Thuparamaya of Ancient Anuradhapura (ථුපාරාමය)

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This is the first stupa to be built in the country after the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka. Built in the time of King Devamnampiyatissa (250BCE – 210BCE) this was a stupa as well as an Aramic complex (monastery). “As Contemporary with Asoka ” (says Mr. Fergusson, in his History of Indian and Eastern Architecture ), “it belongs to the most interesting period of Buddhist history, and is older, or, at least, as old as anything now existing on the continent of India” (Smither and Wikramagamage, 1993).

Today ruins of this complex cover nearly 3 ½ acres. The stupa was built on the instructions of Mahinda Thero who brought Buddhism to the island to enshrine the right collarbone of Buddha.

According to Mahavamsa, the Great Chronicle of Sri Lanka, this place where the stupa stands has been blessed by Buddha’s presence during his 3rd visit to Kelaniya in Sri Lanka. Thus this site lies on the 12th 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.

The Great Mahinda Thero on the fourth day of the visit, visited Mahameghavanaramaya and marked boundary lines for 32 Malaka’s and the Thuparamaya. On the construction of the Stupa after passing the first season of “Vass“, the Mahavamsa states that the right collar bone relic of Buddha was given by the Sakra, the king of the Gods from the Silumini Seya. The relic was carried by an elephant to the location of the Stupa but it refused to let it be brought down. The king inquired from Mahinda Thero for the reason and he answered that the elephant would not allow it to be carried down but it would allow to be taken off to a place of the same height of its back.

King Devanampiyatissa immediately got his men to bring dry clay from the Abhaya Wewa (now called Basawakkulama Wewa), built a mound to the height of the elephant’s back and the elephant allowed the relics to be taken off its back, and deposit in the mound. The king then immediately started the building of the stupa up to knee height and invited the relics to the relic chamber of the stupa. The relics rose up to the sky and after performing a set of miracle acts floated into the relic chamber. A sapling of the Sri Maha Bodhi too was planted here. The stupa was then completed in the form of a paddy heap (Dhanyakara).

Based on Mahawansa, a stone mantel to the stupa was repaid by King Lanjatissa (119-109 BC). A unique architectural feature called Vatadage (also called Stupaghara, Stupa House) was added by King Vashaba ( 65-109AC). This building completely housed the stupa and the roof was supported by concentric circles of decorated stone pillars. King Gotabhaya (253-266) had restored this Vatadage. His son, Jettatissa (266-276AC) is reported to have moved large Buddha statues from Thuparama to Pacinatissa Pabbatha Viharaya and his younger brother King Mahasena (276-303) has again moved this image to Abhayagiya Viharaya (Geiger, 1912) .

Repairs and additions to this stupa have been made by King Upatissa I (368-410), Dhatusena (459-477AC) and Aggabodhi II (608-618AC). king Dathopatissa I (643-650AC) had broken open the relic chamber of the stupa to raise money for his soldiers. However, King Kassapa II (650-659AC) completely restored the stupa, and King Manavamma (684-718AC), son of Kassapa II restored the roof of the stupa. King Mahinda I (777-797 AC) enclosed the stupa in a gold and silver casing. Dappula II (815-831 AC) covered the Vatadage (Thupaghara) with golden bricks and installed doors of gold. The Pandyans then plundered the casings, the jewels, and treasures inside the stupa. Sena II (853-887 AC) restored the gold-plated casing and Udaya II (887-898 AC) restored the gold plating. Mahinda IV (956-972 AC) covered the stupa with strips of gold and silver and installed a gold door in the thupaghara. The Cholas then plundered the entire vihara at the end of the 10th century. It Was Parakramabahu the Great (1153-1186AC) in the 12th century was the last to restore the stupa and the thupaghara (Seneviratna, 1994).

At present four concentric circles of stone pillars are found around the stupa. They diminish in height from the innermost circle and at one time carried the weight of a dome-shaped roof over the stupa. There were 176 pillars that supported this stupa house and in 1896, 31 complete pillars with capitals were standing.

The renovation of the present stupa was completed in 1862 which has completely changed the ancient features of this most ancient stupa. Today the the stupa is shaped as a bell (Ghantakara) instead of the original Paddy-Heap (Dhanyakara) shape.

The diameter at the base of the bell is 40 feet 6 inches and at the springing of its hemispherical dome, which is 11 feet 6 inches above the basement. The total height of the current stupa is 63 feet. The lower part of the bell is encircled with several belts of bold mouldings to the height of 9 feet. The circular basement is 164 feet 6 inches in diameter and 11.4 feet in height (Fergusson, Burgess, and Spiers, 1910).

Plan of Thuparamaya Ruins of Anuradhapura
Plan of Thuparamaya Ruins of Anuradhapura
source: Architectural Remains, Anurádhapura, Ceylon; comprising the dágabas and certain other ancient ruined structures. Measured, drawn, and described by J.G. Smither published in 1894

A square wall with a majestic entrance on the southeast side surrounds the main complex. Inside this and on the opposite side (behind the stupa) is another structure that Smither (in 1894) had identified as a ruined dagoba and the potential tomb of Mahinda Thero. This has now been identified as the Bodhigara (Bo Tree House). As you enter from the main entrance, there is a small stupa on your right which Smither (in 1894) believed to have enshrined remains of Sanghamitta Theri. However, this stupa has now been identified as the Padalanchana Stupa built on the exact place where all the Buddhas of this aeon (Kakusanndha, Konagamana, Kassapa, and Gautama Buddha) left their footprints by the King Lagnatissa (119-109 BC).

On the Left is a magnificent image house which has been detailed below. On the far left outside the square area is the chapter house of the Thuparamaya. This has been a large building with almost all the massive granite pillars still standing intact. Although there are no carved pillar capitals, two magnificent guardstones are found at the entrance to this building.

On the left of the stupa, you can see the conserved remains of a magnificent edifice belonging to this stupa complex which had raised the interest of explorers from the time the ruins were discovered. This was built by King Devanampiyatissa in the 3rd century BC.

Until recently this was known as the Dalada-Ge (House of the Tooth Relic) and Archaeological Commissioner, E. R. Ayrton, suggested that the design was of the vajra (Thunderbolt). He called it the Trident House (Devendra, 1952). However, it has now been identified as the Image House of the Thuparama Monastery.

References

  1. Mah|can|cama and Geiger, W., 1912. The Mahavamsa or the great chronicle of Ceylon. London: Henry Frowde, Oxford University Press.
  2. Seneviratna, A., 1994. Ancient Anuradhapura. 1st ed. Colombo: Archaeological Survey Department, Sri Lanka.
  3. Harischandra, B.W., 1908. The Sacred City of Anuradhapura. With Forty-six Illustrations. 1st ed. Colombo: Brahmachari Walisingha Harischandra.
  4. Devendra, D.T., 1952. Guide to Anuradhapura. 2nd ed. Colombo: [Govt. Press], p.23.
  5. 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.1-18.
  6. Fergusson, J., Burgess, J. and Spiers, P., 1910. History of Indian and Eastern Architecture Vol 1. 2nd ed. London: John Murray, pp.224-235.

Also See

Photos before restoration from www.imagesofceylon.com

Map of Thuparamaya

Please click on the button below to load the Dynamic Google Map (ගූගල් සිතියම් පහලින්)
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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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Driving Directions to Anuradhapura (Thuparamaya )

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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