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Ruwanweliseya Stupa (144 BC), Anuradhapura

Sri Lanka Culture Holidays: the concept - Part 3 - Stupa
Triple Pillars of Sri Lanka: ancient rainwater reservoirs, Buddhist temples & Buddhist stupas

Must Visit

Ruwanweliseya Stupa (Ruwanveli Seya Stupa), the foremost of the supremely glorious ancient living monuments of Sinhalese Buddhist Heritage at the city of Anuradhapura (a UNESCO World Heritage Site-Culture) was built by King Dutugamunu (161-137 BC), the Hero of the Nation, who hailed from Ruhuna, which was destined to give birth to most of the glorious heroes of the island nation of Sri Lanka from the ancient era to the modern day. Ruwanweliseya Stupa (Ruwanveli Seya Stupa) also called Maha Stupa (Sinhala: the great dagoba) or Ratnapali Stupa or Swarnamali stupa has been the most adored, most venerated among the great ancient stupas (dagobas) of Sri Lanka. Anuradhapura is replete with the ancient cultural monuments located in between the River Malwatu Oya and two great ancient man-made irrigation reservoirs called Tissa Wewa and Abhaya Wewa (Basawakkulama Wewa). These two ancient irrigation reservoirs, together with ancient Nuwara Wewa reservoir on the eastern flank of the River Malwatu Oya, extend the lifeline to the agricultural district of Anuradhapura.

The three main ancient stupas clustered south of the ruined Southern wall of Anuradhapura, namely Ruwanweliseya Stupa, Mirisavatiya Dagaba and Jetavana Stupa perfectly align with the celestial layout of Rigel, Mintaka and Bellatrix, three of the seven stars of the Orion constellation, which was associated with Osiris, the sun-god of rebirth and afterlife, by the ancient Egyptians (3150 BC-conventional Egyptian chronology).

And Anuradapura of Sri Lanka (SL Low gravity anomaly: -104m geoid), though far south of Bodh Gaya of Northern India, is only three and a half degrees west of it. Bodh Gaya, the location where Gauthama Buddha attained Supreme enlightenment, is considered Patavi Nahbi (Sanskrit: naval of the Earth), according to the Buddhist cosmology. Bodh Gaya’s antipode, on the other side of the world, that can be connected by an axis running through the very centre of the Earth, is the Temple of the Sun (referred to as the naval of the universe) of the Mayans (3114 BC Mesoamerican Long Count calendar) at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Cuzco (Quechua, the Inca language: the navel of the universe) nearby Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Mayans.

Added to the inexplicable cosmological and geographical mysteries associated with Ruwanweliseya Stupa (Ruwanveli Seya Stupa), is the fact that locations for the construction of Ruwanweliseya and Mirisavatiya were determined by a couple of extraordinary circumstances. Still more astonishing is the sudden yet timely surfacing of precious metals and jewels at the beginning of the construction of Ruwanweliseya Stupa.

The great prophesy by Maha Thera Arhath Mahinda
The construction of the Ruwanweliseya Stupa (Ruwanveli Seya Stupa) and Lohamaha pasada (Sinhala: Brazen Palace) commenced hot on the heels of construction of Mirisavetiya Stupa in Anuardhapura following an accidental discovery of a stone slab with an inscription, immediately after a magnificent ceremony held in veneration of Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi at Anuradhapura. It revealed a prophesy made by none other than the great Buddhist missionary Maha Thera Arhath Mahinda, who brought Buddhism to Sri Lanka from India during the reign of King Devanampiya Tissa (250-210 BC): in the time to come, a great Stupa would be built by a great king at the location in Anuradhapura, where the stone slab is planted.

If you build, they will come, the resources.
It was hard times: the island nation had no surplus of resources following the long drawn out war to rescue the nation from Dravidian Invader Elara (205-161 BC) from Southern India, and then again subsequent to the construction of Mirisavetiya stupa (it took three years) and glorious nine story-one thousand chamber residence called Lohamaha pasada for the Buddhist monks. But then, if you build, they will come. And they came, the resources. Devo wassatu kalena, sabbha sampatthi siddhiya (Pali: In the times of gods, all treasures abound, & prosperity looms high).

Mahawamsa, the great chronicle of Sri Lanka narrates the discoveries of gold, copper, Silver, gems and pearls in all four corners of the island.

To the westward of the capital, at the distance of five yojanas, at the Uruvelpattana, pearls of the size of “nelli” fruit, together with coral beads, rose to the shores from ocean. Some fishermen seeing these, gathering them into one heap, and taking (some of) the pearls and coral in a dish, and repairing to the king, reported the even to him.
The Mahavansa in two parts. The Translation of the first part by George Turnour, C.C.S. (year 1837), The Translation of the second part by L. C. Wijesinha, Mudaliyar (year 1889), G. J. A. Skeen, Government printer, Colombo, Ceylon. 1996 reprint by Asian Educational Services, New Delhi, ISBN 81-206-1155-1

The trading of Pearls in Sri Lanka runs as far back to the Phoenicians, who traded in the island for Pearls. The dominance of the Arabs in the pearl trade in the Gulf of Mannar from the 7th to 15th centuries AD was followed by the Portuguese. The Portuguese (1505-1640 AD), the first Europeans to set foot in Sri Lanka derived a considerable revenue from Ceylon Pearl fishing in the Gulf of Mannar, north east of Sri Lanka. So did the Dutch (1640-1796) who ousted the Portuguese from the island by military power, secured power in some of the coastal areas of Sri Lanka and seized upon then enormously profitable Pearl fishery. And then did the British (1796-1948), who forced out the Dutch by intrigue. Robert Knox, a British prisoner (1659-1679) escaping from Kandy found his way to the Fort at Mannar called Arrepa (meaning a sieve, and supposed to derive its name from sifting of pearls which took place at Gulf of Mannar) of the Dutch, who provided the Englishman the sea passage to Batavia via Colombo.

In a northerly direction from the city, at a distance of seven yojans, in a cave opening on the Pelivapikagama- tank, above on the sand, four splendid gems had formed in size like to a small mill-stone, in colour like flax-flowers, (radiantly) beautiful. When a hunter with his dogs saw these he came to the king, and told him: ‘I have seen precious stones of such and such kind.
Mahavamsa, The Great Chronicle of Ceylon, Wilhelm Geiger, Ph. D. year 1912, Great Britain, Reprint 2003 by Buddhist Cultural Center, Dehiwala (immediately north of Mount Lavinia), Sri Lanka, ISBN 955-8540-83-8

Flax flowers were known in the ancient times for their color: deep blue. The world renowned Ceylon sapphires of Sri Lanka too are of deep blue or much desired cornflower Blue. The district of Ratnapura (Sinhala: city of gems) has been one of the major source of gems in the world since the biblical era of King Solomon, who wooed Queen Sheba with a jewel imported from Sri Lanka. Coming to the modern day, a 12-carat oval Ceylon sapphire from Sri Lanka is the central stone of the diamond and gold engagement ring given to Kate Middleton by Prince William in November 2010. The famous ring was chosen by Lady Diana Spencer, who was to become Princess of Wales’, for her engagement to Prince Charles from a selection presented to her by the then Crown jewelers Garrard of Mayfair in London in the year 1981. Ratnapura's famous sapphires in a wide range of colours - white, yellow, pink, orange, purple & blue marketed by the brand name of Ceylon Sapphires have no rivals.

In the north-eastern region from the city, at a distance of three yojanas, in the village of Acaravitthi on a plain of sixteen karisas, there arose nuggets of gold of various sizes-the largest measuring a span, and the smallest a finger’s breadth, the inhabitants of the village saw the earth full of gold; taking a bowl of gold, they went and informed the king.
Mahavamsa, The Great Chronicle of Sri Lanka Chapters 1 to 31, An annotated new translation with Prolegomena by Dr. Ananda W. P. Gururge. 1989, S. Godage & Brothers, Colombo, Sri Lanka, ISBN -955-20-8963-8

In the region four yojanas to the southeast of Anuradhapura, in the village of Sumanavapi, many gems rose from the earth. The villagers took them, mixed with jade and quartz in a bowl and informed the king. In the southern direction from the city, at a distance of eight yojanas in Ambatthakola Cave, silver appeared. The people informed the king.
The Mahavamsa, the Great Chronicle of Sri Lanka, Mahanama Thera. Modern text and historical commentary by Douglas Bullis, year 2005, Asian Humanities Press, USA, ISBN 955-1266-09-9
The location mentioned as Ambatthakola Cave above is Ridivihara Buddhist Temple at the village of Ridigama (Sinhala: the village of Silver)

If you build, they will come, the devotees.
The reasons behind the unparalleled adoration and veneration of Ruwanweliseya Stupa (Ruwanveli Seya Stupa) have been numerous.

Ruwanweliseya Stupa’s popularity, first and foremost, owes to a great extent, to its peerless builder: King Dutugamunu, the Hero of the Nation, the son of the Heroine of the Nation Queen Vihara Maha Devi (daughter of King Kelanitissa of Kelaniya, Colombo and King Kawantissa of Ruhuna.

Secondly, Ruwanweliseya Stupa (Ruwanveli Seya Stupa) was the realization of a prophesy made by non other than Maha Thera Mahinda, the most illustrious Buddhist missionary sent to Sri Lanka by Mauryan Emperor Asoka (Sanskrit: painless, without sorrow) (304–232 BC) of India, the greatest emperor ever in the history.

Thirdly, the historical record on the construction of Ruwanweliseya Stupa (Ruwanveli Seya Stupa) in Mahavamsa, the great chronicle of Sri Lanka was of such glory, it has never failed to appeal to the very heart of the Sinhalese Buddhist population of the island in many aspects: the manner in which the Buddha’s relics were secured by the ascetic Sonuttara; the acquisition of materials, i.e. gold, copper and silver; King Dutugemunu’s unparalleled generosity in daily wages and gifts to the workmen throughout the days of the construction; the welfare facilities afforded by the king to all the workmen ranging from Engineers, architects, artisans, craftsmen, bricklayers and common workmen; the manner in which the tamed elephants including the royal battle elephant Kandula were harnessed for heavy labor in construction; the invitation to the whole populace, all the people in every walk of life to enshrine relics according to their means; the death of the heroic and pious king by the side of the stupa prior to its completion.

From Rainwater reservoir to temple & then to dagoba.
While Sri Lanka's irrigation network formed the basis for a thriving economy with a large agricultural surplus that sustained a vibrant Aryan Sinhalese civilization, Buddhism gave that civilization dignity and elegance. It inspired the architectural and sculptural splendors of ancient Sri Lanka. Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa were transformed into bejeweled testaments to the wealth and refinement of Sri Lanka's ancient Aryan Sinhalese Buddhist civilization.

Glorious Anuradhapura of Sri Lanka Holidays awed visitors with its magnificent stupas. The stupa or dagaba, an architectural innovation imported from northern India usually enshrined sacred relics of Buddha and other celebrated illuminati of early Buddhism. That makes them objects of veneration even today. These solid hemispherical domes provided a subdued but effective expression of the quintessence of Buddhism. In spite of the imposing size of the stupas, they blend simplicity with serenity.

To house the relics of the Buddha & the Arahat disciples, stupas were built. And why shouldn't we commence with the crowning achievement of the most illustrious king of Lanka, the great benefactor of Lanka, the hero of the nation, King Dutugamunu of Ruhuna (161-137 BC). Towering at 338 feet, the wondrous Stupa, Ruwanweliseya at Anuradhapura located in the Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka Holidays, is one of the world's major archaeological sites.

Stone tablet laid courtyard.
Through one of the frontpieces (Vahalkadas), we enter into the stone tablet laid courtyard (Salapatala). We take few steps down to arrive at the compound made of Sand (Valimaluwa). On the four sides of the compound are whitewashed perimeter parapet walls with an army of 1900 life size sculpted elephants in low relief, now renovated, standing ear to ear are 475 elephants on each side. Elephant, whose association with the civilization of the Aryan Sinhalese dated back to 1st century BC had been recorded on an inscription at Navalarkulama in Panampattu in the East of Lanka, was afforded the highest honor & complete protection by the ancient royal decree of the Sinhalese. The Elephant had been the bulldozer & bulldog of ancient Lanka.

In the temple courtyard are the old models of Ruwanweliseya Stupa (Ruwanveli Seya Stupa), made of stone, a statue of King Dutugemunu worshipping the dagoba. In the image house are 4 statues of the Buddhas who have attained Buddhahood in this aeon (kalpa) & future Buddha Maitri. All these creations are very old.

Inspiration from a bubble of air floating on water
Much restored, the great dome, painted a gleaming white is busy with pilgrims throughout the day and evening on any day of the year. It is recorded the Hero of the Nation, King Dutugamunu was inspired by seeing a bubble of air floating on water shown to him by the architect, with reference to the matter of design. In spite of the height of 338 feet & thousands of tons of bricks, the attempt has been a success: all you see is the skin of white paint that seems to envelope a pocket of air. The crest gem on the pinnacle of Ruwanweliseya Stupa is a gift from Burma. Within the dome in a closed chamber are enshrined sacred relics of Buddha, valuable gems, statues made of gold & various valuable objects.

The pioneering innovator in fair compensation on labor
King Dutugamunu wasn’t merely a great king. He was and is the Hero of the Nation. He was most possibly, a pioneering innovator in fair compensation on labor secured, and a pioneer in the extension of welfare facilities to the labor force.

The king announced, “No work should be done here without wages”. At each gate, he arranged to be placed sixteen hundred thousand Kahapanas (metal coins of value that can be bartered), many garments, various ornaments, soft and hard food, with beverages, perfumes, garlands, molasses, etc. and five kinds of mouth-fresheners, saying “let one work as one desires and take them as one desires.” Royal Officers inspected accordingly and gave. The construction of stupa was enormous: for the labor alone 6.4 million in coins alone were paid out.

Ruwanweliseya, the third largest stupa of Sri Lanka
Ruwanweliseya Stupa (Ruwanveli Seya Stupa) towering at a height of 338 feet (with pinnacle; and 278 ft without pinnacle, with chatra), covering an area over an acre and a half with the diameter of the dome at the base being 294 feet is today the third largest ancient stupa of Sri Lanka. At the time of its construction, the third largest building in the world, Ruwanweliseya dwarfed the Sanchi Stupa (60 ft in height) in India, the largest stupa in the same class and same age. Ruwanweliseya, the largest stupa in the island for 250 years since its construction, was bettered in size by Abhayagiri stupa (370ft) in 88 BC and then again by Jetawana Stupa (400ft) in 276 AD also of Anuradhapura.

Ruwanweliseya Stupa was the center of attraction of Maha Vihara monastery of Anuradhapura, the largest monastic city of the world then. Fa Hsien (Fa Hian), the zealous Chinese Buddhist pilgrim, who visited Anuradhapura in 412 AD, in his records narrated the magnificence of the Buddhist monuments. Fa Hsien was also greatly excited to see that Maha Vihara (Sinhala: Great Buddhist Monastery) at Anuradhapura sheltered and fed no less than 5000 Buddhist monks and a rock monastery (probably Mihintale) another 2000.

The renovation of Ruwanweliseya Stupa (Ruwanveli Seya Stupa)
The tradition set upon in Sri Lanka by King Dutugamunu(161-137 BC), inspired his successors, in the centuries to come. The great stupas would be built and the older stupas would be renovated by the kings of Lanka. Ruwanweliseya Stupa (Ruwanveli Seya Stupa) had been renovated several times by a succession of Sinhalese kings till King Nissanka Malla (1187-1196 AC). However, the recurrent Dravidian invasions from Southern India resulted in the decline of Anuradhapura. By the 19th century, Anuradhapura (437 BC-845 AD), once the greatest monastic city of the world, also named Anurogrammon, by the Greek cartographer Claudius Ptolemy (90-168 AD) was deserted; Ruwanweliseya was in ruins.

But then Anuradhapura wouldn’t be buried and forgotten. The destiny of the nation was already prophesied. The Island of Sri Lanka and Buddhism is destined to witness the arrival of next Buddha, Maithree Buddha 5000 years into the future of Gautama Buddha (623-543 BC).

For the renewed glory of Ruwanweliseya Stupa (Ruwanveli Seya Stupa), a man arose in time. In the year 1893, a patriotic and pious Buddhist monk called Naranvita Sumanasara Thera of Siyam Nikaya, steeped in the history of the island and well versed in the doctrine of Buddhism harnessed the support of the peasants in and around the great stupa in Anuradhapura. They all came and took upon themselves to engage in the Herculean task of renovation of Ruwanweliseya Stupa. They came, they saw and they rebuild Ruwanweliseya Stupa. The community of devotees resulted in forming a society called Ratnamali Chaityawardhana (Sinhala: Ratnamali Stupa Development) Society. Illustrious Anagarika (Sanskrit: homeless one), Dharmapala (1864 - 1933) and illustrious Brahmachchari (Sanskrit: living in strict celibacy) and Walisinghe Harischandra (Edward De Silva) (1876 - 1913) made tremendous contributions to maintain the sanctity of the area around Ruwanweliseya which was subjected to the unholy encroachment. Eventually, those great patriots succeeded in having Anuradhapura declared a holy city by the British colonial government (1805-1948) of Ceylon.

Maintenance of Ruwanweliseya Stupa (Ruwanveli Seya Stupa)
Ruwanweliseya Stupa (Ruwanveli Seya Stupa) in Anuradhapura of Sri Lanka Holidays is the most well maintained ancient great stupa of Sri Lanka. It is repainted with traditional white wash called Sudu Hunu, a plaster made of Quicklime or shell-lime mixed with salt (anti fouling chunam) every year in preparation of Buddhist celebrations on Poson Poya (Sinhala: full moon day) of Sri Lanka Holidays in the month of June commemorating the arrival of Buddhism to Sri Lanka during the reign of King Devanampiya Tissa (Sinhala: dear to the gods) (250-210 BC).



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Ruwanweliseya Stupa

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