Kuchchaveli Viharaya

Kuchchaveli Viharaya
Ancient Kuchchaveli Stupa (Photo credit: Pasindu Chathurange, Google Street View)

Samudragiri Pichchamal Viharaya, also known as Kuchchaveli Viharaya (Sinhala: කුච්චවේලි සමුද්‍රගිරි පිච්චමල් විහාරය), is a Buddhist temple situated on a rocky cliff by the side of the Kuchchaweli sea in Trincomalee District, Sri Lanka. The Kuchchaveli Police Station is located very close to the temple premises.

Excavations done at the site have unearthed the ruins of an image house and several other buildings. A standing Buddha statue made of rock and the heads of two Buddha statues were discovered buried in the ground of the image house (Medhananda, 2003). According to the view of Medhananda Thera, these statues display artistic features of the 2nd century A.D. (Medhananda, 2003). Several Roman coins belonging to the 4th century A.D. and Chinese porcelain have also been found on this site indicating that Kuchchveli was not only home to a religious facility but a seaport in ancient times (Haramoto et al., 2015; Medhananda, 2003). It also provides important materials on the history of how temples in this region embraced Mahayana Buddhism in the 4th to 5th centuries and thereafter (Haramoto et al., 2015).
A Sanskrit rock inscription discovered from the site has been dated by scholars to the 5-8th centuries A.D. (Dhammaratana, 2000; Paranavitana, 1933).
Locals link the history of this temple to the reign of King Dutugemunu (161-137 B.C.). They believe that the Pichchamal flowers used to offer to the Ruwanweliseya Stupa in Anuradhapura have been brought from this place.
Kuchchaveli Sanskrit Inscription
At the temple premises, there is a small boulder sloping inwards and in front of it is a second boulder. The area between these two boulders forms a hollow that is now partially filled with sand (Paranavitana, 1933). On the sloping side of the first boulder, an area of about 4 ft. square has been partitioned into 16 compartments of equal proportions and each of them contains a Stupa carved in low relief (Paranavitana, 1933). The Sanskrit inscription has been engraved to the left of this sculpture.

The Kuchchaveli inscription is considered the earliest Sanskrit inscription in Sri Lanka (Dhammaratana, 2000; Paranavitana, 1933). It consists of 8 lines and the characters used in it belong to a script not known from any other document (Paranavitana, 1933). Some of them bear a close resemblance to the corresponding forms of the early Grantha alphabet of South India but the script, as a whole, is by no means identical with any of the known South Indian alphabets (Dhammaratana, 2000; Paranavitana, 1933). The closest parallel to the script of this inscription is found in the votive inscription on the pavement slabs of the Yatala Stupa at Tissamaharama (Paranavitana, 1933).
The record states the pious wish of its author that by the merit he acquired (evidently by making the carved Stupa figures on the rock), he may become a Buddha in the future for the deliverance of suffering humanity (Dhammaratana, 2000; Paranavitana, 1933). The author is not mentioned in the inscription. However, the wish shows that the author of this record was a Buddhist attached to the Mahayana sect. (Dhammaratana, 2000; Paranavitana, 1933). Generally, it is the Mahayana Buddhists who aspire for Buddhahood (Dhammaratana, 2000).

The site
The site consists of the ruins of an image house and several other buildings. The ruins of the image house remain immediately on the east side of the main road and to the north is a storage where the excavated artefacts are preserved (Haramoto et al., 2015). A brick Stupa measuring approximately 6.2 m in diameter stands on top of a rocky hill and a large rock with a bas-relief depicting a group of Stupas in an 18.5×16 cm grid made up of 16 cells lies at the bottom of the hill (Haramoto et al., 2015). As the bas-relief is overturned, it is assumed that the rock was originally standing on top of the hill but has fallen later to its present spot (Haramoto et al., 2015). Below this grid on the right side, there is the figure of one Stupa shown facing forward, and on the right side of it is the Sanskrit inscription (Haramoto et al., 2015).

In 1955, a limestone head of the Buddha in the late-Amaravathi style was unearthed from the site and again in 1984, two Buddha heads and a torso made of dolomite were found in a survey conducted by the Department of Archaeology (Haramoto et al., 2015). Besides them, more limestone and dolomite Buddha images, seated Buddha images, Bodhisattva heads, Siri Pathul Gal (stone-carved footprints of the Buddha) and terracotta tiles, all estimated as dating to the Anuradhapura Period have been discovered from this site (Haramoto et al., 2015). 

The Department of Archaeology began conservation works at this site in 1978. In 1984, they took over the modern rest house building located among the ancient monuments. Artefacts discovered from the site had been conserved in a building insitu and it was taken over by the Sri Lanka Navy after the Kucchaveli Police Station was attacked in 1985 by LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam), a militant group designated as a terrorist organization by a number of countries including Sri Lanka, India, the USA and the EU.

Kuchchaveli Viharaya
See also

1) Dhammaratana, I., 2000. Sanskrit Inscriptions in Sri Lanka: A thesis submitted to the University of Pune in partial fulfilment of the requirement for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Sanskrit. Department of Sanskrit & Prakrit Languages, University of Pune, India. pp.179-186.
2) Haramoto, T.; Inouchi, C.; Koizumi, Y.; Fukuyama, Y., 2015. Survey Report on the Protection and Utilisation of Cultural Property in the Northern and Northeastern Provinces of Sri Lanka. Japan Consortium for International Cooperation in Cultural Heritage. pp.52-53.
3) Medhananda, Ven. Ellawala, 2003. Pacheena passa - Uttara passa: Negenahira palata ha uturu palate Sinhala bauddha urumaya (In Sinhala). Dayawansa Jayakody & Company. Colombo. ISBN: 978-955-686-112-9. pp.351-355.
4) Paranavitana, S., 1933. Kuccaveli rock inscription. 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.158-161.

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This page was last updated on 12 April 2023

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