and etc. The carvings of the entire temple include 125 series of decorations, 256 liyawela type designs, and 64 lotus designs, 30 decorative patterns and roof designs, ending up in 514 unique designs.

The roof of the temple is an excellent example of ancient wooden architecture, where the 26 rafters are supported by a single wooden wooden pin.

Embekka Devalaya in Sri Lanka: Related Ruins

About an eigth of a mile away from the temple there lays some ruins with a group of stone pillars. The carvings on the pillars are identical to those of the Embekke temple. It is said that once a wooden roof rested on these pillars but now they have fallen into ruin.

Both the Embekke Temple and the nearby ruins are worth visiting for lovers of both history and art. Please contact Lakpura to arrange a tour to these historic places.