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Digavapi: the stronghold of Ruhunu kings

(By Thompson A.Van de Bona/ Sunday Times)

A region in the Uva and Eastern Provinces has suddenly become the subject of controversy in both electronic and print media. Buddhist clergy supported by laymen joined protest campaigns and marched on the streets carrying posters demanding that the Government intervene to protect this area.

The subject was Digavapi.

Many people think Digavapi is only a Buddhist Dagaba in the Ampara District built during the Second Century B. C. It is true that an enormous Dagaba was built by King Sadda Tissa, brother of Dutugemunu. According to the Mahawansa, the Buddha on his third visit to Sri Lanka, after spending the day at the foot of Samantakuta (Adam's Peak) set out for Digavapi and seated himself with the brotherhood at the place where the Cetiya (afterwards) stood. He gave himself up to meditation to consecrate the spot.

However, Dipavamsa, the older Chronicle says that the Buddha travelling through air, went to Digavapi from Kelaniya thupa and that "at the place of Digavapi Cetiya, the Buddha who was full of compassion to the world, descended from the air and again entered upon mystical meditation.

Therefore Digavapi Cetiya has become one of the sixteen most sacred places of the Buddhists in Sri Lanka.

Digavapi Mandala or Digamadulla is supposed to be the settlement named after Prince Dighayu, one of six brothers of Baddha Katyana, the queen of King Panduwas Deva. It is said that the Indo-Aryan ancestors of the Sinhalese who came from North India and colonized the Island, named those settlements after them.

Similarly, the five other brothers too (of queen Baddha Katyana) Rama, Uruwela, Anuradha, Vijitha and Rohana had their settlements named after them.

It is also a belief that the word Digha Vapi (long tank) was used to identify this region by the existence of such a reservoir during the reign of Kakavanna Tissa, father of Dutugemunu, in the 2nd Century B. C. It is possible that one of the tanks in the district was called Digavapi, named after the district. In "Ancient Irrigation works in Ceylon" R. L. Brohier states that it was "Mahakandiya Wewa" that was called Digavapi.

The Digha-vapi was undoubtedly an ancient work of very great importance. It is occasionally mentioned in the ancient annals, but the reservoir has never been definitely identified. There are, however, two very strong clues which assist in attesting almost to a certainty that it is the abandoned tank now known as Maha- Kandiya Wewa or in the Tamil version Kandia-Kattu.

The first of these clues hinges on very definite data which confines Digha-vapi to the South Eastern region of the Island. The other is based on a not unreasonable assumption that one of the characteristics of the old tank has been perpetuated by its name.

The only "long tank" (Digha Vapi) in the South East of Ceylon is the totally abandoned work alluded to which has relapsed more or less to its original wild forest. The latest topographical and contour sheets assist more readily than data available in the past to visualize the latter of these two clues, and to weigh the probability that Maha-Kandiya was the Digha-vapi of old.

However, many other scholars did not agree with the above theory, and in "Historical topography of Ancient and Medieval Ceylon", C. W. Nicholas wrote:

.... and Dr. Paranavithana has made an important observation on the connection between Digayu and Dighavapi... In the identification of Dighavapi, it is, therefore, not necessary to look for a long tank. The construction of a tank named Dighavapi is nowhere recorded, and the medieval Sinhalese name for the region did not include the element Vapi (Tanks. vapi).

Digavapi Mandala of ancient fame could now be identified as the area of Authority of the former Gal Oya Development Board. It is extended over both banks of the Galha Ganga (Gal Hoy, presently called Gal Oya) covering a vast area.

Mahavamsa states that Kakavanna Tissa stationed his second son, prince Tissa at Digavapi with troops and chariots in order to guard the open country. (MV 23-16, 24.2) After defeating the Tamil King, King Dutugemunu appointed his brother Tissa to reside at Digavapi and to develop agriculture as this was one of the most important areas of food production.

Prince Tissa's development work in the region could be assessed by the number of ruins that were found there at the start of the Gal Oya Development Board. A map showing archaeological ruins within the Gal Oya Valley prepared during this time shows over 60 such sites. However, a 1:250,000 map prepared by the Survey Department in 1992 shows only four or five such sites.

On ascending the throne in B. C. 137 King Saddatissa built the Digavapi Cetiya together with the Vihara of that name. The Sinhala chronicles call it diganaka or Naka Vihara and the ruined Monument near Irakkamam too was locally called Nakha Vehera prior to its occupation by the Sangha about 1924, and probably it is identified by its correct name, Digavapi Cetiya.

King Saddatissa's two sons Lan Jatissa and Thulathana built Girikumbhila vihara and Kandara vihara respectively. Girikumbhila or Kumbhila Vihara is identified by the recent finding of inscriptions in situ near Bakkiela, but the other, Kandara Vihara has not yet been discovered.

Several other inscriptions belonging to more recent times too have been found in the area, one such finding being the discovery of a gold leaf inscription in 1986 deposited inside a reliquary made of thin gold sheets near the western Wahalkada of the ancient stupa, Digavai Cetiya.

Along with the reliquary which contained the gold leaf, two other gold reliquaries were found, all deposited in a stone casket embedded in the aforesaid frontispiece.

On the eastern side of Divulana tank (Bordering the Southern boundary of Batticaloa district) is a large rocky hill with many ancient caves. These were the former abode of eremite monks and many of these caves bear rock inscriptions of the 2nd and 1st Centuries B. C.

Among them are three inscriptions of a more recent time, the 8th Century A. D. These inscriptions relate to the grant of lands by local rulers of Rohana to a monastery called Artitara Vihara of which remains are now seen at Rasahela in this region.

The donors of these lands were Apay Dalsiva or Adipada Datasiva, a Prince whose name figures in the reign of Udaya I (also called Dappula II), Sena, a high dignitary of Rohana and Viramkura, the Administrator of Lam Janau area of Digavapi Mandala. The areas where the lands so granted were at:

i. Four payal of Kalavali (in Lam Janau district, around present Divulana);

ii. A payal of Soruyar in Digapidulla (on the southern bank of Galoya, below the area of present Digavapi Cetiya;

iii. Four payal of Mhavagna is Saravaga (Area below Malavattai),

iv. Four payal of Malatta (around the present village of Malattai);

v. Four payal of Mivamgamu, Cularalla (this may be Miwangamuwa, near Ampara) (Payala is a term of land measurement) EZ Vol. IV- P. 175.

There is also reference in Culawamsa (75.5, 45.60) that Malwattu Mandala a sub District was around the village of Malwattai and that the said village was granted to Ariyakara Vihara, a monastery in Rohana in the middle of the 7th Century. (JRAS Vol. VI-P.29)

Past Colonization Schemes which settled citizens who respected and cared for these priceless historical and religious monuments have, at least to a fair extent, prevented the destruction of such monuments, which is the heritage of all Sri Lankans irrespective of their race or religion.

It is our duty to protect these valuable historical monuments and their surroundings as they treasure the glorious past of a nation which existed two thousand years or more, shining above most of the nations of the present "Developed World."


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