Somawathiya Raja Maha Viharaya | Pajina Nakela Araba Temple of Nakula

Not to be confused with Somawathi Viharaya, Dambulla

Somawathiya Viharaya
Somawathiya Raja Maha Viharaya (Sinhala: සෝමාවතිය රජමහා විහාරය) is a Buddhist temple situated in the middle of Somawathiya National Park in Polonnaruwa District, Sri Lanka.

Somawathi Vihara is believed to have been constructed by Prince Giri Abhaya, the brother-in-law of Prince Kavantissa of Ruhuna [(205-161 B.C.) Ranawella, 2005]. The chronicle Dhatuvamsa states that Somawathi Vihara was situated in the same region close to the Mangala Maha-cetiya (probably the present Seruvila Raja Maha Viharaya) built by Kavantissa (Ranawella, 2005). However, some inscriptions discovered from the present Somawathiya premises have proved beyond doubt that it was not the Vihara built by Giri Abhaya but that it is a Vihara named Pajina Nakela Araba built by a Prince named Nakula, son of King Mahadatika Mahanaga [(9-21 A.D.) Dias, 2001; Nicholas, 1963; Paranavitana, 1983; Paranavitana, 2001; Ranawella, 2005].

Presently, the Wilgam Vehera Viharaya which is situated north of Seruvila Raja Maha Viharaya is believed by some as the ancient Somawathi Viharaya erected by Prince Giri Abhaya.

Decadence and restoration
The Stupa and the temple fell into decay after the Polonnaruwa Period and it is believed that this happened due to the incursion of Chandrabanu (13th century). After that, the temple didn't receive the attention of Buddhists until the 20th century. A gazette published on 29 August 1947 declared the entrust of the custody of Somawathi Stupa and its environs to Ven. Sirimalvatte Sri Piyaratana Nayaka Thera by the then British Governor Sir Henry Monck-Mason Moore (Wikramagamage, 2004). The repaired Stupa was opened for public veneration in 1948 (Wikramagamage, 2004).

The construction of roads and colonization works were begun around the Somawathiya after 1949 and by 1963 the construction work of the access road to the Somawathiya was completed (Wikramagamage, 2004). In 1966, the renovation works of the Stupa were commenced with the participation of the then Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake (Wikramagamage, 2004). The ceremony of enshrining the relics inside the Stupa was held in 1974 and the pinnacle-placing ceremony was held in 1981 under the patronage of the then-President J. R. Jayawardena (Wikramagamage, 2004). Presently, a vertical opening has been left on the dome of the renovated Stupa to observe the different phases of construction.

LTTE attack
In 1987, Somawathiya was attacked by LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam), a rebel group designated as a terrorist organization by several countries including Sri Lanka, India, the USA, and the EU. They had tried to remove the crest jewel of the Stupa but abandoned the attempt for some reason (Wikramagamage, 2004).

Several inscriptions have been found on the temple premises. Of them, the majority are found on a large boulder at Minvila near the Somawathi Stupa.

Minvila rock inscription I
This inscription records a channel that was done by Gamani Abhaya [(2nd century A.D.) Dias, 1991].

Somawathi Stupa slab inscription of Mahanaga
This slab inscription was discovered from the terrace of Somawathi Stupa by W.E. Fernando in 1940 (Paranavitana, 1983). It records the foundation of a monastery named Pajina-Naka-Araba (Pacina Nagarama) by a prince named Nakela, a son of King Mahadatika Mahanaga [(9-21 A.D.) Paranavitana, 1983].

Minvila rock inscription II
The purport of this inscription is to record the grant of a village by King Naka Maharaja (Mahadatika Mahanaga) to the monastic establishment founded by his son Nakala (Paranavitana, 1983).

Minvila rock inscription III
The inscription is fragmentary and therefore, it is not possible to ascertain the purport of the record (Paranavitana, 1983).

Minvila rock inscription IV
The inscription records a donation by a king named Gamani Abhaya who is probably King Gajabahu I [(114-136 A.D.) Paranavitana, 1983].

Minvila rock inscription V
This inscription has recorded the foundation of a monastic grove in a lake at Raja-alivitiya and the attachment of it to the Abhayagiri fraternity by Kanittha Tissa [(2nd century A.D.) Paranavitana, 2001].

Minvila rock inscription VI
This is the longest inscription found on the Minvila rock. It contains the same details engraved on the  Somawathi Stupa slab inscription of Kanittha Tissa [(see below) Paranavitana, 2001].

Somawathi Stupa slab inscription of Kanittha Tissa
This inscription was discovered at a location near Somawathi Stupa in 1954 by the Assistant Archaeological Commissioner for Epigraphy W.S. Karunaratna (Paranavitana, 2001). It records the foundation of a sacred grove and the grant of land made for its maintenance by Kanittha Tissa (Paranavitana, 2001)

Besides the above-mentioned inscriptions, two more lithic records have been found on the rock boulder called Eric Swan (Wikramagamage, 2004). It got its name because of a photographer (Eric Swan) who was killed in 1952 by a wild elephant near this boulder (Wikramagamage, 2004)

A protected site
The Somawathi Stupa in the No.11 last Bu-lakshana Pumbura land situated in Minvillu village in the Divisional Secretary’s Division, Aralaganwila is an archaeological protected monument, declared by a government Gazette notification published on 7 July 1967.

Somawathi Viharaya
1) Dias, M., 1991. Epigraphical notes (Nos 1 -18). Colombo: Department of Archaeology. pp.29,31.
2) Dias, M, 2001. The growth of Buddhist monastic institutions in Sri Lanka from Brahmi inscriptions. Epigraphia Zeylanica, Vol. VIII. Department of Archaeology Survey. ISBN: 955-9264-04-4. p.49.
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). p.42.
4) Paranavitana, S., 1983. Inscriptions of Ceylon: Vol. II. Part I. Department of Archaeology, Sri Lanka. pp.1-2,39-40,48,102.
5) Paranavitana, S., 2001 (Edited by Dias, M.). Inscriptions of Ceylon: Vol. II. Part II. Archaeological Survey Department, Sri Lanka. pp.131-136.
6) Ranawella, S., 2005. Inscription of Ceylon. Volume V, Part III. Department of Archaeology. ISBN: 955-91-59-57-7. p.85.
7) The Gazette notification. no: 14756. 7 July 1967.
8) Wikramagamage, C., 2004. Heritage of Rajarata: Major natural, cultural, and historic sites. Colombo. Central Bank of Sri Lanka. pp.254-256.

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This page was last updated on 2 July 2023
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