Tucked away in the peripheries of Kandy is one of the most beautiful medieval monuments in the island, and most possibly in the world. The Embekke Temple was built in 1371 by King Wickrama Bahu III and is dedicated to god Kataragama.
A shroud of myths and legends cover the temple. It is associated with Princess Hena Kanda Biso Bandara, who was born of a beli fruit and later became consort to Wickrama Bahu. She was an ardent devotee of Kataragama, and it is said in legend that that god made her his consort in the afterlife.
The temple is made up of the Wedasitina Maligawa where the deity resides, the Digge (called the ‘dancing hall’) and Hewisi Mandapaya (‘drummers’ hall’). The rectangular digge is the most impressive feature of Embekke. The hall is made up entirely out of wood, down to the very nails. The majority of woodcarvings that essentially make up Embekke’s great glory are to be found on the wooden capital pillars, but they blossom out of the wood on beams, rafters, doorways, and doors as well. Altogether, there are 514 exquisite carvings covering the digge.
A great mix of day to day figures, mythical beings and plants as well as elegantly chiseled animals abound. There is the carving of the sneezing face (Kimbihi Moona), the double headed eagle, dancing women, mother with child, wrestlers and soldiers.
The stylised images, deftly carved, capture amazingly intricate detail, and are full of life. A huge wooden pin, called ‘Madol Kurupawa’, holds all the 26 rafters at the hipped end of the roof of the dancing hall or Digge. This is a remarkable example of medieval carpentry. A compartment called Antharalaya houses treasures from the Gampola kingdom, including a pair of tusks donated by the same Wickrama Bahu who built the temple and a palanquin given to King Rajasinha II by the Dutch.