Miraculous and Marvelous temple referred to as the Bellanwila Rajamaha Viharaya, with a heritage of glorious history, stands out as the most historic and significant among the many temples in the island today.
Situated on the Dehiwela-Maharagama road about two kilometres away from the Colombo-Galle highway in a scenic location, originally surrounded by green fields, this powerful enchanting temple is among the oldest, dating back to the Anuradhapura period.
The earliest available documentary source for the history of the temple is one of the early chronicles – Bodhiwamsa. From what can be gathered the history of the temple dates back to the Anuradhapura period during which time Theri Sanghamitta brought with her a branch of the Sri Maha Bodhi under which the Buddha attained Buddhahood.
Bodhiwamsa speaks of 40 places where the Bo saplings from the original were planted and Bellanwila is clearly stated in the list, leading to a definite conclusion regarding the origin of this sacred temple. Whatever this may mean, it cannot be denied that this temple is a sacred place, as sacred as the place where Buddha attained his enlightenment.
When examining the history of the temple it has been classified into 3 phases. The period associated with the planting of the Sri Maha Bodhi during the Anuradhapura period, is the first phase. The second phase begins with the reign of Sri Sangabodhi Parakramabahu of Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte, a generous supporter of Buddhism, who patronised the temples of the area.
The third or the modern era begins with the re-discovery of the temple by the Thera Thengodagedasra after the dark ages subsequent to the Portuguese conquest.
According to Professor Nandasena Ratnapala the legend says that tree worship was in existence and it has been the practice of early kings to construct temples on selected land believed to have been dedicated to divine beings, citing Ruwanveliseya as an example.
He is of the view that tree worship as a mark of respect and a sign of prosperity was prevalent at Bellanwila area and the Bo sapling was planted on a land dedicated to deities as a sign of prosperity and blessed by them. It is believed that it had close links with Papiliyane Sunethra Devi Pirivena, due to its close proximity and that both belonged to the same complex as mentioned in the Sandesha Kavya.
There is difference of opinion regarding the name as expressed by researchers of repute. The general accepted view is that Bellanwila literally means a pond consisting of Bellan (a kind of snails) which is supported by a pond located in the centre of lush green paddy land in the east.
There is still another view that it refers to a wela (field) and not wila meaning pond long renowned as a prosperous area of paddy land, it is believed that more appropriate should be wela, Arisen Ahubudu’s version is that it denotes a paddy land in a forest rampant with beli (a popular fruit) trees whatever the origin may be, this is and has been a magnificent temple rendering an enormous service to the island at large.
The massive temple plays a vital role in the life of every Sri Lankan Buddhist bringing into focus its miraculous powers.
Conveniently located on the way to Maharagama most prominently displayed at the entrance is a Makara thorana solidly constructed as though every devotee is welcomed in walking through the main gate straight to the top with a flight of steps, at the foot of which you find the statue of Venerable Bellanwila Somaratana Thera, who bravely championed the historic revival of the temple.
To your left is the main Viharageya resembling Polonnaruwa architecture which house the majestic standing Buddha statue, very similar to that of Avukana.
As you enter the most impressive sculpture is the standing image surrounded by Buddhist statues of different postures. Behind is the recumbent Buddha image depicting the passing away. There is also a statue of Bosat Maithree on a side.
There are exquisite paintings adorning every wall inside, depicting various events of the life of the Buddha and illustrating the history of the temple. In the centre outside is the Bell shaped Dagoba though not very large in size, stands as a monumental tribute for the devotees to worship and gain merit.
As you enter the temple premises on your right there is the building which house the dieties of Vishnu, Eeshwara and Ganeshwara. There is a small statue of Buddha too, very similar to the Mahamewna Samadhi Pilima.
Behind this, is the most venerated, historic Bodhiya with its outspreading branches as if it is bestowing compassion, loving kindness and patience to its worshippers. Right round the Bodhiya are found the small Devalayas housing the symbolic images of gods such asKataragama, Saman, Vibheeshana, Huniam, Dedimunda, Natha and Paththini Matha, once again depicting the architecture of the Polonnaruwa period.
Most Buddhists who visit the temple pray for their blessings and the Kapumahatmayas offer a dedicated service. The devotees are offered the best complying with their requests. Many are there to worship the Bodhiya offer the merit, then make vows as well as to fulfil the vows already made with all kinds of offerings for the favours granted.
Early morning is the best time to worship in quiet serene surroundings and engage yourself in meditation, Pirith chanting and worship to your heart’s content.
The place is spotlessly clean with volunteers sweeping with great enthusiasm saying that “this is what keeps you healthy and free of troubles in life”.
There are regular worshippers who come on specific days mostly on Saturdays who have been visiting regularly lasting over 10, 15 years. Among them are a few who turn up as early as 5 o clock, engage in cleaning and washing the Mal Aasana fully committed to the task.
There are still others deeply involved in making various pujas – busy arranging offerings of Gilanpasa. As the day dawns one would see the devotees streaming in for Pujas and the venerated Bodhiya is bathed going round it reciting gathas.
On Saturdays it is packed with devotees of all ages. Everyone of them feel at home, feel that it is their own pious pilgrims come in crowds in vehicles from long distances. There is a Pilgrims Rest located close to the temple across the road for those who are on a long journey.
This will not be complete if no mention is made of the annual procession the most colourful cultural pageant comprising of traditional drummers, dancers, trumpeteers and elephants etc parading the streets of the neighborhood which is believed to bless the entire area.
It is our day’s routine to set off from home before dawn at 5 every Saturday, worship Viharaya, Dagoba and leave for Bodhiya where we chant pirith gazing at the beautiful Bo tree and pray for my family and near and dear ones here and abroad for their good health and welfare.
Since I am in the evening of my life finally I wish may I be given good health to continue this the longest possible – of course with my husband who accompanies me. Buddhists – Do not fail to visit this blissful place of worship.
- List of Ancient Heritage Sites of Sri Lanka