Sunday, December 8, 2019

Isurumuniya Viharaya

Isurumuniya ViharayaIsurumuniya Viharaya is a Buddhist temple situated by the side of the Tissa Wewa in Anuradhapura District, Sri Lanka. The temple is widely popular for its remarkable stone carvings such as Isurumuniya Lovers, Elephant Pond, the Royal Family, and the Man and Horsehead.

History
The sacred Bodhi-tree, IsurumuniyaAncient Meghagiri or Meygiri Viharaya in Mahameghavana is presently called as Isurumuniya (Nicholas, 1963; Paranavitana, 1953). Situated between Dakkhina Stupa and the eastern gate of Magul Uyana (Royal Pleasure Garden), this temple is said to be the first repository of the Tooth Relic of Buddha (Nicholas, 1963; Paranavitana, 1953).

Some information found in the Sinhalese glossary Mahabodhivamsa has helped in the identification of this site. It mentions that there is a bathing-pond belonging to a Met-giri-vehera between the Dakkhina Thupa and a path leading from the eastern gate of the Royal Pleasure Garden. The name Met-giri, according to Paranavitana (1953), has been incorrectly written in this text and the probable correct reading is May-giri, the Pali equivalent of Megha-giri [(the cloud rock) Paranavitana, 1953]. A temple named Megha-giri Vihara is mentioned in the "Dathavamsa" and it was the place where the Tooth Relic of Buddha found refuge before it received the royal recognition (Paranavitana, 1953). The 14th-century text "Dalada-sirita" also mentions that Megha-giri Vihara was the first resting place of the Tooth Relic of Buddha in Sri Lanka. According to the details given in the "Dathavamsa", "Dalada-sirita" and a 10th-century pillar inscription from Kiribath Vehera, the site presently called as Isurumuniya is believed to be the ancient Meghagiri temple (Paranavitana, 1953).

Ancient Issarasamana Viharaya
Isurumuniya (Pali: Issarasamana; Old Sinhala: Isiramana), according to the opinion of some scholars (Gamage, 1987; Perera, 1970), is the ancient Issarasamana Viharaya (or part of it) founded by King Devanampiya Tissa (307-267 B.C.) in the 3rd century B.C. (Nicholas, 1963). It has received its name from the 500 disciples of Prince Arittha who dwelt there, after they had been ordained by Mahinda Thera (Gamage, 1987). According to chronicles, one of eight saplings of the Sri Maha Bodhi-tree has been planted in this site (Gamage, 1987). 

Issarasamana Viharaya, throughout history, has received the patronage of kings. King Chandra-Mukhasiva (43-52 A.D.) built a tank in Manikaragama and bestowed it for the usage of this temple (Gamage, 1987). During the reign of King Vasabha (67-111 A.D.) an Uposatha house was added to this temple and a wall had been also added to it by King Voharika Tissa [(209-231 A.D.) Gamage, 1987; Nicholas, 1963]. The temple was repaired and enlarged in the 5th century A.D. by King Kassapa I [(473-491 A.D.) Gamage, 1987; Nicholas, 1963; Paranavitana, 1953]. 

The name Isiramana (the old Sinhala form of the name of Isurumuniya) is found in several first or second-century inscriptions located in the Vessagiriya monastic site (Paranavitana, 1953). According to Mahawamsa, King Kassapa I renovated the Issarasamana temple and renamed it as Bo-Upulvan Kasubgiri Viharaya, giving it his own name and the names of his daughters Bodhi and Uppalavanna (Gamage, 1987). This fact given in the Mahawamsa is also confirmed by the inscriptions found in the Vessagiriya Vihara premises (Nicholas, 1963). Therefore, the old Issarasamana Viharaya which is mentioned in the chronicles is presently identified with the site now called Vessagiriya (Nicholas, 1963; Paranavitana, 1953).

Sculptures
The temple is popular among the locals as well as foreigners due to its magnificent collection of stone sculptures. These sculptures are found carved in the living rocks and separate stone slabs.

Elephant Pond
Elephant carvings, IsurumuniyaA herd of elephants (four figures) at water sports are found carved on the rock face of two adjoining boulders. These low-relief figures sculpted just above the water level of the pond have been carved in a very naturalistic manner. The presence of leaves and buds of lotus indicates that elephants are bathing in a pool.

These elephant figures are said to be similar to the figures that are found in Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram) in India (Jayasuriya, 2016).

The Man & Horsehead (Minisa saha Ashwa-hisa)
The Man & Horsehead, Isurumuniya
The figures of a seated man and the head of a horse behind him are found carved in a cavity on a rock situated in the temple premises. The man figure is about 2 feet 7½ inches tall (from the waist to the crown of the head) and in a seated position (Gamage, 1987; Paranavitana, 1953). The left leg is horizontally placed on the ground and folded therefore, the left foot touches the right thigh. The knee of the right leg is raised and the right hand is resting on it. The left-hand stretches vertically down and touches the base. The upper body of the figure is naked and ornamented with a necklace, bracelet, and heavy ear-rings. The lower half of the body is covered by a thin cloth.

The horse head is emerging out behind the right hand of the seated figure. The snout of the horse has been damaged due to some reason and has been recently restored in cement (Gamage, 1987).

There are several opinions regarding the identity of this sculpture. Ananda Coomaraswamy believes this sculpture illustrates Kapila Muni, a sage from the Indian myth of the Descent of the Ganges from heaven (Chakrabarti, 2017; Paranavitana, 1953; Perera). However, due to the powerful military and forceful countenance of the man, some scholars such as Prof. Vogel, Dr. William Cohn have dismissed this opinion (Chakrabarti, 2017; Gamage, 1987; Paranavitana, 1953). Prof. Senarath Paranavithana believes that this man figure represents "Parjanya" or"Varuna", the rain god and the horse represents "Agni", the fire (Chakrabarti, 2017; Gamage, 1987; Jayasuriya, 2016; Paranavitana, 1953). The Dutch scholar Prof. Van Lohuizen de Leeuw thinks that this man figure symbolizes Aiyanar, a guardian deity who protects crops, cattle and irrigation tanks (Gamage, 1987; Jayasuriya, 2016).

Buddha shrine
Near to the sculpture of the Man and the horse is a small rock-cut shrine containing a seated Buddha (Gamage, 1987). The shrine is the main attraction to the pilgrims today and can be accessed through a flight of steps. The "Makara Thorana" at the entrance of the shrine shows artistic features belonging to the 10th century or later (Paranavitana, 1953).

Isurumuni Lovers (Isurumuni Pem Yuwala)
Isurumuni Lovers
This is a world-famous couple sculpted on a slab of granite, presently living in the Archaeological Museum of Isurumuniya. It is said to be doubtful whether this sculpture was actually found from the Isurumuniya temple premises or from the adjoining Royal Pleasure Garden (Wijesekera, 1990).

The slab contains two figures: a man and a woman. The man figure is apparently lustful and embracing the woman who is sitting on his left thigh. He bears a shield-shaped halo and a sward around his neck. The woman who has an erotic look on her eyes is sitting on the thigh of the man in a passionate posture. Both figures have been ornamented with jewelry such as necklaces, bangles, etc.

Scholars have given many interpretations for the two figures. A famous opinion says that this couple represents Mahayana Bodhisatva Sthira-cakra Manjusri and his consort (Jayasuriya, 2016; Wijesekera, 1990). Another opinion suggests that this sculpture depicts King Dutugemunu's (161-137 B.C.) son Prince Saliya and the low-cast girl Asokamala to whom he loved (Jayasuriya, 2016). It is popularly known that Prince Saliya gave up the throne for Asokamala.

This sculpture with Gupta characteristics belongs to the 4-5th centuries A.D. (Wijesekera, 1990).

The Royal Family (Raja Paula)
The Royal family, Isurumuniya
An irregular-shaped stone slab containing five human figures is found placed in the Archaeological Museum of Isurumuniya Viharaya. The maximum length of this slab is 3 ft 3.5 in and the breadth is 2 ft 2.25 in (Paranavitana, 1956). According to the opinion of Paranavitana (1956), this sculpture represents a scene of a royal family, probably the family of King Dutugemunu (Paranavitana, 1956). 

The total sculpture is dominated by the center male figure with a noble appearance who is seated in an unconventional pose. The figure is apparently sitting on a raised platform and fanned by someone (probably a servant) at his right side. His left leg, bent at the knee, rests on the seat. The knee of the right leg is raised and the foot, pointing downward, touches the platform before the left thigh. The right arm which is bent at the elbow stretches towards his shoulder while his left arm rests on the lap of a female who is sitting next to him on the left side. The upper body of the figure is naked and the lower part is covered by a thin cloth. The figure ornamented with a crown, bangles, ear-rings, and necklaces. It is suggested that this figure represents a king (Paranavitana, 1956).

The lady figure at the left side is also sitting on a platform but a little lower than the center male figure. Slightly incline towards the right side, she holds the left arm of the center male figure by her both hands. She is also ornamented with jewelry. If the central figure is a king, this lady may represent his queen (Paranavitana, 1956).

At the most right corner from the center figure is a seated youth with hands folded across the chest. The figure is sitting on a lower level and wears jewelry. This figure may represent a prince of the royal family (Paranavitana, 1956). Another lady figure who is sitting on her haunches with raised knees to the waist is found at the most right corner of the sculpture carved behind the main female figure (Paranavitana, 1956).

Stylistically, this sculpture has been ascribed to the Gupta period (Paranavitana, 1956).

Attribution

References
1) Chakrabarti, M., 2017. Man and Horse Sculpture at Isurumuniya Anuradhapura A New Interpretation. Buddhism and Jainism in Early Historic Asia. pp.73-79.
2) Gamage, D., 1987. ඉසුරුමුණි විහාරයේ මිනිසා සහ අශ්ව හිස පිළිබද නව සංකල්පයක් (In Sinhala). Vidyodaya J., Soc., Sc. Vol. 1. No.1. pp.47-58.
3) Jayasuriya, E., 2016. A guide to the Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka. Central Cultural Fund. ISBN: 978-955-613-312-7. pp.53-54.
4) Nicholas, C. W., 1963. Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, New Series, vol VI, Special Number: Colombo. Royal Asiatic Society (Ceylon Branch). p.148
5) Paranavitana, S., 1953. The Sculpture of Man and Horse near Tisāväva at Anurādhapura, Ceylon. Artibus Asiae, pp.167-190.
6) Paranavitana, S., 1956. A Bas-Relief at" Isurumuṇi" Anurādhapura. Artibus Asiae, 19(3/4), pp.335-341.
7) Perera, A.D.T.E., 1970. A Possible Identification of a Significant Sculpture at Isurumuniya Temple, Anurādhapura A Man and a Horse's Head. East and West, 20(1/2), pp.122-143.
8) Wijesekera, N. (Editor-in-chief), 1990. Archaeological Department Centenary (1890-1990): Commemorative Series: Sculpture (Vol. 4). Commissioner of Archaeology. pp.34-35, 70.

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This page was last updated on 31 May 2020
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