Medirigiriya Vatadage

Medirigiriya Vatadage
Medirigiriya (Sinhala: මැදිරිගිරිය වටදාගේ සහ පුරාවිද්‍යා නටඹුන්) is a ruined Buddhist monastery located in Medirigiriya village in Polonnaruwa District, Sri Lanka. The site is famous among visitors due to its magnificent circular relic house popularly known as Medirigiriya Vatadage.

Evidence is available to show that Medirigiriya was an important Buddhist place of worship from pre-Christian times up to about the 13th century A.D. (Jayasuriya, 2016). Bricks from pre-Christian times have been found at the site (Fernando, 1990).

Medirigiriya Vatadage
The ancient Mandalagiraka Vihara of the Tissa Vaddhamanaka District has been identified as the present Medirigiriya Viharaya (Wikramagamage, 2004). According to Mahavamsa, King Kanitthatissa (167-186 A.D.) constructed an Uposathaghara (a chapter house) there (Jayasuriya, 2016; Wikramagamage, 2004; Wickremasinghe, 1928). Later a Cetiyaghara (a Stupa-house) was built around the Medirigiriya Stupa by the son of King Agrabodhi IV [(667-683 A.D.) Nicholas, 1963; Wikramagamage, 2004]. In the 9th century A.D., King Sena II (853-887 A.D.) donated several villages to the monastery (Jayasuriya, 2016; Nicholas, 1963). The site would have been flourishing in the 9th and 10th centuries A.D. when the Medirigiriya monastery had a hospital attached to it (Fernando, 1990)

The monastery was destroyed during the 10th century A.D. by the South Indian invaders (Jayasuriya, 2016). However, King Vijayabahu I (1055-1110 A.D.) renovated the temple in the 11th century A.D. (Jayasuriya, 2016; Nicholas, 1963; Wickremasinghe, 1928). The Culavamsa (the latter part of Mahavamsa) records an inscription of an agreement between Gajabahu II (reigned: 1132-1153 A.D.) and Parakramabahu I (reigned: 1153-1186 A.D.) that had engraved on a boulder at Mandalagiri (or Medirigiriya) Viharaya (Fernando, 1990; Geiger, 1998; Nicholas, 1963; Wikramagamage, 2004; Wickremasinghe, 1928). Although this inscription has not been found yet, a copy of it has been found at Sangamu Viharaya in Kurunegala District (Nicholas, 1963; Wikramagamage, 2004). King Nissankamalla (1187-1196 A.D.), in his inscription at Polonnaruwa Siva Devalaya, refer to Medirigiraya as one repaired by him (Wickremasinghe, 1928).

A few pillar and slab inscriptions belonging to the 10th century A.D. have been unearthed from the premises of the Medirigiriya archaeological site and from the surrounding area. The inscriptions have been dated by scholars to the reigns of King Kassapa V (914-935 A.D.), King Mahinda IV (956-972 A.D.), and a few unidentified kings of the 10th century A.D. (Ranawella, 2001; Ranawella, 2005). 
Medirigiriya pillar inscription of Kassapa V
This pillar was discovered in 1897 by H.C.P. Bell, the then Archaeological Commissioner (Wickremasinghe, 1928). This inscription has a decree issued by the king granting certain immunities in respect of a meditation hall attached to the Medirigiriya inner monastery (Ranawella, 2001). A duplicate copy of this record has been found from the same site (Ranawella, 2001).
Medirigiriya slab inscription of Mahinda IV
This slab inscription was discovered in 1907 by D.A.L. Perera, the Head Draughtsman of the Archaeological Survey (Wickremasinghe, 1928). This inscription is believed to be a Samvata pahan or an edictal slab containing rules for the management of the hospital attached to the monastery (Wickremasinghe, 1928). Scholars have assigned this record to the reign of King Mahinda IV [(956-972 A.D. Ranawella, 2005].

The site
Medirigiriya Vatadage
The monastery has been constructed on two slightly elevated boulders. Among the ancient structures and ruins found in the monastery, the circular relic house popularly known as Medirigiriya Vatadage is considered a magnificent work of art (Wikramagamage, 2004). Archaeologists believe that it has been constructed around an earlier Stupa in the 7th century A.D. (Jayasuriya, 2016; Wikramagamage, 2004). The Mahayana affiliation is clearly visible on this monument.

The Vatadage has three circles of octagonal pillars erected around the Stupa (Fernando, 1990). The inner row has 16 pillars and the middle and outer rows have 20 and 32 pillars respectively (Fernando, 1990). The pillars are similar to those found in Thuparama and Lankarama in Anuradhapura (Wickremasinghe, 1928). In the centre of the Vatadage is the Stupa and four statues of Buddhas have been placed at the cardinal points of it. According to the view of some, this arrangement of the Stupa and the Buddha statues represents a Vajrasattva Mandala (Wikramagamage, 2004). A bronze statue of Vajrasattva is said to have been discovered near Vatadage (Wikramagamage, 2004).

The ruins of a few image houses with their original images of Buddha are found at the site. Besides the Stupa in the circular shrine (Vatadage), another Stupa is found built on the hillock located in front of the Vatadage. It is not recorded when it was built or by whom (Wikramagamage, 2004). The ruins of the ancient hospital have also been identified at the site (Jayasuriya, 2016; Wikramagamage, 2004).

The ruined site was recorded in 1897 by H.C.P. Bell who called it an "Architectural Gem" (Fernando, 1990; Jayasuriya, 2016). The forest that had swallowed the site for centuries was removed in 1941 and a major part of the conservation process of the Vatadageya was finished by 1945 (Fernando, 1990). The ruins of two image houses were unearthed by the excavations done in the same year (Fernando, 1990). In 1947, a thin gold foil with the Pali passage "Iti pi so," etc., written in the Sinhala scripts of the 7th or 8th century A.D., was discovered at the base of one of the octagonal pillars of the Vatadageya (Fernando, 1990).

Medirigiriya image house .
1) Watadageya, Sri Lanka by MRuwan is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
2) Beautiful one by Ravindra8820 is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
4) Ruins at Watadagaya by 98 Bunny is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

1) Fernando, W. B. M., 1990. History of the Department of Archaeology, Sri Lanka 1930-1950. Wijesekara, N. (Editor in chief). Archaeological Department centenary (1890-1990): Commemorative series: Volume I: History of the Department of Archaeology. Department of Archaeology (Sri Lanka). pp.105-106.
2) Geiger, W., 1998. The Culavamsa: Being the more recent part of the Mahavamsa. Part: I. Asian Educational Services, New Delhi. p.315. 
3) Jayasuriya, E., 2016. A guide to the Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka. Central Cultural Fund. ISBN: 978-955-613-312-7. p.57.
4) 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.183.
5) Ranawella, S., 2001. Inscription of Ceylon. Volume V, Part I. Department of Archaeology. ISBN: 955-9159-21-6. pp.285-295.
6) Ranawella, S., 2005. Inscription of Ceylon. Volume V, Part III. Department of Archaeology. ISBN: 955-91-59-57-7. pp.36-39,65,77,81-82.
7) Wikramagamage, C., 2004. Heritage of Rajarata: Major natural, cultural, and historic sites. Colombo. Central Bank of Sri Lanka. pp.247-249.
8) Wickremasinghe, D. M. D. Z., 1928. Epigraphia Zeylanica: Being lithic and other inscriptions of Ceylon (Vol, II). Published for the government of Ceylon by Humphrey Milford. pp.25-33.

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This page was last updated on 14 January 2023

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