Thimbiriya Rajamaha Viharaya and Malwessa Vehera – තිඹිරිය රජමහා විහාරය හා මල්වැස්සා වෙහෙර

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Partially restored Malwessa Vehera stupa at Thimbiriya Rajamaha Viharaya
Partially restored Malwessa Vehera stupa at Thimbiriya Rajamaha Viharaya
Photo by Dr. Ashan Geeganage

Archaeologists excavating the ancient Thimbiriya Raja Maha Vihara at Medagama in Uva Wellassa have discovered 160 old Dutch coins, rings made of copper, glass beads and some clay urns, according to Director General Archaeology Dr. Senarath Dissanayake.

The finds belonging to different periods of the country’s past indicated that the temple in the remote Wellassa area had links with maritime and other provinces of the country in ancient times, Dr Dissanayake said.

The excavations have yielded evidence which established the fact that the temple had been built during the first half of the Anuradhapura Period, Dr Dissanayake said. “This fact is confirmed by the finding of a Chatra Gala, a circular stone slab used as an umbrella shade for the stupa, near the stupa of the temple. Excavators have also unearthed ruins of several constructions made during the Anuradhapura Period.”

During the first half of this year archaeologists of the Department had begun excavations at the Thimbiriya Raja Maha Vihara. Their objective was to remove embellishments and additions made during the later days and uncover the original stupa belonging to the Anuradhapura Period, Dr Dissanayake said.

“The ancient temple has a Dharma Shalawa (Preaching Hall), Pratima Gruha (Image House) and several other yet to be identified buildings. It seems that the site was a thriving monastery during the ancient times giving shelter to hundreds of bhikkhus. The image house was renovated during the Kandyan Period as evident from some architectural features. There are many sculptures, carvings and paintings belonging to the Kandyan Period in the image house.”

Dr. Dissanayake said that some scholars had opined that there was a reference to the Thimbiriya Temple in the Saddharamalankaraya, a Sinhala translation of Pali text called Rasavahini compiled in the 14th Century.  According to the scholars, the textual reference, ‘Girithimbila Tissa Pabbataramaya’ found in the Saddharamalankaraya is about the Thimbiriya Raja Maha Vihara. There is also a folktale that the temple was built by the King Lajjitissa (119-109 BC), the son of King Saddhatissa.

by Dasun Edirisinghe
The Island

There is also a belief that this temple was built by King Devanampiyatissa (250-210 BC). The Mahawansa, the great chronical of the Sinhalese has recorded that the Thimbiriya Rajamaha Vihara was one of the 66 temples built by the king at regular intervals from Anuradhapura to the Ruhuna after he embraced Buddhism.

It is said that King Dutugemunu’s army that marched against the Cholas who ruled in Anuradhapura camped in this area and wanted a place for him and his army to carry out religious activities. Here he built the Malwessa Stupa for this purpose.  The king, who paid royal patronage to the temple after defeating the Chola King Elara bringing the country under a single rule, offered this stupa and the the yield of the paddy fields in the surrounding area to the temple. History has recorded that Walagamaba and Nissankamalla were other Sinhala kings who often visited the temple. The last king to visit the temple was Kirthi Sri Rajasingha.

Thimbiriya Rajamaha Viharaya was the nerve center of the 1818 Rebellion against British rule. After suppress­ing the rebellion, the British ruthlessly destroyed this 2000 year old temple including the Malwessa Stupa which was built by the King Dutugemunu.  They then arres­ted all Buddhist monks in the temple and were executed in Jaffna.

The Malwessa Stupa was partially restored around 1989 and again being restored in 2017.

Also See

Map of Thimbiriya 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

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Travel Directions to Thimbiriya Rajamaha Viharaya

Route from Monaragala to Thimbiriya Rajamaha Viharaya

Distance : 23 km
Travel time : 30 minutes
Driving directions : see on google map


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