Ratna Prasada (Jewel Palace) of Abhayagiri Monastery – රත්න ප්‍රාසාදය

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Monolithic pillars of Ratnaparasada
Monolithic pillars of Ratnaparasada

This is the Uposathagara (chapter house) of the Abhayagiri Vihara Complex built by King Kanitta Tissa (192-194 AD). According to Mahavamsa. the king been pleased with the Mahanaga Thero of Butarama, constructed this edifice at Abhayagiri Monastery. What Lova Maha Prasada was to Mahavihara Monastery and Diyasen Paya to Jathawana Monastery, Rathna Prasada is to Abhayagiri Monastery. The competition between the Mahavihara and Abhayagiri viharaya sects of monks can be seen from the size and name of the buildings. Even the names seem to be competing with each other. When Maha viharians called their building the The Copper Palace, The Abhayagians called theirs the Jewel palace. The size too seems to be no second to the Loha Maha Paya. The size of this building can be guessed by the gigantic stone pillars which are seen even today.

In the 8th century king Mahinda II rebuilt this on splendor scale with many storied and installed Buddha statue made out of gold. But all these treasures was plundered by south Indian Pandayans in the time of king Sena I (833-853 AD) but was again recovered by king Sena II (853-887 AD). A partial excavation of this site has that the building has been built over a previous foundation laid down in the 1st century.

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There is a interesting story associated with Ratana Prasada. During the reign of Udaya III (935-938 AD) some officials of the court had fled the palace entered the Thapovanaya (forest hermitage for meditating bhikkhus) for the fear of the king. The Tapovana , like all other land belonging to the Buddhist order is considered as a sanctuary for all beings. But the king and the viceroy had given chase to the officials inside Tapovana, captured them and had them be-headed. The ascetic monks in Thapovana in indignation of the act and the violation of the sacred grounds, left Anuradhapura to Rohana. Then the people and the soldiers became rebellious, climbed Ratana Prasada, threatened the king, be-headed some of the officials who had helped the king in the sacrilegious act at Tapovana and threw them out of the windows of Ratnaprasada. The viceroy and his friends fled to Rohana in fear, went to the monks of Tapovana now residing in Rohana, threw them at their feet and begged for forgiveness. The ascetic monks returned bringing reconciliation between the king, soldiers and people. This is evidence that the Ratana Prasada has even been a refuge for kings (Seneviratna.1994).

The slab inscription (no 1) of king Mahinda IV (956-972) mentions the name of this edifice as “Ruwan Maha Paya” and as the adobe of the head priest of Dammaruci Nikaya.

Lines 8-13 of this inscription states ;

The Abayagiri Vehera which displays the grace of the adobe of Sri at the moment when Mahadami residing in . . . . Arama [experiences the joy of association] with the Dharma, just as Vasudeva enjoys the bliss of union with Srikanta on the couch of [the serpent] Ananta; in which (Vihara) there rises in splendour the Ruvan-maha-paha surrounded by the noble Parivenas, like unto the golden Meru centered by the Kula-gal; where around [the residences of] the four fraternities is shed the effulgence of the shrine of the image of the Lord of Sages, like the lustre of the Ruvan-pav around the abodes of the four regent gods ; where dwell bands of scholars directing their wisdom to great literary works and adorning the Abayatura-maha-sa, just as a flight of garudas hovers with widespread wing over rows of serpents on the Himalayan range; which resounds with the voice of those versed in the scriptures, expounding the Dharma ; which is adorned by virtuous men as by mines of gems; where flourish like unto an assemblage of coral tendrils numbers of Sakya Sramanas (Buddhist monks) endowed with the virtues of temperance, contentment, and religious austerity; whose broad and white ramparts rise aloft like the waves (of the ocean); which waxes with the offerings to the Lord of Sages; where frequent various teachers of eminence, as the great fishes Timi and Timingala” [gambol in the sea]; and over which [Abhayagiri-vihara] presides the Head of the Dammaruci [fraternity], just as the sea-god [over the sea] (Wickremasinghe,1912).

The current building lies on a stone platform and gigantic monolithic pillars are probably the largest building pillars of the ancient Anuradhapura kingdom. Until recently this building was called Elephant Stables due to the massive size of the stone columns. The flight of steps leads upon to the main platform in the center of the east-face originally was flanked by 2 balustrades, 2 guard stones and a moonstone. Only one balustrade, guard stone and the moonstone now remains.

As per Hocart, the steps have been restored in the same order in which they were found on excavating. The lower five are quite plain and unfinished with the face of the riser rough, but the topmost step is carved with a floral design round the edge of the riser, within which crouch three dwarfs, one at each end and one at the center. However you can see the same design on all 7 steps of the building today. Whether they are replicas or original steps discovered at a later date is not known.

The moonstone is simple and in great contrast to the magnificent guardstone, which is possibly the most richly carved guardstones ever discovered in the island. It is cut out of one large block of granite and the central figure is the usual Naga Raja, heavily jeweled and holding a flower filled vase aloft in his left and a branch of a flowering creeper in his right hand. By his left foot stands a small gana or dwarf with right hand upraised. Over both, supported on two simple pilasters, is a canopy formed of lines of lions, dwarfs, and deities issuing from the mouths of the fabulous Makara.

The northern side of the stone is bare, but on the south side is carved in relief a small elephant crouching on the top of a pilaster with more ornate capital. Above the elephant the feathered tail of the Makara shows. The back of the stone was quite plain, and has been used as convenient stone for sharpening tools.

The massive pillars are 22 feet high out of which 6 feet is buried underground. The part below the surface is rough but the visible areas of each pillar is well polished. At the top of each pillar, a notch has been carved to place a large beam. Hocart reports a pillar similar to these gigantic pillars discovered on the road just north of the Kali Kovil where it was just dropped and left there when the Ratnaprasada was being robbed of its stone work as building martial for other buildings.

References

  1. Wikramagamage, C., 2004. Heritage of Rajarata: Major natural, cultural, and historic sites. Colombo. Central Bank of Sri Lanka. p.104.
  2. Devendra, D.T., 1952. Guide to Anuradhapura. 2nd ed. Colombo: [Govt. Press], p.34.
  3. Weerasooriya H.E., 1939. Historical guide to Anuradhapura’s ruins. Colombo: W.E. Bastian, pp 60-61.
  4. Seneviratna, A., 1994. Ancient Anuradhapura. 1st ed. Colombo: Archaeological Survey Department, Sri Lanka.
  5. Wickremasinghe, D.M.D.Z., 1912. Epigraphia Zeylanica: Being lithic and other inscription of Ceylon (Vol. I). London. Archaeological Survey of Ceylon. pp. 225-226
  6. Hocart, A.M., 1926. Memoirs of the Archæological Survey of Ceylon – Vol 1. 1st ed. Colombo: Archaeological Department, Ceylon, pp.1-7.

Also See

Map of Rathna Prasada (Jewel Palace)

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

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Driving Directions to Rathna Prasada (Jewel Palace)  at 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 : 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 AnuradhapuraRoute from Kandy to Anuradhapura
Through : Ambepussa – Kurunegala – Padeniya – Thambuthegama
Distance from Colombo :213 km
Travel time : 3 hours
Driving directions : see on google map
Through : Katugastota – Matale – Dambulla
Distance from Colombo :139 km
Travel time : 2 hours
Driving directions : see on google map

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