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Ruwanweliseya

Architectural wonder of rich cultural heritage :

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"The flowers here shall not wither, The perfumes shall not dry up, The lamps shall not be extinguished, Nothing whatsoever shall perish The hexa-rayed gem stones, Shall hold together for ever" - Mahavamsa 31: 120/121
(An inscription found on the lid of the relic chamber of the Maha Thupa)

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Picture by Saman Sri Wedage

The most venerated 'stupa' - Ruwanwali Mahaseya is considered a marvel for its architectural qualities and sacred to many Buddhists all over the world. The Stupa is one of the world's tallest monuments, standing at 300 ft (92 m) and with a circumference of 950 ft (292 m). It is also known as Mahathupa, Swarnamali Chaitya and Rathnamali Mahathupa.

It is not surprising our readers have selected Ruwanwelisaya as one of the Seven Wonders of Sri Lanka competition .

The Ruwanwelisaya is also one of the Solosmasthana (the 16 places of veneration) and the Atamasthana (the 8 places of veneration in the ancient sacred city of Anuradhapura).

According to the chronicles, the Solosmasthana are 16 places hallowed by visits of the Buddha.

Solosmasthanas are namely;

Mahiyangana Raja Maha Viharaya, Nagadipa Purana Vihara, Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara, Sri Pada, Diva Guhava, Dighavapi Raja Maha Vihara, Muthiyangana Raja Maha Vihara,Tissamaharama Raja Maha Vihara, Sri Maha Bodhiya, Mirisawetiya Vihara, Ruwanvelisaya, Thuparama Vihara, Abhayagiri Vihara, Jetavanaramaya, Sela Cetiya (Stupa) Mihintala Raja Maha Vihara, Kiri Vehera

Construction

Ruwanweliseya is built by King Dutugemunu in the 2nd century B.C. who became lord of all Sri Lanka after a war in which the Chola King Elara, were defeated. The Thupavamsa gives a complete account about the construction of Ruwanvelisaya.

This dagaba was built on a firm foundation. It is recorded that inside the dagaba are enshrined valuable gems statues made out of gold, various valuable objects and also relics of the Buddha.

On the four side of the Stupa are the frontispieces (Vahalkada). The courtyard on which the stone tablets are laid is known as the Salapatala courtyard. Below the Salapatala courtyard is the compound made of Sand (Valimaluwa).

Elephant compound


View of Ruwanweliseya

On the four sides of the compound are the parapet walls with its figures of elephants and has been made to appear as though it was supported by the elephants. These figures of elephants are unique to Ruwanweli seya and one can easily recognize it from other Stupas in Anuradhapura period like Lovamahapaya (Brazen Place) and Maricavatte (Mirisawetiya) dagoba which the king Dutugamunu said to have built. There are 1,900 figures of elephants on the wall consisting of 475 on each side. Therefore it is known as the elephant compound.

Many are the legends relating to the construction of Ruwanveliseya.

The way the materials had been obtained is fascinating reading.

As for the design, a master-builder named Sirivaddhaka is supposed to have taken a golden bowl filling with water, poured a little water into his hand and left it fall on the surface of the ball. Then a great bubble rose up. "Thus will I make it," the master builder said.

King Dutugemunu liked it and rewarded him with cash and kind.

In the temple courtyard are the old models of Ruwanvalisaya made of stone, a statue of King Dutugemunu worshipping the dagaba.

In the image house situated in the temple courtyard are 4 statues of the Buddhas who have attained Buddhahood in this aeon (kalpa) and future Buddhas (Maitri). All these creations are very old. The pinnacle of Ruwanvelisaya is 24 ft, in height. The crest gem on the pinnacle is a gift from Burma. Ruvanvalisaya is situated a few yards away from Lovamahapaya.

It is recorded in books that King Lajjitissa erected 3 altars in marble. King Mahadathika Mahanaga constructed the circular portion of the courtyard made of stone tablets. (Salapatala courtyard). Ballathanaga constructed the valimaluwa (made of sand), while King Parakramabahu the Great renovated the dagaba.

The laying of the pinnacle of the Ruwanveli Maha Seya in Anuradhapura was an event of great significance to the Buddhists in Sri Lanka.

This happened on November 11, 1939 by Sir Baron (D. B.) Jayatilaka.

The Maha Seya was partially destroyed by Tamil invaders in the latter part of the Anuradhapura kingdom.

Restoration work was started in the latter par of the 19th Century by Naranvita Sumanasara Thera who obtained support from the Buddhist community as well as Governor Sir William Gregory who was deeply interested in arts.

Before King Dutugamunu could complete the work of the Maha Thupa, he was seized with an illness which was destined soon to prove fatal. So he sent for his younger brother Saddha Tissa from Digavapi and told him "You must complete the work of the Thupa after my death. I might pass away at anytime as I am so seriously ill.

Anxious to give his dying brother the consolation of seeing his work completed, he hit upon a plain, though involving some measures of deception.

What remained to be done was the making of 'Chatta'(conical dome) and the plaster work on the Thupa.

Price Saddha Tissa employed semesters to make a huge covering of white cloth and covered the Thupa with it. He had the dome made of bamboo reeds and made it appear that he had completed the work.

The dying king Dutugamunu's joy was so profound and he rose from his sick bed with painful effort and was satisfied that he saw it completed before his death.

Lying in a palanquin he made a circuit of the Thupa and with a sign of great pleasure and content, he fell back upon his pillow, exhausted by exertions of the past few minutes. Later prince Saddha Tissa who ascended the throne completed it to appear as the most imposing structure in ancient Sri Lanka.

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