Ruwanweli Maha Seya (රුවන්වැලි මහා සෑය)

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Ruwanweli Maha Seya (Ruwanweliseya) is one of the most venerated Buddhist sites in Sri Lanka built by the great king Dutugamunu who reigned from 137 BCE to 119 BCE from Anuradhapura. Ruwanweli Maha Seya is not the largest nor the oldest of the stupas erected in Anuradhapura, but this is the most venerated by the Buddhists surpassing all other great stupas. It has the most imposing collection of relics of Gautama Buddha than was ever enshrined in any other dagoba on the island.

According to Mahavamsa, on the Buddha’s 3rd visit to the island, he finally went to Anuradhapura where the Meghawana would be established and alighted on the spot where the Sacred Bo Tree would be planted and also visited the site where the Great Thupa, Ruwanweli Seya would be established and meditated at the site. Thus this site lies on the 10th position of Solosmasthana, the Sixteen Buddhist Sacred Sites hollowed by Buddha, and also one of Atamasthana, one of the eight most sacred holy sites of Anuradhapura.

After the defeat of Elara, the South Indian invader, and bringing the whole country under one rule by the great warrior king Dutugemunu, the building of Ruwanweli Seya has been given the most prominence in most ancient texts in Sri Lanka.

The original stupa was about 180 feet (55 meters) in height and had been expanded and renovated by many kings thereafter. The stupa is 350 feet (107 meters) in height and 300 feet (92 meters) in diameter today.

After building the Mirisavetiya Maha Stupa and Lohamahaprasada, the seven-storied building, and donating it to the priesthood, he started building the largest brick structure the world had ever seen at the time. The location of the stupa was already selected by the great Mahinda Thero and King Devanampiyatissa had planted a huge stone pillar at the location. The king removed this pillar and started to build the stupa. This pillar was moved to the northern side of the stupa and can be seen even today where King Dutugemunu placed it. It is 22 feet in height and 12 feet in circumference.

According to Mahavamsa, the great chronicle of Sri Lanka,  the preparation for the foundation for the stupa is described as follows (chapter xxix verses 2-17);

When he had ordered to take away the stone pillar the lord of the land had the place for the thupa dug out to a depth of seven cubits to make it firm in every way. Round stones that he commanded his soldiers to bring hither did he cause to be broken with hammers, and then did he, having knowledge of the right and the wrong ways, command that the crushed stone, to make the ground firmer, be stamped down by great elephants whose feet were bound with leather.

The fine clay that is to be found on the spot, for ever moist, where the heavenly Ganga falls down (upon the earth (on a space) thirty yojanas around, is called because of its fineness, (butter-clay) Samaneras who had overcome the asavas, brought the clay hither from that place. The king commanded that the clay be spread over the layer of stones and that bricks then be laid over the clay, over these a rough cement and over this cinnabar, and over this a network of iron, and over this sweet-scented marumba that was brought by the samaneras from the Himalaya. Over this did the lord of the land command them to lay mountain-crystal. Over the layer of mountain-crystal he had stones spread ; everywhere throughout the work did the clay called butter-clay serve (as cement). With resin of the kapittha-tree, dissolved in sweetened water, the lord of chariots laid over the stones a sheet of copper eight inches thick, and over this, with arsenic dissolved in sesamum-oil, (he laid) a sheet of silver seven inches thick.

When the king, glad at heart, had thus had preparation made upon the spot where the Great Thupa was to be built, he arranged, on the fourteenth day of the bright half of the month Asalha, an assembly of the brotherhood of the bhikkhus, and spoke thus: “To-morrow, venerable sirs, I shall lay the foundation-stone of the Great Cetiya. Then let our whole brotherhood assemble here, to the end that a festival may be held for the Buddha, mindful of the weal of the people; and let the people in festal array, with fragrant flowers and so forth, come to-morrow to the place where the Great Thupa will be built”

Mahavamsa – The Great Chronicle of Sri Lanka

King Dutugamunu didn’t live to see the completion of this massive stupa. When the king fell ill, he sent his brother to complete the work of the stupa. On King Dutugamunu’s deathbed, he wanted to see this stupa and his brother covered the whole dome in white cloth, constructed the upper portion of the stupa in bamboo and painted it in imitation gold, and carried the king to the stupa to show the “competed” stupa.

At this site, he was happy to see Therapuththabhaya Thero, one of the 10 warriors in Dutugemunu’s army who took up robes after defeating Elara and uniting the country under one king. He spoke to him and said “In times past supported by you, one of my ten warriors, I engaged in war against those who had usurped the country; now single-handed I have begun my struggle with death. I will not be able to overcome this antagonist.

The Thera replied in this manner: “Great King, compose yourself. Without subduing the dominion of the foe-sin-the power of the foe-death-is invincible. For, it has been declared by our Lord the Tathagata that all what is launched into the world that is transitory will most assuredly perish; therefore everything is perishable. This principle of dissolution exerts its power even over the Buddha Call to your recollection the many acts of piety and charity performed by you.

The king received much consolation from this statement and asked his ministers to bury his body at a suitable spot within the yard of the Uposatha hall within sight of the Ruwanweli Seya. Then he spoke to his brother Saddhatissa for the last time,

“My beloved Tissa, do thou complete in the most elaborate and perfect manner all the remaining work at the great Dagaba; hold flower offerings morning and evening daily at this Shrine; keep up three times a day the sacred service with the full band of musicians at the Shrine. Whatever may have been the offerings and duties prescribed by me to be made on account of the noble Religion of the Tathagata, do thou, my child, keep up the same without any diminution.”

After the death of King Dutugemunu, King Saddhatissa completed the spire, plastered the whole structure, and pained it. He also built a wall around Salapathala Maluwa decorated with 400 elephants, 100 on each side.

Around the stupa, you will see granite statues of King Dutugamunu, Queen Vihara Mahadevi (his mother), and King Bhathika Tissa (140-164). King Bhathika Tissa once covered the stupa from the pedestal to the pinnacle with fragrant garlands. On another occasion, he painted the entire stupa with vermilion, making it look like a bouquet of flowers. In yet another instance, he covered the stupa with flowers and water from Abhaya Wewa, which had been pulled to the top by machinery and then poured over the flowers.

The last time it was repaired in recorded history was by King Parakramabahu the Great (1153-1186) over 800 years before.

Photos before restoration from


  1. B.W. Harischandra, 1908. The Sacred City of Anuradhapura. With Forty-six Illustrations. Colombo.
  2. Mah|can|cama and Geiger, W., 1912. The Mahavamsa or the great chronicle of Ceylon. London: Henry Frowde, Oxford University Press. pp 191-193.
  3. Smither, J. and Wikramagamage, C., 1993. Architectural Remains, Anurádhapura, Ceylon; comprising the dágabas and certain other ancient ruined structures. Measured, drawn and described by J.G. Smither. 2nd ed. (revised) Colombo: Academy of Sri Lankan Culture, pp.30-59

Also See

Map of Ruwanweliseya Stupa

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Driving Directions to Ruwanweli Maha Seya (Anuradhapura)

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

Route 01 from Colombo to AnuradhapuraRoute 02 from Colombo to Anuradhapura
Through : Negombo – Chilaw – Puttalam
Distance from Colombo : 210 km
Travel time : 4.30- 5.00 hours
Driving Directions : see on Google map
Through : Katunayake Expressway – Central Expressway – Kurunegala – Dambulla
Distance from Colombo : 223 km
Travel Time : 4.30- 5.00 hours
Driving Directions : see on Google maps
Route 03 from Colombo to AnuradhapuraRoute from Kandy to Anuradhapura
Through : Katunayake Expressway – Narammala – Wariyapola – Padeniya – Thambuthegama
Distance from Colombo :203 km
Travel Time : 4.30- 5.00 hours
Driving Directions : see on Google map
Through : Katugastota – Matale – Dambulla
Distance from Colombo :136 km
Travel Time : 3.5 hours
Driving Directions : see on Google map


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