|Saturday, 10 August 2002|
From Kanniyai to Kokkilai via Tiriyaya
by Derrick Schokman
Now that the roads in the North-East are opened again after nearly two decades of war, I am reminded of the last time we visited that remote corner of the eastern seaboard in the good old days of perfect peace.
We took off from Kanniyai after having bathed in the well-known hot springs. These springs, unlike others in the country are steeped in legend and history. Legend has it that they were created by King Ravana of the Ramayana, when he had to conduct the funeral rites of his mother (after whom the springs were named) during a severe drought.
He obtained the water he required for this purpose by touching his sword to a rock from which seven springs of pure water shot up.
Because of this legend this spot is held in veneration by Hindus who use the spring water to perform certain rites following the death of a relation or a friend.
The greatest attraction of the springs however is the belief in its therapeutic values, especially in regard to rheumatism and cutaneous diseases.
The Dutch who believed in the therapeutic properties of hot water springs, enclosed them with short protective walls and provided the underground conduits that connected them.
One of the earliest assessments of the water done in 1798 by Dr. Christie of the Island Medical Department found the temperature to range from 98 degrees fahrenheit to 106.5 in the different springs.
These springs have never been known to run dry.
From Kanniyai we proceeded north to join the Anuradhapura-Trincomalee highway near Pankulam and from there we took a branch road to Gomarankadawela. There are hot springs in that area too at Rankiriya-Ulpotha. But as we had already experienced the Kanniyai hot springs we gave Rankiriya-Ulpotha a miss and drove on past Adampe to Tiriyaya and the Vatadage (circular shrine) on a nearby hill. Vatadages are a rare feature of Buddhist architecture. Only ten are known to exist now in Sri Lanka. They are the Thuparama and Lankarama in Anuradhapura, Ambasthale at Mihintale, Ratnagiri in Polonnaruwa and others at Medirigiriya, Attanagalla, Rajangana, Menikdena, Devundara and Tiriyaya.
At Tiriyaya we saw a small stupa surrounded by two circles of stone pillars with a stone screen wall at the outermost edge of the raised terrace. All vatadages follow this common design, the difference being in the number of stone circles. The Thuparama Vatadage has four circles, Medirigiriya, Lankarama and Polonnaruwa three each, Ambasthale and Tiriyaya two.
These stone circles served as prayer ambulatories for devotees who visited them. The stone pillars must once have supported a timbered roof. Commissioner Senarath Paranavithana envisioned such a roof to be dome-like in shape constructed of curved ribs joined to a boss at the top.
It is thought that vatadages were constructed wherever the stupas contained relics of the Buddha (Saririka) objects used by the Buddha (Paribbajika) or wherever stupas were built on hallowed ground (Uddesika).
We know that the Thuparama - the first stupa to be built in the time of King Devanampiyatissa and Arahat Mahinda - contained the right collarbone of the Buddha. It is very likely that the Polonnaruwa vatadage had the Alms Bowl of the Buddha for a time. The Attanagalla and Ambasthale vatadages respectively could have been built over hallowed ground where the saintly King Sri Sangabo was cremated and where Buddhism was introduced by Arahat Mahinda.
Girihadu Seya the stupa in Thiriyaya the legend says that there is no record of what might have been enshrined in the others.
In respect of Tiriyaya it is said that a hair relic of the Buddha was enshrined in 'Girihadu Seya' - the stupa in Tiriyai.
The legend says that two merchants engaged in trade between India and Lanka obtained a hair relic of the Buddha and a stupa was built and the hair relic was enshrined therein. King Vasabha may have built the stupa which was encircled by stone pillars and a roof at a later date.
There is no record of what might have been enshrined in the others. From Tiriyai we proceeded north to the bird sanctuary at Kokkilai. On the way we passed the beach mine at Pulmoddai, which has renewable mineral deposits of ilmenite, monazite, rutile and zircon. A thriving export trade in these minerals was terminated with the onset of the north-east war. Now there are hopes of reviving that business.
Kokkilai was another Bundula - even better. The shallow water of the lagoon attracted a wide variety of birds including pelican, wild duck, stork, waders and flamingo. A small peninsula projecting into the lagoon provided us with a sort of "hide" from which to watch the birds without disturbing them.
I don't think I can ever forget a flock of pink flamingoes trooping about in the shallows.
They were so comical and yet so lovely as they minced along on their stilt-like legs, their long necks writhing down into the water in search of food. Such sights are pure nature.
A fitting climax we thought to our north-easterly excursion.
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