Vessagiriya Monastery of Anuradhapura Kingdom (වෙස්සගිරිය)

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Vessagiriya sits just a few hundred meters to the left of the present-day Isurumuniya, along the ancient Anuradhapura-Kurunegala road. Nestled amidst the scenic landscape near Tissa Weva, this monastery sprawls across three magnificent boulder formations, creating a captivating sight. Among these formations, the remnants of a dagaba can be found on top of one of the rocks.

Original Name of Vessagiriya

An inscription discovered on this site, attributed to King Mahinda IV, identified the monastery as The Great Royal Monastery of Bo-Upulvan Kasubgiri (Ranawella, 2004). To trace the origins of this name, we must delve into the era of King Kassapa I (477-495 CE), who ascended the throne by brutally killing his father, King Dhatusena (459-477 CE). According to the Chulawamsa (Lesser Chronicle of Sri Lanka), King Kassapa I, upon seizing power, renovated and enlarged Issarasamanarama, bestowing upon it the names of his two daughters, Bodhi and Uppalavanna (Mahanama et al., 1929; Ch. XXXIV: verses 8-12). Consequently, based on this historical context, it is concluded that the monastery’s original name is Isurumuminya.

By the time inscriptions identifying its original name were discovered, historians had already named the ancient Meghagiri Vihara as Isuruminiya even though no inscriptions had been found. Since the name Isurumuniya was already taken and was well established, this site was named Vessagiriya.

Ashta Pala Maha Bodhi

According to historic Mahavamsa, of the first eight saplings that grew out of the Sri Maha Bodhi (Ashta Pala Bodhi), King Devanampiyatissa planted one at Issarasamanaramaya. Therefore the site known as Vessagiriya today is one of the sites in which an Ashtapala Bodhi was planted.

Vessagiriya Monastery

The remains of 23 caves with drip ledges that the monks used can be seen on two rock formations at Vessagiriya. Remains of many buildings had been found around the site, among which there were remains of an image house (pilima geya), dagoba, and refectory (monk’s dining room). Bricks recovered from the dagoba had Sinhalese characters from the 10th and 11th centuries. Also, there is a remains of a rare type of circular building devoid of any statues or pedestals. Although the purpose of this building is still a mystery, archaeologists have found seventy rare coins while excavating this building.

This site has housed 500 priests who received ordinances from the great thero Mahinda, who brought Buddhism to the country in 250 BC. This is another site in Anuradhapura which is not visited by most of the pilgrims. Therefore this area still seems unspoilt up to now.

Vessagiriya is made in the form of a pabbatha vihara architecture. Archaeologists believe that Pabbata Vihara was built by merging with a natural rock formation. These are built by arranging several rectangular building areas (courtyards) at different levels surrounded by water. In the upper courtyard itself are the four sacred buildings arranged in specific order. In the ancient architecture book ‘Manju Sri Bhashitha Vastuvidyawa” (මඤ්ජු ශ්‍රී භාෂිත වාස්තුවිද්‍යාව) written in Sanskrit, these buildings and standards are well explained. 

The basic feature of these monasteries is a large rectangular precinct or sacred quadrangle that contains the four major shrines, a stupa, a bodhighara, a patimaghara, and a prasada which has been identified as the uposathaghara. VijayaramayaPankuliya AsokaramayaPacina Tissa Pabbatha ViharayaPuliyankulama Pabbata Viharaya (Pubbaramaya)Toluvila and Vessagiriya are the temples of this tradition in Anuradhapura. Kaludiya Pokuna (Dhakkinagiri Viharaya) in DambullaLahugala Magul Maha Viharaya, Menikdena, Pulukunava in the Gal Oya valley, a group of shrines at the foot of the rock at Sigiriya and Moragoda in Padaviya are the other provincial sites where Pabbata Vihara have been identified. (Bandaranayake, 1974).

References

  1. Bandaranayake, S., 1974. Sinhalese Monastic Architecture – The Viharas of Anuradhapura. Leiden: Brill.
  2. Mahanama, Geiger, W.H. and Bode, M. (1912) The Mahavamsa: or The Great Chronicle of Ceylon. London: H. Frowde for the Pali Text Society.
  3. Mahanama, Geiger, W. and Rickmers, C.M. (1929) CULAVAMSA Being the More Recent Part of the MAHAWAMSA (Volume 1) (2 vols). London: Oxford University Press.
  4. Ranawella, S. (2004) Inscriptions of Ceylon Vol V (part II). Colombo: Department of Archaeology, Sri Lanka, pp 258-261.

Also See

Map of Vessagiriya and Other Places of Interest

Please click on the button below to load the Dynamic Google Map (ගූගල් සිතියම් පහලින්)
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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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Traveling Directions to Anuradhapura (Vessagiriya)

Colombo to Anuradhapura By Bus

Anuradhapura is easily reached by bus, train or private transport. Air-conditioned and non-air-conditioned buses start at the Colombo Fort Main Bus Station. There are luxury busses which start from various places in Colomb travelling past Anuradhapura, to Vavuniya and Jaffna. However, you need to search the web and book a seat. These luxury buses mostly travel at night reaching their final destination early in the morning.

Colombo to Anuradhapura By Train

5 daily trains are starting from Fort Railway Station to Anuradhapura. Generally, the first train leaves at 9.40 am and the last train at 8.30 pm. Travel time is 4-5 hours depending on the number of stops of the particular train.

Colombo to Anuradhapura By Car or Van

Anuradhapura can be reached through many routes from Colombo. The two main routes are through Puttalam (Puttalama) and through Kurunegala. Travelling from Puttalam, you will pass the scenic Wilpattu area. From Kurunegala, there are two main routes to Anuradhapura. The most common route is through Dambulla. The other route is through Galgamuwa. Out of all the routes, the most commonly used is the Kurunegala-Dambulla route (Route 2).

Route 01 from Colombo to AnuradhapuraRoute 02 from Colombo to Anuradhapura
Through : Negombo – Chilaw – Puttalam
Distance from Colombo : 210 km
Travel time : 4.30- 5.00 hours
Driving Directions : see on Google map
Through : Katunayake Expressway – Central Expressway – Kurunegala – Dambulla
Distance from Colombo : 223 km
Travel Time : 4.30- 5.00 hours
Driving Directions : see on Google maps
Route 03 from Colombo to AnuradhapuraRoute from Kandy to Anuradhapura
Through : Katunayake Expressway – Narammala – Wariyapola – Padeniya – Thambuthegama
Distance from Colombo :203 km
Travel Time : 4.30- 5.00 hours
Driving Directions : see on Google map
Through : Katugastota – Matale – Dambulla
Distance from Colombo :136 km
Travel Time : 3.5 hours
Driving Directions : see on Google map

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