Thanthirimale Rajamaha Viharaya – තන්තිරිමලේ රජමහා විහාරය

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Reclining Buddha Statue at Thanthirimale Rajamaha Viharaya Stupa
Reclining Buddha Statue at Thanthirimale Rajamaha Viharaya Stupa

The Thanthirimale Rajamaha Viharaya (Thanthirimale Temple)  is now surrounded by huge boulders and thick forest covers. One could only imagine what the monastery had looked like nearly 2300 years ago but the peace and serenity still prevails.

Built in the Third Century BC and used by King Devanampiyatissa as a one-day stop to Arahanth Theri Sangamitta on her way to Anuradhapura, Thanthirimale Rajamaha Viharaya seems to have developed from a small temple to a large monastery by the end of the Anuradhapura period.


Thanthirimale was not Thanthirimale at the beginning. The area was first civilized by a minister of King Vijaya called Upatissa, who chose this ground surrounded by Malwatu Oya and Kanadara Oya by three sides to build his future town then named Upastissa Gama.

When King Devanampiyatissa first visited the temple in Thanthirimale, it was known by another name – Thivanka Bamunu-Gama. It was confirmed by a rock inscription near the ancient Bodhi tree at sight, which states that one of the first eight offshoots of Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi was planted at Thivanka Bamunu-Gama.

Although the name suggests, the village was the home to a Brahmin called Thivanka, archaeologists have a different theory on it. They suggest that it was called Thivanka since it was a Brahmin village surrounded by three curves of the Malwatu Oya.

Some go as far as to suggest that Thanthirimale is the long lost ‘Panduvasdewu Nuwara’ the legendary kingdom of King Panduwasdewa, father to Unmada Chithra and grandfather to the first King of Sinhala- Pandukabaya.

It seems to have been a developed city in the turn of the Third Century BC since King Devanampiyatissa also chose to plant one Bodhi at Tanthirimale out of the first eight shoots to spring off from Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi in Anuradhapura. Thus the Bodhi tree can count nearly 2300 years of existence and is still standing proud.

The most beautiful sight at Tanthirimale is the Samadhi and reclining Buddha statues carved from the large rocks of Thanthirimale.

The Samadhi statue established near the Bodhi shows characteristics of the late Anuradhapura period. Standing eight feet high, the statue has an unfinished look about it and the two rows of unfinished and un carved outlines of Buddha statues by the sides of the main statue confirm the fact that the statue was built in the last age of Anuradhapura prior to the invasion of Kalinga-Maga.

The same sense of urgency is visible in the reclining Buddha statue. More trends of the Polonnaruwa period are present in this 45 feet statue. The Kalinga-Maga invasion seemed to have kept the artist in check since he had left the statue without giving it the elegant shape it deserves.

The invasion created a great migration from Anuradhapura to Polonnaruwa and left many a great monastery and palace abandoned to the forest.

The great statues of Buddha too were left to destiny with only statues of gods and lions standing to protect them. The roof and its stone pillars had given away centuries back exposing the statues to sun and rain but the worst damage had been done by treasure hunters.

When Thanthirimale was re-discovered by Ven. Kudakongaskada Vimalagnana Thera in the early 1960s, the reclining statue and

the Samadhi statue were badly destroyed by the treasure hunters who had burrowed and mined into the statues in search of material treasures.

Although the Samadhi statue had been re-created to its initial appearance the attempts to re-create the reclining statue since 1974 by the Archaeology Department has been a failure up to date.

Many stone containers originally created to contain gems had been scattered around the monastery premises and are piled up at the museum at site.

Only the monastery library and 12 meditation caves have escaped the attacks of the treasure hunters.

The Pothgula or the monastery library is situated on a high rock. The 12 Padhanagaraya structures are the only buildings within the monastery site. Scattered over 250 acres the Padanagarayas served as meditation or living areas for meditating monks. They were surrounded by water and were also used for pohoyakarma or punitive rituals.

Five meditating caves scattered inside the deep forest of Tanthirimale however, date back to the first century BC with Brahmi writings detailing donors and constructors of the caves.

The presence of these writings, some as old as 4000 years, suggests the presenc0e of a civilisation in Tanthirimale older than the Buddhist civilisation introduced by Arahanth Mahinda.

Getting There

Thanthirimale monastery could be reached by two ways. The first is through Anuradhapura-Mahavillachchiya road. Take the Sri Wimalagnana road and after travelling nearly 20 km you could reach Tanthirimale Raja Maha Viharaya. The second road is on the Madavachchiya-Mannar route. Turn left from Gajasingha Pura and crossing Malawattu Oya reach Tanthirimale Raja Maha Viharaya.

By Damitha Hemachandra

Also See

Map of Thanthirimale Rajamaha Viharaya

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The map above also shows other places of interest within a approximately 20 km radius of the current site. Click on any of the markers and the info box to take you to information of these sites

Zoom out the map to see more surrounding locations using the mouse scroll wheel or map controls.

Travel Directions to Thanthirimale Rajamaha Viharaya

Route from Colombo to Thanthirimale Rajamaha Viharaya
Through : Puttalam –  Nochchiyagama
Distance : 240 km
Travel time :4.5-5 hours
Driving directions : see on google map

Tantirimale [2] : The hidden ‘jewel’

by Supun Perera
Sunday Observer

The journey to Tantirimale from Anuradhapura is somewhat tedious since travellers or pilgrims have to encompass treacherous beast terrain.

However, the 33-km distance is ‘money’s value’ where you… the historic Tantirimale Temple on the left flank from the Pemaduwa junction connects the Mahavillachchiya Reservoir which is considered to be one of the longest tanks located in the North Central Province.

The significance in the Tantirimale is the Bo tree you find on the vortex of the rock where Sangamitta on her way to Anuradhapura with the sacred Bo sapling had made her transit point in Tantirimale which was earlier known as Tevakka Bamunugama.

In the history books it clearly mentions that the provincial leader Tevakka had given a grand welcome to Sangamitta on her arrival at Tantirimale during the reign of King Devanampiyatissa in 275 BC.

Besides the Bo Tree and dagabo the Tantirimale Temple consists of a Samadhi Statue and a Sathapena Pilima of Lord Buddha. However, it is not yet known whether these carvings belong to the Anuradhapura or Polonnaruwa era. [h]

The left flank of the Pemaduwa directs to Vilachchiya town. Two kilometres northwards you find the Mahavillachiniya reservoir. The tank belongs to Anuradhapura and was built by Prince Saliya in 140 AD.

It provides irrigation to a total of 2664 acres of paddy cultivation in the northern sector of Rajarata. However, the point that the villagers brought in was during the premiership of Mr. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, the immediate action was taken to restore the tank and brought it to the condition it is today.

Whilst admiring the late Premier the villagers paid a glowing tribute to C. P. de Silva, the late Minister of Land, Irrigation and Power who along with A. E. C. de S. Gunasekera Consultant Engineer of the Irrigation Department took the orders from Mr. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike and intensified the restoration work of the reservoir and brought it back to its past glory.

However the surroundings of the Mahavillachchiya reservoir is left to be desired. The remains of polythene, empty food parcels, glass and plastic bottles could be found on the bank of the reservoir.

This has caused the environment pollution and above all a major threat to the water of the reservoir. Even though the concerned authorities have taken preventive measures that too had not been taken care of. One of the cautioning hoardings too was damaged.

These reservoirs could be treated as a ‘gift’ from our ancient fore-fathers. Unfortunately at present our own people do not seem to be favourable towards the protection of these national assets. It is a must that more and more awareness programmes should be conducted through print media and the electronic media.

Similarly strict action is required to bring the people to justice who violate the cautioning instructions.

Tantirimale [3] :  As old as Buddhist Lanka

source :

Clusters of granite monoliths sprawling languorously on rocky beds….Statues and statuettes, some half done …. Bodhigaras…shrine rooms hoary with age whose vaulted interiors are dark as midnight…. These compose a massive Buddhist shrine sited in Maha Villachchi Korale of Anuradhapura district.

Its chief incumbent, Ven. Tantirimale Chandaratne Thera would tell you rather boastfully that the vast panoramic site spans an area of almost 150 acres. But the Venerable does not standstill. As he talks he keeps on moving about almost restlessly, pointing at something here and there and arranging and disarranging his dark orange robes. Frankly the placid and serene demeanour one expects from a disciple of the Buddha is not manifest in him. For he is not living in the 6th or 5th century BC at the base of the Himalaya range, but he is living in the post-ethnic strife period of Lanka at the dawn of the 21st century. He has seen much and suffered much. There is so much left to do to resuscitate the age old shrine and his restlessness signifies that he himself is in a quandary where to begin it all and how to accomplish it all.

The monk has seen only the civil strife of the 20th Century staged in the island but the gigantic shrine he rules over has seen much more. It had been one of the main victims of the Magha invasion that led to its almost total destruction. Its golden period was the 7th to 8th Century, but came the demon Magha from South India on his way from Mantota towards A’pura and the sculptors and artists putting the final touches to many works of art simply fled.

Actually it is no exaggeration to state that Tantirimale now neglected and forlorn, is as old as Buddhist Lanka. In fact, it was one of the first colonies that the Aryan group that came over in 6th century BC established. The chief Incumbent likes to identify it with Upatissagama. Of course it could be in the vicinity of Upatissagama. It was a main junction on the road from Mantota to A’pura and soon zoomed into a commercial venue. Naturally it became thickly populated though today you can drive miles around the area without sighting a single human being. The area is starkly depopulated.

But even after the conversion of the king and the capital’s people to Buddhism, Tantirimale had remained Brahminic. The main figure in the area had been Nivattaka Brahmana who however had made a visit to Tantiri the capital during Devanampiyatissa’s time that resulted in his embracing Buddhism. He returned with a bo sapling of the Sri Mahabodhi, that is Tantirimale’s most sanctified object of veneration today. Soon the sheen of yellow robes began to spread all over the area.

Tantirimale does not exude only a religious aura. There is something inexplicably mysterious about it. It is as if you are visiting a cavern of a phase of long bypassed time, as it lies there swathed in some inexplicable primeval aura.

As you stand on the rocky bed and feast your eyes on the gorgeous panorama all around, it is as if the two and a half millennia of time lapsed since the 6th century BC just disappears and leaves you right inside that time cavern, to ponder on the marvels of the world.

Meanwhile, the chief monk walks about talking of many a plan to develop not only the shrine but the undeveloped community denizening the area around. The prosperous have fled the area minus the comfortable amenities of living. It is only the helpless who opt to make the area their permanent residence.

Banks, NGOs, and the thera has tapped them all. Some of his envisaged plans are almost Quixotic as the project to divert the medicinal plants on distant Ritigala mountain to the Ayurvedic venues mushrooming in foreign sponsored hotels and guest houses in the Yapahuwa-Sigiriya area. It is an economically viable project, he said.

Strength oozes from him, the strength drown from defending himself and Tantirimale inhabitants from many an adversary during the border skirmishes.

So one has to forgive him even if his imagination runs loose on these projects. But he needs genuine help, help of many a person placed in more fortunate circumstances Tantirimale, his domain, running down through millennia of our history, basking there in the golden rays of the setting sun, under the shadow of many a statue of the Thathagatha too beckons that help.


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