Saturday, February 22, 2020

Thuparamaya, Anuradhapura

Thuparama Stupa
Thuparamaya is an ancient Buddhist monastery complex in Anuradhapura District, Sri Lanka. It is situated about 0.55 km north of the Ruvanweliseya Stupa and near to the Abhaya Wewa tank. Thuparama is identified as the first historic Stupa with a monastery established in Sri Lanka (Wikramagamage, 2004).

The history of the Thuparama shrine is going back to the pre-Christian era. According to chronicles, a temple dedicated to the Yakkha named Maheja had been erected here by King Pandukabhaya (437-367 A.D.). Following the introduction of Buddhism to the country by Arhant Mahinda Thera, King Devanampiyatissa (307-267 B.C.) built the Thuparama Stupa on this site as the first Buddhist structure in Sri Lanka (Nicholas, 1963). It is believed that the right collar-bone of the Buddha has been enshrined in this Stupa (Jayasuriya, 2016; Nicholas, 1963).

The ground where the Stupa was built is said to have been consecrated by the Buddha (Nicholas, 1963). Besides the establishment of the Thuparama Stupa, King Devanampiyatissa also founded a Vihara and planted a sapling of the Bodhi-tree at the site (Nicholas, 1963). After that, King Lanjatissa (119-110 B.C.) added a stone mantling to the Stupa in the second century B.C. and a Vatadageya (a Thupaghara - a house for the Stupa) was built for it by King Vasabha (67-111 A.D.) later (Nicholas, 1963).

Thereafter, the Stupa received the royal patronage of many successive kings including Gajabahu I (c. 113-135 A.D.), Gotabhaya (249-263 A.D.), Upatissa I (365-406 A.D.), Dhatusena (455-473 A.D.), Aggabodhi II [(604-614 A.D.) Nicholas, 1963]. However, it was robbed in the 7th century A.D. by King Dathopatissa I (639-650 A.D.) but restored again by King Kassapa II [(650-659 A.D.) Nicholas, 1963]. The Stupa was subjected to renovate again by the hands of many kings such as Aggabodhi VI (733-772 A.D.), Mahinda II (777-797 A.D.), Dappula II (815-831 A.D.) until it was plundered by the Pandyans in 840 A.D. (Nicholas, 1963). During the period between the 9th - 10th centuries A.D., the Stupa was developed by King Sena II (853-887 A.D.), Udaya II (887-898 A.D.), Mahinda IV [(956-972 A.D.) Nicholas, 1963]. At the end of the 10th century, the Vihara was completely destroyed by the Cola invaders (Jayasuriya, 2016) but subsequently renovated by King Parakramabahu the Great [(1153-1188 A.D.) Nicholas, 1963].

Besides the Thuparama Stupa, the other components of the Vihara were developed or built by several kings including Bhatikabhaya (22-7 B.C.), Amandagamani Abhaya (19-29 A.D.), Bhatikatissa [(143-167 A.D.) Nicholas, 1963].

Palumekichchawa inscription
An inscription by King Gajabahu I is found engraved on a rock surface at the Vana (the spillway) of the Palumekichchawa tank (Wickremasinghe. 1912). According to the inscription, King Gamini Abhaya (King Gajabahu I) had spent 5,000 karsapanas on the excavation of the Vadamanaka Tank in the Upala district and granted it to the community of Buddhist monks at the Thuparamaya (Wickremasinghe, 1912).

Thuparama slab inscription of Gajabahu I
A slab inscription was discovered in 1926, while clearing the foundation of the western side of the enclosing wall of the Thuparama stupa (Paranavitana, 1933). It records that the king had granted certain income taken from Gonagiri-utaviya (a tank or a tract of paddy fields) to the monks of the Ratana Araba monastery (Paranavitana, 1933)

The original Thuparama Stupa is said to be in the shape of a heap of paddy (Jayasuriya, 2016; Wikramagamage, 2004). Time to time, the Stupa was renovated by several kings including King Vasabha and King Gotabhaya. King Vasabha is said to have covered the Stupa chamber with a stone of wall and King Gotabhaya subsequently built a relic chamber for it. The last restoration of the Stupa was done in 1862 and as a result of that, the Stupa has taken the shape of a bell.

The present Stupa is 18.9 m in height and has a circumference of 17.7 m (Wikramagamage, 2004).

Cetiyaghara/ Vatadageya
The remaining stone pillars around the Thuparama Stupa indicate that it once had a Cetiyaghara, a house enclosing the Stupa. The roof over the Stupa is not found today but the supportive stone pillars in four concentric circles provide the evidence for its existence. The pillars are elegantly carved and fixed to the ground in a symmetric manner.

This Cetiyaghara is believed to be added to the Stupa after the 7th century A.D. (Jayasuriya, 2016).

Bodhisattva Maitreya
Bodhisattva Maitreya
This ungilt, bronze statue was discovered from Thuparama Vatadage complex and presently on the display at the National Museum of Colombo. The statue is 46.7 cm tall and has been dated to the 9-10th centuries A.D.

The Bodhisattva is standing on a circular-shaped base in a relaxed posture. The body is bent at three places, namely the shoulder, the waist, and the knee and therefore called as a Thivanka (meaning three bends) statue. The raised right hand of the statue depicts Katakahasta mudra while the lowered left hand shows Varada mudra. The lower body is covered by a dhoti held in position by moderately used looped sashes. The head is dressed with a bejewelled crown Karandamakuta. The statue is adorned with a number of jewelries including necklaces, bracelets and anklets.
Reference: The National Museum of Colombo.

1) Thuparamaya Stupa by Nipuna Gamage is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

1) Jayasuriya, E., 2016. A guide to the Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka. Central Cultural Fund. ISBN: 978-955-613-312-7. pp.51-52.
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.131-133.
3) Paranavitana, S., 1933. (Edited and translated by Wickremasinghe, D.M.D.Z.; Codrington, H.W.) Dadigama slab-inscription of Bhuvanekabahu VI. Epigraphia Zeylanica: Being lithic and other inscriptions of Ceylon :Vol. III. Printed at the Department of Government Printing, Sri Lanka (Ceylon) for the Archeological Department. pp.114-119.
4) Wikramagamage, C., 2004. Heritage of Rajarata: Major natural, cultural and historic sites. Colombo. Central Bank of Sri Lanka. pp.74-79.
5) Wickremasinghe, D. M. D. Z., 1912. Epigraphia Zeylanica: Being lithic and other inscriptions of Ceylon (Vol, I). Published for the government of Ceylon by Henry Frowde. pp.208-211.

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This page was last updated on 25 July 2020
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