Ven. Thotagamuwe Sri Rahula Thera was born in 1408 at Dematana, an attractive and fascinating village close to Dedigama in the Kegalle district. He was named in lay life as Jayaba Kumaru. As a result of his mother Keerawelle Kumari, (the elder sister of Queen of Parakramabahu VI) who passed away in the first year of his birth and his father Wickramabahu being ordained after a lapse of two years of his birth, he was taken by family members and well-wishers to the palace of Kotte and was placed under the guardianship of King Parakramabahu the VIth (Siri Perakumba) 1412 – 1467.
Having been educated under both, his grandfather Uthurumula Rahula Thera and his uncle Wilgammula Thera, he was ordained according to the Buddhist traditional rituals and was known as Vachissara Rahula Thera (1425). In a short spell of time he procured a profound and wide knowledge in a variety of oriental languages and the following voluminous compositions written by him will adequately bear testimony to his inestimable erudition and intellectuality.
- Buddhagajjaya 1430,
- Vurthamala Sandesaya 1435,
- Paravi Sandesaya 1445,
- Selalihini Sandesaya 1447,
- Kawyasekaraya 1449,
- Panchika Pradeepaya 1457,
- Buddipasadiniya 1480,
- Sakaskada and
- Mawulu Sandesaya.
It is recorded that Ven. Sri Rahula Thera spent his prime of life at Thotagamuwa Temple and on account of this reason he was widely recognized as Thotagamuwe Sri Rahula Thera. Vijayaba Pirivena of Thotagamuwa in the Galle district served as the most popular centre of learning about nine and half centuries back. Thotagamuwa is a picturesque hamlet adjacent to Hikkaduwa town. King Vijayabahu I (1055 – 1110) was instrumental in inaugurating this extensively acclaimed Vijayaba Pirivena.
It is the presumption of our historians and archaeologists that this edifice would have been a five storeyed building and a dominant institution of education equivalent to a university where diverse subjects were in the curriculum including the Tamil langauge. It is assumed that this monastery was later renovated and refurbished as a two storeyed structure by King Parakramabahu IV (1302 – 1326).
Ven. Thotagamuwe Sri Rahula Thera succeeded as the chief prelate of the most reputed and renowned Thotagamuwa Vijayaba Pirivena followed by Uthurumula Rahula Thera and Galathurumula There. He was a multi-linguist (Shad Bhasha Parameswara) and a lettered oriental scholar par excellence and was competent in reciting the Thripitaka (the three divisions of the Buddhist scriptures) by rote.
Ven. Sri Rahula Thera was also a distinguished author, veteran astrologer and a proficient ayurvedic physician whose reputation pervaded beyond our shores. Relating to the latter part of his life there are two legendary versions. After rendering an inestimable and monumental contribution at Vijayaba Pirivena he passed away peacefully. On hearing this distressing and agonizing news, the villagers inhabiting around the temple flocked in their thousand to bestow their last homage and reverence. Fearing a possible transference of this mysterious holy body (supposed to have growing hair and nails) by the Portuguese (1505-1658) to some other locality, the villagers had concealed the mortal remains at Ambana Indurugiri cave close to Elpitiya in the Galle district for safety and security.
The second rendition is that he had departed Vijayaba Pirivena and had resided at Obbegoda Temple at Moneragala and Dikwella for a brief period and finally settled down at Ambana Indurugiri cave surrounded by a mammoth woodland at that period (1476), It is in the folk-tale and legend that he was also an exorcist who had decreed demons to execute manual labour work to intensify the protection and security of Ambana cave and the vicinity.
In consideration of those facts, it can be assumed that his demise would have taken place during 1491. After a considerable length of time, on receipt of information about this mysterious and miraculous cadaver, a Portuguese team had approached in search of this grotto and after three unsuccessful attempts, had taken control over the body and had prepared preliminary arrangements to despatch the holy body to Goa in India.
St Francis Xavier who had arrived from portugal to propagate missionary activities here had participated as the leader of the expedition to shift the body to Goa. While on the journey he had suffered and attack of dysentery and had passed away. It is supposed that the participants of the expedition cremated him here and had interpreted that the body they were carrying was of St. Francis Xavier. Finally this sacred body had been carried over to Goa and reposed at the Basilica of Bon Jesu.
It is presumed that the venerable monk had consumed some medicament which was prepared by himself (Sidualurasaya or Siddaloka Rasaya) before he breathed his last and as a result it is surmised that his body would remain approximately till the year 4230. This fact is embodied in the final stanza engraved by him on a sheet of copper before his demise which is depicted below:-
Christians too are in possession of similar legendary and historical factors to prove and establish that this cadaver is of St. Francis Xavier. Hence time is opportune to focus the attention of the officials concerned to get this bone of contention cleared and resolved to ascertain whether this extraordinary mortal remains are of Ven. Sri Rahula Thera or St. Francis Xavier.
This is the space era and it will not be an intricate task or a complicate exercise to establish by the application of modern technology and science whether this prodigious cadaver is of Asian or Western origin.
The conspicuous and significant services rendered by Ven. Sri Rahula Thera especially in the poetical field cannot be characterized in abridged form as it is a herculean task. Particularly the Sinhala Buddhist community owes a deep debt of gratuity to Ven. Sri Rahula Thera for his multifarious and multiplex services.
Thotagamuwe Sri Rahula : A great literary figure shrouded in mystery
The perusal of numerous manuscripts and books written on Thotagamuwe Sri Rahula Thera reveals that the descriptive narratives have been compiled using the eulogistic epithets with the aim of highlighting the erudition and his unique supernatural skills.
His birth in 1408 AD, his relationship to the royalty, upbringing in the palace of King Parakramabahu VI receiving love, patronage and affection of the king as his own son, precocious nature, becoming a Bhikkhu and learning all the ancient sciences and languages, achieving the highest order of Sangaraja and succeeding to the leadership of Vijayaba Pirivena and finally breathing his last mysteriously in a cave at Ambana surrounded by thick jungle in 1491 AD. at the age of 83 years prove that his life was full of adventures.
Ever since his early childhood a large corpus of legends, folklore and mythic references had been woven around Sri Rahula Thera.
This could be attributed to his popularity among the members of royalty, clergy and laity of both highest echelons of society and even at the grassroot levels.
The chief consort of King Parakramabahu VI was known as Queen Keerawelle and her sister Seelawathie’s son was Prince Jayabahu the lay name of Sri Rahula Thera. He was conferred the degree of Skanda at the age of 15 years.
Sri Rahula Jayabahu was the lay name of Sri Rahula Thera. Prince Jayabahu’s mother Seelawathie passed away in 1409 on Jayabahu’s first year of birth. His father Prince Wickramabahu became a Brahmachari and a Bhikkhu in 1410 and left for Siam in 1426 for higher ordination.
Ven. Uthurumula Thera was the grandfather of Prince Jayabahu and Prince Jayabahu had entered the order of Sangha under Ven. Uthurumula Thera and Ven. Wilgammula Rahula at the Thotagamuwa Rathpath Vihara. After ordination Sri Rahula Thera was known as Vachchiswara.
Kavyasekara which is considered the second great book of poetry in Sinhala literature clearly explains that “Dematana” as the birth place of Sri Rahula Thera. The theme of this great book of poetry composed by Sri Rahula Thera was based on the unsuccessful marriage of the Princess Ulakudaya, the younger daughter of King Parakramabahu VI to a non-Sinhalese national known as Nanunuthunaiyar.
Rahula Thera was the chief incumbent and the principal of Thotagamuwe Vijayaba Pirivena which was internationally acclaimed as one of the leading institutions of education across the world. It was founded in the 15th century by King Vijayabahu 1.
Students representing numerous South Asian countries including India keen on studying Buddhist Thripitaka, Vedic literature including four Vedas of Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda, Atharva Veda Ayurveda, Astrology, Arthasastra (Economics), Puranas and arts and crafts came to Vijayaba Pirivena located at Thotagamuwa adjoining Telwatta a tiny coastal village in close proximity to Hikkaduwa on the South coast of Sri Lanka.
Since the Polonnaruwa era royal patronage of King Vijayabahu 1, King Parakramabahu 11, and his Chief Minister Devapathiraja, King Parakramabahu IV, and King Parakramabahu VI extended Royal patronage for the uplift and progress of every sphere of Thotagamuwe Vijayaba Pirivena.
In the Kotte period the golden era of Vijayaba Pirivena could be attributed to the leadership of Thotagamuwe Sri Rahula Thera.
Vijayaba Pirivena along with Rathpath Vihara was completely destroyed by the Portuguese invaders led by Thome de Souza in 1580 A.D. Only some granite pillars around Natha Devala could be seen which they found difficult to burn and after more than two hundred years it was Ven. Pallattara Thera who discovered the ruins of the temple invaded by the thick jungle in 1760 AD and took the initiative to reconstruct the Thotagamuwe Rathpath Vihara in 1765 A.D. Samaneras Ven.Nugawela Indrjothi Thera, Ven. Kahawe Rathanasara Thera and Ven. Habarakada Deerarakkitha Thera had provided assistance to Ven. Pallatara Thera in the rehabilitation work of the temple.
Some scholars say that Vijayaba Pirivena was founded by Prince Mahanaga who was the brother of King Devanampiyatissa during the Anuradhapura period.
A few days after the arrival of Arhat Mahinda at Mihintale Prince Mahanaga on his visit to Ruhuna was believed to have constructed the Rathpath Vihara at Thotagamuwa as far back as the days of the arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Dr. Senarath Paranavithana who deciphered the inscriptions on the four granite columns to be seen around the Natha Devala of the temple premises said that the history of Thotagamuwa Rathpath Vihara could be traced back to 8th or 9th century.
During the era of Kings, the prestigious and highly venerated post of “ Sangaraja” was usually conferred on the Bhikkhu who lived in the kingdoms.
But Thotagamuwe Sri Rahula Thera happened to be the first Bhikkhu to obtain the post of Sangaraja. It was conferred on him by King Parakramabahu VI. Gira Sandesaya and Kawyasekara known as the greatest literary work compiled by Sri Rahula Thera reveal the system of Pirivena Education that flourished in ancient Sri Lanka.
The books compiled by Thotagamuwe Sri Rahula Thera such as Buddhagajjaya (1430), Uruthamala Sandesaya (1435), Paravi Sandesaya (1445), Selalihini Sandesaya (1447), Kawyasekaraya (1449), Panchika Pradeepaya (1457), Buddhipasadiniya (1480), Sakaskada, and Mawula Sandesaya provide sufficient evidence to prove his erudition.
Sri Rahula Thera was known by numerous names and titles bestowed upon him mostly by the royalty, such as ‘Vijayaba Muni’‘Rahula Badda’ ‘Vachissara Gathara’, Rahula Yathindra, Rahula Sangaraja, ‘Rahula Munindra’, Shadbasha Parameswara Thripitaka Vagisvaracharya ’Bauddha Charawarthi’and ‘Sinhala Maha Kavi’ (Sinhala Great Poet).
Folklore created about Sri Rahula Thera are abound with numerous miracles and supernatural feats.
Long before becoming a Bhikkhu as a layman the powers of rhetoric proved to be a rare skill inherent in him. Even as a young village boy he was very eloquent and even the erudite scholarly Bhikkhu of the era had found it difficult to convince him certain things.
Another folk tale attributed to Sri Rahula highlighted his jealousy towards his own pupil Ven. Wattawe Thera’s extraordinary intellectual powers. To send him away from Thotagamuwa Temple, Sri Rahula Thera had made arrangements to serve many portions of leafy vegetables (Pala, pala) whenever he was offered alms in the temple premises.
This was considered as an implication to convey him the message to leave the temple.
Wettawe Thera was believed to have compiled Guttila Kavya based on the incident and to prove that he never had malicious intentions, rival competitions or challenges against the erudition of his own teacher and mentor Sri Rahula Thera.
There are numerous legends and myths based on his memory power, departure from Thotagamuwe Vijayaba Pirivena and finally living in Indurugal Lena cave at Ambana surrounded by thick jungle are unravelled mysteries. Some scholars said that Indurugal Lena was a hideout of Sri Rahula Thera for the safety of his life from King Buwanekabahu VI . After the death of King Parakramabahu VI, Prince Jayabahu II who was the rightful heir became the King of Kotte Kingdom.
Two years since his coronation, Prince Sapumal who was the provincial King of Jaffna invaded the Kingdom of Kotte and killed King Jayabahu –II and ushered in as King Buwanekabahu VI.
It was Thotagamuwe Sri Rahula Sangaraja Thera who disapproved this act vehemently and led campaigns against King Buwanekabahu VI. The anti – Buwanekabahu campaign was then known as “Sinhala Revolution.” Realising that King Buwanekabahu VI could resort to vengeance Thotagamuwe Sri Rahula left Vijayaba Pirivena and lived in the cave at Ambana.
Thotagamuwe Sri Rahula Thera’s demise was shrouded in mythology and legends.
When he was living at Ambana cave he had eaten an Ayurvedic preparation known as Siddalaoka Rasaya and some believe due to the effect of the this drug his body continued to remain intact without decomposing till the year 4230 AD.
According to Buddhists the Portuguese who invaded the maritime provinces of Sri Lanka had made arrangements to send the body of Thotagamuwe Sri Rahula to Goa by ship. St. Francis Zavier who was present in Sri Lanka at the time engaged in missionary activities planned to join the Portuguese representatives accompanying the body to Goa in India.
A few days before that St. Francis Zavier died in Sri Lanka.
The Portuguese instead of St. Francis Zavier’s body, the body of Sri Rahula was taken to Goa as the body of St. Francis Zavier and kept it in the Basilica of Bon Jesu in Goa, India.
The credibility of the stories created around the mysterious body kept in the Basilica of Bon Jesu in Goa could be challened only though scientific research and not by the theories and legends lacking any historical or scientific evidence.
First Published : December 25, 2009