The wonder that is Somawathie
A good many miles past Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka's second capital, there
bursts through the green foliage indigenous to the riverine terrain of
Mahaweli, Lanka's longest river (flowing some distance away), a large
white bubble, namely the Somawathie Chaitya. Perhaps it is the only
major dagoba in the island named after a female, the queen Somawathie.
Down the ages, almost a long span of 2100 plus years, it has defied
not only time but many catastrophes including an LTTE attack. Even its
very birth was associated with a web of friction, though no ferocious
issues were involved.
The 2nd Century BC of Lankan history stands out due to the reign of
king Dutugemunu famed for his endeavour of ridding the Raja Rata of
Dutugemunu, initially named Gemunu himself was of royal lineage of
the Ruhuna dynasty and the estranged his own father by his determination
to go ahead with his battle against the Dravidas and restoring the
country to the Sinhala rulers.
Many others were estranged due to varied factors as the prince
bustled and bristled with frenzied military activity and one of those
that fell out was his father's younger sister and her husband, namely
Somawathie and Giri Abha. Giri Abha had a powerful uncle, king Shiva who
now installed Giri Abha as ruler of the principality that later came to
be known as Somapura, probably after his wife's name.
Soon the queen endowed with a woman's intuition and cognizant of the
fact that the main venues of Buddhist worship were sited a good distance
away in Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa desired to build a place of
religious worship for the populace of the newly carved principality.
This chaitya enshrining a tooth relic of the Buddha, the Dakunu
dalada, was the result. The South Westward trend of capitals of Lanka
spelt the doom of not only the vast tank of hydraulic glory but many a
sacred Buddhist shrine of the North and East. No royal patronage now as
accessible nor popular sustenance. The cruel jungle now began to spread
itself over all these edifices put up with painstaking labour.
Somawathie shared the same fate. Finally only the dagoba and a few
other architectural remnants and pieces of inscriptions remained as
evidence of a chapter in Sri Lankan annals where a queen made a request
to her husband to put up a shrine for popular worship which he gladly
did. Not only that the king named the dagoba after her.
No women's lib then, but the respect of reach other in the marital
bond was obvious. Though neglect through centuries has led to the
disappearance of the massive religious edifice that surrounded the
dagoba, historical and literary sources testify to a very expansive
religious complex circumscribing the dagoba.
This complex had included four Viharas immediately surrounding the
dagoba, a larger Vihara by the entrance, A Poya Ge named Mani Agiya, and
an adjoining large site that included sixty Aramas (monks' dwelling
houses), ponds, esplanades, extensive flower and fruit gardens or parks
replete with large shady trees whose shade was meant for meditation.
Such parks for meditation were popular from the time of Buddha and
abounded in North India, parks like the Mahamevuna Uyana and the park
donated by Ambapalli.
Ruins of six inscriptions that majorly lay down rules and regulations
for the maintenance of this vast religious edifice have since been
discovered testifying to the meticulous care that had been streamlined
for the care of the stupa plus the surrounding complex. Nature herself
has dealt some strange twists for, according to reliable sources of
This Stupa and its premises had once stood in the kingdom of Ruhuna,
to the left of the Mahaweli banks. But the river itself had taken the
whim of changing its course and now Somawathie, if we go by the age old
boundary lines, belongs to the Raja rata or the main kingdom (on the
right side of the banks) and just by the outskirts of the Ruhuna
kingdom. It today belongs to the Polonnaruwa province too.
Some landmarks in the recent saga of Somawathie Chaitya:
* Re-discovery of Somawathie Chaitya. Time the new shift of capitals,
foreign invasions and civil dissension took toll of many a Buddhist
shrine and Somawathie underwent the same fate.
In 1947 Ven. Sirimalwatte Sri Piyaratana thera had his retinue had
braved the wild animals in the area and come upon the sacred area.
Legend has it that a spurt of light emanating from the dagoba, that some
even elevate into radiation of Budu Ras led them to this spot.
This phenomenon of Budu Ras or radiation of Buddha's rays is often
associated with this spot, coming down to recent times despite skeptical
remarks that such phenomena are tricks of the eye or tricks of colour
* On July 7,1967, the Chaitya and its premises were declared an
archaeological preserve by gazette notification dated that date.
* December 15,1987 - vandalization of the chaitya by the LTTEers who
removed the Chuda Manikya of the chaitya, dug into the dagoba and
massacred the family who served as the custodians of Somawathi. The
Chuda Manikya was found later.
* June 24,2002 - re-installation of the Chuda Manikya on the
Somawathie chaitya after a bout of restoration work.
The Army Post at Somawathie:
One's first thought as one sees the drab brown uniformed guys in and
around the revered and white white Bubble of East Lanka, is what on
earth they are doing there. In fact they do a lot. They ensure the
security of the pilgrims including the instilling of a sense of
The Army personnel not only find time to have pleasant chats with the
devotees but one can see them carrying firewood from the outlying forest
area to cook a quick meal for the pilgrims, a performance they are adept
And unsure of their own life in the prevailing circumstances and
genuinely inspired by that great shrine come down 21 centuries amidst
trials and tribulations they participate in the religious functions
Military men in Sri Lanka become aggressive only when necessary.
Amiability comes naturall to them otherwise.
(Some facts of this reticle are called from Ven. Pahamune Sri
Sumangala Nayaka Thera's Somawathie Chaitya.)