Anuradhapura Maha Viharaya

Anuradhapura Maha Viharaya
Anuradhapura Maha Viharaya (also known as Tissarama or Mahamevna Tisaram) was an important Buddhist monastery complex for Theravada Buddhism in ancient Sri Lanka. Most of the sacred monuments in the city including the Sri Maha Bodhiya, Ruwanweliseya, Lovamahapaya, Thuparamaya and Mirisawetiya are located within the precincts of this complex (Nicholas, 1963). Sri Lankan chronicles such as Dipavamsa, Mahavamsa, Culavamsa, Nikaya Sangrahaya, Pujavaliya treat the country's history from the point of view of the Maha Viharaya (Nicholas, 1963).

The Maha Viharaya area is bounded by the Thuparama to the north, Abhaya Wewa and Mirisawetiya to the west and Jetavanaramaya and Malwathu Oya to the east (Wikramagamage, 2004). The plan of the Maha Viharaya is said to have been designed to depict the posture of a lion showing bravery (Wikramagamage, 2004). Accordingly, the Sri Maha Bodhiya is located at the end of the lion's tail and the Lovamahapaya is sited near the right foot of it (Wikramagamage, 2004). The Ransimalaka or the assembly hall of the Maha Viharaya is located near the left foot to the right of the stomach of the lion (Wikramagamage, 2004). 
Foundation of Maha Viharaya
Maha Viharaya was established by the name Tissarama when the Jotivana (previously called Nandana) park and the Mahamegha park located outside the south and southeast of the Anuradhapura Citadel were presented to Arhat Mahinda Thera and his companions by King Devanampiyatissa [(247-207 B.C.) Dias, 2001; Nicholas, 1963; Wikramagamage, 2004]. The king built the first Arama named Thuparamaya in the Mahamegha park (Wikramagamage, 2004). The monastery was renamed Mahameghavanarama and later Maha Viharaya (Wikramagamage, 2004).

Maha Viharaya was the seat of the orthodox (Heenayana doctrine) and received consistent patronage of Kings (Dias, 2001; Nicholas, 1963). However, its supremacy was challenged after the construction of Abhayagiri Viharaya in 89 B.C. by King Valagamba which later became the centre of heterodox [(Mahayana doctrine) Nicholas, 1963].

The rivalry between Maha Viharaya and Abhayagiriya
At the beginning of the foundation of the Abhayagiriya Vihara, there was no difference between its religious practices and those of the Maha Vihara (Jayasuriya, 2016). However, a monk named Dhammaruci arrived at Abhayagiriya in 77 B.C., and thereafter the monks there came to be known as Dhammarucis as they follow a breakaway sect that differs from the Maha Vihara tradition (Jayasuriya, 2016). As a result, Abhayagiriya became the seat of the heterodox, Mahayana doctrines and consequently, it came into rivalry with the orthodox Maha Vihara (Nicholas, 1963).

Destruction by Mahasena
The rivalry between Maha Viharaya and Abhayagiriya came to a very serious level during the reign of King Mahasena (275-301 A.D.). The king tried to destroy the Maha Viharaya and restricted people to give alms to its monks. As a result of that, the monks abandoned Maha Viharaya and went to live in the areas in Malaya and Rohana for about 9 years (Nicholas, 1963). The structures in the Maha Viharaya were dismantled and reused their materials for the construction of new buildings at Abhayagiriya (Nicholas, 1963). Thus Abhayagiriya became rich in buildings and as the chronicle records "it was made stately to see" (Jayasuriya, 2016). 

King Mahasena finally stopped his aggression over Maha Viharaya when there was the risk of occurring of a civil war against his actions (Nicholas, 1963). He made some restorations and repairs to the damages he had caused (Nicholas, 1963). However, violating the territory of Maha Viharaya, he established the great monastery Jetavanaramaya within its precincts and offered it to Tissa Thera of Dakkhina Vihara (Jayasuriya, 2016).

The successors of Mahasena completed the rebuilding and restoration of Maha Viharaya but its supremacy was undermined (Nicholas, 1963). The Mihintale Monastery which was under the observation of Maha Viharaya was passed into the control of Abhayagiriya in the 5th century A.D. (Nicholas, 1963). However, in the period between 8-10th centuries A.D., the kings remained faithful to the Maha Vihara tradition (Nicholas, 1963).

As a centre of the orthodox Buddhist tradition
The reputation of Maha Viharaya as a centre of the orthodox Buddhist tradition had extended as far as India and it attracted a number of scholars from Indian Buddhist centres (Dias, 2001). Buddhagosha, the famous Indian Theravada Buddhist scholar, translated the Tripitaka and its commentaries into Pali while residing in Maha Viharaya in the 5th century A.D. (Dias, 2001). As revealed by the reports of the Chinese Buddhist monk Fa-Hsien who was in Sri Lanka from 411 to 413 A.D., there were about 3,000 monks in residence at the Maha Viharaya in his time (Nicholas, 1963). 
The first occurrence of the name Maha Viharaya is found in a Cave Inscription of Later Brahmi in the Kaduruwewa area (Dias, 2001; Paranavitana, 1970). 
Period: 1st century A.D.                       Script: Later Brahmi                       Language: Old Sinhala
Transcript: (1) Sida [|*] Maha-vihara-va[sika] (2) [Di]tima-Apaya-teraha-lene (3) agata-anagata-catu-disika-sagasa (4) niyate
Translation: The cave of the elder, [Di]tima Apaya, a resident of the Mahavihara, has been dedicated to the Sangha of the four quarters, present and absent.
Citation: Paranavitana, 1970.
In another inscription of the same period, a king named Abhaya has made a donation to the monks of the Maha Viharaya (Dias, 2001). In the Nelugala rock inscription of King Bhatiya Tissa II (140-164 A.D.), the Buddhist monks in the Maha Viharaya are mentioned as the Mahaviharavasika bikusaga (Dias, 2001; Paranavitana, 1983). The name Maha Viharaya is also found in the Jetavanarama Fragmentary Slab Inscription of Mahasena (276-303 A.D.), the Basavakkulama Pillar Inscription of Sena II (853-887 A.D.), the Panduwasnuwara Pillar Inscription of Dappula IV (923-935 A.D.) and the Polonnaruwa Raja Maligawa pillar inscription of Mahinda IV [(956-972 A.D.) Paranavitana, 2001; Ranawella, 2004; Ranawella, 2005].

1) 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. pp.42-43.
2) Jayasuriya, E., 2016. A guide to the Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka. Central Cultural Fund. ISBN: 978-955-613-312-7. pp.21-35,48-53.
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). pp.127,129-130.
4) Paranavitana, S., 1970. Inscriptions of Ceylon: Volume I: Early Brahmi Inscriptions. Department of Archaeology Ceylon. p.98.
5) Paranavitana, S., 1983. Inscriptions of Ceylon, Late Brahmi Inscriptions, Volume II (Part I). Archaeological Survey of Sri Lanka. pp.113-117.
6) Paranavitana, S. 2001. Dias, M. (Ed). Inscription of Ceylon: Volume II. Part II. Archaeological Survey Department. pp.189-192.
7) Ranawella, G.S., 2004. Inscription of Ceylon. Volume V, Part II. Department of Archaeology. pp.90-92,241-245.
8) Ranawella, S. (Ed.), 2005. Sinhala inscriptions in the Colombo National Museum: Spolia Zeylanica. Vol 42. (2005). Department of National Museums, Sri Lanka. pp.xi,10-14.
9) Wikramagamage, C., 2004. Heritage of Rajarata: Major natural, cultural, and historic sites. Colombo. Central Bank of Sri Lanka. pp.53-54.

Location Map
This page was last updated on 14 January 2023

Post a Comment

Cookie Consent
We serve cookies on this site to analyze traffic, remember your preferences, and optimize your experience.
It seems there is something wrong with your internet connection. Please connect to the internet and start browsing again.
AdBlock Detected!
We have detected that you are using adblocking plugin in your browser.
The revenue we earn by the advertisements is used to manage this website, we request you to whitelist our website in your adblocking plugin.
Site is Blocked
Sorry! This site is not available in your country.