Kolawenigama Raja Maha Viharaya

Kolawenigama Viharaya
Figure 1: The Stupa and the Bodhi tree at Kolawenigama Viharaya

Kolawenigama Raja Maha Viharaya (Sinhala: කොළවෙණිගම රජමහා විහාරය) is a Buddhist temple situated on the western bank of Gin Ganga River in Kolawenigama village in Matara District, Sri Lanka. Belonging to the Malwathu Chapter, it is among the few temples that have the right to vote in the election of appointing the Diyawadana Nilame of Sri Dalada Maligawa in Kandy (Ranaweera, 2015).

Kolawenigama Viharaya
Although there are no written sources, several traditional beliefs and archaeological evidence indicate that the history of Kolawenigama Viharaya is associated with the sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha (Ranaweera, 2015). It is mentioned in the chronicles that, after the death of King Bhuvanekabahu VII (1521–1550 A.D.) of Kotte, his daughter's son, Prince Dharmapala became the ruler of the kingdom. However, after he embraced Catholicism, the political stability of the country became unstable. Therefore the sacred Tooth Relic which was venerated in Kotte was secretly moved to Sitawaka by Hiripitiye Diyawadana Nilame, the noble person who was entrusted with the custody of the relic (Pieris, 1920). He presented it to King Mayadunna (1521–1581 A.D.) of Sitawaka and the relic was then hidden in a Kurahan Gala (maize grinding stone) at Delgamuwa Viharaya for protection and it remained there for over 40 years. It is believed that the Tooth Relic was kept temporarily at a site near Kolawenigama Viharaya before it was taken to Delgamuwa Viharaya (Ranaweera, 2015). This site is located about 900 m north of the present Kolawenigama temple and it is known among locals as Kolawenigama Old Temple.

Ruins of Kolawenigama Old Temple
Ruins of Kolawenigama Old Temple
The ruins of the Kolawenigama Old Temple are found scattered on a plot of land located at a Wakkalama (river bend) of the Gin Ganga River near the Hathmale Ella Falls (Ranaweera, 2015; Vanarathana, 1994). The foundations of two structures, probably the remains of a Bodhighara and an image house are visible at the site (Vanarathana, 1994). Some ancient artefacts recovered from this site now have been preserved in the present Kolawenigama temple (Ranaweera, 2015).

Although the present temple existed at the time when the Tooth Relic was brought to Kolavenigama in the 16th century, the relic was not kept there (Ranaweera, 2015). Instead, the relic was kept on the land in the Wakkalama (river bend) and it came to be known among people as Kola-inna Viharaya (Ranaweera, 2015). The name Kola-inna is thought to have evolved into Kola-inigama and then to Kolawenigama (Ranaweera, 2015). It is said that when the Tooth Relic was moved from this temple, the caretakers of the relic gave some amount of sacred objects to the monk of Kolawenigama Viharaya as an act of gratitude (Ranaweera, 2015). The present Stupa of Kolawenigama temple is believed to have been erected by enshrining those sacred objects (Ranaweera, 2015).

According to another belief, the first group that came to reside at Kolawenigama Old Temple were several monks of the Weedagama lineage (Vanarathana, 1994). They came to Kolawenigama with a casket of relics after abandoning their temple at Aparekka due to the intolerable vandalized acts of the Portuguese (Vanarathana, 1994). Later, King Sri Viraparakrama Narendrasinha (1707-1739 A.D.) of Kandy acquired the casket and gave some donations to this temple (Vanarathana, 1994).

A protected site
The ancient image house, Bodhighara (Bodhi Tree shrine) and the Vihara Maluwa with the wall now in ruins in the vicinity of Kolawenigama Raja Maha Viharaya premises situated in the  No. 240 A, Kolawenigama Grama Niladhari Division in the Kotapola Divisional Secretary’s Division are archaeological protected monument, declared by a government gazette notification published on 24 July 2009.

Kolawenigama Viharaya
#) LankaPradeepa.com extends its gratitude to V. M. Vidanapathirana for providing the necessary photographs required for this article. All the photos are published here with the permission of the author.

1) Pieris, P.E., 1920. Ceylon and the Portuguese, 1505-1658. American Mission Ceylon Press. Telippalai. pp.76, 86, 142.
2) Ranaweera, D. D., 2015. Matara Urumaya (in Sinhala). ISBN: 978-955-30-6285-7. S. Godage & Bros. pp.33-37.
3) The Gazette of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. No: 1612. 24 July 2009. p.1023.
4) Vanarathana, K., 1994. Matara Puravidyathmaka Ithihasaya (In Sinhala). ISBN: 955-9325-00-0. pp.190-191.

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This page was last updated on 17 December 2023

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