Somawathi Rajamaha Viharaya (සෝමාවතී චෛත්‍යය)

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Somawathiya (Somawathi Chethiya)  was built in the 2nd century BC and this stupa is said to enshrine the right tooth relic of Lord Buddha.

According to the chronicles, Prince Giri-aba and Princess Somawathi (sister of King Kavanthissa) lived in a small community called “Somapura” on the beds of Mahaweli River. Price Giriaba constructed Somawathi Chethiya at the request of his wife who wanted to engage in religious activities. Upon completion of the Stupa, the prince requested a monk named Mahinda for some “dathu” to be enshrined in the relic chamber of the stupa. Maha Thera Mahinda gave him the right tooth relic of Lord Buddha.

According to history, this tooth relic was received by a “Naga” (serpent) king Jayasena when the remaining relics from the Buddha’s cremation site were distributed. He took this to the “Naga Lokaya” (the kingdom of Naga) and deposited it in a stupa made out of gold for worship. When Prince Giriaba’s request was made, the maha thero Mahinda visited the “Naga” Kingdom and brought this tooth relic to be deposited in the stupa built by the prince.

Upon completion of the stupa and five viharas the prince and princess handed over the temple to Mahinda Maha Thero and sixty other monks. Thereafter many kings have contributed to this centre in many ways.

According to the historical documents the Somawathiya was built on the eastern bank of the Mahaveli River. But today it is about ½ km from the west bank of the river. Though this confused whether this was the real Somawathi Stupa described in the chronicles, it was later realized the river had changed course during the last 800 years, and in fact, the current sandy road leading to the Somawathi was the path of the river some 800 years ago.

The site was rediscovered in the 1940s and ’48 renovations were started by a group of enthusiasts. In 1964 archaeologists started excavating the site. While excavating the main stupa, a smaller stupa at a depth of 5 feet 5 inches into the main stupa was found. It is believed this smaller stupa was the original Somawathi Chethiya built by Prince Giriaba in the 2nd century BC and the latter stupa built around the original was the work of King Kanittha Tissa in 164 AC.

Archaeologists also found four moonstones and flower pedestals after excavating the earth for 5 ½ feet around the stupa. They also unearthed six 3 ½ feet long “siripa gal” (rocks carved with the bottom of the feet of Buddha). In addition to these many buildings have been unearthed including a wall surrounding the stupa.

Nine stone inscriptions have been found around this site and the most popular are the four inscriptions found on the Eric Swan rock. This rock can be seen a few meters away from the gravel road, about 100 meters before the main entrance to the temple. This rock got its name from a photographer called Eric Swan who was killed by a wild elephant near this rock.

Today Somawathi is popular for three main reasons.

  1. Somawathi holds one of the only two tooth relics of Lord Buddha existing in the world. The other tooth relic is kept at the “Dalada Maligawa” in Kandy.
  2. Incredible unnatural phenomena have been occurring around the stupa. These have been witnessed by thousands of pilgrims
  3. The remoteness of the location. This site is located deep inside the jungle infested with elephants and other wild animals.

LTTE Terrorist Attack on Somawathi in 1987

Somawathiya (Somawathi Chethiya)

In 1987 a group of LTTE terrorists attacked this holy ground hacking to death a Buddhist monk and seven civilians who were residing in a close by temple. Learning this news from a Muslim civilian the pilgrims and the monks in Somawathi went into hiding in the jungle and after several days walked to a temple on November 13,  1987. The terrorists came to the Somawathi and found it deserted. They stole the “Chuda Manikya” (the large gemstone placed at the pinnacle of the stupa) and dug a hole about 1½ feet deep into the stupa in search of valuable relics. Then they marched into a Sinhalese village nearby where a man called S. Dissanayake lived. He was the caretaker of the holy site since 1966. The (LTTE) terrorists hacked to death 10 civilians in this village including S. Dissanayake and his four children. On the same day, the leader of this barbaric terror group died in the stupa by mistakenly firing his own weapon. For some mysterious reason, they also couldn’t take the “Chuda Manikya” they stole which was later found by the archaeological department.

After these brutal murders, this site was left unattended due to fear of further terrorist attacks and was in this state for the next 15 years. After the ceasefire agreement between the LTTE and the government, the gravel roads were reconstructed and opened to the pilgrims in 2002.

Unexplained phenomena on this holy ground

Somawathiya (Somawathi Chethiya)

When it was discovered that the right tooth relic of Buddha was deposited in the relic chamber of this stupa, Diyawadane Nilame of the Kandy Dalada Maligawa (Appointed Guardian of the other existing tooth relic) Giragama Nilame, went in search of this stupa with four people from Kandy and four villagers from Polonnaruwa. They were guided by a Muslim man called Mutti. The purpose of this journey was to dig into the stupa”s relic chamber and bring the right tooth relic to Kandy to be kept with the left tooth relic already kept under his guardianship at the Dalada Maligaya. It is said that the Muslim guide lost his sight on the day they reached the stupa and the Diyawadane Nilame started digging the stupa. After a little while a small cobra has come out of the hole. They killed it and started digging again. After digging a little further in, a large black cobra has appeared with a large number of wasps. Fearing an attack they ran and the Diyawadane Nilame later died of a wound caused when he fell over while running.

In recent times thousands of pilgrims have seen beams of light originating from the stupa going towards the sky and the colour of the whole sky changing to a yellowish colour making all the white clothes worn by the pilgrims appear yellow. One significant distinction of these unusual occurrences in this site is that most of these happen on special ceremonial days when there are thousands of pilgrims at the site to witness these events. It is also said that the sounds of drum beats originating from the belly of the stupa can be heard on some days.

Somawathiya (Somawathi Chethiya)

In 1977 (30th June) similar beams of light were witnessed on the ceremonial day when special relics were to be deposited in the relic chamber of the stupa. This happened at 7.20 am and was witnessed by thousands including officers of Sri Lanka Radio Corporation who were there to report on the event.

Similarly on July 4 th in 1981 the President of Sri Lanka Mr, J.R. Jayawardhana came to Somawathi to ceremonially open the “Kotha” of the stupa. As soon as they arrived at the site, at about 2 pm the whole sky became yellow and the sun looked like the moon. Multiple colours started appearing around the stupa. All the white clothes worn by the people appeared yellow. The president was supposed to uncover the “kotha” standing on the ground using a rope running to the top of the stupa. After witnessing this phenomenon he decided to climb to the top using a temporary stairway built for workers and uncover the kotha.

On the 28th of April 2002, a similar occurrence happened in front of thousands of pilgrims. This time it was continued for over 45 minutes, the longest time this phenomenon continued. This was also witnessed by the sister and the brother of J.R. Jayawardhana who were there to pay homage to the chethiya. Again the same thing happened on the poya day and continued for about 3 minutes.

These unexplained occurrences have made the Somawathi Chethiya even more mystic and holy to the Buddhists who flock to the site, especially on Poya days.

Also See

Map of Somawathiya (Somawathi Chethiya)

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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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Travel Directions to Somawathiya (Somawathi Chethiya)

Until recently access to this site was restricted due to LTTE terrorist activity. It was the Sri Lankan Forces who protected this site when civilians were evacuated after the brutal murder of the monk by the LTTE. But with the new ceasefire agreements, pilgrims have started to flock to this temple in numbers. The gravel roads are now motorable during the dry season. During rainy season only tractors and large four-wheel vehicles can travel on these roads.

Sungawila is the last town and border village you come across on the route to Somawathi. After this town, you come to the Somawathi strict natural reserve and wildlife sanctuary. From here 12 kilometres you need to travel on a lonely dusty unpaved road which will take you through the jungle and villus to the great isolated dagoba. The last stretch is basically an elephant country. If you travel on this stretch during the early morning or late in the evening, you are sure to come across a few wild elephants on your way. Wild elephants are a common site on the temple grounds during the night. They have gotten used to visiting the garbage cans left by the Cadjan stalls on the temple grounds. Therefore the owners of these stalls make sure to put at least a bunch of bananas into the garbage cans. As long as there is some food in the cans they would leave the occupants of the stalls unharmed.

This site can be reached from Polonnaruwa or from Minneriya. Coming from Minneriya, you have to pass the Higurakgoda town to reach Sungawila. From Polonnaruwa, you need to turn at the Hospital Junction (between Polonnaruwa and Kaduruwela towns). The distance to the stupa from both these towns (Minneriya and Polonnaruwa) is about 40 kilometers.

The modern town of Polonnaruwa is also known as New Town, and the other part of Polonnaruwa remains the royal ancient city of the Kingdom of Polonnaruwa.

Route from Colombo to Polonnaruwa Sacred CityRoute from Kandy to Polonnaruwa Sacred City
Through : Central Highway – Kurunegala – Dambulla
Distance from Colombo :230 km
Travel Time : 4.45 hours
Driving Directions : see on Google map
Through : Matale – Dambulla – Habarana
Distance : 140 km
Travel Time : 3.5 hours
Driving Directions : see on Google maps
Route from Anuradhapura to Polonnaruwa Sacred CityRoute from Batticaloa to Polonnaruwa Sacred City
Though : Maradankadawala – Habarana
Distance : 103 km
Travel Time : 2 hours
Driving Directions : see on Google map
Though : Chenkaladi – Valachchena
Distance : 97 km
Travel Time : 2 hours
Driving Directions : see on Google map
Route from Polonnaruwa to Somawathi Chethiya
Through : Sungavila
distance :40 km
Travel time : 1 hours
Driving directions : see on google map


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