Natha Devalaya – The oldest surviving building in Kandy
There are three entrances to these premises. Two of which pass through roofed and ornamented entrance gateway buildings with doratupala figures on each side and a Makara torana on the top carrying the image of gods. While the other entrance is from the Maligawa premises.
The Natha Devala stands distinct with its crowning gedige (vaulted roof) from the buildings and architectural styles that surrounds it. This prominently Hindu architectural style has been built following the South Vijayangara style of the 14th century.
The Natha Devala building resembles the Gadaladeniya temple and the Adahanamaluwa Gedige. The Natha Devale is built on a platform of dressed stone, and is three storied, surmounted by a sikhara or dome in the shape of a stupa. The two upper stores are non functional.
The architecture of the Natha Devala has been an important aspect for dating the monument to pre Kandiyan times.
The Natha Devala has often been quoted to be the oldest building in the city of Kandy, indicating that the worship of god Natha in Kandy could go back to at least the 14th century or even earlier.
Scholars have quoted much evidence to support this fact.
Reference in the Chulawamsa to king Narendrasinghe has been interpreted to indicate to the existence of the Natha shrine, before the Kandiyan period proper
Further evidence in support of its early origins is found in the epigraphic records; the Sagama Inscription of Buvanekabahu V dated 1381 A.D. which refers to the god of Senkadagala Devindu as Nathaswami, indicating the power exerted by this divinity in the political field.
And a slab inscription on the wall of the Natha Devala supports the fact that the Devala was in existence in its present form in the 16th century. This refers to the ruler named Jayaweera Mahahun Tena making some land donation to the people who were instrumental in destroying Portuguese forces in their wars against Kandiyan rulers.
The Natha devala played a significant role with regard to Sinhalese royalty. It was at this devala that a Prince raised to the throne had the golden sword of state gird on him by the Frst Adigar at an auspicious hour. The sword placed at the foot of the Natha Deviyo, was picked up by the Prince who then proceeded to take his oath within the devale precincts pledging that he would rule the country according to the Dasa Raja Dharma, the ten attributes of a good King and always use the sword with righteousness.
John Davey in his account of the Interior of Ceylon writes that the ceremony of choosing a name and putting on the regal sword by the Prince who has ascended the throne of Kandy, was conducted at the Natha Devale.
The circular foundation with stone bases for timber columns seen in the premises is known as the Otunu Mandapaya where it is believed the naming and anointing and crowning of Kandiyan Kings had taken place. The Chulavamsa also referred to a great Bodhi tree and cetiyas at these premises. A Bodhi tree here is venerated as one of the off-shoots of the sacred Sri Maha Bodhi in Anuradapura.
A base of an ancient Bodhi tree shrine attributed by scholars to the 14th century and possibly a contemporary with the Natha Devala can also be seen. The Bodhi shrine follows the Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa designs.
A small devala known as the Gambhara devala where offerings similar to those made to Natha is also within the premises.
A stupa here is identified by some scholars as the one that enshrines the sacred Bowl Relic of the Buddha. This stupa was broken into by thieves in 1889.
This Devale plays an important role in preparing and distributing the Nanu or medicinal herbs that go with the first bath taken in the Sinhala New Year, a tradition which comes down from the time of the Sinhalese kings. During the Kartika festival the oil needed for lighting the lamps is also supplied by the same Devala. The image of god Natha seated in a combination of the maharajalila and lalitasana is housed in the garbhagrha or the inner sanctum of the devala.
God Natha or Natha Deviyo is the god who aspires to become the next Buddha, Maitreya or Mete Budun. Mahayana Buddhists call him Avalokitesvara Bodhisatva.. He was known to the people as the Senkadagala devindu or the guardian god of Senkadagala. Lithic records establish that Senkadagala was the centre of the Natha cult.