Kahatagasdigiliya Sri Gonagiri Rajamaha Viharaya – ගෝනගිරි රජමහා විහාරය

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Gonagiri Rajamaha Viharaya

I am in Kahatagasdigiliya, a serene farming village in Eastern part of Anuradhapura. It is five p.m. in the evening. The sun is hot and beating down upon the vast stretch of ruined paddy fields and chenas, that stretch in all directions. I see the remains of dead trees and dried land, prominent signs of a severe drought that has affected the village. Villagers flock to tanks for ablutions where water is scarce. Women carry pots to fetch water from distance tanks where water the levels have drastically reduced due to the prevailing drought, in the Rajarata. A little beyond the town of Kahatagasdigiliya, my destination, is the historic Gonagiri Rajamaha Viharaya which rises majestically against the backdrop of huge rock boulder.

Gonagiri Rajamaha Viharaya

Gonagiri Rajamaha Viharaya
Image source : sites.google.com/site/srigonagirirajamahaviharaya

After a rickety bus journey from Colombo, I step into the chief incumbent’s Avasa Ge which is built on a comer of a rock boulder. Following my meeting with the chief incumbent of the temple I sit on a small chair and relax for a few minutes. Through the arch windows of the Avasa Ge, I see a huge rock boulder and stone parapets stretch to vast areas of the temple premises.

The archeological site at Gonagiri Vihare, which spreads over a vast area of about 25 acres, is covered with thick forest and surrounded by a huge rock boulder. I ponder how the Vihare might have looked like in the past. I enjoy the peace and serenity that still prevails.

Deep in the dry zone

Gonagiri Rajamaha Viharaya

Gonagiri Rajamaha Viharaya
Image source : sites.google.com/site/srigonagirirajamahaviharaya

If one is desperate to escape from the hustle and bustle life in the city and wants to spend a day in the enchanting atmosphere of mother nature, historic Gonagiri Vihare is the place. Here you will experience the unspoilt natural beauty of the dry zone and hear nothing but the sound of the jungle. You will forget the hazard of the outside world.

Gonagiri Rajamaha Vihare is 30 kilometers from Anuradhapura. The sacred site gives one a feeling of serenity and a glimpse of the hardship endured by the farming community of the area. After travelling on the Anuradhapura – Trincomalee Road, you reach the Kahatagasdigiliya town. From there one needs to travel one kilo meter to the Vihare.

The history of Gonagiri Vihare is buried deep in the sands of times. The temple was built by king Suratissa, in 247-237 B.C., the younger brother of king Mahasiva, who became a ruler of Anuradhapura. He was a descendent of king Devanampiyatissa. According to Mahawansa, a Buddhist chronicle, king Suratissa has ruled Anuradhapura for over 10 years and built 500 temples around the sacred city of Anuradhapura. Historians believe that Gonagiri Rajamaha Vihare is one of the temples built by king Suratissa. Many years ago the temple was known by various other names such as Gonagala Vihare and Gommalawe Vihare.

The sambur legend

However, at present, the temple is known as Gonagiri Vihare. There are a few legends associated with the name of the temple. There is a popular belief amongst the villagers that the rock boulder in the site fell from above. Legend has it that they fell on two samburs and killed them. The image of a sambur has been carved out on the surface of a rock at the summit of the temple. The other one dates back to the ancient time of Kala Oya which flows across Anuradhapura. Kala Oya at one time was known as Gona Oya. Meditative monks in Gona Oya used to reside and mediate in the caves of this Vihare. Later the site was known as Gona Giri Vihare.

The pious king Suratissa was killed by Senaguttika, a Tamil king from India during the Chola invasion, to the country. Gonagiri Vihare became ruined and overgrown by creepers. Later, King Dutugemunu, a king from Anuradhapura, had renovated this historic place. It is evident that during the reign of King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe, in Kandyan era, the temple was in pristine condition. The king built an elaborately carved Makara Thorana and a shrine room in a cave of the temple.

Ruined shrine

Among the most striking features in the temple today is a ruined shrine room built in a cave by King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe. In the shrine room there are four Buddha statues which are damaged beyond recognition. All the paintings inside the cave are faded. There is one reclining statue of the Buddha which is slightly recognizable. The other statues are completely destroyed. The magnificently built Makara Thorana in the cave has been in a fragile condition for a long time due to the negligence of the relevant authorities.

There is a Buddha statue carved from stone. The image of Buddha, carved out on a slab of stone, measures one and a half feet in height on both side. This kind of craftsmanship cannot be found anywhere else in Sri Lanka. The image of the sambur carved out on the summit of the rock has greatly influenced who ever who named this temple Gonagiri Vihare. There are a few stone inscriptions at this site which are now ruined.

The chief incumbent of Gonagiri Vihare, Ven Paluketuwewe Pannasekare Thera, a young scholarly monk, who has dedicated his life to develop the temple, takes me around a ruined site which spreads over a vast area. The monk shows me remnants of two ruined stupas on the summits of the rocks. At each stupa there are a flight of steps which leads to the summit. There are a cluster of small natural ponds in the rock. It is said that these were used by mediating monks in the past. Apart from the small ponds there is a huge natural pond in the rock which is believed to have been used by monks for ablutions. Due to the severe drought that prevails the tank is dry. A small stupa was renovated by the Department of Archeology long ago. The stupa lies majestically on the summit of one boulder. Other ruins lie scattered in vast area.

No archeological attention

The chief monk said many of the archeological remains that belong to Gonagiri Vihare are unique. However, the Department of Archeology has paid little attention to this historic site. At present a meditation centre has been set up in the jungle where Gonagiri Vihare is situated. Special mediation classes are conducted by scholarly monks under the supervision of the chief incumbent of the temple.

According to the chief incumbent of the temple, a 25 metres high crossed-legged Buddha statue is being built on the 200 feet high summit of the rock boulder. The the rock boulder in Gonagiri Vihare faces the Aunradhapura – Kahatagasdigiliya road. The foundation of the statue has been laid on the rock with the help of devotees of the temple. The estimated cost in building the statute is 10 million rupees, according to the chief monk. Anyone who wishes to donate money to build the statue can make contributions to the temple.

Text and photography by W. A. Mahil
The Nation –

Also See

Map of Gonagiri Rajamaha Viharaya


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Traveling Directions to Gonagiri Rajamaha Viharaya

Route from Anuradhapura to Gonagiri Temple

Route from Trincomalee Gonagiri Temple

Via : Anuradhapura – Trincomalee Road
Distance : 33 km
Travel time : 40 minutes
Driving directions : see on google map
Via : Anuradhapura – Trincomalee Road
Distance : 105  km
Travel time : 2 hours
Driving directions : see on google map

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