Girihandu Seya

Not to be confused with Girihandu Viharaya (Ambalantota)

Girihanduseya, also known as Nutupatpana (Sinhala: තිරියාය ගිරිහඬු සෑය වටදාගේ සහ පුරාවිද්‍යා නටඹුන්, නිතුපත්පාන) is a Buddhist temple situated in Thiriyaya (Thiriyai in Tamil) village in Trincomalee District, Sri Lanka.

The temple
The ruins of the ancient Girihanduseya Buddhist monastery are found scattered on the summit as well as at the foot of a hill that rises about 210 ft. above sea level (Paranavitana, 1934). On the summit, the ruins of a Vatadage and other structures are found. Two ponds, the remains of ancient structures, and a stone bridge are found at the foot of the hill, and on the slope of it are several rock caves. Some of the rock caves contain inscriptions written with Brahmi Characters (Nicholas, 1963; Paranavitana, 1934). Near to this ruined site is the Nithupathpana tank which is said to have been constructed by King Vasabha [(67–111 A.D.) Nicholas, 1963]. As revealed by historical sources, King Vijayabahu I (1055-1110 A.D.) repaired a temple named Girikandaka Vihara which is probably the ruined monastery at present Girihanduseya temple (Dhammaratana, 2000; Nicholas, 1963; Paranavitana, 1934).

Vatadage (circular relic-house)
The Vatadage is the main monument at the site. It is a circular monument containing a small Stupa at the centre. The Stupa is surrounded by concentric circles of stone pillars that used to hold the roof of the building in the past. The pillars are similar to the type that is seen at the Thuparama and the Lankarama Stupas at Anuradhapura (Paranavitana, 1934). The elevated terrace of the Vatadage is paved with moulded stone slabs and four flights of steps with Muragal (guard stones) and Korawak-gal (wingstones) provide access to it from the four cardinal points (Paranavitana, 1934).

A few Brahmi inscriptions and two Sanskrit inscriptions have been found at the site (Paranavitana, 1970).

Thiriyaya Brahmi inscription I

Script: Early Brahmi                                          Language: Old Sinhala
Parumaka Uti-jhita.......................liya lene
The cave of, daughter of the chief Uttiya
Paranavitana, 1970. p.29.

Thiriyaya Girihanduseya Sanskrit inscription

This inscription has been engraved on a rock at a distance of about 200 ft. to the south of the Vatadage (Paranavitana, 1934). It contains eleven lines of Sanskrit writing covering an area of about 20 ft. by 5 ft. of the rock surface (Dhammaratana, 2000; Paranavitana, 1934). The scripts used to write the inscription are similar to Pallava Grantha scripts of about the 7th century (Paranavitana, 1934). A few Sinhala stone inscriptions in a script resembling this have been found in some places in the country such as Sigiriya, Mihintale, and Kuccchaveli (Paranavitana, 1934). However, the scripts are not quite identical to any found in South India (Paranavitana, 1934).

The record starts with an account of a company of two sea-faring merchants (Paranavitana, 1934). A major part of the record is occupied by a long eulogy of a shrine name Girikandi (or Kandika) Caitya. It states that Girikandaka-caitya was an abode of Avalokitesvara and this statement proves that this monastery had been inclined towards Mahayanism in the 7th or 8th century A.D. (Dhammaratana, 2000; Paranavitana, 1934). According to Paranavitana, the author of this record is a Mahayana Buddhist devotee (Dhammaratana, 2000; Paranavitana, 1934).

In the final lines of the record, it states that Girikandi Caitya was founded by the guilds of merchants named Trapussaka and Vallika (Dhammaratana, 2000; Mudiyanse, 1990; Paranavitana, 1934). According to Paranavitana, Trapussaka and Vallika are corrupted versions of Trapusa (Tapussa and Tapassu in Pali) and Bhallika (Bhalluka in the Nidanakatha), the names of two merchants who offered food to the Buddha immediately after his enlightenment (Paranavitana, 1934). These two merchants are considered the first disciples of the Buddha and also the recipients of some hair relics from him (Dhammaratana, 2000; Mudiyanse, 1990; Paranavitana, 1934). As revealed by Mahavagga (Pali), Nidanakatha (Pali), and Lalitavistara (Sanskrit), these two were from a country called Ukkala in North India and the Stupa built by them to enshrine the hair-relics was in their native country (Dhammaratana, 2000; Paranavitana, 1934). Hieun Tsang (a Chinese pilgrim) is said to have noticed the remains of two Stupas built over the hair relics, on his journey from Balkh to Bamian in Gandhara, India (Paranavitana, 1934).

However, the Sri Lankan chronicle Pujavaliya (13th century A.D.) firmly records that the two merchants Tapassu and Bhalluka erected a Stupa at Girihandu in Sri Lanka by enshrining the hair-relics of the Buddha (Dhammaratana, 2000; Paranavitana, 1934). The identity of Girihandu with Girikandi has been proved beyond doubt with help of the Sinhala paraphrase by King Parakramabahu II [(1236-1270 A.D.) Dhammaratana, 2000; Paranavitana, 1934]. Therefore, the name of the place given in Pujavaliya is almost the same as the appellation of the Stupa at Thiriyaya, which occurs in the inscription (Paranavitana, 1934). Meanwhile, the locals in Ambalantota in southern Sri Lanka believed that the hair relic brought by these two merchants was enshrined in the ancient Stupa in their village which also bears the same name, Girihandu Vehera (Paranavitana, 1934). However, the Pujavaliya account agrees with the topography of Thiriyaya than Ambalantota (Mudiyanse, 1990; Paranavitana, 1934).

The Myanmar Buddhists also believe that the two merchants enshrined the hair relics of the Buddha in their Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon (Paranavitana, 1934).

Thiriyaya Girihanduseya Sanskrit inscription of Aggabodhi VI
This inscription was discovered in 1953 near the other lengthy Sanskrit inscription (Dhammaratana, 2000). It is a comparatively short inscription comprising two Sanskrit lines written in Pallava Grantha scripts (Dhammaratana, 2000). It had been written in the 23rd regnal year of a king styled Silamegha, the lord of Sinhala who, according to scholars, is King Aggabodhi VI [(741-781 A.D.) Dhammaratana, 2000; Mudiyanse, 1990].

Is this the first Stupa in Sri Lanka?
According to Pujavaliya and the Sanskrit inscription in situ, the Stupa at Girihanduseya (as well as the Mahiyangana Stupa in Badulla District) has been built in Sri Lanka during the lifetime of Buddha (Ray, 1959). Therefore this Stupa could be one of the earliest Buddhist monuments in the world. However, the authenticity of these sources has not been proved exactly and a monument that can be dated to a time before the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka has not been identified in the country yet (Ray, 1959).  

An archaeological reserve
The land including the Thiriya Vatadage (P.P.A. 132 lot no.1 to 3: consists of 25 acres, 1 rood, 1 perch) situated in Tiriyaya village in the Divisional Secretary’s Division, Gomarankadawala is an archaeological reserve, declared by a government Gazette notification published on 15 November 1932.

Girihanduseya .
See also


1) Dhammaratana, I., 2000. Sanskrit Inscriptions in Sri Lanka: A thesis submitted to the University of Pune in partial fulfilment of the requirement for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Sanskrit. Department of Sanskrit & Prakrit Languages, University of Pune, India. pp.200-229.
2) Mudiyanse, N., 1990. Inscriptions of Sri Lanka 400-800 A.D. [Wijesekara, N. (Editor in chief)]. Archaeological Department centenary (1890-1990): Commemorative series: Volume II: Inscriptions. Department of Archaeology (Sri Lanka). pp.130-131.
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.45-46.
4) Paranavitana, S., 1934. (Edited and translated by Codrington, H.W.; Paranavitana, S.) Tiriyay rock-inscription. Epigraphia Zeylanica: Being lithic and other inscriptions of Ceylon: Vol. IV. Archaeological Survey of Ceylon. pp.151-160. 
5) Paranavitana, S., 1970. Inscriptions of Ceylon: Volume I: Early Brahmi Inscriptions. Department of Archaeology Ceylon. pp.29,93.
6) Ray, H. C. (Editor in Chief), 1959. University of Ceylon: History of Ceylon (Vol 1, part I). Ceylon University Press. pp.136-137. 
7) The Gazette notification. no: 8329. 15 November 1932.

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This page was last updated on 10 April 2023
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