Thiriyaya Girihandu Seya (තිරියාය ගිරිහඬු සෑය)

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Situated about 29 miles north of Trincomalee, it was not an easy journey through bumpy dusty roads, hostile villages, jungle, and ferry to travel to Thiriyaya Girihandu Seya some time ago. After the defeat of the LTTE terrorists,  this area has seen drastic development, especially the road network and now traveling to Thiriyaya is not different from any other popular heritage destination in the country.

The oldest incident connected with the site is etched in an 8th-century Sanskrit epigraph found at the site which refers to a shrine named Girikandicaitya being established on the hilltop by a company of merchants headed by Tapassu and Bhallika.

According to the Nidanakatha and Mahavagga a book on the Vinaya, Tapassu and Bhallika were two brother merchants who offered some victuals to the Buddha, in the 8th week after his enlightenment. They are considered the first lay disciples of Lord Buddha who sought the refuge of the Master and the Dhamma. And on request, the Master gifted them with a handful of hair relics. Tradition claims that the two merchants enshrined the holy relics and built a shrine here.

As such this shrine would have been built during the lifetime of Lord Buddha. Scholars attribute it to possibly the c. The present structure or the ruins of the vatadage consisting of a small stupa encircled by two concentric circles of stone pillars and a retaining wall of stone slabs, however, is believed to have evolved with time.

A detailed description of the overall Stupaghara architecture including vatadages of Sri Lanka can be found here.

Professor Paranavitana states that the vatadage at Thiriyaya while conforming to the general pattern of the vatadage, had architectural features which have not been noticed at any other shrine of this class.

The capitals of the pillars at Thiriyaya have not been separately carved and joined as at other Vatadage sites. Facing the entrances at the cardinal points are altars of carved granite slabs. At the head of each flight of steps is a stone doorway.

The four entrances at the cardinal points are provided with moonstones, Makara balustrades, and naga guardstones. The moonstones are plain except for a lotus petal carving at the circumference. The guardstones are the most striking artistic feature. The Naga kings are depicted as having an air of austerity, not overloaded with jewelry, and are benign in expression. According to scholars, these qualities along with their elongated limbs suggest the Pallava style of art belonging to a phase earlier than Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa.

Another unusual feature here is the evidence of a wooden upright railing which may have covered the space between the top of the stone wall and the roof.

Around the vatadage are seen the remains of image houses of which the largest housed a large recumbent Buddha image.

On the terraces lower down the hill are ruins of monastic structures, ponds, and flights of steps leading to different levels. A stone bridge indicates that an ancient highway passed this site. Some rock caves bear early Brahmi inscriptions indicating the existence of a monastery even during pre-Christian times. The earliest datable inscription at the site is the pre-Christian Brahmi inscription recording the dedication of a cave to the Buddhist monks.

As such a pilgrimage to Thiriyaya vatadage is a poignant experience for the Buddhist in you as much as the naturalist, architect, and archaeologist in you.

Also See

Map of Thiriyaya Girihandu Seya

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

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Traveling Directions to Thiriyaya Girihandu Seya

Route from Colombo to Thiriyaya Girihandu Seya Route from Trincomalee to Thiriyaya Girihandu Seya
Through: Kuchchaveli
Distance : 50 km
Travel time: 1 hour
Driving directions: see on
Through: Kuchchaveli
Distance : 50 km
Travel time : 1 hour
Driving directions: see on


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