Abhayagiri Monastery – අභයගිරි විහාරය

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Stupa under restoration in 2008

Stupa under restoration in 2008

Abhayagiri Monastery is situated on the ancient city of Anuradhapura and is credited to king Vattagamini Abaya popularly known as king Walagamba ( 103 BC, 89-77 BC)

Proof has been found that a Jain temple has existed on this land in the 5th century BC during the rule of King Pandukabaya (437-367 BC).

In 104 BC, the youngest son of king Saddhatissa (137-119 BC), prince Vattagamini Abaya came to the throne in Anuradhapura. Soon after a Tamil invasion took place. The new king unable to withstand the attack, was retreating from the capital. At this time a Jain monk was residing in the area which Abhayagiri stands today. When the king was passing this area the Jain monk named “Geri” shouted insultingly “Lo the great black Sinhala king is in flight”.

Stupa under restoration in 1995

Stupa under restoration in 1995

The king ignored this comment but when he came back to Anuradhapura after 14 years after defeating the invaders, he has not forgotten this incident. The king razed this hermitage to the ground and built a massive stupa and 12 buildings and offered it to Kuppikala Mahathissa Thero. The stupa was named by coining the two rivals names “Abaya” (The king’s name) and “Geri” (The Jain monk) – The “Abayagiri” . The stupa is also believed to be built by the same king.

Until this time the center of Sri Lanka buddhism was Maha Viharaya who followed purest form of Theravada buddhist teaching. The priests of this institute accused the Mahatissa thero for accepting a personal gift and was expelled from Maha Viharaya.

photos from late 1800's and early 1900's

photos from late 1800’s and early 1900’s -From www.imagesofceylon.com

Mahathissa Thero broke away with a following of monks to established Abhayagiri . Even though these two temples didn’t have any differences in buddhist practices, a group of disciples of a Dhammaruchi Thero of India introduced some practices which was quite different to Theravada teachings to Abhayagiri Viharaya. With this the Abhayagiri Vihara Bhikkus were called Dhammaruchi Nikaya (sect). Later Abayagiri became a great rival of Maha Vihara and became the seat for Mahayana Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

The peak of this rivalry was during the reign of King Mahasen (276-303) when the king dismantled great buildings of Maha Viharaya Complex including the Loha Maha Prasada to be used as raw material for buildings of Abayagiriya. According to the famous Chinese traveling monk Fa- Hsien, there were over 5000 monks residing at Abayagiri Viharaya, exceeding the count at Maha Viharaya in 5th century BC.

……. Over the footprint at the north of the city the king built a large tope, 400 cubits high, grandly adorned with gold and silver, and finished with a combination of all the precious substances. By the side of the top he further built a monastery, called the Abhayagiri, where there are (now) five thousand monks. There is in it a hall of Buddha, adorned with carved and inlaid works of gold and silver, and rich in the seven precious substances, in which there is an image (of Buddha) in green jade, more than twenty cubits in height, glittering all over with those substances, and having an appearance of solemn dignity which words cannot express. In the palm of the right hand there is a priceless pearl. ………..

Record of Buddhist Kingdoms by Fa-Hien
Translator: James Legge

The Grand Entrance to the Relic Shrine of Abayagiri Complex

The Grand Entrance to the Relic Shrine of Abayagiri Complex

According to the The Great Chronicle of Sri Lanka – The Mahavamsa, The Buddha visited a place called “Seela Chetiya” in Anuradhapura on his 3rd visit to Sri Lanka. Deepawamsa connects the Seela Chetiya and Abhayagiriya together and the records of Fa-Hien, the stupa of Abhayagiri is built upon a footprint of Buddha. Therefore it is believed by some that the Seela Chetiya has been located where the current Abhayagiri Stupa stands.

Until the beginning of the 20th century there was a confusion of which is what and the historians had mixed up Abhayagiri Stupa and Jethawana Stupa. But this mistake was corrected after the inscriptions found 1909 and after. The Aramaic Complex covers approx. 500 acres (200 ha) and a large number of ancient structures can be found on this site.

Some of the popular structures belonging to the Abhayagiri Monastery are

Also See

Map of Abayagiri Monastery

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The map above also shows other places of interest within a approximately 20 km radius of the current site. Click on any of the markers and the info box to take you to information of these sites.

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Driving Directions to Abhayagiri Monastery at Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura can be reached through many routes from Colombo. The two main routes are through Puttlam (Puttalama) and though Kurunegala. Traveling from Puttlam you will pass scenic Wilpattu area. the From Kurunegala there are two main routes to Anuradhapura. The most common route is through Dambulla. The other route is though Galgamuwa. Out of all the routes, the commonly used is the Kurunegala – Dambulla route (Route 2).

Route 01 from Colombo to Anuradhapura

Route 02 from Colombo to Anuradhapura

Though : Negombo - Chillaw - Puthlam
distance from colombo :213 km
Travel time : 3 hours
Driving directions : see on google map
Through : Ambepussa - Kurunegala - Dambulla
distance from Colombo : 221 km
Travel time : 3.15 hours
Driving Directions : see on google maps

Route 03 from Colombo to Anuradhapura

Route from Kandy to Anuradhapura

Though : Ambepussa - Kurunegala - Padeniya - Thambuthegama
distance from colombo :213 km
Travel time : 3 hours
Driving directions : see on google map
Though : Katugastota - Matale - Dambulla
distance from Colombo :139 km
Travel time : 2 hours
Driving directions : see on google map

Route from Anuradhapura Railway Station to Abayagiri Monastery

Distance : 5 km
Travel time : 10 minutes
Driving directions : see on google map

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Posted in Anuradhapura, Heritage