Vallipuram Buddha Statue and the Gold Plate – වල්ලිපුරම් බුදු පිලිමය සහ රන් සන්නස
According to Mahawamsa, the great chronicle of Sri Lanka, the Naga strongholds of the 6th century BC were at Nagadeepa in the north and Kalyani (Kelaniya) in the west coast. Mahawamsa describes in detail the war between king Mahodara who ruled in Nagadeepa and king Chulodara, his nephew in Kannavaddhamana Mountain (Kandamadanam near Rameswaram).
The sister of Mahodara was married to Naga king of Kannavaddhamana Mountain and a gem studded throne was given as the dowry by Mahodara. Chulodara was her son. When the princess passed away, Mahodara wanted back the throne and Chulodara refused to return it. A great battle between these two Naga king was brewing five hears after the enlightenment of Buddha.
Buddha made his 2nd visit to Sri Lanka to defuse this situation and listening to Buddha, both parties reconciled and eighty “koti” of Naga were converted to Buddhists. The throne was offered to Buddha and in turn enshrined in Nagadeepa Stupa which became a object of worship for the Naga.
This conflict of the Naga kings and and the Buddha’s visit to Nagadeepa to resolve the conflict is also detailed the Indian Tamil epic Manimekalai which was probably authored in the 6th century.
Nagadeepa now refers to Nainativu, a small island off Jaffna peninsula. However Mahavamsa describes king Devanampiyatissa (250-210 BC) making annual offerings to Jambukolaviharaya in Nagadeepa, king Mahalla Naga (134-140) building Sálipabbata viharaya in Nagadeepa, king Kanittha Tissa (164-192) restoring a temple at Nagadeepa, king Voharika Tissa (214-236) building a wall around the Tissa Viharaya in Nagadeepa, king Aggabodhi I (575-608) building the relic house Rajayathana in Nagadeepa, Vijayabahu I (1070-1110) reparing Jumbukola Viharaya in Nagadeepa.
In addtion, Nampotha published in the 15th century which was used as a primary school book names this place as the “Naga Divaina” (Naga Island) and not Nagadeepa. The list of temples listed in Jaffna (Demalapattanama) in this book is as follows;
- දෙමළපට්ටනමෙහි නාගකෝවිල – Demalapattanemehi Nagakovila
- කදුරුගොඩ විහාරය – Kadurugoda Viharaya
- තෙලිපොල – Thelipola
- මල්ලාගම – Mallagama
- මිණිවන්ගොමු විහාරය – Miniwangomu Viharaya
- තන්නි දිවයින – Thanni Divayina (Island)
- අග්නි දිවයින – Agni Divayina (Island)
- නාග දිවයින – Naga Divayina (Island)
- පුවඟු දිවයින – Puwangu Divayina (Island)
- කාර දිවයින – Kara Divayina (Island)
P.E Pieris has identified these locations in 1917 as Nagar Kovil in Vadamarachchi, Kantharodai, Tellippalai (no remains of the temple), Mallakam (no remains of the temple), Vimankamam in Valikamam (no remains of the temple), Tanativu island (Kayts island), Analaitivu island, Nainativu island (Nagadeepa), Punkudutivu island and Karaitivu island.
Based on the above, Pieris argues that in the Mahavamsa, Nagadeepa didint mean mearly the Nainativu island, but the whole of Jaffna Peninsulea as Demalapattanama in Nampotha or the whole of Yapa Patuna.
Mr P.E Pieris was also first to record Buddhist artifacts in the Jaffna Peninsula. During a train ride to Jaffna he had noticed a unusual mound west of the rail track on the typically flat Jaffna approaching the Chunnakam Railway station. Some months later he visited mound and reported the discovery of the first ancient Stupa in Jaffna. He also learnt that an carved stone has been found in the same village and located it with a private owner who willingly gave it to Pieris to be taken to the Jaffna fort. This was a perfectly preserved limestone terminal of a dagoba spire. The stone was a sugar-loaf 21 inches high and 12 inches in diameter at the bottom. The stone is deeply grooved in to six diminishing bands.
Mr P.E Pieris also reports of the Vallipuram Buddha Statue hidden away in the garden build by the British Government Agent Ackland Dyke dubbed ‘the Rajah of the North’, on a 27 acre land purchased with his private funds. He reports that this fine Buddha statue carved out of lime-stone has been dug up in 1902 at Koddiya Vattai once a Singhalese Watta and then a hamlet of Chunnakam. This was the Vallipuram Statue as we know today. The statue has been discovered 50 yards north east of Vallipuram Vishnu Kovil in Vadamarachchi, Jaffna in the late 19th century. The statue stayed forgotten inside the kovil lumber room until 1902 when it was moved under a Bo tree in the park of Ackland Dyke. This more than life size statue has been carved in the Amaravathi style and said the weigh half a ton. The whole right arm has been broken from the shoulder and the left arm holding the robe too has been missing. The statue was then presented to the king of Siam (now Thailand) in 1906 and was forgotten for almost 100 years.
After the discovery of the statue at the park, Pieris then visited the site where the statue was discovered and discovered ruins of a stupa. He had obtained Rs 150 from government and excavated this ruins for 4 days to discover a brick platform of a stupa measuring roughly 40 feet x 40 feet. The platform and the stupa Garbha was filled with lime stone and plastered. Hatharas Kotuwa and the basel rings has been plastered with coral stone has handsomely moulded in various designs which had fallen down. Pieris reports that this stupa had risen over 12 feet from the platform just until six years ago until cartloads of bricks were dug out with pickaxes and carried to build the railway line. He also reported that more brick foundations on the same land on the other side of the railroad were found but not excavated due to lack of funds. Unfortunately not even a landmark to identified this location is found today.
Name or when was this temple complex in Vallipuram was built or when this temple complex was turned in to Vishnu Kovil is lost in time and no records existed. However in 1936, a gold inscription was discovered while digging a foundation of an ancient building belonging to the same Vishnu Kovil. Walpola Sri Rahula thero learned trough a Tamil friend of this finding which was in the hands of the kovil priest, manged to inspect it and got a photograph of it. The photo was then shown to prof. Paranavithana who brought it to light.
This plate is 3½ inches long and 1 inch wide and weighs 69.5 grains. Inscription is made only on one side. According to prof. Senarath Paranavithana this inscription is written in early Sinhala Language in Brhami script of the 2nd century during the reign of king Vasabha (65-109 AD). The four lines has been read as below ;
- සිධ මහරජ වහයහ රජෙහි අමෙතේ
- ඉසිගිරයේ නකදිව බුජමෙනි
- බදකර අතනෙහි පියගුක – තිස
- විහර කරිතේ
- Hail! in the reign of the great King Vasa(ba)
- and when the Minister Isigiraya was governing Nakadiva,
- at Badakara-atana Piyaguka – Tisa
- caused a vihara to be built.
This gold plate provides some of the most important facts of the region which are rarely found. This plate confirms without doubt Pieris’s conclusion that the Nakadiva (Nagadeepa) meant the whole of Jaffna and not just the current Nagadeepa island. There has been a flourishing Buddhist community in the 2nd century in Jaffna and it was ruled by a minister appointed by the King of the country.
Dharmabandu Amarasekara in “සිංහල ශිලා ලේඛන විවරණය – 1 වැනි කාණ්ඩය” states that the name of the minister and the temple in the inscription could be interpreted interchangeably. It could either mean
- Minister Isigiriya while governing Nagadeepa built the Piyagukatisa Viharaya at Bandakara Athane – OR –
- While Minister Isigiriya was governing Nagadeepa, Piyagukatisa built a Viharaya at Bandakara Athane
However prof Paranavithana has deciphered the inscription to the 1st meaning to say that ancient temple where the gold plate and the statue was found was called Piyagukatissa built by minister Isigiraya during the reign of king Vasabha (65-109 AD).
What happened to this gold plate after it being returned to the owner is shrouded in mystery. It is said that the plate has gone from hand to hand and plate now lies at the National Museum in Colombo. However looking at the photos published by early historians of the original gold plate and what is now available in the museum shows significant differences in the characters casting doubt whether the plate at the museum is a replica. In that case what happened to the original plate is a mystery.
In 1996, Peter Schalk published an paper tracing the history of the Vallipuram Buddha statue and traced its location to a rarely visited corner of the a central Buddhist vihara in Bangkok, in Wat Benja, that is known by Western tourists as the “Marble Temple”. The Wat is one of the most visited temples by tourists in Bangkok, — but the Buddha image has no central placement and is therefore not easily observed. The guards and professional tourist guides do not know even that an image called Vallipuram Buddha image is there. In the annexed monastery, not even monks who have spent a life time there, know about this image by this or any other name.
It is placed in a corner on the back side of the Wat well protected from rain, theft and vandalism by an iron curtain. A small wooden board says in Thai and English that this image depicts the Buddha dispelling evil from the island of Ceylon. No reference to Vallipuram is made. A yellow transparent schal has been wrapped around the statue and at its feet are placed pots with incense.
The two missing arms of the statue has been rebuilt and can be clearly identified on the original statue in Bangkok. In 1994, a replica of this Buddha statue was made and was sent to Sri Lanka and this replica is now on display at the National Museum in Colombo.
- Mahāvamsa (The Great Chronicle) of Sri Lanka : 5th century CE
- Ancient Jaffna : Being a Research in to the History of Jaffna From Very Early Times to the Portuguese Period by Mudliyar C. Rasanayagam published in 1926
- Nagadipa and Buddhist Remains of Jaffna by P.E Pieris and D. Litt. in the “Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland” Vol. 26, No. 70, Part I. (1917), Published by: Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka (RASSL)
- අමරසේකර, ධම්මබන්දු, 1961. සිංහල ශිලා ලේඛන විවරණය – 1 වැනි කාණ්ඩය. 1st ed. කොළඹ: සීමාසහිත ඇම්. ඩී. ගුණසේන සහ සමාගම, pp.45-49.
- The Vallipuram Buddha Image “Rediscovered” by Peter Schalk published in 1996