Thursday, 2 June 2022

Thanthirimale Raja Maha Viharaya

Thanthirimale Raja Maha Viharaya (Sinhala: තන්තිරිමලේ) is a Buddhist temple situated in Anuradhapura District, Sri Lanka. It is significant both as a Pre-historic and historic site.

Pre-historic evidence
The Tantirimale area is said to have been inhabited by hunters belonging to the period 10,000-7,000 B.C. of the Neolithic age (Wikramagamage, 2004). Some cave paintings either done by them or their descendants have been found at the site (Wikramagamage, 2004).

The Buddhist monastery
The early-Brahmi inscriptions discovered on the caves of the Tantirimale rock reveal that there was an ancient Buddhist monastery established in pre-Christian times (Kulatunge, 2018). Three such inscriptions have been copied and published in 1970 by the renowned archaeologist S. Paranavithana (Paranavitana, 1970). 
Tantirimale cave inscription of Naga
Period: 3rd-1st century B.C.                Script: Early Brahmi                Language: Old Sinhala
Transcript: Ati-ajariya-Batiya mata upashika Nagaya
Translation: Of the female lay-devotee Naga, mother of Bati, the elephant trainer.
Citation: Paranavitana, 1970. p.9.

As per mentioned in several chronicles such as Mahavamsa and Mahabodhivamsa, the sacred Sri Maha Bodhi Sapling on its way from Jambukolapattana to Anuradhapura, rested at a place called Tivakka Brahmanagama on the first day of journey (Kulatunge, 2018). This place is also mentioned as one of the eight places where a sapling of Sri Maha Bodhi was planted (Kulatunge, 2018). Some authors have inclined to accept that Tivakka Brahmanagama is non-other than Tantirimale because a Brahmi inscription that was discovered on a wall near the Bodhi tree at present Tantirimale Viharaya mentions the name "Tivaka Bamunugama" (Kulatunge, 2018). However, T.G. Kulatunga who examined this inscription thinks that this record is a forgery and therefore, there is no credible evidence to prove that the present Tantirimale is the ancient Tivakka Brahmanagama (Kulatunge, 2018).

Modern history
At the beginning of British rule, Tantirimale was a jungle area not inhabited by humans (Kulatunge, 2018). The site was first occupied by a Buddhist monk named Kudakongaskade Wimalagnana Thera and the area began to be colonized gradually after 1960 (Kulatunge, 2018).

Sedent Buddha statue
Tantirimale Sedent Buddha
The large sedent Buddha statue at Tantirimale Viharaya is believed to be a work of the 8th century A.D. (Wikramagamage, 2004). It is carved out of the living rock in high relief and about 13.7 m long. The statue depicts the Buddha's sleeping posture. The face and the right hand of the statue had been damaged (Wikramagamage, 2004).

Seated Buddha statue
The statue, carved out of the living rock in high relief, is 2.5 m in height (Chutiwongs et al., 2007). It depicts the Buddha's meditation (Samadhi) posture. The Buddha is not seated on a lotus seat (as the tradition) but on a pedestal provided with a backrest (Chutiwongs et al., 2007). Showing the Virasana posture, the left leg lies on the pedestal while the right leg is placed over it. The hair is depicted as locks turned rightwards and a Siraspata (the flame of knowledge) and the Usnisha are shown on the top of the head (Chutiwongs et al., 2007). The robe is thin but contains a single ripple. 

Tantirimale Seated Buddha
The statue is flanked on either side by figures of two lions, dragons and deities (or Bodhisattvas) carrying chowries (Chutiwongs et al., 2007; Wikramagamage, 2004). The circular slab behind the head of the statue represents the nimbus. This sculpture is probably the model for the sculpture in Vijjadhara-Guha at Gal Viharaya (Chutiwongs et al., 2007).

The artistic features of the statue are said to have related to those found at Maharastra in India (Wikramagamage, 2004). According to the view of scholars, this could be a work of the late Pallava artists of Chola (Chutiwongs et al., 2007; Wikramagamage, 2004). Scholars have dated this statue to the 9th century A.D. (Chutiwongs et al., 2007).

Pre-historic paintings
On the inner surface of a cave in Tantirimale are some primary sketches drawn by hunters probably of the Neolithic age. They include the figures of humans, animals (a bird, an iguana, a leopard ?), the sun, bow and arrows, and more unknown symbols (Wikramagamage, 2004). The human figures are drawn in stick form while the animals are shown as complete drawings (Wikramagamage, 2004).

Besides the Tantirimale, several caves with pre-historic paintings have been discovered in nearby areas such as Andiyagala, Billewa and Komarikalena (Wikramagamage, 2004).


1) Chutiwongs, N.; Prematilleke, L.; Silva, R., 2007. Sri Lanka Murthi: Buddha (Sri Lanka Sculpture: Buddha). Central Cultural Fund. Ministry of Cultural Affairs. pp.94-95.
2) Kulatunge, T.G., 2018. Tantirimale: Tivakka (Tavakka) Brāhmanagāma and Planting of Eight Bo-Seedlings. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka, pp.91-102.
3) Paranavitana, S., 1970. Inscription of Ceylon (Vol. I). Department of Archaeology Ceylon. p.9.
4) Wikramagamage, C., 2004. Heritage of Rajarata: Major natural, cultural, and historic sites. Colombo. Central Bank of Sri Lanka. pp.178-180.
Location Map
This page was last updated on 2 June 2022
For a complete tourist map follow this link: Lankapradeepa Tourist Map


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