Bingiriya Devagiri Rajamaha Viharaya – බිංගිරිය දේවගිරි රජමහා විහාරය

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The impressive Tampita Viharaya of the Bingiriya Devagiri Rajamaha Viharaya

The impressive Tampita Viharaya of the Bingiriya Devagiri Rajamaha Viharaya
Photo by : Nilupul Sri

Devagiri Raja Maha Viharaya in Bingiriya is one of the ancient temples in Sri Lanka. It is situated in Kurunegala District in the North Western Province. The temple is situated on Chilaw –Kurunegala Road 16 miles off Chilaw and 16 miles off Hettipola. One has to travel about 1.6 km off the main road to reach the temple. Colombo International Airport is within the distance of about one hours drive from the temple.

The history of the temple dates back to about 3rd Century BC. At that time the traders from a nearby boat harbour called Sala Thota (now known as Chilaw ) have passed this place on their way to and from the harbour. According to the legends they have placed a casket of relics for worship in this place which later developed as a temple. The casket according to the legend has sunk into the earth and consequently the place was called Bingiriya- (Bimgiliya – Bingiliya-Bingiriya). Today Bingiriya is known as a centre of government administration.

The stupa and the other buildings in the temple have been built in the third century BC by the traders under the guidance of King Devanampiyatissa. Later King Agbo I (6th century AD) also built a two storied building to the west of the stupa, a shrine with three stone Buddha Statues and a small dome to the East of the Stupa. The Bo Tree which has been planted by that time still exists today. Now ruins of a building (Uposathagara) and some stone Buddha statues can be seen in the temple premises. A ruined brick wall encircles the whole site. In addition King Agbo I has donated a tank and some paddy lands to the Vihara (Temple).

King Parakramabahu I who is well respected for uplifting the agriculture of the country has built some buildings, tanks and ponds. The ancient city of Panduwasnuwara, where he was staying as a prince is 11 kms away from the temple. Although a stone inscription is reported to have been done, Solee invaders have destroyed them. The old Arama has existed until the Kotte Era (11th century AD ) but today only the ruins are visible.

Later, King Keerthi Sri Rajasinghe who ruled from Kandy (18th century AD) has repaired this temple under the supervision of Rev. Saranankara Sangharaja thero and built a Tampita viharaya  equal in structure to the Temple of the Tooth.

 Plan of the Temple.

The site is encircled by an old brick wall. The buildings are situated on a sand courtyard. The neighboring courtyard too contains ruins of some old buildings. The stupa surrounded by Eth Paura (Elephant Wall) is situated towards the North of the site.

The ancient columns where temple bells were fixed is near the Stupa. The columns bear the evidences of Dutch archaeological signs. In the center of the courtyard the shrine can be seen. This is the largest shrine on pillars in the country. In the two storied shrine, the ground floor is meant to be a meeting hall. The upper story, made of wattle and daub has been decorated with beautiful wall and ceiling paintings that reveal the artistic traditions of the area at the time.

In the south of the courtyard (Maluwa) is the Bo Tree, (Bodhi) which is reported to be 2000 years old. In the adjoining compound the archaeological excavations have revealed the existence of some ancient buildings. The Avasa (House of the Clergy) also is situated in the courtyard. The new proposed Avasa is to come up outside the courtyard. The Devala is situated out of the courtyard.

Tampita Viharaya

The Tampita Viharaya at Bingiriya is the largest in the country. The whole structure is 34 feet long and 24 feet wide. The temple is built on 24 granite pillars 6 feet high. The image house on the top is 20 feet  6 inches long and 12 feet wide. A 2 feet 6 inch wide circumambulating path is built around the image house. Due to its height a second layer of roofing is built around the structure at the floor level of the image house. By 1960 , A wall has been built around the granite pillars enclosing lower part of the structure.  Doors has been built from all four sides to enter the enclosure. These walls have been removed and the original structure has been restored during later restoration by the Department of Archaeology. Some of the decomposed original timber beams of this viharaya have been replaced during a restoration in 1992.

There are 2 wooden stairways to the image house at the top. Currently one is being used. There are 3 entrances from 3 sides to the image house. The main entrance at the front is 6 feet 6 inches high and 3 feet 4 inches wide. The door frame is built in the form of  Suryawanka design. A dragon arch has been built at the top of the door and two statues of guardian deities stand beside the door. Archaeological values of the murals and statues in the image house is somewhat lost due to repairs carried out about 70 years ago.  The 7 feet tall main  Buddha statue shows Kandyan tradition and is in seated position. There are 4 standing Buddha statues, 2 on each side  flanking the main statue. These statues are 8 feet tall.  The paintings and the murals of the outer wall and the roof of the image house is believed to be dating back to 19th century. These images are somewhat fading and shows a mixed artistic style of Kandyan and a local tradition. These mainly include Suwisiwiwaranaya and painting of Arhaths.

This Tampita Viharaya is one of the few places in Kurunegala district where the best wood carvings of Kandyan era can be seen. Wooden pillars with pillar heads around the circumambulating path, roof and wooden beams laid across the granite pillars are filled of carvings from Kandyan era.

Each wooden pillar around the circumambulating path along with their pillar heads which holds the weight of the roof contains different carvings. Carvings of Lotus Flower, Binara Flower, Pineapple flower, Wrestlers, Elephant, Bull, Gajasinghe, Sarpendiya, Herunda Pakshiya, Deer, Rabbit, horse rider and lion can be seen on these pillars.

 The Land Area

The British Administration has allocated an area of 952 acres of land in deed No. 91160 in 1873. The area is a part of the original land allocated by King Agbo I. The land is now under the ownership of the successful incumbent priests of the temple.

Water sources.

Kolamunu Oya, a branch of Deduru Oya joins the main river close to the temple. Still people get water from this place. The place is called Kinda which is full of fresh water fish like Lula, Ara and Crocodiles. Also Kinda is a good breeding place for inland fish.

Three tanks and 12 ponds, now in ruins can be seen in the temple premises. One end of the premises extends up to Deduru Oya, where natural local aquatic and other plants could be seen. The flora and the sand in the Oya help retain water in the dry season. Now the haphazard sand mining industry is doing much damage to the environmental balance in the area.

Natural Flora and Fauna

About 160 acres of land in the temple land is a natural forest. The illegal fellers of trees and hunters are threatening the existence of the small forest area. A small herd of deer could be seen roaming in the jungle.

Primary Sources
devagirifoundation.org
Sri Lankawe Tampita Vihara by Kusumsiri Wijewardhana

Also See

Map of Devagiri Raja Maha 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 Devagiri Rajamaha Viharaya

Route from Colombo to Devagiri Rajamaha Viharaya

Though : Negambo – Wennapuwa – Madampe
distance : 93 km
Travel time :1.5 hours
Driving directions : see on google map

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