UNVEILING EASTERN TREASURES
As we have explained in our last week’s segment, the Kuchchaveli Temple, or the Pichchamal Vihara is still being encroached on and vandalised by extremists.
Apart from the historical and archaeological value of this place, there is interesting folklore related to the place. According to local folklore, King Dutugamunu (161 – 137 BCE) brought Jasmine flowers (pichcha mal) from this place to offer to Ruwanwali Seya in Anuradhapura.
Archaeology work at the place that was commenced in 1978 was halted as the LTTE terror spread across the country in the 1980s.
Since then until now, the place has been always troubled by extremists, and attempts at illegal construction are a severe threat to this ancient place.
Lankapatuna ancient port and temple
As we have said in our previous segment, most of the historically, culturally, and religiously significant incidents in Sri Lanka have happened in the Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka’s civilisation dawned in the fertile North Central Province. Most of the earliest Buddhist monuments, especially cave monasteries are situated in the Eastern Province. A large number of small brick stupas and an uncountable number of small, medium, and large-sized tanks and irrigational systems are seen in the Northern and Eastern provinces.
The Northern plain of the country, mainly based around Anuradhapura, is called the Vavu Bendi Rajje, the kingdom of tanks (man-made large water tanks).
The vast paddy lands of the Eastern Province gave it the name, Wellassa or Wel- lassaya which means, lakhs of paddy fields.
Buddhism was established and spread across the island at Mihintale, which is again located in the Northern plain.
If one follows the trails of the Sri Maha bodhi tree, and the trails of the sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha, which are the most precious veneration objects of Sri Lankan Buddhists, both entered the island from the Northern and Eastern provinces; the sacred bo tree from Dambakola Patuna Port which is now Jaffna Sambiliturei and the sacred Tooth Relic from the ancient Lankapatuna Port in Trincomalee.
The sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha which was worshiped in the Kalinga Kingdom was brought to Sri Lanka during the 3rd century by the Kalinga princess Hemamala and Prince Dantha. Princess Hemamala was the daughter of the Kalinga King Guhasiva. Fearing the safety of the sacred Tooth Relic, the King decided to send it away from the kingdom. The valorous princess of Kalinga, agreed to take up the risk. She hid the sacred Tooth Relic inside her hair, which was tied on her head in a knot, and sailed, leaving her homeland. She sailed from the ancient Indian port named Thamralipthi. Today it is known as Thamaluk. It was a merchant ship that was engaged in trade in the Indian Ocean. Her ship arrived at a little port on the eastern coast of Sri Lanka.
The Sinhala king of this time was King Kisthsirimewan (303 – 331 CE), son of Mahasen. The king with great honour and love welcomed the sacred Tooth Relic and placed it in a newly-built temple next to the royal palace.
This ancient Lankapatuna Port is a port that is believed to be located at Kokilai, in the Mullaitivu District or a Lankapatuna Port located in the Trincomalee District. Lankapatuna Harbour was not a major harbour in ancient Sri Lanka such as Mathota, Dambakola Patuna, or Gokanna. The Kalinga princess left her homeland in secrecy and also disguised as a paribrajaka priest. They entered the island secretly, thus they chose a port that was not a major one to keep their arrival low-key.
As Purawidya Chakrawarthi, Paryeshanashuri Ven. Ellawala Medhanandha Thera writes, Ilankathurei is an ancient place of which the original name was Lanka Patuna. This is in the Trincomalee District. It is believed that this Lanka Patuna is where princess Hemamala and Prince Dantha arrived at. He says that according to historical texts this should be the ancient Lanka Patuna where the sacred Tooth Relic arrived in Sri Lanka. This port is also known as a port where local armies were dispatched to India during wars between Sri Lanka and Indian kingdoms.
Lanka Patuna Port is not the Gokanna Port. It is located about 40 kilometres away from the Trincomalee Harbour or ancient Gokanna Thota. Lanka Patuna Temple is a ‘Sumudra Giri’ temple built close to the port, as it has been the tradition of Sri Lanka to build temples close to ports. These Samudra Giri temples were mainly for the worship of merchants and sailors. They have also been spiritually rejuvenating and resting places for sailors and traders who were engaged in tiresome and dangerous tasks. Also, these temples were often visited by foreigners. Most of the Samudra Giri temples were also maintained by the taxes collected by these ancient ports.
Ven. 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. There are caves with drip ledges and Brahmi inscriptions which suggest that this has been a Buddhist monastery since the early days that Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka, during the 3rd century BCE.
He also believes that this was a temple built by King Kavanthissa. He further writes that the bricks found at this place are ancient and do belong to the early Anuradhapura period and therefore, it can be considered as the Samudra Giri vihara built by king Kawanthissa.
Most of the ruins at this place including the Buddha statues and the ancient stupas are purposefully vandalised.
Ven. Medhanandha Thera writes that while his visited the place he witnessed attempts to build a kovil on the location. These people have destroyed the ruins at the place and the remaining ancient monuments were further destroyed after the peace talks and a Hindu kovil was built.
The LTTE used the area as a communication centre and demolished a rock that had six inscriptions to fix a radio transmission tower. It is also reported that the LTTE also built a kovil at the site in 2003 and a Sea Tiger base.
After defeating the LTTE in 2009, a new temple has been built in the place and the remaining monuments are being preserved.
The vast ocean spreads to infinity. It is endless. Countless waves flowing from across the ocean crash on the shore creating foams. Time changes everything. This beautiful Lankapatuna Samudra Giri Temple, which has been standing here for hundreds of years, has changed a lot today. A few decades ago, it was breathing its last breath; thanks to the noble children of this land, the place was given life once again.
The Kuchchaveli Samudra Giri Temple we visited last week, was just the opposite. It seems that it is breathing its last breaths in the face of its tragic fate.
We shall keep walking, following the footprints imprinted on the shores of this little island. These are footprints of our ancestors. They are vanishing, yet visible. At times, we stumble across the rising and breaking violent waves.
But, we promise, we shall walk, until these sacred shores last…until the sun will rise and set… we shall follow the vanishing trails of our ancestors.
Our civilisation dawned at the sandy copper beaches of this island when the sons of a legendary lion set foot on this land. They built our civilisation on the fertile soil of the sacred banks of the Malwathu Oya.
Thus, we shall walk along the fertile river banks and the sandy copper beaches.
So, on this fertile island, we will continue our journey along the fertile rivers.
Seruwila Mangala Maha Seya and Thissa Rajamaha Vihara
Seruwila Raja Maha Vihara is one of the major temples and ancient sacred places in Sri Lanka. This is located in the Trincomalee District and is considered one of the 16 places which the Buddha visited.
The ancient text Dhathuwansa mentions Seruwila as a place which the Buddha visited.
According to historical sources, the Seru Kingdom was a small provincial kingdom that belonged to the Rohana Kingdom. King Kawanthissa, who was the ruler of Magama while the usurper Elara was in Anuradhapura, attached the Seru Kingdom to the Rohana Kingdom. The king did not do this through wars or invasions. As Emperor Dharmashoka (Asoka, the Mauryan emperor), King Kawavnthissa, attached adjoining small kingdoms to his powerful Rohana Kingdom through religious and marriage alliances. He took the sacred Lalata Dhathu (the forehead bone relic of the Buddha) to the Seru Kingdom. This is mentioned in the Dhathuwamsa.
According to historical sources, a king named Siva was ruling Seru Nuwara during the time of Magama Kawanthissa. Kawanthissa’s sister was married to Prince Giri Abaya who was of Giri Nuwara. Giri Abaya and King Siva were also close friends. Through these links and religious links, King Kawanthissa united the Rohana Kingdom and expanded its borders.
According to Dhathuwamsa, the Seruwila Mangala Maha Seya was built close to the Mahaweli River, on the banks of the beautiful lake named Seru. The king built the stupa and also a monastery and offered the temple to a monk named Chulla Pindapathikathissa.
Prof. H.T. Basnayake in his book titled Seruwila Pinbima writes that according to a Thai (Siam) ancient text, Jinakalamali, King Kawanthissa built a stupa at Seruwila and enshrined the Buddha’s Lalata Dhathu and Kesa Dhathu (Hair relics). The ancient source further says that monk Chulla Pindapathikathissa was the brother of Queen Viharamahadevi.
Prof. Basnayake writes that the ancient Kottasara District is mentioned repeatedly during the Polonnaruwa Period. He further writes that prof. Paranavithana explains that Kottasara is present-day Kottiyar.
The ancient stupa
Known as Seruwila Mangala Maha Seya, the whitewashed bubble-shaped stupa is a pretty sight to see.
To be continued…
By Ama H. Vanniarachchy
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