Isurumuniya Viharaya – ඉසුරුමුණිය විහාරය

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isurumuniya

The Meghagiri Vihara is now commonly known as Isurumuniya Vihara or Isurumuniya and lies near Tissa Wewa of Anuradhapura. But the original Isurumuni Vihara is located few hundred metres away is now called Vessagiri Vihara. When this viharaya was discovered it would have been thought it to be the Isurumuniya mentioned in ancient texts even though no inscription’s has been found. Later when archaeologists found the real Isurumuni Viharaya few hundred meters away (with inscriptions identifying its name), the name Isurumuniya was already taken and and the site was called Vessagiriya. the This temple is located in the ancient Mahameghavana (park) and was called Meghagiri Viharaya. This was the first repository of the Tooth Relic and this means this temple was part of the Abhayagiri Monastery (Seneviratna, 1994). However D.T. Devendra, a prominent Buddhist scholar doesn’t agree that the Meghagiri Viharaya mentioned in the ancient text to be the current Isurumuni Vhiharaya (Devendra. 1963).

This temple is widely divergent from the other temples with massive Stupa’s and stone pillars of ancient building found in Anuradhapura Ancient city. Isurumuniya is believed to be built by king Devanampiyatissa about 300 BC. The temple is carved • out of, and circles round, an abrupt natural rock formation by the Tissa Wewa.

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The king of Kalinga sent the Tooth Relic of Buddha through Danthakumara and Hemamala to his friend king Mahasena (266-276AC ) and they reached the outskirts of Anuradhapura in the 9th year of king Sirimeghavanna (Kithsiri Mevan) in 309AC. They realised that the king Mahasena has passed away 8 years ago, unknown to the Kalinga king thus it was king Sirimeghavanna who accepted the Tooth Relic (Devendra. 1963). According to Dhatuwamsa, Dalada Siritha as well as Rajavaliya describes how the Tooth Relic was deposited temporary at Meghagiri Vihara.

Isurumuniya is most famous for the stone carving of a couple and the bas-relief figures cut in to the rock there. This carved stone was found in the royal pleasure garden and brought here. There are many interpretations given for these carvings.

The most unique sculpture is the Man and Horse carved on the rock left to the staircase to the main temple hall. An authority of the standing of Laurence Binyon has referred to this sculpture as “a tremendous work, impossible to forget when once seen” (Paranavitana,1953)

This carving lies about 15 feet above the ground. The rock has been carved in and the figures have been presented as a bas-relief. The seated figure, which is rather less than life size, measuring 2 feet 7 1/2 inches from the waist to the crown of the head, is inside a shallow, arched cavity, the chest being almost a continuation of the vertical plane of the rock. The figure is not seated on an but on the flattened ground of the The left leg is placed on the ground and is stretched out; but is curved and returned at the knee so that the left foot touches the right The left arm stretches vertically down like a pillar from the rounded shoulder, and the hand is placed palm downwards on the floor. The right leg, bent at the knee, is raised, the outstretched right arm resting on it. The trunk is erect but not stiff. The entire pose gives the impression of one confident of power and strength. The expression on the face, as De. Vincent Smith has remarked, of calm and abstracted but not unconscious dignity The part of the body is bare; the folds of a thin cloth which drapes the lower half of the body are shown at the waist, and the hem of this garment is indicated by a faint line below the knee of the raised right leg and at the ankle of the left leg placed on the ground. A necklace bangs down the chest. Heavy ear-rings are shown suspending from the elongated lobes. On the upper right arm is worn a bracelet (angada). The seated figure has been described as wearing a helmet on the head. From its shape, the helmet appears to be made of metal A thick plume forms a crest on the top and hangs down the back. In the alternative, the hair may be taken as treated in the style called jarabhara in South Indian iconography. While there is clear definition the facial features, and the chest and abdomen have been realistically modelled, the fingers and toes respectively, of the hands and the left foot placed on the ground, have been left vague. The hands and the foot have merely been blocked out. Being seated on the rock itself, and hands and one foot merging into the indefiniteness of the rock, the figure of the seated man appears to be organically one with the mass of the rock. Above the left shoulder is shown the back of a seat against which the figure is resting; on the right side, this feature also, like the hands, is lost in the background of the rock. (Paranavitana,1953).

The head of the horse is facing outwards and is seen emerging out from the rock. The snout of the horse’s head has been damaged and been recently restored in cement.

There is no tradition with to what sculpture represents. The people living in and around Anuradhapura have entirely forgotten the significance which their ancestors attached to this seated until it aroused the curiosity of Dr Ananada Coomaraswami who interpreted as the Indian Sage Kapila-Muni who is also believed to be the 5th reincarnation of Vishnu. However Dr. Paranavithana believes that the man represents “Paranya” (Pajjunna), or “Varuna“, the spirit of the rain clouds which may be considered as identical with “Megha” and the horse, “Agni” the spirit of fire.

The carving in low relief, at the base of the second boulder, of the head and uplifted trunk of an elephant and the tail of another, together with lotus leaves and buds, in his opinion, has to be interpreted in relation to the sculpture of the Man and Horse, high up on the boulder adjoining it. The latter being Parjanya and Agni, the elephants and lotus leaves illustrate the effects of the manifestation of these two divinities. With the upturned trunk, one elephant is pouring water on its own body; of the other, only the lifted tail has been shown, the body being assumed to be immersed in the water. The elephants, therefore, are sporting in the water, As these carvings actually rise from the water in the pond, the effects of Parjanya’s activity are very realistically shown. The god has carried out his function of causing rain to fall. His appearance high up on the adjoining boulder evidently, had not been in vain. Parjanya not only sheds rain, but also ‘places’ seed in the plants as a ‘germ’. The ‘seed’, really is fire which is the ’embryo of the waters’. ‘In the rain, fire descends not upon but in to the ground and thence rises into the plants sap and life’. The beneficial activity of Agni, who has manifested himself in the form of the horse, has been indicated by the lots leaf and bud (Paranavitana,1953).

The most popular sculpture at this site this carving known as the prince Saliya (the son of the great king Dutugamunu) and his fiancé Asokamala now lying in the small Archaeology museum of Isurumuniya. Asokamala was of a lower cast called “Chandala” and the prince Saliya gave up the right to be the king by marrying this girl of a lower cast. This is one of the most celebrated love stories in the ancient Sri Lanka.

The commentary of the chronicle and the collection of edifying religious legends known as the Rasahini narrate this story in great detail. The Sinhalese treatise Saddharmalankara of the fourteenth century describes this love story in detail. Briefly told, story is as follows.

The only son of the great Dutthagamini was named Saliya, because, on the day of his birth, all varieties of grains in granaries turned unto that superior variety of rice called sali. He grew up into manhood acquiring all the necessary accomplishments of a royal prince, and was greatly loved by the people for his virtuous conduct and his attachment to the Buddhist faith. One day, he went on a picnic to the pleasure garden; he wandered forth here and there in the garden and came to the foot of an Asoka tree laden with flowers, On the tree, plucking flowers, was a maiden of exquisite beauty and he fell deeply in love with her at first sight. He inquired who she was, and learnt that she was the daughter of a smith (Kammara)of the Candala caste. The knowledge of this fact did not alter his feeling towards her. He took her to his palace and installed her there as his consort, When the king learnt that his son had espoused a maiden of lowly birth, he was naturally much perturbed and through the agency of one of the ladies of the royal household, tried everything possible to make the young prince give up his love; but the latter was firm in his resolve. At last, hearing very good reports of Asokamala from Brahmins, the king paid a visit to the lovers at their residence. Dutthagamini was so struck with the beauty and accomplishments of Asokamala that he at last gave bis blessing to the son’s union, and offered to nominate Saliya as the heir-apparent. The prince, however, renounced bis claims to the throne, and lived happily with his beautiful spouse, devoting all his energies to religion (Paranavitana,1956).

Another belief is that this couple represent the god Siva and goddess Parvathi of Hindu belief.

The vihara also has another stone slab which depicts a court scene which is thought to be the court of king Dutugemunu. Both these stone slabs are thought to be originated in the 8th century. Paranavithana believes that this represents a scene when king Dutugemunu visited his son’s adobe to reconcile the espousal of Asokamala. The young prince would have recieved him honour, on which the king is seated with his queen or favorite lady by his side. The prince sites beside the father with a submissive and a respectful attitude on the ground and Asokamala crouching in an inconspicuous position behind the queen.

The vihara itself is built on a rock and the sacred tooth relic of Buddha has been originally kept here when it arrived to the island from India in the 312 AC. The stupa and the Buddha image in this temple are of recent origin. But there are some caves which probably were used earlier but now have become a haven for bats.

References

  • B.W. Harischandra, 1908. The Sacred City of Anuradhapura. With Forty-six Illustrations. 1st ed. Colombo: Brahmachari Walisingha Harischandra.
  • Devendra, D., 1963. Meghagiri Vihara. Journel of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, New Series, Volume VIII part 2, pp.378-381.
  • Paranavitana, S., 1953. The Sculpture of Man and Horse near Tisavava at Anuradhapura, Ceylon. Artibus Asiae, 16(3), pp.167-190.
  • Paranavitana, S., 1956. A Bas-Relief at “Isurumuni” Anuradhapura. Artibus Asiae, 19(3/4), pp.335-340.
  • Seneviratna, A., 1994. Ancient Anuradhapura. 1st ed. Colombo: Archaeological Survey Department, Sri Lanka.
  • Burrows, S., 1894. The buried cities of Ceylon : A Guidebook for Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa with Chapters on Dambulla, Kalawewa, Mihintale and Sigiri. 2nd ed. Colombo: J. Ferguson, pp.65-67.

Also See

Photos from late 1800’s and early 1900’s

Map of Isurumuniya Temple

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Driving Directions to Anuradhapura

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

Route 01 from Colombo to Anuradhapura

Route 02 from Colombo to Anuradhapura

Through : Negombo - Chillaw - Puthlam
distance from colombo :213 km
Travel time : 3 hours
Driving directions : see on google map
Through : Ambepussa - Kurunegala - Dambulla
distance from Colombo : 221 km
Travel time : 3.15 hours
Driving Directions : see on google maps

Route 03 from Colombo to Anuradhapura

Route from Kandy to Anuradhapura

Through : Ambepussa - Kurunegala - Padeniya - Thambuthegama
distance from colombo :213 km
Travel time : 3 hours
Driving directions : see on google map
Through : Katugastota - Matale - Dambulla
distance from Colombo :139 km
Travel time : 2 hours
Driving directions : see on google map

Route from Anuradhapura Railway Station to Isurumuniya

Distance : 3 km
Travel time : 10 minutes
Driving directions : see on google map
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