Gal Viharaya literally translates to „rock monastery“. The name refers to Sri Lanka’s most famous group of rock-cut Buddha statues, which is part of the archaeological park of Polonnaruwa. Originally the rock images were part of image houses, for veneration inside shrine rooms. But the walls of those buildings almost disappeared. Now the rock scultures seem to be part more of a free-standing rock than of a temple. The original name of Gal Viharaya was Utthararama, which simply means Northern Monastery, as the location is at the northern end of Polonnaruwa’s main axis of edifices.
The Gal Viharaya group of rock-cut statues consists of a large seated sculpture in meditation posture, one more seated Buddha of smaller size inside an artificial cave room, a standing figure with an unsual Mudra gesture and a superb reclining figure depicting the death of the Buddha which is atttaining supreme Nirvana (Parinibbana). The decorations of the large seated Buddha show signs of Mahayana influence, whereas the Parinibbana-Buddha at the opposite end of the group highlights the Theravada character of the sanctuary.
The standing sculpture in between them is often said to depict the disciple Ananda, but it’s more likely, this is a Buddha statue, too, as it was venerated in a separate shrine room and therefore not part of the image house of the reclining Buddha. This arrangement would make little sense, if the standing sculpture was inteded to depict Ananda venerating the recling Buddha. The Svastika Mudra of the standing sculpture is a gesture of veneration. A Buddha usually is the most venerable being not venerating others. However, the Buddha can pay respect to symbols of Nirvana, for example he can be shown in a humble gesture in front of a Bo-tree. The Svastika gesture of veneration – often taken as indication that this is an Ananda image and not a Buddha image – may be rare, but it is not completely unknown of Buddha statues.
We have a comprehensive article on the Gal Vihara group of rock scilptures in Polonnaruwa here...
Nuwan Chinthaka Gajanayaka,