Purana Thotagamuwa Rathpath Rajamaha Viharaya

Thotagamuwa Rathpath Viharaya
Photo credit: Chatura Handunge (Google Street View)

Purana Thotagamuwa Rathpath Rajamaha Viharaya (also known as Thotagamuwa Raja Maha Viharaya) is a Buddhist temple situated in Telwatta in Galle District, Sri Lanka. It is famous as the place where the scholarly Buddhist monk Thotagamuwe Sri Rahula Thera (1408-1491 A.D.) lived (Abeyawardana, 2004).

Known as Titthagama Viharaya in ancient times, this temple is believed to have been inhabited by five hundred Arhats and therefore presently called as "Rathpath Vehera" (Nicholas, 1963; Ranchagoda, 2015). According to the available archaeological and epigraphic evidence, the history of this temple can be dated back to the reign of King Devanampiyatissa (247-207 B.C.). It is said that Devanampiyatissa's brother Prince Mahanaga established this temple (Ranchagoda, 2015). The 15th-century Sinhalese text Gira Sandeshaya mentions that a Disha Statue was built at this temple after the sea flooding that occurred during the reign of ruler Kelanitissa (2nd century B.C.).
Vijayaba Pirivena
It is mentioned in the Mahavamsa that an educational centre called Vijayaba Pirivena was built at this temple by King Vijayabahu I (1055-1110 A.D.) of Polonnaruwa Kingdom and King Vijayabahu IV (1270-1272 A.D.) is said to have built a Pasada at this temple (Abeyawardana, 2004; Nicholas, 1963). As recorded in Saddamma Sangraha, a work named "Jina Charithaya" had been compiled by a Buddhist monk named Medhankara Maha Thera of this temple during the Dambadeniya Period. King Parakramabahu IV (1302-1326 A.D.) is said to have restored the Vijayaba Pirivena, cultivated a Neralu (coconut) garden and bestowed the temple a village named Salaggama (Ranchagoda, 2015). At the time the incumbent of this Pirivena was a monk named Kayasththi Thera.

The period of Sri Rahula Thera
Kotte Period is considered the golden era of this temple. During this period, the Pirivena at Thotagamuwa Viharaya emerged as an academy of international level under the guidance of Thotagamuwa Sri Rahula Thera (1408-1491 A.D.), a great poet of Sinhala and an eminent scholar who was given the title "Shad Bhasha Parameshwara" due to his mastery in six oriental languages which prevailed in the Indian subcontinent. Several great works such as Parevi Sandeshaya, Selalihini Sandeshaya, Kavyashekaraya, Panchikapradeepaya and Buddhi Prasadaniya were written by him during this period (Abeyawardana, 2004). Scholars such as Weththewe Thera and Ramachandra Bharathi were among those who were privileged to be disciples of this Pirivena. King Parakramabahu VI (1411-1466 A.D.) gave his patronage to this temple (Abeyawardana, 2004).

The name of this temple is mentioned in the Nampotha, an ancient text written after the 14th century.

Portuguese invasions
The golden age of this temple came to the end after the death of Sri Rahula Thera. It then entered into a dark age because of the Portuguese who invaded coastal areas of Sri Lanka in 1588. As recorded in their own documents, the Portuguese had burned down a number of Buddhist temples along the southern coastline of the country including the Thotagamuwa Viharaya (Ranchagoda, 2015; Sarma, 2007). 

Renaissance of the modern temple
The renaissance of the present temple began with the arrival of Pallaththara Punnasara Thera in 1765. Since then it remained as a temple belonging to the Malwatta Chapter. Most of the present monuments at this temple have been built during the reign of Kirti Sri Rajasinghe (1747-1782 A.D.) on the ruins of the old temple destroyed by the Portuguese (Abeyawardana, 2004).
Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera (1827-1911) who is considered a highly venerable scholarly monk entered the order of Buddhist monks at this premises. 

Four short pillar inscriptions
Four short inscriptions have been found engraved on four separate stone pillars around the old Natha Devalaya building. They contain the names of persons who donated the pillars for the construction of an ancient building (Abeyawardana, 2004).
Period: 9-10th century A.D.            Script: Medieval Sinhala            Language: Medieval Sinhala
Transcript; no.1: (1) Somon Mi (2) tuge tambayi
Translation: (This is) the (stone) pillar of Soman Mitu
Transcript; no.2: (1) Mihind Mange (2) tambayi
Translation: (This is) the (stone) pillar of Mihind Man
Transcript; no.3: (1) Mahabela game (2) Upulage taba
Translation: (This is) the (stone) pillar of Upul of Mahabela-gama
Transcript; no.4: (1) Mehebela gama Upu (2) la mav Mididalage (3) tamba yi
Translation: (This is) the (stone) pillar of Mididala, the mother of Upul of Mahabela-gama
Citation: Ranawella, 2015. pp.151-152.
A fragmentary pillar inscription
A fragmentary pillar inscription of the 15th century A.D. gives the epigraphical testimony of the connection of Thotagamuwa Sri Rahula Thera with Thotagamu Viharaya (Dias, 1991). The pillar contains the name and the title of this famous Buddhist monk written in the scripts of the Kotte Period (Dias, 1991).
Transcript: Vacissara Maha Rahula Ma(ha) .....
Translation: The great scholar Rahula, the great .....
Citation: Dias, 1991. p.68.
The temple
Besides the inscriptions, a large number of ancient monuments are found scattered in the present temple premises. They include the ruined foundation of Vijayaba Pirivena of the Polonnaruwa Period, ancient Bodhi tree, the ruined structures of the Kotte Period, and two Vihara-ge shrines of the Kandyan Period. Besides them, the two Devalaya Shrines, the Sanghika Treasury building, Avasa-ge, and the preaching hall are also considered ancient monuments of this temple.

Image houses
There are two image houses (Vihara-ge shrines) in the temple premises. Of them, the first shrine has been built in 1779 (Ranchagoda, 2015). The Antharalaya (the vestibule) of this shrine preserves paintings and sculptures of the Kandyan Period. They have been done by master painters known as Kadolgalle Maha Sittara and Podda Sittara (Abeyawardana, 2004).

Constructed in 1805, the second image house of this temple is considered one of the first shrines built on the southern coastal belt of Sri Lanka subsequently the influence of colonial rule (Abeyawardana, 2004; Ranchagoda, 2015). The paintings preserved in this shrine represent low country art tradition and have been done by artists headed by Sittara Muhandiram. The statue of Ananga (cupid) of this shrine is an exceptional piece of artwork that is not found commonly at other temples in the country (Ranchagoda, 2015).
Devalaya shrines
Two Devalaya shrines dedicated to God Visnu and God Kataragama are found in the Thotagamuwa Vihara premises. Of them, the Visnu Devalaya has a sculpture of God Visnu in the seated position and it is considered a rare piece of artwork. The feet of this sculpture is in Veerasana position as seen in common Buddha statues. He holds a conch on his upper right hand while keeping a discus weapon on his left hand.

The Kataragama Devalaya is thought to be a work belonging to the post-Kandyan Period as evidenced by the paintings and sculptures in the building following the "low country Dakshina art tradition". 

Avasa-ge building (monks dwelling)
This building shows the features of local Dutch architecture. It was built in 1780 after the old dwelling was destroyed by the Portuguese. The front porch of the building has been built with a row of wooden pillars and the doors and windows have been made in larger sizes.

Sanghika Treasury building
This is a major building built for Buddhist monks when the temple was reconstructed after it was destroyed by the Portuguese. It was constructed and bestowed to Buddhist monks in 1845 by Amarasekara Abaysinghe, the Mudali of Wellabada Pattu of Galle. It is said that the public offerings for monks were stored in this building as the temple belonged to a large area.

Following the shape of a bubble, the Stupa of this temple was built in 1781 and was renovated to the present state in 1897 (Ranchagoda, 2015).

Preaching hall
The Dhamma-sala (the preaching hall) of this temple is a Tempita type building constructed upon short stone pillars (Ranchagoda, 2015).

A protected site
Two ancient shrines, Chaitya, Chapter House, ancient monk residences, preaching hall, retaining wall around Bo tree, ancient Devala buildings, the place of ruins with ancient stone pillars, the place of ruins with stone pillars by the west at the premises of Vihara and premises of Vihara where other archaeological evidence are scattered at Thelwaththa Rathpath Rajamaha Vihara belonging to Grama Niladhari Division No. 67, Thelwaththa in the Divisional Secretary’s Division, Hikkaduwa are archaeological protected monuments, declared by a government Gazette notification published on 9 March 2016.
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.15-17.
2) Dias, M., 1991. Epigraphical notes (Nos 1 -18). Colombo: Department of Archaeology. pp.63,68.
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.73.
4) Ranawella, S., 2005. Inscription of Ceylon. Volume V, Part III. Department of Archaeology. ISBN: 955-91-59-57-7. pp.151-152. 
5) Ranchagoda, T. O., 2015. Pauranika Sthana Ha Smaraka: Galla Distrikkaya (In Sinhala). Archaeological Department of Sri Lanka. ISBN:955-9159-53-4. pp.39-41.
6) Sarma, B.S., 2007. History of Munneswaram Temple. Sri Sankar Publications. p.21.
7) The Gazette of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka; Extraordinary. No: 1957/18. 9 March 2016. p.5A

Location Map
This page was last updated on 9 June 2022
For a complete tourist map follow this link: Lankapradeepa Tourist Map

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