Sri Sankapala Rajamaha Viharaya – Pallebedda (ශ්‍රී සංඛපාල රජමහා විහාරය – පල්ලෙබැද්ද)

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Situated in the Ratnapura district belonging to the Atakalan Korale Thambagamu Pattu Pallebedda Village the Sri Sankapala Rajamaha Viharaya lies in the outskirts of Ratnapura – Hambantota main road near the 24th milepost. It is a 5 hour journey from Colombo through Ratnapura.

Introduction

Sankapala Rajamaha Viharaya stands majestically on a rocky mountain as ample evidence to prove that this temple has been blessed by the saintly monks who spent their time in peaceful meditation.

Situated in the Ratnapura district belonging to the Atakalan Korale Thambagamu Pattu Pallebedda Village the Sankapala Rajamaha Viharaya lies on the outskirts of Ratnapura – Hambantota main road near the 24th milepost. From here a distance of about 150 yards, is the rock mountain wherein the ruins of buildings, a Bo tree, a dagoba, and a cave Deralaya have been found.

Historical Evidence

Brahamin inscriptions cared beneath the drip ledges (“Katarama” in Sinhalese) of the rock dating back to a period even before the birth of Christ is ample evidence to prove the existence of a monastery.

Folklore has it that Pussadeva a warrior of King Dutu Gemunu (161-131 BC) resided here. This is confirmed by the fact that Pussadeva’s name has been mentioned in the rock inscriptions. Pussadeva who played a prominent part in King Dutugemunu’s wars was well-versed in the art of war and blowing the conch shell. Hence the emblem conch shell was used to identify him. Further, it is mentioned that later on in life he was ordained a monk and achieved the state of Rahath. However, owing to the evils of nature, this abode had been later abandoned.

Sri Sankapala Raja Maha Viharaya - Pallebedda
Ancient script found inside the temple

This place was resurrected again and made a popular place of worship by Venerable Karathota Dharmarama during the Kandyan period. It is learnt that King Rajadhi Rajasingha gifted Venerable Dharmarama the the village of Pallebedda for his good deeds.

Situated in the Ratnapura District belonging to the Atakalan Korale Thambagamu Pattu Pallebedda Village the Sankapala Rajamaha Viharaya lies on the outskirts of Ratnapura – Hambantota main road near the 24th milepost. From here a distance of about 150 yards, is the rock mountain wherein the ruins of buildings, a Bo tree, a dagoba, and a cave Deralaya have been found.

One outstanding feature of literary revelation is the famed Ven. Karatota Dhammananda. He was imprisoned by the king of Kandy Rajaddhi Rajasinghe of the 18th century as the king suspected the priest to be in close contact with the Dutch. He was arrested on the king’s order and imprisoned in Kandy.

While in prison he wrote a book in verse form named ‘Bharasa Kavya Gharbha Chakraya‘ which was presented to the King through Aththaragama Rajaguru Bandara. This book was sent to all the Pandit scholars in Senkadagala. However, nobody was able to comprehend it. Thus the King ordered all eminent scholars to be present at a King’s Audience/Royal gathering (“Raja Sabawa”) in order to discuss and understand the contents of the book. When this was done the King was highly pleased and he bestowed Sri Sankapala Rajamaha Viharaya and the village of Pallebedda amidst all pomp and glory to Venerable Karatota Dharmarama. This was a gift to appreciate the literary works of this Venerable monk. Even to date, this verse form could be seen drawn on the door to the entrance of the Viharaya. Among the other items gifted is the Disa Flag with the lion inscription, “Vatapatha” (A round-shaped fan used by monks), and a golden statue of Buddha. These could be seen safely guarded in the Viharaya along with the “Sannasa” (message written on an ola leaf) and epigraphy. Moreover, he was honoured by bestowing on him as the chief incumbent of Sri Padaya and low country Sangha Nayaka Status. The glory of the temple began with this incident and it prospered thereafter until now.

Archaeological Findings

It is very important to note here the recent observation of the excavations conducted by the archaeological Department regarding Sri Sakhapala Rajamaha Viharaya and its surroundings. Steps have been taken to submit a report on its findings regarding the 14 caves scattered around the Rajamaha Viharaya. These caves have been numbered to make it easy for purposes of explanation.

Cave No: I
The length and breadth of this cave are 40ft and 25ft respectively. The height is 19 ft. This is situated on the eastern side of the Viharaya. Brahamin Scriptures engraved on the right side of the cave beneath the small drains carved to drain rainwater away from the Scriptures (known as Kataram) are clearly visible up to date. A small enclosure has been put up inside the cave recently.

Cave No: II
This cave faces the Southeastern side of the rock. It is 40 ft long, 40 ft wide and 20 ft in height. Inside the rock cave, a small enclosure has been built with a wall and cladding with tiles. There is evidence to say that Kataram on this rock cave has been plastered with cement at a later point in time.

Cave No: III

This cave facing the east of the rock is 20 ft long, 20 ft wide has a height of 10 ft. There is no trace of a Kataram or Scriptures. This cave occupies a Devalaya devoted to God Kataragama.

Cave No: IV
This rock cave faces the west. The exposure of this rock to the fury of monsoonal and inter-monsoonal rains causing damage to the rock could be seen by the cleavage of the rock to some degree. This may possibly be due to the long length of the cave which is 78 ft and 34 ft wide with a height of 18 ft. Brahamin Scriptures have been engraved beneath the small Repledges (Katarama). Inside this cave is the Load Buddha’s Image House (“Budhu Madura” in Sinhalese). This cave has been transformed into two caves by building a wall separating it into two caves from where the rock has been cleft. Inside the image house is a reclining Buddha Statue. Just below the Repledge (Katarama) of the rock picture of a Dhagaba has been engraved.

Cave No: V
Towards the eastern side of the rock facing Southeast lies this cave. It is 62 ft in length, 18ft wide, and 30 ft in height. Small Repledges (Katarama) are clearly visible. An image house has been erected but there are no visible scripts.

Cave No: VI
This cave faces the South and is situated towards the eastern side of the rock. It is 58 ft in length, 19 ft wide, and 20 ft high. A small enclosure has been put up for meditation. No inscriptions are visible.

Cave No: VII
This cave too is situated towards the eastern side of the rock facing southeast. It is 14 ft long and 14 ft wide while the height is 17 ft. No inscriptions have been found.

Cave No: VIII
This cave too is situated towards the eastern side of the rock. It is 24 ft long and 13 ft wide. The height is 12 ft. No inscriptions have been found, although two Repledges (Katarama) have been cut. A small enclosure for meditation has been constructed

Cave No: IX
This cave is situated towards the Southeastern side of the rock. No inscriptions are visible. It is 31 ft long, 20 ft wide, and 9 ft in height.

Cave No: X
This again is facing the Northeast and is situated on the Western side of the rock. It is 9 ft in height. There is no trace of any inscriptions or (Katarama) Repledges

Cave No: XI
The tombstone of the warrior Pussadeva can be seen at the bottom of the rock. This cave is situated facing the Western side of the tomb. It is 45 ft long, 19 ft wide and 20 ft in height. Although there are small Repledges (Katarama) along the rock, no inscriptions are visible.

Cave No: XII
This cave is situated behind the present monastery beneath the rock. While it is 25 ft long, 12 ft wide, and 13 ft in height it has drains carved but no visible signs of inscriptions.

Cave No: XIII
This cave faces Northeast and is also situated behind the present monastery. Here too no inscriptions are found.

Cave No: XVI
No inscriptions nor Repledges (Katarama) are found. The length is 25 ft, width 19 ft, and height 8 ft.

Brahamin Cave
Close to the tombstone of Pussadeva is a huge cavity through a rock. This cavity is 12 ft long, 7 ft 8 inches wide and 10 ft in height. There is evidence to prove that this has been an abode of primitive men. People of the area call it ‘Thapas Guhawa’ meaning ‘where Bhramins lives’.

Tombstone of Pussa Deva

Traveling about three-quarters of a mile from Sri Sankapala Rajamaha Viharaya towards Pallebedda one would come across that rock where ruins are present. The people of the village believe that this is the place where Pussadeva has been cremated.

Here lie the ruins of a small Dagoba. It has been constructed on a square platform of which one side measures 34 ft. It is a round Stupa with a circumference of 60 ft. Although there are no other ruins to be seen here the archaeological value of this place cannot be undermined

‘Sel Lipi’
Three documents written in Brahmin inscription belonging to a century Before Christ have been found while exploring the vicinity of the caves around Sri Sankapala Rajamaha Viharaya. These have been published by the Archaeological Department before.

Following is the inscription which is cared just below the Repledge (Katarama) of Cave No: l

Meaning: “An Upasaka named ‘Sona’ has gifted this cave ‘Supatiththitha’ to the Maha Sangha.”

Here Sri Sankapala Raja Maha Viharaya - Pallebedda means Maha Sangha and Sri Sankapala Raja Maha Viharaya - Pallebedda  denotes the name of the cave. Two documents in Brahmin inscription dated Before Christ have been found inside the main Image House (“Budhu Madura” in Sinhalese) in cave No: 4. This has been inscribed about 25 ft below the Repledge (Katarama) towards the center of the cave.

Sri Sankapala Raja Maha Viharaya - Pallebedda

1st document

Meaning: “Son of Pussa Devage Guththa …………… gifted this cave”. Although it is not mentioned that this particular cave has not been gifted to the Maha Sangha, we can assume that it has been done so to all monks who inhabited the land in all directions.

2nd document

Meaning: “The cave belonging to the son named Pussadeva has gifted this cave to the Maha Sangha”.

According to this document the cave has been gifted to the Maha Sangha by Pussadeva. As proclaimed by the Brahmin inscriptions B.C.

The name of the gifter and his father’s name have been mentioned. But unfortunately today the father’s name has been erased with the passing of time.

Attention should be focused on the rock inscriptions found by the excavating unit of the archaeological department. They have been successful in bringing to light two rock inscriptions which hitherto have not been excavated, in front of the main Image House on a slab of stone.

This inscription done recently consists of a mixture of Sinhalese and party-erased Brahamin letters. It can be assumed that this was a gift to the Viharaya.

Considering the importance and value of these rock inscriptions there are several conclusions we could arrive at. According to folklore this cave Viharaya is where warrior Pussadeva was ordained as a monk and where he resided.

The letters of the period between the second and third century B.C. mention the name of Pussadeva. This documentary inscription belonging to the 2nd century B.C. regarding Pussadeva and folklore are identical.

Another aspect that becomes prominent with these inscriptions is the fact that these caves have been renovated and offered to the temple by the devotees. A special feature of this offering is that these caves have been gifted not only to the Bhikkus residing here but also to all monks living in all directions of the country.

To the left of these inscriptions beneath the Repledge (katarama) is the emblem of the couch shell. This emblem should be taken into consideration because adjacent to the Brahmin inscriptions belonging to the era Before Christ there are couch shell is very rare. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that the couch shell emblem signifies the authority of Pussadeva.

Frescoes depicting bhikkus in meditation can be found on ‘Sankapala’ rock. These inscriptions date back to the early Anuradhapura period.

Bharasa Verse (poems)

A very rare kind of creation by Venerable Karathota Dhammarama of the temple in verse form named “Bara Nama Gaba Saka” during the period of King Rajadhi Raja Singha takes special place in Sinhalese literature. This was written in order to apprise King Rjadhi Rajasingha of his literary abilities. As has been mentioned earlier this was written while serving a sentence in prison.

Relics in the museum of Sri Sankapala Rajamaha Viharaya:

The Lion Flag
Among several other deeds gifted by King Rajadhi Rajasinghe to Venerable Karathota Dhammarama is a lion flag. It is a ‘disa’ flag (Meaning a flag for a particular district) wherein the sun and moon too have been drawn.

Vatapotha(A round-shaped fan used by monks)
A Vatapotha with a handle made of ivory and adorned with a fine piece of cut has been offered by King Rajadhi Rajasingha. This is covered with a red satin cloth.

Gold Buddha Statue
An eight-inch standing gold statue of Lord Buddha which has the characteristics of the Kandyan period has been donated by the King. There is yet another Buddha statue made of ivory preserved in the Museum.

Ola-leaf Manuscripts
A cover made of ivory, finely sculptured with a flowery design for an ola-leaf manuscript is a rare museum article and is safely preserved. In return for the two verses expressing gratitude to the King for the gifts donated, he has presented a feathery gold pen with a gold nib.

The deed of Pallebedda Sankhapala Viharaya
In the year 1786 B.C. King Rajadhi Rajasingha gifted a deed to Venerable Karathota containing land exceeding thirteen thousand acres including Sankhapala Viharaya at Pallebedda.

(Translated from “PALLEBEDDA SRI SANKAPALA PURANA RAJAMAHA VIHARAYA” Published by the Archeological Department of Sri Lanka-Authored by Ms Malini Dias. We are thankful to for the translation to English by Mrs Sita Jayasekera for Lak Daruwo)

Source : http://www.lakdaruwo.net/embilipitiya/sankapala_vihara.htm

Also See

Map of  Sri Sankapala Rajamaha Viharaya – Pallebedda

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Travel Directions to  Sri Sankapala Rajamaha Viharaya – Pallebedda

Route from Colombo to Sankapala Temple
Through : Ratnapura – Pelmadulla – Madampe
distance :150 km
Travel time : 3 hours.
Driving directions : see on google map

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