Thuparamaya of Ancient Anuradhapura – ථුපාරාමය

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Thuparama Stupa and the Vatadage
Thuparama Stupa and the Vatadage

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 (250BC – 210BC) 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 covers nearly 3 ½ acres. The stupa was built on the instructions of Mahinda Thero who brought Buddhism to the island to enshrine the right collar-bone of Lord 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 Kelaniaya in Sri Lanka. The Great Mahinda Thero on the forth 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 “Wass“, 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 refused to let in brought down. The king inquired from Mahinda thero for the reason and 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 same height of its back.

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King Devanampiyatissa immediately got his men to bring dry clay from the Abyaya Wewa (now called Basawakkulama Wewa) , built a mound to the height of the elephants 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 in to 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 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 ahd 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 has been made by king Upathissa I (368-410), Dhathusena (459-477AC) and Aggabodhi II (608-618AC). king Dathopatissa I (643-650AC) had broke open the relic chamber of the stupa to raise money for his soldiers. However king 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) over 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 Colas 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 inner most circle and at one time carried the weight of a dome-shaped roof over the stupa. There has been 176 pillars which supported this stupa house and in 1896, 31 complete pillars with capitals has been standing.

The renovation of the present stupa was completed in 1862 which as 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 moldings to the height of 9 feet. The circular basement 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

The main complex is surrounded by a square wall with a majestic entrance on the south-east side. Inside this and on the opposite side (behind the stupa) is another structure which 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 Gouthama Buddha) have left their foot prints 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 chapter house of the Thuparamaya. This has been 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.

Dalada Ge (Image House / Trident House)

Dalada Ge (Image House / Trident House) of Thuparama Monastery of Anuradhapura with its unique and magnificent pillar capitals which had aroused the curiosity of early  exploders'
Dalada Ge (Image House / Trident House) of Thuparama Monastery of Anuradhapura with its unique and magnificent pillar capitals which had aroused the curiosity of early exploders’

On the left to the stupa you can see the conserved remains of an magnificent edifice belonging to this stupa complex which had raised interest of explorers from 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 been established that this is an Image House of the Thuparama Complex. This plays the unique role of the only existing example of a Patimaghara (Image House) of the ancient Maha Vihara complex. It is also a unique construction as its magnificent pillar capitals are in the form of vajra or the Trident motif. The vajra is the symbols of knowledge that crushes the defilements of ignorance and passion so as though reveal the realty of Dhamma. Therefore vajra represent the immutable stability of the Buddha’s total knowledge. Its not certain if this image house had a statue of Buddha on vajrasana, a diamond throne, depicting his enlightenment. These pillars are found in the inner sanctum of the building which has been the first construction. The mandapa Infront of the image house is a later addition, There is evidence that a standing Buddha statue has been kept here.

The whole image house is built on a platform measuring 85×57 foot in size. The entrance to the image house is complete with a pair of well carved balustrades, a pair of guar stones and a moonstone. The moonstone has been dated to 9-10th centuries.

The building is adorned by a pair of beautiful guard stones at the entrance. Some of the pillars still holds the lotus shaped crown and smooth polished surface which has survived over 2 millennia is a rarity in the building in Anuradhapura.

Next to this is remains of a small building with the two smaller guardstones and a granite doorway. Next to this is an ancient well made of granite blocks. On the opposite side of the walkway to the stupa you will find a small stupa called Padalanchana Stupa.

On the north-western side of the stupa you can see the Basawakkulama Wewa (Reservoir). This is the most ancient monument in Anuradhapura. This reservoir was built by king Pandukabhaya in the 4th century BC.

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

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Driving Directions to Anuradhapura (Thuparamaya )

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

Route 01 from Colombo to Anuradhapura

Route 02 from Colombo to Anuradhapura

Through : Negombo - Chillaw - Puthlam
distance from colombo :213 km
Travel time : 3 hours
Driving directions : see on google map
Through : Ambepussa - Kurunegala - Dambulla
distance from Colombo : 221 km
Travel time : 3.15 hours
Driving Directions : see on google maps

Route 03 from Colombo to Anuradhapura

Route from Kandy to Anuradhapura

Through : Ambepussa - Kurunegala - Padeniya - Thambuthegama
distance from colombo :213 km
Travel time : 3 hours
Driving directions : see on google map
Through : Katugastota - Matale - Dambulla
distance from Colombo :139 km
Travel time : 2 hours
Driving directions : see on google map

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