Maha Saman Devalaya, Ratnapura – රත්නපුර මහා සමන් දේවාලය

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Maha Saman Devalaya, Ratnapura

Maha Saman Devalaya, Ratnapura

The Sabaragamuwa Maha Saman Devalaya is considered the main Devalaya of deity Saman except for the Shrine at top of Sri Pada.

The history speaks of a temple at Ratnapura area since the time of king Dutugemunu of Anuradhapura Kingdom, But the recent history starts from Dambadeniya period.

A court Minister called Aryakamadeva had come over to Ratnapura to make a vow for gemming, and if lucky to build a Devalaya to keep God Sumana Saman’s statue. After a sucessful gem mining expedition, he is said to have built the first devalaya dedicated to God Saman at Ratnapura. Although the devalaya was highly influenced by Hindu culture, it remained a Buddhist place of worship throughout the years.

Maha Saman Devale, Ratnapura Maha Saman Devale, Ratnapura

Maha Saman Devalaya, RatnapuraThe Portuguese first landed in Sri Lanka in 1505 through the Galle Port. With the demise of Sitawaka Rajasinghe, the Portuguese marched towards Sitawaka destroying and looting temples on the way. These included Delgamuwa Raja Maha Viharaya, Ratnapura Maha Saman Devalaya and Pothgul Viharaya which were highly venerated by the Buddhists.  The Ratnapura Fort and a church was built on the ground of Saman Devalaya around 1618-1620 by the Portuguese.

Later the King Keerthi Sri Rajasinghe (1747 – 1781) of Kandyan Kingdom re captured the Ratnapura, destroyed the church and the Portuguese  Fort at Ratnapura and built a temple (Maha Saman Devalaya) on the site. It is believed that the current temple is the temple built by King Keerthi Sri Rajasinghe.

There are two platforms here. The lower platform is gained through two vahalkadas on the east and the south. A flight of steps on the eastern side provides access from the lower platform to the upper platform. Prakara walls around the platform are clad at top with tiles. Opposite the flight of steps leading to the upper terrace is the santi maduwa of the devala, which is a pillared structure provided with dwarfs on either side. Openings are provided on this dwarf wall for obtaining access to the image house on the north and to the Pattini Devala on the south. The dogge has wooden posts.

The three storied structure at the end of the digge is known as the palace. To one who looks at it from afar, the palace looks like a dagoba. The vihara here is built on a high stereobate and is surrounded by a varandas. It has ancient paintings. There is an ancient bo-tree south of the flight of steps leading to the upper terrace. In the devala premises is a sculptured stone of the Potuguese period which portrays the the Portuguese General Simao Pinnao with brandished sword trampling a Sinhalese soldier. On the slab is a Portuguese instription which is a short description of the Portuguese general.

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Travel Directions to Ratnapura Maha Saman Devalaya

Route from Colombo to Ratnapura Maha Saman Devalaya

Route 2 from Colombo to Ratnapura Maha Saman Devalaya

Through : Kesbewa – Horana – Ratnapura
Distance : 88 km
Travel time : 2 hours
Driving directions : see on google map
Through : Kaduwela – Avissawella – Ratnapura
Distance : 100 km
Travel time : 2.15 hours
Driving directions : see on google map

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Maha Saman Devalaya

Maha Saman Devale, Ratnapura

Maha Saman Devale, Ratnapura

THIS TEMPLE, dedicated to one of the four guardian deities of the island, was constructed on the site of the Portuguese church and fort after the area was recaptured by the Kandyan kingdom. There is some evidence to suggest that there was an ancient devale (described as a “Hindu temple”) here before Portuguese times.

The present devale is approached from the north east up a long processional way, and then through a gateway with an adjacent bo tree, which leads into a large rectangular outer enclosure. It is here that the elephants are dressed for the perahera procession during the annual festival.

Maha Saman Devale, RatnapuraFrom this outer enclosure a flight of twenty five stone steps leads up to the an inner quadrangle which contains the main devale, together with a pair of Buddhist shrine rooms symmetrically disposed, some rooms for priests, and a well flanked by high walls.

Both areas are enclosed by dwarf masonry walls about five feet high, with tiled roofs on pillars above them.

At the top of the steps a portico of four carved wooden pillars fronts a stone doorway which leads into the spacious main portico of the temple, fifty four feet long by twenty feet wide, with twenty masonry piers arranged in four rows which carry the heavy wooden trusses of the tiled roof. A long prayer hall lies behind this portico, and behind this the multi storeyed shrine room, the doorway of which is flanked by relief statues of Hindu deities.

The flanking Buddha shrine rooms are raised on platforms, and surrounded by colonnades. Each of the shrines houses a statue of the Buddha and some valued relics which are carried in the perahera.

“The Maha Saman Devale, Ratnapura is very impressive—the grandest in size and setting of all the devales I have seen. Approached up long stone steps flanked by dug out boats on either side (ready for the annual goods) one senses at once that one is entering a place of myths and legends and offine style and historic Importance. Here a king at war must have been a king indeed and the palatial walauwas in the province seem a right and proper architectural support to the central place Of worship of its people. The devale compound is bound by a low, tiled and windowed, wall within which its space is ordered and emphasised by pavilion roofs, culminating in a three tiered tower at the one point, with two other deeply eaved shrine roofs for balance on the vast flat quadrangle. The impression is of triangular weight airborne on carved pillars on a flat sandy expanse, glimpsed through ever changing frames as one walks through the cloisters.”—Barbara Sansoni

Drawing, photo, and text courtesy of The Architecture of an Island: The Living Legacy of Sri Lanka (Colombo: Barefoot (Pvt.) Ltd., 1998) pp. 116-117

September – the month of God Saman

by Mahil Wijesinghe
Sunday Observer

Maha Saman Devale, RatnapuraRatnapura Saman Devale stands majestically on the bank of the Kalu Ganga. Built by Kamadewa, a minister of the King Parakramabahu II, in honour of the deity in fulfillment of a vow made by him before launching on gem mining.

Subsequently, Kings Parakramabahu VI and Rajasinghe I of Sitawaka had endowed this vihara and the devale in the vihara premises. A figure of God Saman which was in the devale in close proximity to Samantakuta too had been brought to Ratnapura during the reign of king Parakramabahu II.

The rituals had since then been practised. The origin of the pageant at Ratnapura therefore dates back to the Dambadeniya period according to the “Heritage of Sabaragamuwa.”

Maha Saman Devale, RatnapuraThe annual procession at Ratnapura Saman Devala held in the month of September is considered second, only to the Kandy pageant in grandeur and the observances of the age old customs and rituals.

After the Basnayake Nilame – the chief lay custodian – decides on the auspicious days and times for the various events, a hierarchy of traditional performers of duties are informed about their responsibilities before the commencement of the pageant.

Maha Saman Devale, RatnapuraFirst in the series of events is the planting of the kup to coincide with an auspicious moment. It is followed by the kumbal Perahera held over a period of five nights and the main Perahera for another five days. Deity Saman is symbolized by an arrow which receives a prominent place in the arrangement of the pageant and rituals associated therewith.

Many of the highlights associated with the main pageant held during the last five days enhance the grandeur of this great religious festival. Monks from Kottimbuwala Rajamaha Vihara chant Pirith before the commencement of the procession which is heralded by firing of gun shots.

Saman Devala Pageant, depicts a merging of the several events. At the head of the pageant is the Perahera in honour of the Tooth relic followed by the processions in honour of the Goddess Pattini, Bisodeva and Kumaradeva. The procession dedicated to Deity Saman is the final item.

Maha Saman Devale, RatnapuraThe rituals performed by the potter and the females provide great inspiration to the devotees. A huge two-faced figure of Mahababa with a serene face at one side and a fierce one at the other is a remarkable feature. It is believed that this figure depicts the character of King Rajasinghe I who was considered to be fierce, like a demon in anger, and pleasant like a deity to the virtuous.

Various dancers representative of the major dance forms – Kandyan, Sabaragamuwa and Low country add colour and grandeur to the procession. The culmination of the pageant is the water cutting ceremony on the last day at Kalu Ganga which flows near the Devale.

On the night following the completion of the pageant, a ritual is performed to bless all those responsible, including the Basnayake Nilame, Kapuralas, participants and the elephants who carry the caskets.

Many thousand of devotees and spectators take vantage positions along the route of the procession to view the colourful pageant.

These pictures were taken from last year’s pageant.

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