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Dighavapi Viharaya

Dighavapi Viharaya
Dighavapi Viharaya or Deeghavapi Raja Maha Viharaya (Sinhala: දීඝවාපිය විහාරය) is an ancient Buddhist temple situated in Ampara District, Sri Lanka. The colossal Stupa of this temple is believed to be built to mark the spot where Buddha seated himself on the occasion of his third and last visit to Sri Lanka (Parker, 1981). Therefore the site is one of the 16 most sacred places (Solosmastana) of the Buddhists of the country (Dhammika, 2008).

Ancient Dighavapi Stupa
According to the Great Chronicle, Mahawamsa, the Buddha on his third visit to Sri Lanka had come to Dighavapi after spending the day at the foot of Sumanakuta (present Sri Pada mountain). Dipavamsa, the oldest chronicle of Sri Lanka also mentions that the Buddha visit Dighavapi after arriving in Kalyani [(present Kelaniya) Nicholas, 1963].

The name Dighavapi (lit: Long tank) is found in several early historical records. Pali chronicles and commentaries record this area as Dighavapi-mandala or Dighavapi-rattha (Nicholas, 1963). In Sinhalese literature and inscriptions, the area is called Digamandulu or Digamadulla (Nicholas, 1963).

Chronicles record that King Kakavanna Tissa of Rohana [or Kavan Tissa (205-161 B.C.)] stationed his second son, Prince Tissa, at Dighavapi with troops in order to guard the open country against Elara (205-161 B.C.), a South Indian invader who was at the time ruling in the Anuradhapura Kingdom (Nicholas, 1963). After Elara was overthrown by Prince Dutthagamani Abhaya [Dutugemunu (161-137 B.C.)], the Dighavapi area was again given to Prince Tissa to direct the work of harvest. Prince Tissa remained there for 23 years until the death of his brother King Dutugemunu (Nicholas, 1963). During this period, the two sons of Prince Tissa built Buddhist temples in the surrounding area: the eldest son, Lanjatissa built the Kumbhila or Girikumbhila Vihara (modern Rajagala), and the younger son, Thulaththana built the Kandara Vihara (also known as Alakandara or Lokandara Vihara). After the death of King Dutugemunu, Prince Tissa ascended the throne as King Saddhatissa (137-119 B.C.) in 137 B.C. He built the Stupa of Dighavapi and made several valuable offerings to it (Nicholas, 1963; Parker, 1981).

The Dighavapi Stupa is called in the Sinhalese chronicles Dighanakha or Diganaka (Nicholas, 1963; Withanachchi, 2013). However, there are no further records about this Stupa in the chronicles (Parker, 1981) until the 18th century (Nicholas, 1963). In the middle of the 18th century, King Kirti Sri Rajasinghe (1747-1782 C.E.) visited a Stupa called Nakha Cetiya but its relation to the Dighavapi (Dighanaka) Stupa is unclear. However, the area was locally known as Nakha Vehera prior to its re-occupation by the Sangha in about 1924 (Nicholas, 1963).

The Samyutta Nikáya commentary mentions that once a young monk who was repairing the plasterwork on the Dighavapi Stupa slipped and fell but miraculously could save his life from the deadly falling as he immediately began to chant the Dhajagga Sutta (Dhammika, 2008). 

Dighavapi gold leaf inscription and caskets

    Dighavapi Gold Leaf Inscription of King Kanittha Tissa (165-193 A.D.)

    Transcript :  Sidha:  Naka  maharajhaha  puta Malutisa rajhaha sovana tube
    Translation : Hail: The gold stupa (reliquary) of King Malutisa (Kanittha Tissa), the son of the great king Naka [Mahallaka Naga (135-141 A.D.)].
    Reference: Sirisoma, 1991. p. 222.
In 1986, a gold-leaf inscription was discovered deposited inside a reliquary recovered from the western frontispiece (Vahalkada) of Dighavapi Stupa (Sirisoma, 1991). The reliquary was found along with two other gold reliquaries and all of them were in a stone casket embedded in the aforesaid frontispiece.

The inscription contains only one line and has been written in the scripts belonging to the 2nd century A.D. (Sirisoma, 1991). 

Four golden caskets
In November 2020, four golden caskets were discovered at the southern vestibule of the Dighavapi Stupa by archaeologists who engaged in the conservation process of it. The golden caskets were found deposited in a large casket carved out of stone. According to the Department of Archaeology, this is the single largest discovery of golden caskets recovered during an excavation in Sri Lanka.

Dighavapi caves
Dighavapi is identified as a large monastic complex that existed during the period of the Rohana Principality (Withanachchi, 2013). Ruins of that ancient monastery are found today scattered nearly 1/2 miles distance from the boundary of Dighavapi Stupa (Withanachchi, 2013).

From the excavations, it has been identified that the Dighavapi Stupa had been constructed with two rampart walls (Withanachchi, 2013). Remains of Vahalkada are also visible at the site. 
A small site museum of the Archaeological Department has been established in the premises of Dighavapi Viharaya. The museum is used to exhibit antiquities recovered from the temple as well as from the surrounding area. 
A protected site
The Dighavapi Dagoba and all the ruins found in the land reserved for the Dighavapi Viharaya in the village of Dighavapiya in the Divisional Secretary’s Division, Addalachchanai are archaeological protected monuments, declared by the government Gazette notifications published on 18 April 1947 and 31 December 1999.
Ancient sculptures, Dighavapi Ruins to be unearthed Ruins to be excavated Stone sculptures
1) Dhammika, B. S., 2008. Sacred Island; A Buddhist pilgrim’s guide to Sri Lanka. Buddhist Publication Society. ISBN: 978-955-24-0271-5. p.197.
2) 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), pp.24-27.
3) Parker, H., 1981. Ancient Ceylon (Vol. 41). Asian educational services. p.318.
4) Sirisoma, M.H. (Edited by Uduwara, J.), 1991. No.43. Dighavapi gold leaf inscription of King Kanittha Tissa (164-192 A.D.). Epigraphia Zeylanica: Being lithic and other inscriptions of Sri Lanka: Vol. VI: Part: 2. Archaeology Survey of Ceylon. pp. 221-223.
5) The Gazette of Ceylon, no: 9692. 18 April 1947.
6) The Gazette of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, no: 2106. 31 December 1999.
7) Withanachchi, C. R., 2013. Pauranika Sthana Saha Smaraka: Ampara Distrikkaya (In Sinhala). Department of Archaeology (Sri Lanka). ISBN: 955-9159-44-5. pp.17-18.

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This page was last updated on 22 May 2023

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