Seruwila is reachable both by road and sea. The sea route begins at Trincomalee to Muttur by boat and another 16 km by road. The land route is via Kantalai, to Allai which is approximately 45 km through dense forest.
List of Monuments in the complex:
- Stupa – Origin 2nd Century B.C. – restored in 1920’s.
- Restored Northern entrance – This building has evidence of molded bricks, balustrades, guard stones, and moonstones. In addition, there is a ruined ceremonial gateway with a carved stone door frame.
- Western entrance – Evidence of preliminary stages of stone works in moldings showing exemplary stone jointing methods.
- Southern entrance – Balustrades with elephant motifs, guard stones stone door frame, etc.
- Eastern entrance
- Image house building at the Stupa terrace
- Sculptured stone lotus
- Bo tree shrine [Bodhighara]
- Ancient pond
- Remains of ancient Chapter House
- Remains of monasteries
- Remains of a building on stone pillars
- Natural stone platform and caves with primitive paintings
History and Development
During the reign of Kavantissa (2nd century B.C.) the Kingdom of Ruhuna was threatened by invaders. The king had to evolve a strategy to prevent a disaster. He was very well aware that there was a buffer state of Seru on the northeastern seaboard of Sri Lanka which was ruled by a prince by the name of Siva. The King finally had been able to solve the problem avoiding military confrontation and as a result, he had to build a Stupa at Seruwila.
King Kavantissa knew that he could make use of the loyalty and respect the Sinhala nobles and the populace had for Buddhism to win over Princes Siva and Abhaya, his ally. The word was spread by religious teachers that the Sacred Relic of the Buddha which was in the possession of Kavantissa was destined to be enshrined by him personally in a stupa to be built at Seru and that Lord Buddha had prophesied this would happen. Once the groundwork had been laid, Kavantissa had marched with his army towards Seru proclaiming the purpose of his visit asking all the landowners in and around Seru to come to his assistance. The Thera who had propagated the story about the Relic of the Buddha had also accompanied him.
“The kinglets of Seru and Soma must have found themselves in the horns of a dilemma. If they received Kavantissa in a friendly manner it would have amounted to acknowledging him as their suzerain. If they did not do so they would have alienated the sympathies of their own subjects, for the declared purpose of Kavantissa’s visit was one which the people as a whole would have approved. Besides Kavantissa was accompanied by a powerful force and the spiritual mentor who had accompanied him on this expedition was the one who commanded the respect of the local rulers as the prince of Mahagama. The outcome was, the kinglets of Seru and Soma and their retainers received Kavantissa with honour due to an overlord and assisted him in the building of the shrine. Thus Kavantissa achieved well described as a Dhamma- Vijaya which ultimately was of benefit to all parties concerned’. -Dhatuvamsa-
Thus the Sacred Relic, which was the frontal bone of the Buddha, was enshrined in the stupa which was known as Tissa Maha Vehera.
Reconciliation had brought in its rewards. The stratagem adopted by Kavantissa helped him to unify the entire portion of the country to the south of the Mahaweli and Kelani rivers and establish his capital at Mahagama. Meanwhile, the fame of the Seruwila shrine had spread far and wide and it became a great place of worship and pilgrimage.
Having extended his authority to the Seru district Kavantissa had caused the marsh in the vicinity of the stupa to be drained and converted into a lake. Having done this, he dedicated the lands around the shrine to a distance of eleven miles for cultivation so the harvests could be used for the maintenance of the sacred shrine and the 500 monks who were the residents there. There is evidence that Arahats have resided in the caves around the Stupa terrace. In the vicinity of the Dagaba is an ancient inscription that goes back to the second century. It states –
“Bata Gutaha Lene Caduke” which when translated means – “The cave of Lord Gutta is dedicated to the Sangha of the four quarters.”
There is another rock inscription belonging to the period of King Kassapa IV [A.D. 898 – 9141 mentioning the Arahats and identification of the place name as Tissa Maha Vehera. Another inscription found at the Stupa terrace belongs to the reign of Kassapa V [A.D. 914 – 923].
Over the years, the stupa fell into decay under the pressure of the Tamil invasions from the north. However, there is evidence in the literature that this area was under the purview of the Kandyan territory during the 17th Century AD and the existence of this stupa.
During the Colonial occupation of the island, priority was given to the fertile western part of the island and as a result, the arid dry zone was neglected and left to wilderness.
According to the late Dr. R. L. Brohier, the Seruwila region was a vast swamp or villu where the flood waters of the Mahaweli Ganga were collected. This villu was the home of large flocks of teal (seru) during the migratory period. That perhaps was how the place came to be known as Seruwila (Seeing Ceylon by R. L. Brohier).
It was only in 1922 that the dagaba was re-discovered by Ven. Dambagasare Sumedhankara Thero assisted by the Archeological Department, restored the Stupa using remains of ancient structures that still survive around the Stupa to conjecture the conservation work. The conservation was completed in 1931.
In view of the importance of this sacred shrine and to attract more pilgrims to the area, the Department of Town and Country Planning has drawn up a plan for the development of a new town complete with pilgrim rests, market areas, etc. during the 1970s.
Because of the unrest in the North and the East of the island, the past two decades have shown low progress in restoration and development activities and the raging war situation has aggravated the deterioration of the remains.
Form and date of most recent records of site
“Historic Seruwila” – An unpublished M.A. Dissertation by Mr. P.D. Ratnasiri submitted for the Post Graduate Examination in Archaeology of the University of Kelaniya. Submitted in May 2002.
The present state of conservation
Because of the unrest in the North and the East of the island, the past two decades have shown very low progress in restoration activities and the raging war situation has aggravated the deterioration of the remains.
The nation must be grateful to the Ven. Dambagasare Sri Sumedhankara Thero for discovering the long-forgotten Seruwila Stupa in 1922. After the re-discovery, it was repaired with the permission of the English Government in 1924 with finances collected forming a society. In 1931, the stupa was opened to the public veneration.
The Stupa and its environs covering approximately 85 acres were declared an Archaeological Reserve in 1962. After this, the Department of Archaeology had been carrying out conservation work by stages.
|Year of conservation
|1973 [conjectural restoration]
|Stone Paved Terrace of Stupa
|Awasa [monks’ residence]
The Department of Archaeology is responsible for the conservation work and preservation of the site. The Chief incumbent thero and the development society of the Temple are managing and maintaining the premises at present.
Satements of authenticity and/or integrity:
The Stupa was restored by an enthusiastic monk and the people of the island in the 1920s. The restoration was carried out with the approval and supervision of the Department of Archaeology and based on the available evidence, which is mostly conjectural. Apart from this, other ruins lay covered with jungle until in the 1960s the department took over the conservation work. They undertook the task by stages and conserved the Entrances, the ancient Pond, the Chapter House, and the Bo-tree shrine (Bodhighara). Still, there are other monuments and ruins, which are original parts of the complex that require immediate attention.
Comparison with other similar properties:
Buddhists consider Stupa enshrining relics of Lord Buddha are the highest places for worship and they venerate such places. There are a few such places in the country; Temple of the Tooth Relic in Kandy, Yatala Stupa in Hambantota, Seruwila Raja Maha Viharaya, and Somawathie Stupa in Polonnaruwa are considered as the places that are believed to be enshrined Buddha’s relics.
Temple of the Tooth in Kandy is already declared a World Heritage with its immediate environment and Yatala is conserved by the Department of Archaeology in the recent past. Somawathie Stupa is also situated boarded to the troubled area but it is also restored. Seruwila is in the midst of the stricken area and directly faces the brunt of the war. The area is inaccessible sometimes and as a result, it lay isolated.
Map of Seruwila Raja Maha Viharaya
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.
Travel Directions to Seruwila Raja Maha Viharaya
|Route from Colombo to Seruwila Temple
|Route from Batticaloa to Seruwila Temple
|Through : Kelaniya – Ambepussa – Kurunegala – Dambulla – Habarana – Kantale – Sooriyapura
Distance : 280 km
Travel time : 6 hours.
Driving directions : see on google map
|Through : Kalkuda – Wakare – Ali Oluwa
Distance : 97 km
Travel time : 2 hours.
Driving directions : see on google map
Seruwila  : Seruwila Mangala Maha Viharaya
During the rainy season, the road to the Mangala Maha Cetiya or the Seruvila Dagoba is often flooded and passage is difficult. Yet if you make it through the broken, muddy, rutty roads and the swamped villu lands the rewards are plenty.
The country seems so different than when traveling in the dry season. The villus is filled with exotic bird life and sometimes you are lucky to come across a herd of elephants.
The trees and the grasses in spite of the rain will offer you a variety of wildflowers in full bloom. Even the moss that covers patches of higher land are cloaked in blooms of regal purple. In fact, I prefer this journey in such weather even though it depends heavily on your vehicle.
The arduous journey with all its excitement apart, at the end of the trail awaits a site held in great veneration by the pious and an immense treasure trove of artifacts yet to be fully explored.
The dagoba known as the Mangala Maha Cetiya is reputed to enshrine the frontal bone relic of the Lord Buddha. It was also referred to as the Vilgam Vihara in ancient times.
According to writings by Dr. Rajah De Silva time Archaeological Commissioner who refers to the Dhatuvamsa written by Kakusada Thera dated to about the 15th century states that the frontal bone relic of the Buddha which fell to the share of the Mallas of Kusinara is enshrined here.
However, Mahakassapa thera informed the Malla king that the Buddha himself had instructed that his frontal bone should after his cremation be sent to Sri Lanka to be enshrined in a dagoba to be built by King Kakavannatissa near the stone pond called Varahasondi at the place known as Seruvila on the right-hand side of the Mahavaliganga
The relic was accordingly brought to Sri Lanka to the kingdom of Ruhuna at the time that Mahanaga brother of Devanampiyatissa was ruling in Magama. The relic was greatly honored and venerated by a wealthy citizen named Mahakala and for this purpose, a small dagoba was built to enshrine the relic.
On being informed of the existence of such a relic the king paid a visit to the site and venerated the relic. The relic returned with the king to Magama. The relic was first kept for worship at the Palace and later enshrined in a nine-storey relic house built for this purpose. Mahanaga’s son Yattalatissa and grandson Gothabhaya similarly paid great honor and veneration to the relic.
On his deathbed, Gothabaya urged his son and successor Kakavannatissa to build a dagoba for the frontal bone relic of the Buddha and a monastery at the predicted site.
As such King Kakavannatissa took the relic in a great perahera and arrived in two days to the building site near the Varaha pond in Seruvila. The jungle was cleared and the place laid out for the meritorious work at hand. A relic house was built and perfumes of four kinds were placed in it in addition to the relic. Hence the relic house was known as Gandhamula.
Dr. De Silva’s work also elaborates on some interesting details of the construction. The construction site was selected through the medium of bulls, horses, and elephants that on each occasion lay themselves down at spots that marked the corners of the dagoba grounds.
The central point for the construction of the dagoba was fixed by driving a golden nail into the ground and a circle was marked as a perimeter of the proposed dagoba.
The ceremony of laying the first brick was done at an auspicious moment in the presence of the king. The mortar for use with the bricks was of finely powdered clay which would have been mixed with water before use
At the height of the third basal terrace, the relic chamber was constructed.
A mahameru pillar was fixed and various objects including a Buddha statue were placed therein.
The relic was fixed on the forehead of a magnificent Buddha statue and a hair relic of the Lord Buddha was also enshrined on the head of the Buddha statue. The relic chamber was closed and the dagoba was completed. Other buildings necessary for the monastery were also constructed including a house for the bodhi tree, a meditation hall, a house for the conduct of the acts of the sangha, a pond for water and rest rooms. The boundaries of the vihara were marked and the king returned back to Magama. Excavations carried at the site in the early 19th century by the Archaeological Department revealed many ancient objects.
Among the sculptures, the most important was the statue of the Buddha seated under the hood of the naga mucalinda. A larger replica of this image is found in the striking image house built in more recent years.
The artistic flower altars fashioned as circular slabs of stone, flat on the top and ornamented round the periphery with lotus petal motifs and supported on single pillars fashioned rather like the Nissankalata Mandapa are unique.
The flight of stone steps in the four directions gives access to the platform of the dagoba through impressive structures with enormous stone doorways, one of which is still in position.
Within the dagoba premises is also found the stone-built pond and other ancient ruins with guard stones.