Nagadeepa Viharaya [4] – Rajayatana Cetiya in Nagadeepa

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Nagadeepa Viharaya - Jaffna

Nagadeepa Stupa where a Gem Studded Throne is enshrined.

primary root main first article The Sihala-vathuppakarana, the earliest extant book in Sri Lanka illustrates this event in a different perspective. The Buddha, it states, saw the impending struggle of the Nagas through his divine eye and set out for Nagadeepa out of compassion for the warring Nagas. The dispute, in this instance, was over a throne made of red sandalwood and not a gem-set throne.

A tree deity presiding over a patali tree grown in the Jetavana Grove removed it and held it over the Buddha’s head as a shade on this journey. Two sections of the Nagas, namely, Tala Naga (Nagas living on land) and Samudra Nagas (Nagas living in the sea) were at war over that red sandalwood throne. The Buddha appeared before them and inculcated fear in them by creating the effect of pitch darkness. At this terrible sight all Nagas got frightened and lay down their arms. No preaching of a sermon in this instance is recorded. There is also no reference to how the dispute was settled. There is no mention of offering the throne to the Buddha as noted in the previous story. The deity planted the tree brought with him in the spot where the Buddha alighted from the sky on this trip to Nagadipa. Since then this place became popular as the Patali Cetiya after the name of the tree planted by the deity.

Nagadeepa Viharaya - Jaffna

Buddha’s visit to Nagadeepa

Both these stories, however, appear to have been based on the same theme. The name of the tree featured in both versions such as kiripalu, Rajayatana and Patali is attributed to the trumpet-flower tree. The Sinhala name of this species is Palol.

King Bhatika Tissa (143-167) built the Palu-da-ge where the Kiripalu tree took its roots. King Aggabodhi II (571-604) constructed the Unnalomaghara for the Rajayatana Cetiya or Palu-da-ge cited in historical records.

Out of the three main places visited by the Buddha on his sojourns in Sri Lanka only two have been identified with certainty. They are Mahiyangana and Kelaniya. The very site patronised by the Buddha at Nagadipa has not been identified even tentatively. The small island called by the pilgrims as Nagadipa is ruled out since no tangible evidence there is forthcoming. Archaeological excavations conducted in the Jaffna peninsula have brought no clues towards any identification.

The following notes are addressed to make an attempt in this respect.

It is noticeable that the Tamil pronunciation of some of the Pali and Sinhala words shows variations. The Pali term Unnaloma (Forehead hair of the Buddha) in the term Unnalomaghara built by Ahhabodhi II cannot be pronounced properly in the Tamil tongue. This particular term has been subjected to changes in Tamil. As a result this word would have been pronounced as Nallur through the process of word assimilation. Once the word Nallur was thus formed it assumed a new meaning, i.e. good village. These considerations would probably lead to identify the place now known as Nallur in Tamil.

According to the Kayilamalai, Puvaneya-paku, chief minister of Vicaya Kulankan built the temple of Kantakuvami at Nallur in 948 A.C. The Tamil Malai (narative) literature contains myths and legends in abundance. Historical facts in them are scanty. Puvaneya paku, would have been presumably a historical figure who was commissioned to build a kovil at Nallur in 948 A.C. Puvaneya-paku must have cleared the Buddhist site of the Rajayatana Cetiya ruins and put up his new kovil over it.

It is the usual practice of ancient builders to erect their new constructions on the same spot where earlier buildings stood. The present kovil structure at Nallur could be but one example of this exercise.

Recent history records that the Nallur kovil was a work of Sapumal Kumaraya who later became the king of Kotte with the throne name, Bhuvanekabahu VI. It is wrong to say that he built a kovil there but he only rebuilt the Rajayatana Cetiya which had been erased to the ground by the previous builders.

A formula called Kattiyam which is still recited in the pujas at the Nallur kovil mentions the name of Sri Sanghabodhi Bhuvanekabahu with his queens, Gajavalli and Mahavalli. This Bhuvanekabahu is no other than Sampumal Kamaraya for, he carried the epithet Sri Sangabodhi. He was the yuvaraja in Jaffna under king Parakramabahu VI. Being a Buddhist there is no reason why he needed a Hindu Kovil in his area of authority.


Ruthless pillage of the Portuguese in their campaign of destruction of religious buildings opposing their religion had many victims mainly along the coastal belt in Sri Lanka. The Rajayatana Cetiya rebuilt by Sapumal Kamaraya could be a classic example of a Buddhist vihara destroyed by the Portuguese. Such sites devastated by the invaders were open to the four winds and the mightiest appropriated them for personal use. The Hindus in Jaffna utilised the site thus abandoned to build a kovil in the name of God Kandasami when the Portugese power declined. The builders of the Kandasami kovil, however, were scared to forget Sapumal Kamaraya completely. Out of awe and respect for the prince, the Hindus included the name of king Bhuvanekabahu (Sapumal) in their kattiyam recitations. This practice had been introduced to redeem their sinful act of investing the Rajayatana Cetiya site in their god Skanda.

The site of the Rajayatana Cetiya is of special interest to the Buddhist for another reason. The Pali and Sinhala literature narrate how the relics of the Buddha finally disappear at the end of the dispensation of the Sasana. The relics of the Buddha enshrined in all stupas in Sri Lanka get assembled at the Ruvanveli Seya and float in the the air to reach the Rajayatana Cetiya and proceed to mingle with relics deposited in India. Then, together they miraculously create the form of the living Buddha. The Buddha figure thus created gets itself inflamed, leaving no traces of the relics. This miracle is known as dhatu-antardhanaya, final extinction of the Buddha relics in the world.

Source :The Island – Saturday 8th November, 2003

Also See

Driving Directions to Nagadipa

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Map of Nagadipa

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