On the façade of the aluth vihara at the Totagamu Rajamaha Viharaya between the two doorways adorned with two makara toranas stands the beautiful image of the god of love.
Totagamu Rajamaha Viharaya or the Ratpat Viharaya , or Telwatte Viharaya situated in the Galle district has been identified with the ancient Vijeyaba Pirivena at Totagamuva; one of the foremost institutions of learning in the 5th century Lanka.
The Gira Sandesa referring to this ancient seat of learning describes that the approach to the pirivena was of clean white sand running through orchards, flowering and other trees. Near the premises of the temple were trees such as sal, kolon, sapu, na, kinihiri, palol, genda, erahandi, amba, sinidda and plants among which bees and squirrels ran about and where peacocks danced.
The Gira Sandesa also refers to the curricula taught in the ancient Vijeyaba Pirivena to include abdhidharma, sutra, vinaya pitaka, grammer, the vedas, astrology, medicine, economics, poetry and drama in Sanskrit, pali, Sinhala, and Tamil. Interestingly Sir Ponnabalam Arunachalam referring to this institution said that it was an institution wide-reaching in its aims and provided instruction for Buddhists and Hindus, cleric and lay in all the knowledge of the times.
It was an institution traditionally regarded as one where sages with the highest spiritual attainments flourished. Of all these sages and scholars the most eminent was said to be the Ven. Totagamuwe Sri Rahula of Salalihini Sandesa fame.
Reference to him in the Gira Sandesa indicates that he was an expert at the exegesis of the Abhidharma, Sutra and Vinaya pitakas, had an excellent grasp of the eight-fold grammar of the Sanskrit language, adept in the arts as well as of religion, well versed in the compositions of the most eminent poets, had an excellent grasp of poetics, composed Sanskrit poetry and his compositions were appreciated by other poets, was a master of the art of speech and a specialist in the 18 sciences which he expounded to other learned persons, gave spiritual counsel to the King Parakrama Bahu (VI) and that he was well versed in six languages.
With the arrival of the Portuguese this once illustrious institution was destroyed and laid waste and it was only in about 1765 that Ven Pallattara Punnasara discovering and identifying the jungle ridden site dedicated his life mission to the renovation of this temple. As a recognition of his work King Kirti Sri Rajasinghe of Kandy gifted two elephant tusks to the institution. The new and larger image house (Alut Vihara) with its sculptures and paintings were completed in 1805.
Today as you walk into these precincts the main features in the quadrangle are the Purana Vihara or the old shrine, the alut vihara or the new shrine, the stupa or the relic dome, the bodhi tree, seven stone pillars and a belfry. There is also an Vishnu devalaya, a tun devalaya and a dharmasala.
There are a number of unique themes found in this temple. The exclusive sculpture of the God of love at the entrance to the shrine room is thought to mark the divisional line between the two units of the buildings namely the vestibule and the sanctum.
The vestibule probably symbolising the world of sensual delights and of cause and effect of which he is overlord and the sanctum standing for the world of enlightenment the pure world of awakening and final salvation.
The god wears a full set of ornaments including a multi tiered crown and two pairs of anklets and holds his usual attributes a bow made of sugar cane and five flower arrows allegedly tipped with a variety of substances including poison and honey.An equally impressive sculpture of Natha or Avalokitesvara, the patron deity of Totagamuwa also stands near by.
Enclosed within the makara torana over the southern doorway is a traditional mural showing the panca nari gata ingeniously designed by the forms of five ladies in traditional dress composed into the traditional vase of plenty.
A depiction of a set of five footprints of the Buddha in five separate panels is said to be the only one so far known in Sri Lanka. Paintings here show some unique features. Paintings of the six heavens of the realm of sensual delights are depicted to include elaborate chariot scenes with gods seen driving in the celestial chariots accompanied by a retinue.
An interesting observation about the jataka stories depicted here is that it seems the artist had chosen stories that took place in the jungle and as such are set in jungle scenes.
A row of stone pillars found standing in the quadrangle are of historic value and is assignable to the 11th century by the short epigraphic records found on some of them.
However, it is widely believed that the antiquity of the monastic site goes back to even earlier times.
Map of Totagamu Raja Maha Viharaya
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 Totagamu Raja Maha Viharaya
Route from Colombo to Totagamuwa Raja Maha Viharaya
Route from Telwatta Junction to Totagamuwa Raja Maha Viharaya
|Through : Panadura – Kalutara – Aluthgama – Ambalangoda – Telwatta|
Distance : 95 km
Travel time : 2 hours
Driving directions : see on google map
|Distance : 350 metes|
Travel time : 30 minutes
Driving directions : see on google map
Totagamuwa: Out of the past
In the Kotte period, during the reign of King Parakrama Bahu VI (1412-1469 A.D.), the southern part of the country – ancient Ruhunu Rata was said to have been administered by a person called Demeta Kumaraya. He was also called Jayamahaladana Kumaru.
This Demeta Kumaraya once officiated in a religious ceremony at Welitana, close to Balapitiya. There the chivalrous Demeta Kumaraya met the beautiful daughter of a chieftain of the village called Salaya, Sunethra Mahadevi.
A son was born to them in Dematenna in the Kegalle district. He was to become famous in Sinhala prose and verse. Named Jayaba, he became a learned Buddhist monk – Ven. Sri Totagamuwe Rahula.
After the death of his mother, the boy took refuge in the Kotte Royal Palace. There he came under the tutelage of the most erudite Buddhist monk of the time, namely Ven. Vidagama Maha Maithri Thera, and was later ordained.
As the years passed, the young Buddhist monk, Sri Totagamuwe Sri Rahula Himi acquired a mine of Buddhist scholastic works and literary brilliance in prose and verse. Later he became a proficient native physician, well versed in manthrams.
He became proficient in eight languages and was known as Sath Basha Paramahimi. As a Buddhist monk he stayed for some time at the Totagamuwa temple. He also founded the famed Sunethra Devi Pirivena in Pepiliyana. Among his eminent literary works in prose, verse and classic Sandesa (Message Poems) are Paravi Sandesaya, Selalihini Sandesaya, Kavya Sekaraya, Mogagallana Panchika Pradapaya and Buddhippasadini. Of these brilliant works, his first one was Paravi Sandesaya written in the Buddhist era of 1972 (1430-A.D.) in the reign of King Parakrama Bahu VI.
Totagamuwe Sri Rahula Raja Maha Viharaya is located along Galle Road, off the 57th milepost from Colombo. It’s about 5 kms from Hikkaduwa. In the foreground of the temple premises stands the statue of Sri Rahula Nahimi Sangaraja under a canopy. Prof. Vinnie Vitharana, a well-known scholar and author of books on our culture, history and archaeology, in his authoritative book titled ‘Totagamuwa’ (1986) gives vivid accounts of the origin of this historic temple. The bulk of the material in this article has been taken with due acknowledgement from this valuable monograph.
The Totagamuwa temple is in the village of Telwatta, (the village used to supply coconut oil to light lamps in the temple). Totagamuwa originated from Thittagama – meaning in Sanscrit, ‘Thirtha’, and ‘Tittha-tota (port) in Pali. In the ‘Culavamsa’ Part II, (pages 206-207), mention is made of a long prasada of forty-five cubits, which was created by King Vijaya Bahu III (1232-1236 A.D). As it had fallen into decay, King Parakrama Bahu VI (1410-1468), had later built a long prasada of thirty cubits consisting of two storeys. In this chronicle it is referred to as Titthagama meaning this Totagamuwe temple.
Visiting the temple recently, I met the incumbent priest – Ven. Pituwala Sumana Thera. He was helpful in giving me access to the temple’s library where I was able to get useful information on books on Totagamuwa temple like Dr.Vinnie Vitharana’s book, and the pictorial book Paintings of Sri Lanka, Telvatta, a publication of the Archaeological Department.
The Portuguese during their occupation of the Southern Province in the 16th century had destroyed almost all these buildings. What remains are four standing monolithic pillars behind the devale premises. Some of these have stone inscriptions which date back to the 15th century A.D.
In ‘Culavamsa’ Part II, it is recorded that Parakrama Bahu VI of the 15th century A.D. had laid out a park filled with 5000 coconut palms. At the turn off from the Galle Road at the Telwatta junction is a board put up by the Wildlife Conservation Department, indicating the ‘Telwatta Sanctuary’, which had existed from British times.
The nameboard though is deceptive as all that remains of the sanctuary are a few acres of coconut palms and other plants. Villagers say that wild boar, porcupine, mouse deer and jungle fowl are found here.
The epic ‘Ira Sandesaya’ describes vividly the grand buildings that had existed then, like the Vijayabahu Pirivena, and image houses and the approach roads through groves and groves of coconut and other trees like sal, sapu, na and water plants like lotus and nelum.
Parakrama Bahu VI died in 1467, but before his demise, he conferred the highest royal prelate title of Sangaraja on Totagamuwe Sri Rahula Himi for his literary contributions. During the Dutch period in the 17th century, it is recorded that Totagamuwa served as a company village of the V.O.C. (Dutch East India Company) to which it had supplied coconuts, arecanuts and cinnamon in bulk.
In the late 18th century came the dynamic Buddhist monk Ven.Veliwita Saranankara. He played an active part in the resurgence of the Totagamuwa temple. It was during his period from 1734-99, that another equally dedicated Buddhist priest Ven. Pallaththara Punnyasoma made his timely arrival. He took refuge in the ambalama close to the famed Seenigama Devale by the seashore, a little distance away from the temple. His mission was to restore the buildings damaged by the Portuguese. He, along with a band of villagers, spearheaded the movement to restore these buildings. Such restorations commenced from 1792 and were completed by 1799 along with the devales.
Among the legacy of Ven. Totagamuwe Sri Rahula Sangaraja are the works written on Vijaya bahu Pirivena comprising verses and prose compositions and other Sanskrit scripts titled – ‘Buddha Setaka and Viri Karutna Pancika’ written by his pupil – Sri Ramachandra Bharata of India. There is also the portrait of Sri Rahula Sangaraja hung on the wall. The inscription in Sinhala script reads thus: “Sri Rahula Maha Sanganayake Wahansege Murtha Sariraya” meaning ” The mortal remains of Ven. Sri Rahula Maha Sangaraja which were interred by the Portuguese in Goa ”.