In the temple-studded paradise island of Sri Lanka, Bellanwila Rajamaha Viharaya occupies a special place. This temple is considered so sacred that there is a long-cherished belief that a child who treads the ground under the shade of its sacred Bodhi tree will never fail in life.
Situated on the outskirts of the city of Colombo, in the village of Bellanwila, just three kilometers from the city limits, Bellanwila Rajamaha Viharaya has a long and hallowed history. The great sanctity attached to the temple is due to its sacred Bodhi tree. There is authoritative literary evidence in ancient texts such as the Sinhala Bodhivamsaya which records that this Bodhi tree is one of the thirty-two saplings that sprang from the sacred Bodhi tree at Anuradhapura planted in the 3rd century BCE.
The recorded tradition is as follows: There were five twigs in the Bodhi sapling that were brought from India to Sri Lanka and planted in the Mahameghavana at Anuradhapura. When the sapling had grown into a tree, eight new saplings sprang from its eastern side. These are called the Asta Pala Ruka Bodhi trees and they were planted at eight different spots on the Island. From the other four original branches sprang thirty-two additional saplings which were also distributed throughout the Island. One such plant is the sacred Bodhi tree at Bellanwila.
The reason why this particular spot at Bellanwila was selected is not clear. Scholars have forwarded various hypotheses. But what appears plausible is that even at such early times this particular spot had been recognized as a hallowed site, and further, that there may have already been a well-established shrine here with resident holy monks.
The state of the shrine after the planting of the Bodhi sapling is shrouded in the mists of history. Neither literary nor archaeological evidence is available to reconstruct its history. Bellanwila was far away from the then capital of the Island and as it had no significant role in the history of the Island, it did not find any mention in the chronicles or other historical documents.
In the 15th century, Bellanwila Rajamaha Viharayaagain is mentioned in literary works. This is when Kotte, which is in close proximity to Bellanwila, became the capital. In the Kotte period, Buddhism rose to great heights with the royal patronage of King Parakramabahu VI (1412-1467). But even during this period, Bellanwila is cast in the shadow of Sunthradevi Pirivena, a shrine built by the king himself.
The subjugation of the maritime provinces by the Portuguese in the latter part of the 17th century and the consequent loss of royal patronage dealt a severe blow to Buddhism. As a result, many places of worship were neglected. Bellanwila seems to have fallen on, especially hard times and was abandoned and covered by a dense thicket.
It was in the middle part of the 19th century that Bellanwila once again came into religious prominence. The story of the revival of Bellanwila Rajamaha Viharaya is closely linked with Attidiya, a village adjoining Bellanwila. The discoverer was an adventurous monk known as Thengodagedara Hamuduruwo. It is not known to which temple or sect he belonged but he was said to be the founder of Galauda Vihara. One day in 1850, he was traveling by boat along the Katu-ala stream towards Pepiliyana. On his journey, it is said that he heard the sound of drums from a nearby thicket. Being inquisitive, he left the boat and walked towards the sounds.
As he approached, the drum sounds faded away and he was surprised to see a Bodhi tree. Subsequently, he came to discover that this was one of the thirty-two saplings from the sacred Bodhi tree at Anuradhapura. With the help of villagers, he cleared the land around the tree and built a modest shelter for monks.
With this modest and mysterious beginning, Bellanwila began to attract the attention of devotees in the neighborhood. As they were mostly poor villagers, they were not in a position to contribute much to the temple’s structural development.
Since Thengodagedara Hamuduruwo rediscovered Bellanwila it has had a succession of chief monks including Ven. Udugampola Sri Ratanapala, Udugampola Sri Dammakkhandha, Abhidhamma Weboda Sri Sangharatana, Asgiriya Devarakkhita and Bellanwila Sri Somaratana. Among these erudite, well-disciplined monks it is the Ven. Bellanwila Sri Somaratana must be given credit for raising Bellanwila Rajamaha Vihara to its present state of glory and grandeur.
Map of Bellanwila Rajamaha Vihara
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Driving Directions To Bellanwila Rajamaha Vihara
|Route from Colombo to Bellanwila Rajamaha Vihara,||Route from Mount Lavinia to Bellanwila Rajamaha Vihara,|
|Through : Galle Road|
distance : 12 km
Travel time : 45 minutes
Driving directions : see on google map
|Through : Templers Road|
distance : 6 km
Travel time : 20 minutes
Driving directions : see on google map