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Two and a half hours of traveling and we reached our destination the Panavitiya Ambalama. As we stopped our vehicle and peered out at the modest wooden structure standing in a clearing of flat land bordering a stretch of paddy fields, I was disappointed. In fact for a minute I wondered if we had come to the correct site. From where we stood we could see nothing of the wood carvings that this ambalama was so famous for.

But it didn’t take long for us to discover its wealth of wooden wonder. As we carefully entered its inside the carvings seemed to overwhelm us, covering almost every available space – unique concepts and combinations of art themes as varied as its numbers.
The pillars that held the humble roof of Panavitiya Ambalama were abundantly decorated. The nine inner pillars some 6′ in height were so profusely carved that I almost held my breath. Exquisitely carved rectangular squares half way on the pillars showed off mythical creatures, floral designs and scenes from every day life including wrestlers, musicians, dancers, acrobats, persons greeting each other, persons chatting etc. The corner pillars had grandiose capitals – almost out of place in this humble ambalama. The nineteen pillars that formed the outer posts were less elaborately carved. But displayed an elegance beyond compare.

The woodwork of the roof consisted of beams, posts, rafters and reepers of exceptional wooden ornamentation. There were processions of animals, mythical creatures, peraheras with musicians, snakes in twisted combat, demigods. Fancy flowery and leafy designs filling in and giving the finishing touches

The structure of the Panavitiya Ambalama itself stood on platform 12′ 4″ and 9′ 6″ and raised about a foot from the ground with rubble, its log base resting on four rounded boulders.

The Panavitiya ambalama has been dated to the 18th century. The Department of Archeology has renovated and restored it. It is believed that the ambalama may have stood as a rest hall enroute to an ancient foot path leading from Dambadeniya to Kurunegala and Yapahuwa. Today it stands as a unique monument of our ancient transport system. – a witness to maybe a million passers-by. And we sat down to enjoy a meal of imbul-kiribath sharing with its sole occupant a brown dog with sad eyes.

by Kishanie S. Fernando
Daily Mirror

Pictures - Deepa Navaratna

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