Embekka Devalaya


The Embekka Devalaya (Embekke or Embekka) Temple is situated in an area known as Udunuwara in the Kandy district. It was built during the Gampola Era (AD1357 – 1374) by King Vikramabahu lll, as a place of worship dedicated to Mahasen, also known as “Katharagama Deviyo”. It is also where local deity Devatha Bandara is worshipped by devotees.

It has been said that the Embekka Devalaya may be the best place in the world, certainly in Sri Lanka to see the finest wood carvings of old. The main Temple or Maha Devalaya itself has two sections, the “Wedasitina Maligaya” (in which the Deity resides), and another which has the “Digge” (Dancing Hall) and the “Hevisi Mandapaya” (Drummers Hall). The Wedasitina Maligaya is where the wooden image of the Deity has been placed.

The main hall provides a feast for the eyes with its columns, pillars and doors all adorned with breathtaking wood carvings. The roof too has its own special design done in wood. A unique feature is that everything consists entirely of wood, with no other materials being used, not even metal. Even the nails used have been hewn out of wood.

These beautifully carved designs feature some very interesting forms, one of the most recognisable being the Hansa Puttuwa or entwined Swans. Others include designs of entwined rope (Lanu Gataya), sneezing face (Kisimbi Muna), festoon work (Liyawala), images of Deitiess (Deva Ruwa), hawk (Gijulihiniya) along with double-headed Eagles, dancing female forms, mother breast-feeding child, wrestlers, soldiers fighting on horseback, birds with human figures and many more.

One of the most unique carvings features an entwined elephant and bull. Covering the bull carving with one’s hand reveals the whole elephant, and covering the elephant likewise reveals the bull in an amazing example of artistic expertise. It is believed that these beautiful creations are the work of a team of skilled craftsmen led by master craftsman Delmada Mulacari under the royal patronage of King Wickramabahu lll.

A must-see feature at Embekka is the ‘Madol Kurupuwa’, a large wooden pin which holds twenty six rafters together at one end of the Digge (Dancing Hall) roof, making it a one of the most remarkable examples of medieval carpentry in this country.

A compartment called the Antaralaya houses an array of items with great historical significance. One of these is a pair of tusks offered by King Wickramabahu, another is the Kunama (palanquin) given to King Rajasinghe ll by the Dutch, which he thereafter donated to the Temple. A large number of other valuable items can be seen on display within the Antaralaya. Outside there is a large Bo tree in addition to several Buddhist and Hindu shrines, providing sufficient evidence to conclude that devotees of both faiths had co-existed in perfect harmony during that period.

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.

The Embekka Ambalama

The Ambalama, as shown in old photographs is believed to have been 27feet long and 22 feet wide. It was built on a platform with 7foot high monolithic columns at each corner. Also known as the Sinhasana Mandapaya, it was used by the King and his royal entourage as a resting place and also as an observation point when the annual Perahera took place. Sadly the building has suffered due to the ravages of time and only a few of the pillars exist, and the stone carvings on these are fading fast with continuous exposure to the elements.

How to get there

The Embekka Devalaya, situated in the Medapatha Korale of Udunuwara, is within easy access via the Colombo – Kandy main road, turning off at Pilimathalawa. From then it is a mere 7 -8km to reach the Devalaya. Two more famous Temples – Lankathilaka and Gadaladeniya can be seen along the way. Ruins of the ancient Embekka Ambalama (Rest) are also visible just before the actual Temple is sighted.