Asgiri Maha Viharaya and the Adahanamaluwa Gedige Viharaya in Kandy (මහනුවර අස්ගිරි රජමහා විහාරය)

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North of the Kandy Lake lies Asgiri Maha Viharaya, one of the two main monastic centers of the Siyam Nikaya. This temple is believed to be considerably older than the other monastic center, Malwatu Viharaya, and the “Asgiriya Talpata” voices this claim.

Although there are two Chapters of the Siamese Sect at present, in the ancient past, there had been only one, the Maha Vihara. The monks of these viharas identified themselves as forest dwellers and village dwellers. According to the Lankatilaka inscriptions they had lived together. Even the granting of higher ordination to these monks had been conducted at the same function in 1753 by Ven. Upali from Siam. Therefore, in the beginning, the names Asgiri and Malwatta were only nominal designations.

Asgiri Maha Viharaya was founded by Commander Siriwardhana at the request of Parakramabahu IV of Kurunegala (1305-1335 A.D.). The original buildings were set up in the Trinity College premises. The bhikkhus to take up residence here were sent from Valasgala hermitage in Yapahuva. The name Valasgala is translated into Pali as “Acchagiri” and the present Sinhalese name Asgiri is derived from it. According to another legend Asgiri was named after the mother queen of Vikramabahu who was cremated in the present cremation ground or Adahana Maluva at Asgiriya.

It is said that she built a temple called “Talagahamulla Viharaya” which later became the “Asgiri Viharaya”. At present, the Asgiri Temple Complex is called “Heyagiri Wijesundararama”. Heyagiri is an erroneous translation of the pali word Acchagiri into Sinhalese. During the last king of Kandy, His Commander-in-Chief Urulewatte Wijesundara Rajakaruna Seneviratne built a new temple near the old one, and the whole temple complex became known as “Heyagiri Wijesundararama”.

The King also made land grants to the temple and an inscription by him to this effect is still seen nearby. However, the popular name Asgiriya continued to be used. During the reign of Rajadhi Rajasinha (1779-1797 CE), the streets of Kandy were straightened and as a result, the old buildings of the Viharaya had to be demolished and a new temple was built at “Udamadapota”. This is now known as” Pahala Pansala “or lower temple. The demolition for the second time took place during the reign of Vimaladharmasuriya II (1687 – 1707) when he was building a wall around the city.

It is seen from the history of the Asgiri Viharaya that almost all the rulers of the Kandyan Kingdom have contributed much towards its development. On the other hand, it was mainly the monks of this Chapter who safeguarded the Tooth Relic on behalf of the ruling monarch during troublesome times.

Again, it was Wariyapola Sumangala Anunayake Thero of this viharaya who re-hoisted the Sinhalese flag in protest when the British hoisted their flag at the time of the signing of the Kandyan Convention in 1815.

Among the historical monuments belonging to the Asgiriya Vihare are the “Purana Viharaya” or the Old Temple and the “Aluth Viharaya” or the New Temple which was built by Pilimathalawe Dissawe in 1768. The temple known today as “Meda Pansala” was built by Meegastanne Dissawe in Dumbara in 1767.

Parana Viharaya contains a sedate figure of Buddha under a Makara Thorana Arch, and the interior is very similar to that of Gedige Viharaya. The figures on each side of Buddha are the deity Natha on his right and deity Saman on his left. A new “Aluth Vihare” was built by the Pilimathalawe Adhikaram, a son of the Pilimathalawe Dissawe in 1801. This viharaya has a recumbent figure of Buddha hewn out of a Rock thirty-six feet long. Asgiriya also has two poya-ge’s.

One of the most important monuments standing in the Maha Vihara Grounds is the “Gedige Viharaya” in the “Adahana Maluwa” or the Royal Cremation Ground. According to legend, this viharaya was founded by Vickramabahu III of the Gampola kingdom (1357-1374) in memory of Queen Chandrawathie who was cremated here. Later except for the two Kings, Wimaladharmasuriya I who died in 1604, and Sri Wickrama Rajasinha who died in Vellore later, all other Kandyan Kings had been cremated at this Adahana Maluwa.

A beautiful gedige-style image shrine and a monastery constituted this viharaya and was known as “Rathnabanu”. The viharaya had three maluwas or terraces, Uda (upper) maluwa, Meda (centre) Maluwa, Palle (lower) Maluwa. The cremation of the Royal family members was at the Meda Maluwa, therefore the temple on the premises was known as the “Adahanamaluwa Gedige Viharaya”.

Historically, Adahanamaluwa Gedige is the second oldest monument in the city and architecturally it belongs to the same school that influenced the monuments at Natha Devale and Gadaladeniya Vihara in Uda Nuwara. It is believed that the plan of the Natha Devala Gedige has been made use of here. Adahanamaluve Gedige Viharaya plays a significant role in the Kandy Esala Perahara in that on the final night the Relic Casket of the Dalada Maligava is deposited there until the commencement of the last day of Perahara which begins from this site. This is done to fulfill a wish of King Kirti Sri Rajasinha (1747 – 1781), who, having re-started the Dalada Perahara, ordered that the Casket be deposited at Adahana Maluva as a mark of respect to his queen mother cremated there.

Adahanamaluwa Gedige Asgiriya
Adahanamaluwa Gedige Asgiriya

Adahana Maluva was the place where the bodies of the kings of Kandy were burned and their remains were buried. Valentyn says that the body of Vimaladharmasuriya I (1592 – 1604), who died in 1604 was “cremated according to the custom of his country in a princely arbor”. Maha Astana, the son of Vimaladharmasuriya I, and Dona Catherina who died in 1612 was also cremated there with “very great state and royalty, while great mourning lamentation were taking place at the sepulcher”. He also speaks of Dona Catherina who died in July 20, 1613. “She was cremated on the 21st with a great splendor on the same spot where the funeral of her son had been celebrated”.

In 1878-80 the railway line to Matale was constructed under the Adahana Maluva in a tunnel and the last of the tombs which were almost the only remains of the Royal burial ground was destroyed.

Among the historical monuments in the city of Kandy are three other important temples belonging to the late Kandyan period. They are Gangaramaya, Huduhumpola and Nittawela. These stood outside the boundaries of the old city but today they are within the municipal limits because of their close proximity to the ancient city.

References

  1. Seneviratna, A., 1983. Kandy: an Illustrated Survey of Ancient Monuments With Historical, Archaeological and Literary Descriptions Including Maps of the City and Its Suburbs. Colombo: Central Cultural Fund, Ministry of Cultural Affairs.
  2. Abeyawardhana, H. A. P. (2004) Heritage of Kandurata: Major Natural, Cultural, and Historic Sites. Kandy: Kandurata Development Bank, in association with the Central Bank of Sri Lanka.

Also See

Map of The Asgiriya Viharaya

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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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Driving Directions to Asgiriya Viharaya

Kandy can be reached from Colombo on the old Colombo – Kandy road (option 1) which is scenic but heavy in traffic, especially on Fridays and Sundays. However, the new Central Expressway (option 2) has opened up a new route which is longer but less cumbersome.

Route 1 from Colombo to KandyRoute 2 from Colombo to Kandy
Through : Katunayake Expressway – Central Expressway – Kurunegala
Distance :150 km
Travel time: 3.20 hours
Driving Directions : see on Google map
Through : Katunayake Expressway – Central Expressway – Kurunegala
Distance :150 km
Travel Time: 3.20 hours
Driving Directions : see on Google map
Route From Nuwara Eliya to Kandy
Through : Walapane – Raja Mawatha
Distance :100 km
Travel Time : 3.0 hours
Driving Directions : see on Google map
Route from Kandy to Asgiriya Viharaya
Though : asgiriya
Distance : 2 km
Travel time : 5 minutes
Driving directions : see on google map

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