Devinuwara Upulvan Devalaya and Viharaya

Devinuwara Upulvan Devalaya and Viharaya
Devinuwara Upulvan Devalaya also known as Devinuwara Vishnu Devalaya or Tenavaram Temple by Tamils (Sinhala: දෙවිනුවර උපුල්වන් දේවාලය) is a Devalaya Shrine located adjoining the Devinuwara Raja Maha Viharaya in Devundara (Dondra) in Matara District, Sri Lanka. The deity venerated at the shrine upto the 15th century was God Upulvan (Pali: Uppala-vanna) to whom, according to the Mahavamsa, Sakka delegated the task of protecting the island of Lanka; a task for which Sakka himself assumed responsibility at the behest of the Buddha (Paranavitana, 1953).

Devinuwara; Etymology
Devinuwara means the "City of Gods" (Paranavitana, 1953). The literary form "Devinuwara", the Anglicized "Dondra", another Sinhalese form "Te-Nuwara", the Tamilized "Tanavarai" or "Tenavarai" and the Portuguese spellings of the last form contain in them evidence of the divinity (Paranavitana, 1953).

The first and oldest record of the name Devinuwara is found in two inscriptions of King Nissankamalla (1187-1196 A.D.), along with holy places of great antiquity like Anuradhapura, MahiyanganaKelaniya, and Medirigiri, as a shrine which was already celebrated in that monarch's time (Chutiwongs et al., 1990; Paranavitana, 1953; Ranawella, 2007). The Pali form of the name Devanagara appears for the first time in the Mahavamsa with reference to the reign of King Vijayabahu I (1055-1110 A.D.) in which it records the restoration of Buddhist Vihara by the king (Paranavitana, 1953). These pieces of evidence do not say anything about the god of Devinuwara but reveal that a Buddhist Vihara existed there from an early period (Paranavitana, 1953).

Ramayanaya myth
The history of this place, according to folklore, is related to Rama and Ravana, two mythical figures appearing in the Indian epic Ramayanaya. Locals believe that this is the site where the war between Rama and Ravana happened and the nearby areas today known as Vandurudeniya and Rassadeniya were the encampment sites of these two characters (Vikramaratne, 2015). However, the authenticity of Ramayanaya is controversial and hence it is today dismissed as a myth (JRASSL, 2014).

Ptolemy's Map
There is a name "Dagana" (Sacred to the Moon) marked on the southern part of Sri Lanka in Ptolemy's map belonging to the 2nd century A.D. Some authors have identified Dagana with Devundara based solely on the supposed resemblance of this name to Deva-nagara (Paranavitana, 1953). The coastline of the island, in Ptolemy's map, differs widely from its actual configuration and therefore, the Dagana marked on his map can not be certainly identified with the present Devinuwara (Paranavitana, 1953).

Origin of the shrine
Devinuwara Upulvan Devalaya
An inscription belonging to the 9th century that was discovered on the grounds of the Devinuwara Viharaya refers to the old monastic institution at the place by the name of Kihireli Pirivena [(Khadireli in Pali) Paranavitana, 1953]. The chronicle Mahawamsa mentions that a Buddhist Vihara called Khadireli Pirivena was built in the 7th century A.D. by Dappula (Dapulusen in Sinhala), a Prince of Rohana who made an unsuccessful bid for the throne of Anuradhapura (Paranavitana, 1953). The same reference also adds that this prince honoured the God Upulvan evidently being the deity meant (Paranavitana, 1953). The "Parakumba Sirita", a Sinhalese poem of the 15th century mentions that King Dapulusen installed a red sandalwood image of God Upulvan at Devinuwara which was brought ashore by the sea waves (Paranavitana, 1953). Therefore, the history of the shrine of Upulvan at Devinuwara runs back to the time of Prince Dappula (Paranavitana, 1953).

The Mahavamsa refers to the shrine at Devinuwara associated with King Vijayabahu I (1055-1110 A.D.) and it records the restoration of the Buddhist Vihara there by the king (Paranavitana, 1953). King Nissankamalla's (1187-1196 A.D.) Galpota Inscription and Dambulla Vihara Inscription record that he contributed to the development of the Devinuwara shrine (Ranawella, 2007).

Royal patronage
The chronicles refer to a number of kings such as Parakramabahu II (1236-1270 A.D.) who had erected or renovated the temple at Devinuwara during the 13-14 centuries A.D. (Chutiwongs et al., 1990; Paranavitana, 1953; Sudharmawathie, 2011). These references indicate that the Buddhist Vihara at the place received more royal patronage than the shrine of the god (Paranavitana, 1953).

During the 15th century
Galle Trilingual Slab Inscription
Devinuwara was an important commercial port located at the southern tip of the country during the 13th to 15th centuries and had gained its reputation as a flourishing trade centre. Envoys from China and merchant princes from the neighbouring countries visited or probably settled down at Devinuwara and built shrines for the gods of their own faith (Paranavitana, 1953). The Trilingual Slab Inscription of Galle (15th century), records the ritual items sent to Sri Lanka from China for the worship of Tenavarai Nayanar (Paranavitana, 1933). The name Tenavarai, according to S. Paranavitana, is the Tamil form of the Sinhalese Devinuwara (the City of God) and Nayanar is the Tamil word used to denote the God/lord (Paranavitana, 1933).

During this period the God Upulvan had attained a position tantamount to that of the national god of the Sinhala people (Paranavitana, 1953). A number of Sinhalese poems Sandesha were composed in this period expecting the favour of this god in the familiar device of a Message being sent to or from Devinuwara through the intermediary of a bird (Paranavitana, 1953).

Destruction of the temple and the transformation of the identity of the God
At the beginning of the 16th century, the Portuguese came to Sri Lanka. In 1588, a Portuguese army led by Thome de Souza destroyed Devinuwara and built a church over the temple ruins (Chutiwongs et al., 1990; Paranavitana, 1953; Sarma, 2007). During this period, the identity of God Upulvan was transformed into the status of God Vishnu (Chutiwongs et al., 1990).

The Portuguese historian referring to the destruction of the shrine at Devinuwara by his countrymen records that it was the worship of Visnu which received a fatal blow at de Souza's hand (Paranavitana, 1953). However, the Sinhalese literature of the 15th century always mentioned the God of Devundara as Upulvan (Paranavitana, 1953). The Sinhalese poems Kokila Sandeshaya (15th century) and Thisara Sandeshaya (14th century) refer in very clear terms to the two gods as two distinct beings (Paranavitana, 1953). The transformation of the identity of Devinuwara God from Upulvan to Visnu may have happened due to the presence of Brahmins who arrived in Sri Lanka in large numbers after they were driven away from their homes by the spread of the Muslim power in India (Paranavitana, 1953).

Construction of the present temple
After expelling the Portuguese from the Matara District, King Rajasinghe II (1635-1687 A.D.) built the current Vishnu shrine at Devinuwara (Chutiwongs et al., 1990; Paranavitana, 1953).

Devinuwara Inscription of Apa Kitakbo (9th century)
Devinuwara Inscription of Apa Kitakbo
The oldest inscription of the Devinuwara shrine was discovered near the Bo tree of the Viharaya and is engraved on a stone pillar about 1 ft. 3 inches by 7 inches in section and 3 ft. 8 inches tall (Paranavitana, 1953; Ranawella, 2001; Randeniya, 2023). The inscription covers two sides of the pillar and on the third side are crude outline drawings of a crow, a dog and a Vatapatha [(the monks' fan) Paranavitana, 1953]. On the fourth side is a figure of a sickle. The epigraph contains an edict of Adipada Kitakbo (Kittaggabodhi) who, according to scholars, is Prince Kittaggabodhi, the Governor of Rohana and a son-in-law of King Dappula II [(815-831 A.D.) Paranavitana, 1953; Ranawella, 2001].

The purpose of this record was to register certain immunities to lands dedicated to a Buddhist monastic institution named Kihireli Pirivena at Giriyala (Paranavitana, 1953; Ranawella, 2001; Randeniya, 2023). Giriyala is an older form of Girihela and this name is mentioned in the poem Paravi Sandeshaya as the abode of God Upulvan (Paranavitana, 1953). Therefore, according to S. Paranavitana, this name can be taken as the ancient name of the Devinuwara region (Paranavitana, 1953). The 14th-century text Dalada Sirita records that the Giriyela Vehera was established by Dapulusen who also installed the God Upulvan at the place (Paranavitana, 1953). The 13th-century text Pujavaliya mentions the Kihireli Pirivena as Kirali Viharaya (Paranavitana, 1953; Ranawella, 2001).

Deninuwara Slab Inscription of Parakramabahu II (1236-1270 A.D.)
This inscription, presently set up in front of the Devalaya shrine, is believed to have been discovered somewhere else and erected at its present position after 1914 (Paranavitana, 1953). The slab is 5 ft. in height, 1 ft. 11 inches in width and 7 inches in thickness (Paranavitana, 1953). The top of the slab is carved similarly to an arch and within the arch on the obverse side are outlines of the sun, the crescent moon and a Stupa (Paranavitana, 1953). The corresponding space on the reverse is occupied by the outline drawing of a Stupa in a larger size (Paranavitana, 1953). The obverse side contains 27 lines of writing while the reverse has 26 lines (Paranavitana, 1953; Ranawella, 2014).

The purpose of the inscription was to register certain regulations designed to maintain the religious endowments at Devinuwara, to prevent the de-fraudation of customs dues at the seaport by unscrupulous traders who were in the habit of bribing the king's officers, to ensure the civil liberties of the people, to protect the holy places, and to maintain religious buildings and observances (Paranavitana, 1953; Ranawella, 2014).

A protected site
Dewinuwara Upulwan Dewale premises and its ancient buildings and other archaeological remains situated in the Sinhasana Devale premises within the limits of No. 433 C Devinuwara Grama Niladhari Division in the Devinuwara Divisional Secretary’s Division are archaeological protected monuments, declared by a government gazette notification published on 8 April 2009.

Pillars at the Devalaya premises, Devundara A stone doorframe, Devinuvara Vishnu Devalaya

1) This image (Devinuwara Sri Vishnu Maha Devalaya in Sri Lanka) has been released into the public domain by its creator, අනුරාධ
2) Ancient Mandapa Pillars, Dondra 0682 by G41rn8 is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
3) Ancient Torana, Dondra 0676 by G41rn8 is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
4) Upulwan shrine complex, Devinuwara or Dondra, Matara by Dhammika Heenpella is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

1) Chutiwongs, N., Prematillake, L. and Silva, R., 1990. Paintings of Sri Lanka: Devinuvara. Colombo, Sri Lanka: Archaeological Survey of Sri Lanka and Central Cultural Fund. pp.35-36
2) JRASSL, 2014. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka New Series, Vol. 59, No. 2, Special Issue on the Ramayana (2014). pp.1-112.
3) Paranavitana, S., 1933. The Tamil inscription on the Galle Trilingual Slab. Epigraphia Zeylanica (Vol. III). pp.331-341.
4) Paranavitana, S., 1953. The Shrine of Upulvan at Devindara. Memoirs of the Archaeological Survey of Ceylon. Volume VI. Archaeological Department. pp.1-3,60-70.
5) Ranawella, S., 2001. Inscription of Ceylon. Volume V, Part I. Department of Archaeology. ISBN: 955-9159-21-6. pp.1-3.
6) Ranawella, S., 2014. Archaeological Survey of Ceylon: Inscriptions of Ceylon: Vol. VII. Department of Archaeology. ISBN: 978-955-9159-62-9. pp.1-5.
7) Ranawella, S., 2007. Inscription of Ceylon. Volume VI. Department of Archaeology. ISBN: 978-955-91-59-61-2. pp.53-65,127-130.
8) Randeniya, A.Y. 2023. Devinuwara: Deva nagaraya pilibanda aithihasika vimarshanayak (In Sinhala). pp.74-83.
9) Sarma, B.S., 2007. History of Munneswaram Temple. Sri Sankar Publications. p.21.
10) Sudharmawathie,. J. M., 2011. Reign of King Parakramabahu ІІ: As Evident From The Devinuwara Slab Inscription. pp.1-12.
11) The Gazette of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. No: 1597. 8 April 2009. p.446.
12) Vikramaratne, I., 2015. Pauranika Sthana Ha Smaraka: Matara Distrikkaya (In Sinhala). Archaeological Department of Sri Lanka. ISBN:955-9159-34-8. pp.6-7.

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This page was last updated on 3 December 2023

A short note in Sinhala
දෙවිනුවර උපුල්වන් දේවාලය

දෙවිනුවර උපුල්වන් දේවාලය ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ මාතර දිස්ත්‍රික්කයෙහි දෙවුන්දර පිහිටි පුරාණ දේවාලයකි.

ජනප්‍රවාද අනූව මෙම ස්ථානයෙහි ඉතිහාසය ඉන්දියානු රාමායනයෙහි විස්තර වන මිත්‍යා චරිත ද්විත්වයක් වන රාම හා රාවණා සමග සම්බන්ධ වේ. ප්‍රාදේශීය වැසියන්ගේ විශ්වාසය අනූව රාම හා රාවණා අතර යුද්ධය ඇතිවූයේ මෙම ප්‍රදේශයේ වන අතර ඊට ආසන්නව පිහිටි වඳුරුදෙණිය හා රාස්සදෙණිය යනු ඔවුන් දෙදෙනා කඳවුරු බැඳි ස්ථාන වේ. කෙසේනමුදු රාමායනයෙහි සත්‍යතාවය මතබේදාත්මක වන බැවින් වර්තමානයේදී එය මිත්‍යාවක් ලෙස බැහැර කෙරේ.

ක්‍රි.ව. 7වන සියවසේදී දප්පුල නම් කුමාරයෙකු විසින් කිහිරැළි පිරිවෙණ නමින් මෙහි විහාරයක් ඉදිකල බව මහාවංශය සඳහන් කරයි. දාපළුසෙන් රජු විසින් මෙම ස්ථානයෙහි මුහුදේ පාවී ආ සඳුන් ලීයෙන් කල උපුල්වන් දේව ප්‍රතිමාවක් පිහිටවූ බව 15වන සියවසට අයත් සිංහල කාව්‍යයක් වන පැරකුම්බා සිරිත ද සඳහන් කරයි. කෙසේනමුදු දෙවිනුවර යන නාමය අනුරාධපුරය, මහියංගනය, මැදිරිගිරිය හා කැළණිය සමග පළමුව දැකගත හැකිවන්නේ 12වන සියවසට අයත් නිශ්ශංකමල්ල රජුගේ ශිලා ලේඛනයක වේ. 13-14වන සියවස් වලදී රජවරුන් කිහිපදෙනෙකු [2වන පරාක්‍රමබාහු (ක්‍රි.ව. 1234-1269) වැනි] විසින් දෙවිනුවර විහාර කර්මාන්ත කරවූ බව මහාවංශය හෙළිකරයි.

දිවයිනෙහි දකුණු කෙළවර පිහිටි දෙවිනුවර ක්‍රි.ව. 13-15 සියවස් වලදී වැදගත් වාණිජ තොටක් වූ අතර සමෘධිමත් වෙළඳ මධ්‍යස්ථානයක් වශයෙන්ද කීර්තිය උපයාගෙන තිබුණි. තෙනවරෙයි නයනාර් වන්දනය පිණිස චීනයේ සිට ශ්‍රී ලංකාවට පඬුරු එවූ බව ගාල්ල ත්‍රෙෙයිභාෂික ශිලා ලේඛනය හෙළිකරයි. සෙනරත් පරණවිතාන මහතාගේ මතය අනූව තෙනවරෙයි යනු සිංහල දෙවිනුවර දැක්වීමට යොදන දෙමළ ආකාරය වේ.

16වන සියවසේ ආරම්භය වන විට පෘතුග්‍රීසින් ශ්‍රී ලංකාවට පැමිණ තිබුණි. වර්ෂ 1588දී තෝමේ ද සූසා ප්‍රමුඛ පෘතුග්‍රීසි හමුදාවක් විසින් දෙවිනුවර වනසා ඒ මත පල්ලියක් ඉදිකරන ලදී. මේ සමයේදී උපුල්වන් දෙවි විෂ්ණු දෙවි බවට පරිවර්තනය වී තිබිණි. 2වන රාජසිංහ (ක්‍රි.ව. 1635-1687) විසින් පෘතුග්‍රීසින් මාතරින් පලවා හැර වත්මන් විෂ්ණු දේවාලය දෙවිනුවර ඉදිකරන ලදී.

පුරාවිද්‍යා ස්මාරක ස්ථානය
දෙවිනුවර ප්‍රාදේශීය ලේකම් කොට්ඨාශයට අයත් උපුල්වන් දේවාල පරිශ්‍රය හා ඊට අයත් පුරාණ ගොඩනැගිලි හා සිංහාසන දේවාල පරිශ්‍රයේ වූ අනෙකුත් පුරාවිද්‍යා ශේෂයන් 2008 අප්‍රේල් 8වන දින ප්‍රකාශයට පත් රජයේ ගැසට් නිවේදනය මගින් ආරක්ෂිත පුරාවිද්‍යා ස්මාරක ලෙස නම් කොට ඇත.
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