Medawala Raja Maha Viharaya

Medawala Raja Maha Viharaya
Medawala Raja Maha Viharaya (Sinhala: මැදවල රජමහා විහාරය) is a Buddhist temple situated in Medawala village in Kandy District, Sri Lanka.

The history of Medawala Viharaya, as narrated in the chronicle Mahavamsa and the Medawala Sannasa, runs back to the reign of King Valagamba [(89-77 B.C.) Abeyawardana, 2004; Karunarathna, 2018; Rajapakse, 2016; Ranawella, 2015; Wijayawardhana, 2010]. The king erected a Stupa, an image house, and planted a Bodhi tree at the site (Abeyawardana, 2004; Ranawella, 2015). This temple was renovated during the reign of King Parakramabahu IV (1302-1326 A.D.) of Dambadeniya by a monk named Nagala Vanarathana Maha Thera Sami (Wijayawardhana, 2010). At the request of the same monk, King Parakramabahu V (1344-1359 A.D.) of Gampola built a two-storied image house at the temple and it received the patronage of King Vikramabahu III [(1357-1374 A.D.) Abeyawardana, 2004; Ranawella, 2015; Wijayawardhana, 2010]. However, this temple is said to have been destroyed by the Portuguese who landed in the country at the beginning of the 16th century (Karunarathna, 2018; Wijayawardhana, 2010). In the 18th century, King Kirti Sri Rajasinghe (1747-1782 A.D.) built the Tempita Viharaya shrine by replacing the destroyed 14th-century two-storied image house at this site (Karunarathna, 2018; Karunaratne, 1993; Wijayawardhana, 2010). He entrusted Dunuwila Mudali with the responsibility of looking after the temple (Abeyawardana, 2004).

Medawala Sannasa
The Medawala Sannasa is a written voucher inscribed on a copper plate. It was given to Medawala Viharaya by King Kirti Sri Rajasinghe in the Saka year 1677 [(1755 A.D.) Karunarathna, 2018; Ranawella, 2015]. It is considered an important record as it reveals historical facts as well as details about the Sinhalese architecture and art of the 14th century and the 18th century (Abeyawardana, 2004; Ranawella, 2015). It is also the only record that mentions how King Parakramabahu IV came by his end (Ranawella, 2015).

This copper plate measures 0.6 m x 0.06 m and weighs 0.38 kg (Abeyawardana, 2004). It is written on both sides of the plate (11 lines on the obverse and 10 lines on the reverse). The royal signature is engraved on the right margin of the obverse. The grant has been made on 7 December 1755 and the purpose of it was to record the benefits the temple at Medawala received from King Kirti Sri Rajasinghe  (Abeyawardana, 2004; Ranawella, 2015).

Medawala inscription
Not to be confused with Madawala Inscription

An inscription of King Vikramabahu III (1357-1374 A.D.) is found engraved on a rock located backyard of the preaching hall of the temple (Wijayawardhana, 2010). The inscribed surface of the rock measures 9 ft. 6 in. x 4 ft. 2.25 in. (Ranawella, 2014). There are 11 lines of writing but the last 6 lines had become illegible due to the weathering of the rock (Ranawella, 2014). Above the 1st line of the inscriptions are the figures of the sun and the moon.
Reign: Vikramabahu III         Period: 14th century A.D.         Script & Language: Medieval Sinhala
Content: The inscription is dated in the 3rd regnal year of King Vikramabahu III. It records an agreement between King Vikramabahu III and a ruler of Jaffna named Martandam Perumal, concerning the revenue derived from certain districts of the Gampola Kingdom.
Reference: Ranawella, 2014.
Tempita Viharaya
Tempita Viharas (the temples on pillars) were a popular aspect of many Buddhist temples during the Kandyan Period. These structures were usually built on a wooden platform resting on bare stone pillars or stumps which are about 1-4 feet tall. The roof is generally made of timber and held by wooden stumps. The walls are usually made of wattle and daub and they form the main enclosed shrine room containing the Buddhist sculptures and murals belonging to the Kandyan style. Some Tempita Viharas have narrow verandas and ambulatories circulating the main enclosed space. The construction of these buildings started in the 17th century and lasted until the end of the 19th century (Wijayawardhana, 2010).

Medawala Tempita Viharaya
The Tempita Viharaya shrine at Medawala Viharaya is archaeologically important due to its architecture and old Kandyan-era paintings (Wijayawardhana, 2010). Commissioned by Kirti Sri Rajasinghe between 1755-1760 A.D., it is a simple building housing a seated Buddha image built on a wooden platform supported on 34 low stone pillars of about 3 ft. 6 in. (Bopearachchi, 2016; Karunaratne, 1993; Rajapakse, 2016). The timber ceiling is fixed at a height of 8 ft. from the platform and the two-slope type roof has been covered with flat tiles (Karunaratne, 1993). A fine coating of smooth lime plaster covers the walls made of mud (Karunaratne, 1993). Around the building is a verandah (3 ft. 8 in. wide) with a railing of timber (Karunaratne, 1993; Wijayawardhana, 2010). The outer edge of the roof is borne by 18 wooden pillars (Rajapakse, 2016; Wijayawardhana, 2010).
Medawala Viharaya
The building is 7.45 m (24 ft.) in length and 6.10 m (20 ft.) in width and a heavily carved wooden door (7 ft. 5 in. x 3 ft. 10 in.) provides access to it (Karunaratne, 1993; Rajapakse, 2016; Wijayawardhana, 2010). A seated Buddha statue under a Makara Thorana (dragon arch) is found inside the shrine room (Rajapakse, 2016). The Buddha image is not the original one that belongs to the 18th century and it is a marble statue brought from Thailand (Wijayawardhana, 2010). The Makara Thorana has been made of wood and later covered with lime plaster (Wijayawardhana, 2010). Paintings of the Buddhist tradition such as the Sath Sathiya (the first seven weeks after the enlightenment), Solosmasthana (the 16 sacred places) and Jataka tales fill the inside walls of the shrine (Bopearachchi, 2016; Karunarathna, 2018; Rajapakse, 2016; Wijayawardhana, 2010). The artist of these paintings is unknown but, some authors such as Karunarathna assume that Ullandupitiya Hittara Naide, a royal artist who lived in a village called Ulladupitiya around 1786 or his ancestors could have contributed to the paintings of this temple (Karunarathna, 2018). A figure of Dunuwila Mudali is also found among the paintings (Wijayawardhana, 2010).
The Department of Archaeology restored the Tempita Viharaya shrine in 1959 (Rajapakse, 2016; Wijayawardhana, 2010).

A protected site
The Tampita Viharaya (Viharaya built on stone piles) Pohoya Geya, slab inscription, hill inscription, Wahalkada, Dagoba and the Buddha statue inside the new image house belonging to the Medawala Raja Maha Viharaya premises, situated in the Medawela Grama Niladhari Division in the Harispattuwa Divisional Secretary’s Division are archaeological protected monuments, declared by a government gazette notification published on 24 July 2009. 

Medawala Raja Maha Viharaya
1) would like to thank Vishwa Sri Jayasinghe for providing the necessary photographs required for this article. All the photos are published here with the permission of the author.
1) Abeyawardana, H.A.P., 2004. Heritage of Kandurata: Major natural, cultural and historic sites. Colombo: The Central Bank of Sri Lanka. pp.281-283.
2) Bopearachchi, O., 2016. Seven Weeks After the Buddha's Enlightenment: Contradictions in Text, Confusions in Art. Manohar Publishers & Distributors. p.49.
3) Karunarathna, D., 2018. Gender ideology and (re)contextualization of Uraga Jataka painting as depicted in Medawala temple, Sri Lanka. Social Affairs. Vol.1 No.8. pp.10-27.
4) Karunaratne, L.K., 1993. The timber frame building tradition in Sri Lanka. In " Wood. International Scientific Committee, 10th General Assembly, Colombo, Sri Lanka, 1993". pp.26-32.
5) Rajapakse, S., 2016. Pauranika Sthana Ha Smaraka: Mahanuwara Distrikkaya (In Sinhala). Archaeological Department of Sri Lanka. ISBN:955-9159-34-8. pp.93-95.
6) Ranawella, S., 2014. Archaeological Survey of Ceylon: Inscriptions of Ceylon: Vol. VII. Department of Archaeology. ISBN: 978-955-9159-62-9. pp.63-64.
7) Ranawella, S., 2015. Archaeological Survey of Ceylon: Inscriptions of Ceylon: Vol. IX. Department of Archaeology. ISBN: 978-955-9159-98-8. pp.41-51.
8) The Gazette of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. No: 1612. 24 July 2009. p.1022.
9) Wijayawardhana, K., 2010. Sri Lankawe Tampita Vihara (In Sinhala). Dayawansa Jayakody & Company. Colombo. ISBN: 978-955-551-752-2. pp.12,218-234.

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This page was last updated on 3 April 2023

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