Friday, February 11, 2011

Sinhalese Buddhist Heritage in the Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka: Part-01

The overwhelming number of ruined Buddhist Temples, other monuments and massive irrigation systems that lay strewn the length and the breadth of the Northern and Eastern part of the country prove how flourishing Sinhalese Buddhist civilization was in the region in particular and the whole island in general. In the case of most of Buddhist Temples and monuments extensive damages have been caused by the purposeful destruction perpetrated by Tamil and Muslim fundamentalists to erase sings of Sinhalese Buddhist heritage from the region. Other causes for destructions include encroachment of  the places by expanding population of Muslims and Tamils, housing schemes built in and around the places funded by I/NGOs ably supported by racist Tamil and Muslim politicians and government servants, long years of negligence due to war and plundering by the treasure hunters.  In significant number of cases the places have been turned into Kovils and Mosques too. The most prominent examples are Koneshwarm Temple (formally Gokanna Viharaya) and Hot Water wells in Kanniya in Trincomalee district.  A mythical history has been manufactured and associated with those places in order to sustain the defaced physical changes done to the hard evidences of a civilization. In certain cases residential areas or individual houses have been built on the places of ruins or the parts of ruins have been used for construction purposes.                     
Venerable Ellawala Medananda, an erudite scholar, a seasoned archeologist and a historian may be perhaps the only living Sri Lankan who has visited most of those places and done extensive research about them. Despite having had to face numerous difficulties as most of the places are hardly accessible and  distanced areas with thick jungle cover, the undeterred Buddhist monk's laborious efforts in 35 years have yielded a comprehensive book with elaborate account of ruined Sinhalese Buddhist places of worship and other monuments of a once glorious and now dwindled civilization. The bulky book with 536 pages- 'Pacheena Passa- Uttara Passa-Nagenahira ha Uturu Palathe Sinhala Bauddha Urumaya ' is indeed a magnanimous gift offered to Sinhalese. However, the erudite Buddhist monk accepts the fact that there are thousands of such places in the area which are yet to be identified though so far identified number stands at more than 10,000.              
 In the most of the account of the book the history of the places is lengthily described referring chronicles such as Mahavamsa and Deepavamsa. The references from other eminent archeologists like Prof. Paranavithana are too included. The quoted deciphered inscriptions found in the places are also elaborately described. The architectural specialties of the ruins of the buildings/monuments/temples are also lengthily described in relation to the period to which the constructions and renovations belong.        
Rebel intends to publish series of posts with translated versions of the account of the places mentioned in the book. The time constraint and the busy schedule compel Rebel to present the descriptions in a summarized version.                          
Eastern Province- Part-01 
(1)    Bovaththegala Viharaya :  
Bovaththegala Viharaya is located in Panama area in the Ampara district in the' Kumbukkan oya' basin. The temple is a cave temple on a mountain abounded with large boulders.   It comprises of a series of caves that have been carved with drip ledges and the walls built supporting the caves. The inscriptions indicate that the cave temple has been offered   to the Maha Sangha(Buddhist monks) during years of BC. Remains of bricks belonging to early ages are found strewn in the mountain. In some places remains of buildings of monasteries are visible. There are signs of Stupas (Pagodas) built on top of the boulders.    
There are several inscriptions written in Brahami script which are in verge of disappearing. One of the ruined inscription refers about a 'naka amathi'(Naka Minister). Another refers about a 'Puja' (an offering). Two inscriptions refer about 'jetathisa Maharaja'(Jetathisa King) and the king as the son of 'Mahasena Maharaja Apāya'.
The king Jettathissa is credited to have been engaged in many religious activities in Ruhuna as per Mahavamsa and some inscriptions found in different places.  As per one of the inscriptions in Bovaththegala the king has made a 'Puja' in the seventh year of his rule. The part of the inscription mentioning what that 'puja' was is destroyed. The inscription says that the 'puja' was made to make possible preaching of the 'Ariyawansa' sermon. So it proves the fact that Bovaththegala was known to have been a place the Ariyawansa sermon was preached. Ariyawansa sermon was popular in the ancient periods of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.                
 The main inscription describes about a lineage of kings.  The name of the first of them is 'Gamini'. ('Gramini 'or 'Gamini' or 'Gāmini' is a special name given to the kings in the ancient period ).  The first son among ten of his sons was 'Damaraju' whose son was prince 'Mahathisha' who has offered the caves temples to the Maha Sangha.  In a different inscription there is a reference about 'Uthiraja', an another son of Gamini whose son was 'Abhaya' who had a daughter named 'Anuradha' . The lineage of kings found mentioned in the inscriptions are thought to have been the same lineage of ten kings mentioned in Deepawamsa as to have been from Katharagama. Prof. Senarath Paranavithara too holds the same view. Historians believe that this may be the same linage of 'Ksasthriya' kings who were slaughtered by king Gotabhaya as mentioned in 'Mahawamsa'. When analyzing the descriptions mentioned about the kings and queens in the inscriptions found in 'Kotadamuhela' located a little distance from Bovaththegala it can be established that the lineage of Katargama kings had connections with the lineage of the 'Mahanaga' kings.
Prof. Paranawithana believes ,citing references from the 'Kotadamuhela' inscriptions, that 'Viharamaha Devi' , mother of the king 'Dutu Gamunu' and the wife of the king 'Kavanthissa' is a member of this lineage of the 'Mahanaga's. On the other hand the name 'Bovaththegala' has got a historical importance. Chronicles say that 'Kaththiyavara's'  from  'Kacharagama' who received a sapling of 'Sri Maha Bodhi'  ,after attending the Bo- sapling planting ceremony  in Anuradhapura, planted the sapling in 'Kacharagama'. Many believe that the place referred is the present day Katharagama. The name 'Bovaththegala' bears significance in this regard.  Because the 'Galvihara' located in 'watta' with a 'Bodhi' became 'Bovaththegala'. Therefore, this 'Bodhi' should bear specialty as it became prominent in the name-'Bovaththegala'.
The fact that the information about Kataragama 'Ksasthriya' kings is found in 'Bovaththegala' and 'Kotadamuhela' in 'Kumukkan oya' basin and not in present day Katragama give evidences to suggest that 'Ashtapalaruha Bodhiya' was planted in 'Bovaththegala'. Further research on 'Bodhi's in the area would clarify this matter. And also finding evidences about members of the 'Gamini's lineage from the caves in 'Budhupatavun kanda' is a fresh discovery.  
It is clear that the ten sons of 'Gamini' were ruling 'Rohana desha' wielding enormous powers.  If Paranavithan's belief is correct, the blood relationship between Anuradhapura kings and the Rohana kings proves that the East, Anuradhapura and the South were ruled by members of Sinhala kings belonging to single lineage. The Kataragama kings received Bo saplings as gifts when the Buddhism was brought here. It proves that they were Buddhists. The fact that 'Gamini's sons got their names inscribed in 'Bovaththegala' amply proves the existence of Sinhalese Buddhist heritage in the region.                          

1 comment:

Magerata said...

Since the conflict is over, I hope the people of Sri Lanka will preserve what is left of the heritage.
I am making notes of the places hoping i can visit those some day.