Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Gokanna Viharaya in Trincomalee (Thirukoneswaram temple)

This post is yet again dealing with another important Buddhist temple but now turned into a Hindu Kovil in the Eastern part of Sri Lanka. Unlike in the previous example where some remains of the temple (Kadurugoda Vihara in Jaffna) is still visible, in this instance, however, the place has completely been turned in to Hindu Temple. This Temple is none other than the famous Thirukoneswarm temple in Trincomalee or the previous Gokanna Vihara.  

According to the chronicles the Gokanna Vihara was built by the king Mahasen in 3rd century. De Queyroz, a Portuguese historian says that the Gokana Vihara was a Buddhist temple until it was destroyed by Portugeese in the 16th century. According to him the Pagoda or the Stupa of the temple was destroyed by Portuguese Trincomalee's ruler Costantino da Sa while Buddhist monks were still in residence there. Therefore, it is clear that the Gokkana Vihara was intact until it was destroyed by Portuguese in 16th century and was until then a famous Buddhist temple.

The present Thirukoneshwaram Hindu Temple has been built in 1956. Dr. Somapala Jayawardane says that one of his Tamil friends who accompanied him to the temple in 1980 had told that there hadn't been a Hindu temple before 1956 and Hindus used to worship a tree close to the sea. 

As has always been the case with regard to the original Sinhalese names in NE in Sri Lanka it is clear that the name Gokkanna too has been Tamilinazed. The earliest name of the place was Gonagama Pattana or Gokkannathittha which became shortened as Gona. Subsequently it was known as Sirigonakanda.  The name Trincomalee came to be known only in 10th century. After the word Gona was Tamilinized as Kona, it came to the Tamil usage as Thirukona meaning noble with adding the word Mallai (mountain in Tamil). With the combination of three words Thiru-kona-mallai or Thirukunamali came to be known.

A foundation of a shrine room constructed by King Aggrabodhi in 8th century was found when the excavations were done by Department of archeology inside the Trincomalee Fort Frederick. Among other ruins found included Buddha statues belonging to the 01st century. All ruins were found in the same place where the present Thirukineshwaram temple is located. The Bo-tree which was there in front of the Kovil also belonged to the Gokkanna Vihara.

An inscription written in Sanskcrit found inside the Trincomalee fort mentions that a person named Chodanga Deva came to Gokkanna on 14th Friday of April 1223. Here too  the name Gokanna is found mentioned. Archeologists and historians believe that there had been Sinhalese civilization in Trincomalee from at least 5th BC as many Brahami inscriptions belonging to the pre Christian era and ruins of Buddhist temples numbering over 150 have been excavated from the area.

As mentioned earlier King Aggabodhi (718-724AD) had built a shrine room in the Gokkanna Vihara. Chronicles say that the king Parakkramabahu the Great (1153-1186 AD) had mobilized army from Sarogama Thittha to Gokkanna along the Maha Valuka Nadi (river Mahaveli). The king Parakrama Bahu-11(1236- 1272 AD) is also mentioned as having chased away Tamil invaders who had set up camps closer to Gona area. These all references found mentioned in the chronicles use the words Gokkanna, Gona or Gokannathittha. Mahavamsa says that Baddakachchana, the queen of Panduwasdeva reached this Gonagama Pattana or Gokkannathittha.

King Senasammta Vickramabahu's (1356-1375 AD) Gadaladeni Lipi says that Mahathota Thirukunamalya and Madakalapuwa (Batticaloa) were under the Sinhalese king. Subsequently the king Rajasinhe-11(1627-1679AD) chased away Portuguese from Thirukunamale with the support of Dutch. During the King Keerthi Sri Rajasinha's period (1747-1781 AD) a group of Buddhist monks from Cambodia led by Arhat Upali visited Gokkanna Vihara.           

Books referred:

1. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (Ceylon Branch)

2. Paranavithana,Senerat Inscriptions of Ceylon.

3. Epigraphiya Zeylanica

4. Spolia-Zeylanica

5. Ancient Ceylon-The journal of the Archeological Dept.