Seruwila Raja Maha Viharaya – සේරුවිල මගුල් මහා විහාරය

Seruwila / Seruwawila Raja Maha Viharaya

Seruwawila Stupa
photo by Sumudu Vidyalankara licenced under CC BY-ND 2.0

Seruwila is reachable both from road and sea. Sea route begins at Trincomalee to Muttur on boat and another 16 km by roads. Land route is via Kantalai, to Allai which is approximately 45 km through dense forest.

List of Monuments in the complex:

  1. Stupa – Origin 2nd Century B.C. – restored in 1920′s.
  2. Restored Northern entrance – This building has evidence of molded bricks, balustrades, guard stones and moonstones. In addition there is ruined ceremonial gateway with carved stone door frame.
  3. Western entrance – Evidences of preliminary stages of stone works in moldings showing exemplary stone jointing methods.
  4. Southern entrance – Balustrades with elephant motifs, guard stones and stone door frame etc.
  5. Eastern entrance
  6. Image house building at the Stupa terrace
  7. Sculptured stone lotus
  8. Bo tree shrine [Bodhighara]
  9. Ancient pond
  10. Remains of ancient Chapter House
  11. Remains of monasteries
  12. Remains of a building on stone pillars
  13. Natural stone platform and caves with primitive paintings

History and Development

Seruwila / Seruwawila Raja Maha Viharaya

inside Seruwawila Stupa
photo by Sumudu Vidyalankara licenced under CC BY-ND 2.0

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 north eastern 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 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 ground work 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-

Seruwila / Seruwawila Raja Maha Viharaya

photo by rajitha prabath licenced under CC BY-SA 3.0

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 had 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 are evidences that Arahats have resided in the caves around the Stupa terrace. In the vicinity of the dagaba is an ancient inscription which 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 belong to the period of King Kassapa IV [A.D. 898 - 9141 mentioning about 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].

Seruwila / Seruwawila Raja Maha Viharaya

Seruwawila Stupa
photo by rajitha prabath licenced under CC BY-ND 2.0

Over the years, the stupa fell into decay under the pressure of the Tamil invasions from the north. But there are evidences 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 fertile western part of the island and as a result the arid dry zone neglected left to wilderness.

According to the late Dr. R. L. Brohier, Seruwila region was a vast swamp or villu where the flood waters of the Mahaweli Ganga collected. This villu was the home of large flocks of teal (seru) during migratory period. That perhaps was how the place came to be known as Seruwila (Seeing Ceylon by R. L. Brohier).

Development

It was only in 1922 that the dagaba was re-discovered by Ven. Dambagasare Sumedhankara Thero and assisted by the Archeological Department, he restored the Stupa using remains of ancient structures 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 1970′s.

Because of the unrest in the North and the East of the island, past two decades show 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

Seruwila / Seruwawila Raja Maha Viharaya

photo by rajitha prabath licenced under CC BY-ND 2.0

“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.

Present state of conservation

Because of the unrest in the North and the East of the island, past two decades show 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 had been declared as an Archaeological Reserve in 1962. After this the Department of Archaeology had been carrying out conservation work by stages.

Monument Year of conservation
Ancient Pond 1970′s
Northern entrance 1973 [conjectural restoration]
Western entrance 1979
Bodhighara 1980
Stone Paved Terrace of Stupa 1981
Awasa [monks' residence] 1983

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 maintain the premises at present.

Satements of authenticity and/or integrity:

The Stupa was restored by enthusiastic monk and people of the island in 1920′s. The restoration carried out with the approval and supervision of the Department of Archaeology and based on the available evidences, which is mostly conjectural. Apart from this, other ruins lay covered with jungle until in 1960′s the department took over the conservation work. They undertook the task by stages and conserved the Entrances, 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 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 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 brunt of the war. The area is inaccessible sometimes and as a result it lay isolated.

Also See

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Travel Directions to Seruwila Temple

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 [2] : Seruwila Mangala Maha Viharaya

by Kishanie S. Fernando
Daily Mirror

During the rainy season the road to the Mangala Maha Cetiya or the Seruvila dagodba 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 travelling in the dry season. The villus are filled with exotic bird life and sometimes you are lucky to come across a heard of elephants.

The trees and the grasses in spite of the rain will offer you a variety of wild flowers 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 tells 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 one 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 honoured and venerated by a wealthy citizen named Mahakala and for this purpose a small dagoba was built to enshrined 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. Mahanagas son Yattalatissa and grandson Gothabhaya similarly paid great honor and veneration to the relic.

On his death bed 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, of horses and of elephants that on each occasion lay themselves down at spots which marked the corners of the dagaba 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 the done at an auspicious moment in the presence of the king. The mortar for use with the bricks was of finely powered clay which would have been mixed with water before use

At 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 give 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.

Seruwila [3] : The Saga of Seruwila Mangala Viharaya

by Trincomalee correspondent, K. D. Jayasekera
Daily News

The Seruwila Mangala Viharaya in Trincomalee district is considered one of the most venerable ancient Buddhist temples to be found in the Eastern province where once Buddhism flourished at its peak.

Seruwila / Seruwawila Raja Maha Viharaya

Some of the ruins found strewn in a large area at the Seruwila Mangala Viharaya.(Trincomalee correspondent)

According to historical annals King Kavantissa who ruled the Ruhuna built this temple 2231 years back by enshrining the forehead relic of Gautama Buddha. It is believed that three viharas existed at this particular spot built during the periods of three former Buddhas named Kakusanda, Konagama and Kasyapa with their relics enshrined and Gautama Buddha who was the last Buddha in this eon had personally visited this place and offered eight handfuls of ‘Sapu’ flowers. Gautama Buddha has not only foreseen that a king by the name of Kavantissa will build a temple with his forehead relic enshrined in it but has wished that this temple should be named ‘Mangala’ viharaya.

King Kavantissa, father of King Dutugemunu who ruled the Ruhunu Rata after having obtained the forehead relic of Buddha was searching for a suitable site to build a vihara. Being an ancient custom the king directed the royal elephant to lead the way and the King himself with workmen and soldiers followed.

After travelling for many miles the party arrived at a place known as ‘Varahasondi’ in Sri Gonapura, a region in Rajarata and the elephant remained unmoved. Instantly work was started and within a short period a vihara was built with a Stupa enshrining the forehead relic. King Kavantissa also built several other Viharas in the area and thousands of Buddhists were settled down. Buddhism flourished in this area for several centuries.

Seruwila / Seruwawila Raja Maha Viharaya

The Chetiya at Seruwila Mangala Viharaya in which the forehead relic of Buddha was enshrined. (Trincomalee correspondent, K D.Jayasekera)

With the invasion by Cholas and Pandyas from South India and the Sinhala Buddhist having to face the more powerful invaders in warfare found their existence unsafe and they migrated to the Hill Country leaving everything they had and thus the downfall of Buddhism in this area began. The Buddhist viharas were uncared for and with the growth of vegetation the most valuable Buddhist shrines gradually fell into ruins. The whole area became thick jungle infested with wild animals including elephants. Though the existence of the Seruvila Mangala Vihara was mentioned in the ‘Dathuwamsa’ and other chronicles no one made any attempt to discover this Vihara, not to mention restoring it.

It was in the year 1920 that a young bhikkhu living in a temple at Dodanduwa in the Southern province after having read about the Seruwila Mangala Vihara which existed in the Eastern province was determined to discover it. The Bhikkhu Ven. Dombagasare Sumedankara had even dreamt of this vihara but the trip being so hazardous that the elderly bhikkhus would not permit him to make the expedition. But young Sumedankara Thera was bold in his decision he was even willing to sacrifice his life in the attempt and insisted that he should go to Trincomalee. After much persuasion he was permitted to make this trip and permission was obtained from the Governor to restore the Seruwila Vihara.

In early 1923 young Sumedankara Thera arrived at Trincomalee by sailing vessel and proceeded to Muttur by sailing boat. Seruwila was about 14 miles from Muttur and the young bhikkhu began to walk the distance. It was the first time people living in that area had ever seen a bhikkhu in yellow robes. After reaching Toppur, a tiny hamlet inhabited by few Muslim families majority of whom were hunters. The Seruwila temple area was their hunting ground and even Veddhas lived in that jungle.

Without any assistance from the inhabitants the young bhikkhu trekked the four miles in the jungle creeping through thorny bushes along a footpath used by hunters. At least he arrived at a place strewn with the granite pillars in a large area where a huge mould of earth and bricks was also found. The centuries old Seruwila Mangala Vihara was finally discovered.

The bhikkhu was so delighted that he kissed the earth and vowed that he will restore Mangala Vihara to the past glory. Back in Trincomalee he got round the few Sinhala Buddhist traders who are all from the South and they willingly agreed to help in this matter.

Satisfied with the result of his endeavour he went back to Dodanduwa and many rich Buddhists pledged support in restoring the Seruwila Vihara, the chief supporter being the late Mudliyar D. D. Weerasinghe.

On 23rd July, 1923 the Seruwila Mangala Maha Chetiyawardhana Society was formed and after clearing a roadway the restoration work started under most difficult conditions. However the society did the work in record time and the pinnacle enshrining ceremony was held on 8th of September, 1930.

The young Sumedankara Thera has developed special herbal medicine for curing snake bite victims and the Muslims of Thoppur began to respect the Bhikkhu after curing a snake bite victim in the village whom the elders had declared dead. The young bhikkhu Ven. Dambagasare Sri Sumedankara became the Viharadhipathi of the Seruwila Mangala Viharaya and in the year 1962 he was made the Chief Sanganayaka of Negenahira Thamankaduwa Depalatha (Eastern and Thamankaduwa regions) and was conferred with the honorary title of Mangala Dharmakeerthi Sri Kalyani Wansika.

It should be noted that no one can think of Seruwila Vihara without recalling the name of Sri Sumedankara Thera because they are so attached to each other.Ven. Dambagasare Sri Sumedankara was appointed Mahanayaka of the Kalyanawansa Chapter on June 18, 1984 and he passed away on 13th August, 1984 at the age of 92 years. The present Viharadhipathi of the Seruwila Mangala Vihara is Ven. Seruvila Saranakitti.

Seruwila [4] : The Temple of Reconciliation

by by Walter Rupesinghe
The Island- Saturday Magazine

Some 30 kilometres south of Trincomalee on the coastal road from Trincomalee to Batticaloa, is an ancient temple which is one of the sixteen holiest Buddhist shrines in Sri Lanka. Seruwila Raja Maha Vihare is also accessible from Kantalai on the 45 kilometre long road from Kantalai to Allai.

According to the late Dr. R. L. Brohier tradition harks back to a period where the principal factor in the Seruwila region was a vast swamp or villu where the flood waters of the Mahaweli Ganga collected. He added that one could imagine in the circumstances that this villu was the home of large flocks of teal (seru). That perhaps was how the place came to be known as Seruwila ( Seeing Ceylon by R. L. Brohier).

The origins of the shrine

During the reign of Kavan Tissa (2nd century B.C.) there was a real possibility that the Tamil invaders from the north would eventually march into the kingdom of Ruhuna in order to subjugate it. The king had to evolve a strategy to prevent a disaster or this nature. He was very well aware that there was a buffer state of Seru on the north eastern seaboard of Sri Lanka which was ruled by a prince by the name of Siva. He had to win Prince Siva over to his side at all costs.

 

However he had a big problem. Kavan Tissa’s brother in law, Prince Abhaya had fallen out with Dutugemunu (the king’s elder son) owing to a dispute as to which of their families was superior. In order to avoid a military confrontation, as was the custom in those days in settling a dispute of this nature, Abhya left Ruhuna with his wife Somadevi and went to his friend Prince Siva of Seru. Having listened to Abhaya’s story, Prince Siva built a city and called it Soma (after Somadevi) and welcomed them to settle there.

As the friendship of these two princes grew their hostility to wards Kavan Tissa increased. In these circumstances Kavan Tissa had a gnawing fear of the Tamil invaders who could exploit this estrangement to obtain the support of the two princes to march into Ruhuna. He had to act quickly and decisively. He had to choose between the force and negotiation to win over Princes Siva and Abhaya. If he used the force, Siva and Abhaya could very well enlist the support of the Tamils who were hell bent on marching into Ruhuna.

He therefore decided to adopt a two pronged strategy — a veiled show of force and more importantly peaceful negotiation. He 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. The Word was spread by religious teachers that a Sacred Relic of the Buddha which was in the possession of Kavan Tissa 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. According to the University history of Ceylon “Significantly the prophecy of the Buddha is said to have been brought to the notice of Kavan Tissa by a great Thera who was a nephew of Vihara Devi (wife of Kavan Tissa) and also of Prince Abhaya the ally of Siva of Seru. No doubt, the story must have been propagated by the preachers in the domains of Siva and Abhaya”. Once the groundwork had been laid, Kavan Tissa 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 building of the Dagaba

The narrative from the University history of Ceylon which is based on the account given in the Dhatuwansa —

“The kinglets of Seru and Soma must have found themselves in the horns of a dilemma. If they received Kavan Tissa 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 Kavan Tissa’s visit was one which the people as a whole would have approved. Besides Kavan Tissa 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 Kavan Tissa with honour due to an overlord and assisted him in the building of the shrine. Thus Kaven Tissa achieved well described as a Dhamma-Vijaya which ultimately was of benefit to all parties concerned”.

The Sacred Relic which was a frontal bone of the Buddha was enshrined in the stupa.

Having extended his authority to the Seru district Kavan Tissa had caused the marsh in the vicinity of the stupa to be drained and converted into a lake. Having done this, he had 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.

Reconciliation had brought in its rewards. The stratagem adopted by Kavan Tissa 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.

 

Over the years, the dagaba fell into decay under the pressure of the Tamil invasions from the north. It was only at the beginning of the last century that the dagaba was restored to its pristine glory by the Archeological Department. The remains of the ancient structures still survive around the dagaba. There are also ancient caves in the area. Two Buddha figures seated under the hood of the Naga king Mucalinda are also found here.

 

In the vicinity of the dagaba is an ancient inscription which 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.”

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. Because of the problems of the past nineteen years no progress has been made and now is the time to implement the plan.

Meaningful and urgent measures are necessary to upgrade this holy shrine and its environs so that pilgrims would not be inconvenienced after a long journey. It is vital that we should keep Seruwila in that far off corner in north east Sri Lanka in the minds and hearts of our people especially those of the younger generation.

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