Temple on the rock
In Sri Lanka, there had been a habit of building temples in the close vicinity of ports. These temples were built as landmarks as well as spiritual rejuvenating places for sailors, and traders. Most of the visitors to these temples were foreign traders, sailors, and pilgrims. These temples were called ‘Samudra Giri Temples’ or temples on the rock by the ocean.
Usually, the mechanism was that these temples were maintained by the taxes collected from the adjoining port.
Also, due to foreign influences and links, the influences of Mahayana Buddhism can be seen in many of these ancient Samudra Giri Temples.
The natural surroundings of Samudra Giri Temples are usually fascinating. The temple buildings are on top of the rocks facing the ocean. The golden sandy beaches border the temple beneath the rocky outcrops. It is a magical experience to witness the sunset and sunrise at a Samudra Giri temple. Also, during full moon poya days, the view and the atmosphere are simply magical.
Among hundreds of Samudra Giri temples in Sri Lanka, the Lankapatuna Samudra Giri Temple in Trincomalee is a place that one must visit. Its history and folklore add mystery and grandeur to the place.
Lankapatuna Samudra Giri Temple, Trincomalee
According to historical sources and evidence, the sacred tooth relic of the Buddha was brought to Sri Lanka by a Kalinga princess named Hemamala.
A valorous princess from Kalinga
As the legend goes, the sacred tooth relic of the Buddha was worshipped in the Kalinga kingdom for centuries. The Kalinga King Guhasiva was a devoted Buddhist. Princess Hemamala was the daughter of the Kalinga King Guhasiva. During a war, they feared for the safety of the sacred tooth relic. Therefore, the king decided to send it away from the kingdom. The valorous Princess Hemamala agreed to take up the risk. She hid the sacred tooth relic inside her hair and sailed in a merchant ship from the Thamralipthi Port. The merchant ship arrived at a little port on the eastern coast of Sri Lanka, which is today believed to be the Lankapatuna Port in Trincomalee.
The king of Anuradhapura at this time was King Kisthsirimevan (303 – 331 CE). The king with great honour welcomed the Sacred Tooth Relic and placed it in a newly-built temple next to the royal palace in Anuradhapura.
According to ancient chronicles, the Kalinga Princess and her prince, dressed as priests whilst they sailed. They were disguised.
An ancient port
Lankapatuna port was known to be engaged in trade with foreign ports. Also, as per historical records, Sri Lankan kings had dispatched armies to India, during wars between Sri Lanka and South Indian kingdoms.
The history of the place dates back to the early Anuradhapura Period
As there are caves with drip ledges and Brahmi inscriptions at the temple, it suggests that the temple had been a Buddhist monastery for centuries before the arrival of Princess Hemamala and Dantha.
Ven. Ellawala Medhanandha Thera writes that there is a ruined stupa on the top of one of the rocks. This is a little brick stupa that has been severely damaged by treasure hunters and extremists.
He also believes that this was a temple built by King Kavantissa. He further writes that the bricks found at this place are ancient and do belong to the early Anuradhapura period therefore, it can be considered that the Samudharagiri Vihara was built by King Kavantissa.
During the war and the present day
During the LTTE terrorism, the LTTE used the area as a communication centre and demolished a rock that had six inscriptions to fix a LTTE radio transmission tower. It is also reported that the LTTE built a kovil as well at the site in 2003 and a Sea Tiger base.
After defeating the LTTE in 2009, a new temple has been built on the place and the remaining monuments are being preserved. A little white stupa is built on top of the rock, facing a vast ocean.
If you travel to Trincomalee, don’t forget to visit this place, where the footprints of a brave princess from Kalinga are imprinted on the sandy beach.
By Ama H.Vanniarachchy
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