Abayagiriya Stupa at Anuradhapura – අභයගිරි ස්තුපය

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Abhayagiriya Stupa under restoration in 1994
Abhayagiriya Stupa under restoration in 1994

Abhayagiri stupa belongs to the aramic complex of Abhayagiriya Viharaya which was constructed in the reign of King Vattagamini Abaya (commonly known as King Valagamba) in the 1st Century BC.

Today, the main attraction of this aramaic complex  is the massive Abayagiri Stupa which stands at 74.98 meters to the tip of the damaged spire. It is the second largest stupa in the island today. According to the 5th century traveler Chinese monk Fa-Hsien’s descriptions, this stupa has been 400 feet (122 meters) in height and has been decorated with gold and silver and studded with all kinds of jewels. There also has been a 20 foot (6.1 meters) high Buddha statue made out of green jade.

This monument is carries a special importance in ancient Sri Lankan Stupas as the top portions of the original stupa (known the “hatharas kotuwa”) still survives after thousand years of negligence, giving a glimpse to what it would have looked like thousand years ago.

The British erroneously identified Jethawanaramaya as Abhayagiriya between 1873 AC to 1874 AC (Seneviratna, 1994). Therefore when older documents are referred, this fact needs to be kept in mind.

Today there is a massive effort by the archeological department to restore this stupa to its original glory without destroying the archeological value. The work has been painstakingly slow due to the lack of funds. As you can see in the pictures, the stupa is still covered by grass and trees grown on it which more like a mound of earth.

The story of the birth of this aramic complex is very interesting. According to the chronicles, soon after the king Vattagamini Abaya ascended to the throne in 104 BC, 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”.

The king ignored this comment but when he came back to Anuradhapura after 14 years after defeating the 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 Mahathissa Thero. The stupa was named by coining the two rivals names “Abaya” (The king’s name) and “Geri” (The Jain monk) – The “Abayagiri” Later, this vihara became a rival to Mahavihara. Mahaviharians were followers of pure “Theravada Buddhism” and the priests at the Abayagiri were open to more ideas and followed principles of both Theravada and Mahayana teachings.

Ievers reports that in 1877, extensive digging of a shaft with the permission of the Anunayake Unnanse in search of books which was said to be deposited inside the relic chambers. A tunnel was dug 33 feet above the salapathala maluwa for a length of 54 yards towards the center of the stupa. Thereafter a vertical shaft had been dug even below the Salapathala Maluwa, 43 feet 3 inches deep. However no significant relics had been discovered. There after the stones, beads, shells, etc., found in the course of the excavation had been replaced by the Anunayaka Unnanse, and the tunnel has been closed with brickwork. (Ivers, 1899)

The stupa is approximately 1150 feet (350 meters) in circumference and its original height was 400 feet (122 meters) according to the records made by the chinese monk Fa-Hsien. This gigantic solid work of bricks had been plastered with a thick coating of lime mortar. There were still parts of this plaster to be seen over the Dagaba at certain spots when discovered. This Dagaba has an extensive square Salapatala Maluwa which is 600 ft. by 600 ft (183×183 meters). This raised ground laid with slabs is enclosed by a half wall on all the sides. There had been a rampart around the Weli Maluwa that adjoins the platform ; and the width of this compound is 50 feet (15.2 meters). There are four entrances where guard houses had been put up, through which the pilgrims and visitors had to gain admission into the sacred premises. The entrance on the west leads directly to the Ruwanweli Dagaba. (Harischandra, 1908).

References

  1. Seneviratna, A., 1994. Ancient Anuradhapura. 1st ed. Colombo: Archaeological Survey Department, Sri Lanka., pp 162-164
  2. Devendra, D.T., 1952. Guide to Anuradhapura. 2nd ed. Colombo: [Govt. Press], pp.31-33.
  3. Harischandra B.W., 1908. The Sacred City of Anuradhapura. With Forty-six Illustrations. 1st ed. Colombo: Brahmachari Walisingha Harischandra, pp.53-57.
  4. Ievers, R.W., 1899. Manual of the North-Central Province, Ceylon. Colombo: G.J.A. Skeen, Govt. Printer.
  5. Wikramagamage, C., 2004. Heritage of Rajarata: Major natural, cultural, and historic sites. Colombo. Central Bank of Sri Lanka. pp.95-97.
  6. Smither, J. and Wikramagamage, C., 1993. Architectural Remains, Anurádhapura, Ceylon; comprising the dágabas and certain other ancient ruined structures. Measured, drawn and described by J.G. Smither. 2nd ed. (revised) Colombo: Academy of Sri Lankan Culture, pp.60-67.

Also See

Photos before restoration from www.imagesofceylon.com

Map of Abayagiri Stupa

ගූගල් සිතියම් පහලින් – Please click on the button below to load the Dynamic Google Map –
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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

Zoom out the map to see more surrounding locations using the mouse scroll wheel or map controls.

Driving Directions to Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura can be reached through many routes from Colombo. The two main routes are through Puttalam (Puttalama) and though Kurunegala. Traveling from Puttalam 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 AnuradhapuraRoute 02 from Colombo to Anuradhapura
Through : Negombo – Chillaw – Puttalam
Distance from Colombo :213 km
Travel time : 4.30- 5.00 hours
Driving directions : see on google map
Through : Ambepussa – Kurunegala – Dambulla
Distance from Colombo : 217 km
Travel time : 4.30- 5.00 hours
Driving Directions : see on google maps
Route 03 from Colombo to AnuradhapuraRoute from Kandy to Anuradhapura
Through : Ambepussa – Kurunegala – Padeniya – Thambuthegama
Distance from Colombo :210 km
Travel time : 4.30- 5.00 hours
Driving directions : see on google map
Through : Katugastota – Matale – Dambulla
Distance from Colombo :136 km
Travel time : 3 hours
Driving directions : see on google map

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