Saturday, 5 December 2020

Yatala Vehera

Yatala Vehera
Yatala Vehera Viharaya (Sinhala: යටාල වෙහෙර) is a Buddhist temple situated in Debarawewa, near Tissamaharama in Hambantota District, Sri Lanka.

The ancient name of Yatala Vehera is not known (Nicholas, 1963). Three inscriptions of the 6th to 7th centuries A.D. and two of the 10th century have been discovered from the site (Devendra, 1956; Nicholas, 1963; Ranawella, 2005).

Locals are in the belief that Yatala Vehera was built and donated to Aritta Thera by regional King Mahanaga (3rd century B.C.) as a memento of his queen giving birth to his son, Prince Yatthalakatissa, at this spot when they were fleeing from the wrath of the queen of King Devanampiyatissa (250-210 B.C.) of Anuradhapura (Abeyawardana, 2004). The chronicle Mahavamsa mentioned a temple named Yatthalaya Viharaya that was built at the place where Mahanaga's son, Yatthalakatissa, was born (Nicholas, 1963). However, according to Nicholas, the present Yatala Vehera at Tissamaharama is not the ancient Yatthalaya Viharaya that is mentioned in the chronicle (Nicholas, 1963).

The chronicle Dhatuvamsa credits the construction of Yatala Vehera Stupa to King Mahanaga (Abeyawardana, 2004).

In 1882, the then Governor of Ceylon Sir James Longden granted permission to a Buddhist monk named Ven. Tangalle Sri Jinarathana Thera to carry out the restoration works of the ruined site including the Stupa (Devendra, 1956; Uduwara, 1990). However, treasure hunters had already vandalized the Stupa before the commencement of the restoration works (Abeyawardana, 2004). After several restoration attempts, the Department of Archaeology was involved in the restoration works and accordingly, they conducted a preliminary investigation on the Stupa to gather historical evidence (Uduwara, 1990). During the excavations, bricks with early Brahmi scripts and four small relic caskets inlaid with semi-precious stones such as chrysoberyl, amethyst, etc. were found by them (Abeyawardana, 2004). From the investigation, it was revealed that the Yatala Vehera Stupa is a work of the 1st century A.D. and it has been enlarged in the 4th century A.D. or so (Uduwara, 1990). The Stupa, in the enlargement in the 4th century, had only one Pesava but the restorations done in 1883 had added two more Pesavas to it (Uduwara, 1990).
The present Stupa is about 124 feet tall and has a basal circumference of 340 feet (Uduwara, 1990). A small opening has been left on the dome of the renovated Stupa to observe the different phases of construction. Due to the rise in the water table around the area, a moat has been created around the Stupa for the convenience of the excavations carried out during the recent restoration process (Abeyawardana, 2004).

A large number of ruins of buildings with stone pillars and walls indicate that a huge monastery may have existed on this site in the past. Eight image houses belonging to different types and periods and the retaining walls of the Stupa terrace with figures of elephants (the Eth Pawra) have been unearthed from the Yatala Vehera site (Uduwara, 1990). The Sandakada Pahan (moonstones) and Korawak Gal (wingstones) that are in the temple premises are unique and are not found elsewhere (Uduwara, 1990). Also, the Bodhisattva images and kerb-stones on which Dharani are indited reveal the Mahayana influence on the site (Uduwara, 1990). Many artifacts discovered from the site are presently on the display at the nearby Yatala Museum.

The standing statue with crossed hands
A limestone statue of the Buddha with two hands kept abreast on the chest has been discovered from Yatala Vehera (Devendra, 1956). This statue is considered special due to the rare hand posture (Mudra) it has. A few statues with similar posture have also been found from other sites in Sri Lanka, such as from Gal Viharaya in Polonnaruwa, Na-Maluwa in Ritigala, and Dambulla Viharaya in Dambulla (Devendra, 1956). Scholars believe that this statue is a work from the 5th or 6th century A.D. (Abeyawardana, 2004).
Archaeological Museum
A small site museum of the Archaeological Department has been established near the premises of Yatala Vehera. The museum is used to exhibit antiquities recovered from the temple. 

Yatala Vehera .

1) Abeyawardana, H.A.P., 2004. Heritage of Ruhuna: Major natural, cultural and historic sites. Colombo: The Central Bank of Sri Lanka. ISBN: 955-575-073-4. pp.125-127.
2) Devendra, D.T., 1956. An unusual hand position in Ceylon statuary. Artibus Asiae, 19(2), pp.126-136.
3) 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.60-61.
4) Ranawella, S., 2005. Inscription of Ceylon. Volume V, Part III. Department of Archaeology. ISBN: 955-91-59-57-7. pp.59-60.
5) Uduwara, J., 1990. Section V: History of the Department of Archaeology: 1970-1990. (Editor in chief: Wijesekara, N.) Archaeological Department Centenary (1890-1990): History of the Department of Archaeology (Vol. 1). Commissioner of Archaeology. p.189.

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This page was last updated on 4 October 2022


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