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Munneswaram Temple

Munneswaram Temple
Munneswaram Temple, also known as Vadivambiga Sametha Munna Nathaswamy Temple (Tamil: முன்னேசுவரம் கோயில்; Sinhala: මුන්නේශ්වරම් කෝවිල), is a famous Hindu shrine situated in Munneswaram village near Chilaw in Puttalam District, Sri Lanka. It is traditionally considered one of the ancient Ishwara shrines in the country (Veluppillai, 1971). The temple is also among the few temples where all festivals and religious practices listed in the Hindu calendar are conducted.

The origin of the Munneswaram temple is obscure (Pathmanathan, 1974). The Dakshinakailasa Mahatmyam, a Sanskrit work glorifying the temples in Sri Lanka records some details about this temple (Sarma, 2007). According to it, Lord Rama, a mythical figure appearing in the ancient Hindu epic Ramayanaya, and sage Vyasa have worshipped at this shrine (Pathmanathan, 1974; Sarma, 2007). However, as the authenticity of the Ramayanaya is controversial, it is today dismissed as a myth by Sri Lankan scholars (JRASSL, 2014). Also, the Dakshinakailasa Mahatmya is not regarded as an authentic source of history (Pathmanathan, 1974). 
According to local belief, King Kulakkottan, the son of Emperor Vararamadeva Maharajah visited the Munneswarama temple in the 512th year of Kaliyuga (Sarma, 2007). However, it is said that there are no reliable literary or epigraphic notices on this shrine before the Period of Kotte (Pathmanathan, 1974).
The temple at Munneswaram is mentioned in the 15th century Sinhalese Kavya called Kokila Sandeshaya written by a poet in the time of King Parakramabahu VI (1412-1467 A.D.) of Kotte (Pathmanathan, 1974; Sarma, 2007; Veluppillai, 1995). This work describes the places and landmarks along the route of a bird messenger travelling from Matara to Jaffna. Therefore, the history of this temple can be assumed to go back to a period very much earlier than the reign of Parakramabahu VI (Pathmanathan, 1974; Sarma, 2007; Veluppillai, 1995). An inscription by this king at the site reveals that he had completed its renovations and made a donation of lands to the temple in 1450 (Sarma, 2007; Veluppillai, 1971).
It is said that King Parakramabahu IX [whose existence is controversial (Rohanadeera, 1996)] made a pilgrimage to this site, worshipped Siva and Visnu and donated some lands to the temple (Sarma, 2007).
Destruction & rebuilt
In the 16-17th centuries, the temple fell in evil days under the Portuguese (Pathmanathan, 2007; Sarma, 2007). The Portuguese led by Diogo de Mello looted and destroyed the temple when they ravaged the lands of Chilaw and Negombo in 1578 (Pathmanathan, 1974; Sarma, 2007; Veluppillai, 1995). In about 1600, the temple was again destroyed by the Portuguese (Sarma, 2007). It is said that certain villages that belonged to the temple were given over by the Portuguese to the Jesuits who constructed the church of St. Paul in 1606 (Pathmanathan, 1974).

The Chilaw was brought to under Kandyan Rule in the 17th century (Pathmanathan, 1974). In the next century, King Kirti Sri Rajasinha (1747-1782 A.D.) rebuilt the temple by engaging the artists brought from South India (Pathmanathan, 1974; Sarma, 2007; Veluppillai, 1995). The work is said to have been completed in 1753 (Pathmanathan, 1974). A copper plate inscription, dated on the 14th day of August 1675 of the Salivahana era (1753 A.D.), by this king reveals that he made arrangements for the performance of daily rituals and donated lands to this temple (Sarma, 2007; Veluppillai, 1995).

Inscription of Parakramabahu VI
An inscription of King Parakramabahu VI (1412-1467 A.D.) has been found engraved on the outer wall of the main shrine (Pathmanathan, 1974; Veluppillai, 1971). It is believed to have been removed from an older building and built into the present one (Sarma, 2007).

The inscription is engraved in an admixture of Tamil and Grantha characters and the text of the inscription is drafted in two languages; Tamil and Sanskrit (Pathmanathan, 1974; Veluppillai, 1971). It is dated in the 38th regnal year of King Parakramabahu VI (Pathmanathan, 1974; Veluppillai, 1971). It records the grant of lands and money by the king to the temple and its Brahmins (Pathmanathan, 1974; Veluppillai, 1971).
A manuscript copy of the text of this inscription is found preserved in the Oriental manuscripts collection of the British Museum (Pathmanathan, 1974). As the original inscription on the wall of the temple is in a very faded state, this copy was used by scholars to decipher the record (Pathmanathan, 1974).
The temple
The Munneswaram temple is referred to as the "Great Temple" and around it is four other small temples dedicated to God Vinayakar (Ganesha), Ayyanayaka (Ayyanar), and Goddess Badrakali (Sarma, 2007). The main temple has been built of granite, sand & limestones. The component parts of the temple are enclosed within a walled area of about 120 ft. by 110 ft. in dimension (Sarma, 2007). The Garbhagrha and its adjuncts are parts of the original buildings constructed in the Vijayanagara style (Pathmanathan, 2007). The Vimana above the Garbhagrha is said to have been constructed in the 18th century on the instructions of King Kirti Sri Rajasinha [(1747-1782 A.D.) Sarma, 2007].

A protected site
The sanctum of the temple, internal pathway, the hall with the Sivan temple building, the Gopura and the pathway wall around the temple, the ancient well, archaeologically important buildings and ancient pond within the precincts of the Munneswaram Sivan Temple, situated within the Grama Niladhari Division No. 568 - Munneswaram in the Divisional Secretary’s Division Chilaw are archaeological protected monuments, declared by a government Gazette notification published on 23 January 2009.
See also
1) Ancient tamil-hindu temple by Veronica Olivotto is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
1) JRASSL, 2014. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka New Series, Vol. 59, No. 2, Special Issue on the Ramayana (2014). pp.1-112.
2) Pathmanathan, S., 1974. The Munnesvaram Tamil Inscription of Parākramabāhu VI. Journal of the Sri Lanka Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 18, pp.54-69.
3) Pathmanathan, S., 2007. History of Munneswaram Temple. Sri Sankar Publications. pp.3-4.
4) Rohanadeera, M., 1996. Dharma Parakramabahu IX-The Fake King of Ceylon Inflated by Portuguese Historians-A Historiographical Perspective. Vidyodaya J. Soc. Sc., Vol. 7. 1 & 2. pp.13-45.
5) Sarma, B.S., 2007. History of Munneswaram Temple. Sri Sankar Publications. pp.8-35. 
6) The Gazette of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. No: 1586. 23 January 2009. p.107.
7) Veluppillai, A., 1971. Ceylon Tamil Inscriptions: Part 1. Published by the author. pp.37-43.
8) Veluppillai, A., 1995. Munnicuvaram (Munnesvaram) Kovil: Its History, Ceremonies and Layout. Uppsala Studies in the History of Religions (2). Uppsala University. pp. 68–71.

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This page was last updated on 7 November 2022

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