Ruwanweliseya | Sri Lanka's Most Venerated Stupa

Ruwanweliseya (Sinhala: රුවන්වැලිසෑය; Tamil: ருவான்வெலிசாய), also known as Mahathupa (The Great Stupa), Ratnamali/Swarnamali Stupa, is a gigantic Stupa situated in the ancient city of Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. It is considered the most venerated Buddhist Stupa in the country because of the strong traditional belief that it contains a large quantity of corporeal relics of the Buddha [(Mahavamsa, Chap: XXXI) Geiger, 1986; Wikramagamage, 2004].

The Ruwanweliseya Stupa was constructed in Maha Viharaya premises by King Dutugemunu [(161-137 B.C.) Jayasuriya, 2016; Wikramagamage, 2004]. Topped up to a height of 120 cubits (180 ft./54.86 m), it was the largest Stupa in the country at the time (Nicholas, 1963; Wikramagamage, 2004).

Construction of the Stupa
The Stupa has been built at a site that is said to have been consecrated by the Buddha (Nicholas, 1963). After introducing Buddhism to Sri Lanka in the 3rd century B.C., this site was marked by an inscribed pillar set up by King Devanampiyatissa (247-207 B.C.) [(Mahavamsa, Chap: XV, vv: 51-53,169-173) Geiger, 1986; Nicholas, 1963]. According to chronicles, the wherewithal to build the Stupa emerged from many parts of the country and its inauguration ceremony was conducted by King Dutugemunu as a great festival with an invited gathering of thousands of Buddhist monks [(Mahavamsa, Chaps: XXVIII-XXXI) Geiger, 1986; Jayasuriya, 2016). However, Dutugemunu died before it was completed and his brother Saddhatissa (reigned: 137-119 B.C.) finished its remaining construction works [(Mahavamsa, Chap: XXXII) Bopearachchi, 2020; Geiger, 1986; Hettiaratchi, 1991; Jayasuriya, 2016; Nicholas, 1963).
Royal patronage
The Ruwanweliseya Stupa received the patronage of many successive kings such as Lanjatissa (119-110 B.C.), Kallatanaga (110-103 B.C.), Bhatikabhaya (22 B.C.-7 A.D.), Mahadathika Mahanaga (7-19 A.D.), Amandagamani Abhaya (19-29 A.D.), Gajabahu I (114-136 A.D.), Sirinaga I (189-209), Sanghatissa (243-247 A.D.), Mittasena (428 A.D.), Dhatusena (455-473 A.D.), Mahanaga (569-571 A.D.), Aggabodhi I (571-604 A.D.), and Moggallana III [(614-619 A.D.) Geiger, 1986; Geiger, 1998 (I); Hettiaratchi, 1991; Nicholas, 1963; Wikramagamage, 2004]. The elephant frieze, terrace, courtyard, railings, frontispieces at the cardinal points, gateways, umbrellas, and decorative stucco works were added to the Stupa by these kings (Nicholas, 1963; Wikramagamage, 2004).

Also, the other components of the Maha Vihara monastic site were developed or built by several kings including Devanampiyatissa (247-207 B.C.), Vasabha (67-111 A.D.), Mahinda II (777-797 A.D.), and Mahinda IV [(956-972 A.D.) Nicholas, 1963].

Destruction & restorations
The Stupa was fallen into decay after the Cola conquest of Anuradhapura in 993 A.D. (Nicholas, 1963). It was restored to its original glory again during the Polonnaruwa Period by King Parakramabahu I (1153-1186 A.D.) [(Culavamsa, Chap: 78: vv.96-98) Geiger, 1998 (II); Jayasuriya, 2016; Nicholas, 1963; Wikramagamage, 2004]. King Nissankamalla (1187-1196 A.D.) carried out repairs and erected a Stone Replica of the Stupa on the terrace (Hettiaratchi, 1991; Jayasuriya, 2016; Nicholas, 1963; Wickremasinghe, 1928).

By the turn of the 19th century, most of the ancient Stupas in the country were in a state of ruins. The Ruwanweliseya Stupa also had turned into a mound of earth at that time. At the end of the 19th century, the Buddhist monk Ven. Naranvita Sumanasara Thera initiated the restoration works of the Ruwanweliseya with the support of religious organizations but with little involvement from the Department of Archaeology (Bopearachchi, 2020; Jayasuriya, 2016; Lokeshwara et al., 2023; Wikramagamage, 2004). The restoration works were completed by the Ratnamali Chaityawardhana Society (or Swarnamali Stupa Development Society) at the beginning of the 20th century (Bopearachchi, 2020; Jayasuriya, 2016; Lokeshwara et al., 2023; Wikramagamage, 2004). 
The height of the present Stupa is 103.1 m (338 ft.) from the paved compound (Jayasuriya, 2016; Wikramagamage, 2004). The gold-painted pinnacle and the crystal (crest-gem) fixed on the top of the Stupa measure 7.6 m [(25 ft.) Jayasuriya, 2016; Wikramagamage, 2004]. The diameter of the dome is 90.8 (297.9 ft.) while the circumference is 287.12 m [(942 ft.) Jayasuriya, 2016; Lokeshwara et al., 2023].
Surrounding monuments
The Stupa is surrounded by several other monuments and artefacts. They include ancient Vahalkadas (frontispieces) elephant frieze, flower altar, boundary walls, Chatra-stone, Miniature Stupa of Nissankamalla and the Statues of Buddha, King Dutugemunu, Batika, and Queen Viharamahadevi.

The Maha Viharaya area
The Ruwanweliseya Stupa has been constructed within the ancient park known as Mahamegha Gardens which was originally a royal pleasure garden (Jayasuriya, 2016). It was bestowed to Buddhist monks headed by Arhat Mahinda Thera [son of Emperor Asoka (c.268-232 B.C.)] by King Devanampiyatissa in the 3rd century B.C. (Jayasuriya, 2016). The park presently covers the section to the south of the Thuparama, east of the Abhaya Wewa and Mirisawetiya, west of the Jetavanaramaya and Malwathu Oya and north of the Isurumuniya and Dakkhina Viharaya.
The first monastery built within this park was Tissarama (Jayasuriya, 2016; Wikramagamage, 2004). It was renamed Mahameghavannarama and later was known as Maha Vihara (Wikramagamage, 2004). Many important Buddhist institutes and monuments were established in this Maha Vihara area throughout the first millennium including the Ruwanweliseya Stupa (Jayasuriya, 2016). The other main monuments include Sri Maha Bodhiya, Kujjhatissa Stupa, Alms-hall, Ransimalaka, Yathuru Pokuna and other ponds, Janthaghara, octagonal pillar, Lahabat-ge, Lovamahapaya, Mayura Pirivena and other monastery buildings (Wikramagamage, 2004).

Limestone blocks containing personal names in Early Brahmi Characters have been discovered from the terrace on the eastern side and the southern Vahalkada (frontispiece) of the Stupa (Paranavitana, 1970). Also, a small fragment of a slab containing a record of the 2nd century B.C. was found near the western gate of the Stupa (Dias, 1991).
Period: 2nd-century B.C.-1st century A.D.           Script: Early Brahmi           Language: Old Sinhala
Transcript: Shiva(ha)                                         Translation: (of) Shiva
Reference: Paranavitana, 1970. p.8.
Eight stones containing inscriptions from the 2nd-3rd century A.D. were found during the dismantling of the ruined eastern Vahalkada of the Stupa (Paranavitana, 2001). Besides them, slab and pillar inscriptions belonging to the reigns of King Gajabahu I (112-134 A.D.), Kanitthatissa (164-192 A.D.), Sirinaga I (196-215 A.D.), Gothabhaya (254-267 A.D.), Buddhadasa (388-416 A.D.), Nissankamalla (1187-1196 A.D.) and Kalyanavati (1202-1208 A.D.) have been discovered from the Stupa site (Dias, 1991; Paranavitana, 1933; Paranavitana, 1983; Paranavitana, 2001; Ranawella, 2007; Wickremasinghe, 1928). 
Period: 2nd-3rd centuries A.D.           Script: Later-Brahmi           Language: Old Sinhala
Transcript: (1) Disa Butayaha batini (2) Anulabiya pahana (3) Maha-cetahi niyati
Translation: Success. The stone of Anulabi, wife of Butaya, is dedicated to the Mahathupa
Reference: Paranavitana, 2001. pp.221-222.
A fragmentary slab inscription of the 8th-10th centuries A.D. was copied on 23 October 1969 by the Department of Archaeology (Dias, 1991).
Period: 8th-10th centuries A.D.           Script: Medieval Sinhala           Language: Medieval Sinhala
Transcript: perat geya atu...             Translation: ...inside the house in front...
Reference: Dias, 1991. p.18.
Several stone slabs with inscriptions from the 10th-12th centuries A.D. are found fixed on the stone pavement around the Stupa (Hettiaratchi, 1991). These inscriptions are called Padara-lipi and they contain the personal names of those who donated the stone slab for the pavement. 

Period: 11-12 centuries A.D.           Script: Medieval Sinhala           Language: Medieval Sinhala
Transcript: (1) Siddhartha-vedi (2)-thenge gal thu (3)-nai
Translation: The three stones (placed/donated by) the elder Siddhartha
Reference: Hettiaratchi, 1991. p.164.

Ruins around Ruwanweliseya .
1) Bopearachchi, O., 2020. Roots of Sri Lankan Art. Department of Archaeology, Sri Lanka. ISBN: 978-955-7457-31-4. pp.74-76.
2) Dias, M., 1991. Epigraphical notes (Nos 1 -18). Colombo: Department of Archaeology. pp.5,15,18,21,23,29,71-72.
3) Geiger, W., 1986. The Mahāvaṃsa, or, The Great Chronicle of Ceylon. Asian Educational Services, New Delhi. pp.101,109,187-227,228-231,240-243,246,257,261.
4) Geiger, W., 1998 (I). The Culavamsa: Being the more recent part of the Mahavamsa. Part: I. Asian Educational Services, New Delhi. pp.28,34,37,61,69,78. 
5) Geiger, W., 1998 (II). The Culavamsa: Being the more recent part of the Mahavamsa. Part: II. Asian Educational Services, New Delhi. pp.113-114.  
6) Hettiaratchi, 1991. Inscriptions on the stone pavement Ruvanveliseya, Anuradhapura (In Sinhala). Epigraphia Zeylanica being lithic and other inscription of Ceylon: Vol. VI, Part 2. Archaeological Survey of Ceylon. Sri Lanka. pp.161-166.
7) Jayasuriya, E., 2016. A guide to the Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka. Central Cultural Fund. ISBN: 978-955-613-312-7. pp.48-51.
8) Lokeshwara, P.A.G.W.S., Thilakarathna, T.N.M., Wijewardena, L.S.S., Karunananda, P.A.K. and Pallewatta, T.M., 2023. Seismic Performance of Three Ancient Stupas in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. Engineer, 56(01), pp.21-30.
9) 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.134-136.
10) Paranavitana, S., 1933. (Edited and translated by Wikramasinghe, D.M.D.Z.; Codrington, H.W.) Ruvaveliseya pillar inscription of the reign of Buddhadasa 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.71-100.
11) Paranavitana, S., 1970. Inscription of Ceylon (Vol. I). Department of Archaeology Ceylon. p.8.
12) Paranavitana, S., 1983. Inscriptions of Ceylon: Vol. II. Part I. Department of Archaeology, Sri Lanka. pp.86-87.
13) Paranavitana, S., 2001 (Edited by Dias, M.). Inscriptions of Ceylon: Vol. II. Part II. Archaeological Survey Department, Sri Lanka. pp.127-131,177-178,188-189,221-222.
14) Ranawella, S., 2007. Inscription of Ceylon. Volume VI. Department of Archaeology. ISBN: 978-955-91-59-61-2. pp.224-227.
15) 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. p.119.
16) Wikramagamage, C., 2004. Heritage of Rajarata: Major natural, cultural, and historic sites. Colombo. Central Bank of Sri Lanka. pp.62-73.

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This page was last updated on 27 May 2023

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