Saturday, 15 September 2018

Rajagala Archaeological Site

The ruined monastery of Rajagala
Rajagala (lit: The monarch rock) or Rassahela is the modern name used for the ancient Ariyakara or Girikumbila Viharaya, a ruined Buddhist monastery complex situated in Uhana Divisional Secretary's Division in Ampara District, Sri Lanka. The site can be reached by traveling about 1.5 km distance from the Bakkiella junction which is on the Ampara - Mahaoya main road located about 26 km far from the Ampara town. The ruins of the ancient monastery have extended in an area of about 1,025 acres in Rajagalakanda Mountain.

Rajagala and Rassahela, the present names of the monastery are have come into the parlance recently. During the past period, a number of names had been used to identify this location. Girikumbila Viharaya, Kubilapi-Tisapavata Viharaya, Ariyakara Viharaya, Ariyakoti Viharaya, Ariththara Vehera are some of the such names mentioned in several chronicles and inscriptions. These names were used in the Anuradhapura era (377 B.C.–1017 A.D.) but may have been forgotten from the memories with the time.

Rajagala rock inscriptions

Period        : 8-10 centuries A.D.
Transcript : Svasti Senhu vajanin  A(ritta)ra
vehera vasi vat-himiyanat satarpasa vayutu
karana kot.....>>
Translation : Hail! By  the  order  of Sen.  In
order to provide the four requisites for their
lordships residing in the Arittara monastery
Notes       : This  inscription  (right)  records
about  a  grant  by  a  local  ruler of  Rohana,
to the  monastery called Arittara Vehera.
Citation : Paranavitana, 1934
Rajagala promenade before the conservation Rajagala promenade during the conservation
Besides the ancient cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, Rajagala is considered the place where the highest number of archaeological monuments concentrated. It is also the only place where an inscription confirms the enshrinement of the relics of Arhat Mahinda Thera, the Buddhist monk who brought Buddhism to Sri Lanka during the reign of King Devanampiyatissa (307 - 267 B.C.). 

All the structures and buildings found in Rajagala belong to the Anuradhapura era. Ruins ranging from the 2 century B.C. to the 10 century A.D. have been identified (De Silva, 1990). As of today, more than 600 monuments have been discovered from the site. 
Flight of steps near the tank before the conservation Flight of steps near the tank after the conservation
According to the information revealed by the chronicles and inscriptions in-situ, Rajagala was founded by Prince Lanjatissa (reigned 119-109 B.C.), the eldest son of King Saddhatissa (137- 119 B.C.). The great chronicle Mahawamsa and Deepawamsa describe that Prince Lanjatissa built the Girikumbila Viharaya when he was in the Digamadulla region during the reign of his father. Mahawamsa further gives detail about the inauguration ceremony of the Girikumbhila Viharaya. It states that the king donated six garments each to sixty thousand Buddhist monks who attended the ceremony (Dias, 2001). Several inscriptions which have been found in the site record about further donations made to the monastery by Lanjatissa and his wives such as Buddhadatta, Shamika, Yahasini, etc. (Nicholas, 1963; Sirisoma, 1990). 

  • Rajagala cave inscription of Buddhadatta

    Period  : 2nd - 1st centuries B.C.
    Script   : Early Brahmi
    Language   : Old Sinhalese
    Transcript  : Devanapiya maharajhasa Gamini Tisaha Puta Maha[yasajhaya upasi]ka Butadataya lene aga[ta ana]ga[ta catu] di[sa] sagasa
    Translation : The cave of the female lay devotee Buddhadatta, wife of Mahaya, son of the great king Gamani Tissa, the friend of the Gods, [is given] to the Sangha of the four quarters, present and absent.
    Notes : Lanjatissa is denoted by Maha aya
    Reference : The information board at the site by the Department of Archaeology and the Ministry of National Heritage.
  • Rajagala cave inscription of Shamika

    Period : 2nd - 1st centuries B.C.
    Script  : Early Brahmi
    Language   : Old Sinhalese
    Transcript  : Devanapiya maharajhaha Gamini Tisaha Putaha Tisa ayaha jhaya upasika Samikaya lene
    Translation : The cave of the female lay devotee Samika, wife of prince Tissa, son of the great king Gamani Tissa, the friend of the Gods.
    Notes : Lanjatissa is denoted by Prince Tissa 
    Reference : The information board at the site by the Department of Archaeology and the Ministry of National Heritage.

After founded by Prince Lanjatissa, Girikumbila Viharaya received the royal patronage of kings of Anuradhapura, especially from the viceroys of Ruhuna territory. An inscription indited on a rock at a later period records a grant made to this temple by Kutakanna Tissa (41-19 B.C.) before he ascended the throne (Dias, 2001). Local elites and general people also had involved in the development of the temple.

After its establishment, there is no reference in Mahawamsa regarding the temple until seven centuries. However, the information available in other literary resources as well as in the inscriptions in-situ and nearby areas is important in bridging this gap. Literature sources such as Seehalavattupakaranaya, Rasavahini, Attakatha, and Saddharmalankaraya contain several stories related to Girikumbila Viharaya. The tale of Mahadatta Thera, Ariyakara Vihara Vasthu, and the story of Dhamma (in Rasavahini) give some information connected with the monastery. 
A ruined monastery building, Rajagala
About one hundred inscriptions have been discovered so far in Rajagala. Among them, the rock inscription regarding the Arhat Mahinda Thera [(also called Mahendra (Sanskrit) or Mihindu] is historically important and considered the most valued inscription of archaeological interest found in the monastery. It mentions Mahinda and Itthiya, names of the two of seven missionaries who brought Buddhism to Sri Lanka as described in the ancient chronicles (see Mihintale).
The stone inscription that states about Arahath Mahinda Thero Rajagala rock inscription of Saint Mahinda

Period        : Circa 200 B.C.
Script         : Early Brahmi
Language  : Old Sinhalese
Transcript  :Ye ima dipa paṭamaya idiya
agatana Iḍika-[tera-Ma] hida-teraha tube
Translation : This is the Stupa of elder Ittiya
and the  elder Mahinda,  who came  to this
island by its foremost good fortune.

Citation : Paranavitana, 1962
Mihindu Seya at Rajagala
This inscription marks the spot where the Stupa  (Mihindu Seya) was erected over a portion of the relics of Arhat Mahinda Thera. Senarath Paranavithana who edited this inscription presumes that the Stupa located adjacent to this inscription (right picture) may have been built soon after the demise of the Arhat Mahinda. The Mahawamsa says that after the cremation of Arhat Mahinda, the relics were enshrined in Stupas throughout the country. The aforesaid inscription confirms this fact given in the Mahavamsa. 

Evolution of Muragala (from Rajagala) Old brick structures, Rajagala A building during the conservation, Rajagala An inscription A circular building Rajagala stone entrance Vedda paintings

1) De Silva, R., 1990. Painting (Early period 247 B.C. to 800 A.D.). Nandadeva W. (Editor in chief), Archaeological Department Centenary (1890-1990): Commemorative series (Vol. V). Painting. p. 31.
2) Dias, M, 2001. The growth of Buddhist monastic institutions in Sri Lanka from Brahmi inscriptions. Epigraphia Zeylanica, Vol. VIII. Department of Archaeology Survey. ISBN: 955-9264-04-4. p.48.
3) Nicholas, C.W., 1963. Historical topography of ancient and medieval Ceylon. Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, New Series (Vol. VI). Special Number: Colombo. Royal Asiatic Society (Ceylon Branch), p.27.
4) Paranavitana,  S., 1934. Three rock inscriptions at Rassahela. Epigraphia Zeylanica: Being  lithic  and  other  inscriptions  of  Ceylon (Vol. IV).  Archaeological Survey of Ceylon. pp.169-176.
5) Paranavitana, S., 1962. An inscription of circa 200 B.C. at Rajagala commemorating saint Mahinda. University of Ceylon review by Ceylon University Press. pp.159–162.
6) Sirisoma, M. H., 1990. Brahmi inscriptions of Sri Lanka from 3rd century B.C. to 65 A.D. Nandadeva W. (Editor in chief), Archaeological Department Centenary (1890-1990): Commemorative series (Vol. II). Inscriptions. p. 23.

Location Map
This page was last updated on 7 June 2022
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  1. Hi, do you know what are the other places where such 'Mihindu saaya' were built?

    1. There is another Mihindu Seya Stupa in Mihintale monastery :