Mahiyangana Rajamaha Viharaya (මහියංගන විහාරය)

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“Bodhito navame mase – phussa punnamiyam jino,
Lankadipam visodhetum – Lankadipam upagami”.
Mahavamsa 1:19

The above Pali stanza means that on the ‘Duruthu’ (January) full moon day, in the ninth month after Enlightenment, the Buddha made his first visit to Lanka, to purge the country from malignant influences of uncanny spirits. On that historic day, the Buddha, having taken his meal near the Anotatta lake, by the foothills of the Himalayas, had left for Sri Lanka by evening to accomplish his mission, because he foresaw that the Buddha Sasana, once established, would remain for 5,000 years.

At the time of the Buddha’s visit, the aborigines or the original inhabitants of the country were ‘yakkas’ (demon-worshippers) and ‘nagas’ (snake-worshippers). The ‘yakkas’ were numerous and very powerful, and held themselves aloof and confined themselves to the mountain fastnesses of the North-Central region, whereas the ‘nagas’ confined themselves to the seaboard, and Maniakkhika was the ‘naga’ king of Kelaniya.

The luxuriantly wooded Mahanaga garden, on the right bank of the river Mahaveli, which discharges its confluence into the sea near Trincomalee, was at that time a strategic stronghold of the ‘yakkas’. When Buddha arrived at the Mahanaga garden to intercept the ‘yakkas’ who were assembled there, they were more surprised than alarmed, when they saw him clad in a yellow robe and shaven-headed.

Being inquisitive of the intruder and to know who he was, the ‘yakka’ chief asked the Buddha, “Who art thou to come here and disturb us?” At once, the Buddha, to their bewilderment, performed a miracle by sitting cross-legged in the air. Now, the ‘yakkas’ through fear, emotional excitement and apprehensive of danger, begged the Buddha to save their lives and set them free.

Whereupon, the Buddha, addressed them saving “I shall, O yakkas, save thee from all danger, provided I am offered a place to sit down, and make known to thee my mission”. The evil horde verily agreed saying “O Great Being! We shall offer thee the whole island”. Buddha, having seated at the spot, where the Mahiyangana chetiya now stands, delivered to them a discourse, whereby they became spiritually evaluated and attained the stages of holiness (i.e., the fruits of Sovan, Sakadagami, Anagami and Arhat).

Among them was the ‘yakka’ commandant Saman who, after listening to the discourse, became elevated to the first phase of spiritual eminence (‘Sovan’), and came to be known as Saman deviyo, who is now propitiated as the tutelary deity of Sri Pada. The god, thereupon, appealed to the Buddha to give him something as a token of symbolic worship, in the absence of the Buddha. Buddha in accedence of the earnest request, gave the god a handful of hair from his head, which the god accepted with great devotion.

The god had the hair-relic secured in a golden reliquary and enshrined it in a small tope 10 ft. high and 24 ft. in circumference (Mhv. 1:36). It is the first chetiya in Sri Lanka, built during the lifetime of the Buddha. All other cities were of later construction.

After the Mahaparinibbana (demise) of the Buddha in 543 BC at Kusinara (now Kusinagar) in India, 45 years later, the Arhant Sarabhu Maha Thera, having recovered from the funeral pyre, where the Buddha was cremated, the left clavicle (collar-bone) as a relic, brought it to Sri Lanka and had it also enshrined in the same city, and enlarged it to a height of 18 ft (Mhv. 1:39).

History tells us that Prince Uddha Culabhaya, a cousin of King Devanampiyatissa (307-267 BC), seeing the chetiya, enlarged it further to a height of 45 ft. King Dutugemunu (161-137 BC), who launched his offensive against the Dravidian king Elara alias Ellala, in fulfilment of his old dream, to save the country from Tamil domination, left Rohana, with his magnificent fourfold army of elephants, cavalry, and chariots and infantry, and while passing through Guttahalaka (now Buttala) and the jungle-clad Malayarata (upland country), met his first encounter at Alut-Nuwara (Mahiyangana).

When the king saw the ruinous state of the Mahiyangana chetiya which had seriously suffered the onslaught of the enemy offensive, he took steps to renovate it, regardless of his interest on the war front. He raised the chetiya to a height of 120 ft., somewhat as a covering to the original one, which we see today.

King Voharaka Tissa (204-236), was so much bent on religious activity, that he renovated many viharas and cetiyas, including the Mahiyangana vihara, and built on ‘catta’ (parasol) to the chetiya with unbound devotion. (Mhv. 36:33). After king Sanghabodhi (246-248), we rarely come across any historical evidence about the the Mahiyangana chetiya.

During his childhood days, Prince Sanghabodhi, son of Selbhaya, who lived in Mahiyangana, was handed over to his uncle, the Maha Thera Nanda, the incumbent of the Mahiyangana Vihara, to be brought up under this guardianship, because the father of the prince had died when the child was 9 years old. As the child was handed over to the Sangha under the bo-tree of the temple, he came to be known as Sanghabodhi. He, having ascended the throne, did much to protect the Mahiyangana chetiya from ruin.

King Sena II (850-885), not only paid his benefactions to the chetiya, but also alienated land for the vihara as a token of gratitude. (Mhv. 51:74). King Kassapa IV (896-913) also alienated a village for the vihara to expand its perimeter. (Mhv. 52:15). King Vijayabahu I (1058-1114), who established the Polonnaruwa kingdom, seeing the ruinous state of the chetiya, overgrown with wild vegetation and fauna, took steps to renovate it, without allowing it to undergo further deterioration.

King Viraparakrama Narendrasinha (the last Sinhala king of Sri Lanka), (1706-1739), also known as Kundasale Rajjuvuro (King of Kundasale), had conducted grand ‘poojas’ (offerings) to the chetiya, and had it decorated with multi-coloured banners and sweet-smelling flowers.(Mhv. 97:28-30). King Kirti Sri Rajasinha (1747-1780), did much to maintain the chetiya in good condition and also built edifices for the bhikkhus to spend their time peacefully and in meditation.

In 1851, the Ven. Iddamalgoda Dhammapala, the incumbent of the Mahiyangana vihara, seeing the sad state of the cetiya, took a keen interest in renovating it, and the restoration work began in earnest. In 1873, the top portion of the cetiya collapsed. In 1980, after years of planning and hard work, a pinnacle to the cetiya was ceremonially fitted, with the zeal and enthusiasm of Ven. Yatawatte Sri Candajothi Maha Thera of the Asgiriya Chapter, supported by Ven. Wattegama Sumangala Nayake Thera, Duniwila Nilame, Timbirigaspitiye Disawa and others.

On June 18, 1942, a conference was held at the Mahiyangana vihara, in the presence of Rt. Hon. D. S. Senanayake, Minister of Agriculture and Lands, who expressed his approbation for the restoration of the ruined cetiya. For the purpose, a society was formed under the name Mahiyangana Vihara Vardhana Samitiya, headed by the Hon. Minister. The ceremonial laying of the foundation stone was done on September 24, 1953, in the presence of a great gathering.

The crystal-cut gem that adorns the pinnacle was a gift received from Myanmar (Burma), and it is the biggest of the kind of Sri Lanka, weighing 14.5 kg. (32 lbs). The cetiya was ceremonially opened on September 21, 1961, amidst a great concourse of devotees who flocked to witness the historic incident.

by Aryadasa Ratnasinghe

Alternate Names :Mahiyangana Temple, Mahiyangana Rajamaha Viharaya, Mahiyangana Stupa

Also See

  • Solosmasthana – The Sixteen Buddhist Sacred Sites Hollowed by Buddha

Map of Mahiyangana Raja Maha Viharaya

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Travel Directions to Mahiyangana Raja Maha Viharaya

Route from Colombo to Mahiyangana Raja Maha ViharayaRoute from Polonnaruwa to Mahiyangana Raja Maha Viharaya
Through : Kegalle – Kandy – Hasalaka – Mahiyangana
Distance : 195 km
Travel time : 5 hours
Driving directions : see on Google map
Through : Kaduruwela – Manampitiya – Dimbulagala – Dehiattakandiya – Mahiyanganaya
Distance : 90 km
Travel time : 2 hours
Driving directions : see on Google map


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