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The Nawagamuwa Vihara: The temple by the river
(@ Hiranthi Fernando / Sunday Times)
Among the archaeologically significant sites in
the Colombo District, Nawagamuwa Devale is important as a historic place of
worship. Legend has it that the origin of this Pattini devale close to the
Kelani river goes back to the early Anuradhapura period.
Original Vihara Mandiraya. Pix by Athula Devapriya
But, due to destruction by foreign forces and
reconstruction over the years, little visible proof remains to confirm this
belief. However, archaeological research has revealed several sites in the
Nawagamuwa area to confirm that settlements in the area date back to a B.C. era.
When the early Aryan settlements were being
established, Kelani river and Kelani thota were of importance. Nawagamuwa is
located at the 13th milepost on the old Colombo - Ratnapura road. It is believed
that during the early Anuradhapura period, Nawagamuwa belonged to the Kelani
According to a popular legend, when King Gajaba
1 (A.D. 114 - 136) came from India with 12,000 men as prisoners, bringing with
him a Pattini anklet, he alighted at the landing place close to the devale. It
is said that he built a devale, enshrined the anklet and held poojas here. From
then till the Kotte period no significant facts have been discovered about the
During the Kotte period, the area was known as
Hewagam Korale, according to Rajavaliya. It is said that when Rajasinghe I
fought the Portuguese forces at Mulleriyawa, his last camp was pitched here.
After his victory, he named the area Hewagam Korale in gratitude to the Hewagama
soldiers who came to his aid. During this period, it is said, Nawagamuwa was
used as a jetty on the road connecting Colombo Fort with Malwana, Hanwella and
Gurubebili. The Pattini Devale was then famed as the Pattini Kovil. The first
historical mention of the Nawagamuwa Pattini Devale is found during the Kotte
period. Mention is made in the 'Godagama Sannasa', made known by Buwanekabahu V
(A.D. 1521 - 1580), of a royal decree for a gift of oil to be made for the
Nawagamuwa Pattini Kovil perahera.
During the Sitawaka period too this area was
historically important. It is noted that when King Mayadunne (A.D. 1521 - 1580)
set out to fight the Portuguese in the Colombo Fort, he stopped on his way at
the Nawagamuwa Pattini Devale to make a vow before he went to war. According to
Portuguese reports, in 1550, the Portuguese king sent 600 troops to help King
Buwanekabahu V. They clashed with King Mayadunne at Nawagamuwa. It is also
recorded that in 1576, the Portuguese army destroyed Nawagamuwa Devale and
established an army camp there. The devale was rebuilt by King Mayadunne only to
be destroyed again by the Captain of the Colombo fort, leaving a pile of ruins.
Mr. A.E.L.Tillekewardene of the Archaeological
Department says that according to popular beliefs and historical data,
Nawagamuwa devale was known as a pilgrim site from the beginning of the 15th
century. Excavations around the devale from time to time unearthed building
materials, wells, Dutch coins and iron implements of the middle ages. North of
the old devale at what was known as the old landing place, coins used during the
Dutch period in Ceylon, 1554 - 1765, have been found. Old stone posts have been
found discarded on some of the private properties in the vicinity. Signs that a
pier or similar erection had existed on a large flat rock by the riverside, have
also been uncovered. These archeological artifacts were discovered when
construction work on a suspension bridge across the river was in progress. The
Archaeological Department then stepped in and construction has been discontinued
until further research on the site is carried out.
During recent research conducted in the
Nawagamuwa Devale area, remains of several buildings of the Kotte period and
some buildings of the 19th century have been identified. The Department has
declared eight archeologically important sites as protected monuments to be
conserved. These sites are the Viharaya or Pilimage, the monks' abode or
Sanghavasaya, Galkanu devale, Maha Pattini Devale, Vishnu, Kataragama and
Dedimunda devales and the grove of ancient Na trees, which is over 100 years
The oldest of the shrines is the Galkanu devale.
It was a 'tampita' devale, which is built on four stone posts, Mr.
Tillekewardene explained. The original stone posts still remain. It is believed
by some to be the site of the original Pattini devale. A shrine was rebuilt by
Katuwawala Sri Sumanatissa Himi, the chief priest of the temple during A.D. 1813
When Sri Sumanatissa Himi first came to
Nawagamuwa he built a small cadjan thatched dwelling place or 'Awasaya' at 'Thanayamwatte',
where the fruit stalls are now. This place was known as thanayamwatte because
there had been a rest house for travellers there. The autobiography of the
learned Kalukonduwawe Sri Pagnasekera Nahimi, who was a student of Shri
Sumanatissa Himi, describes the temple constructions undertaken by his guru.
According to this the old name of the devale was Sri Sudarsharamaya, which was
later changed to Sri Sugathabimbaramaya. It was Sri Sumanatissa Himi who also
constructed a permanent abode for the monks.
After constructing the Galkanu devale, Sri
Sumanatissa Himi constructed the monks abode or Sanghavasaya and the Vihare or
Pilimage in 1894. The Maha Pattini devale and the Dharma shalawa were
The facade of the Sanghavasaya, an old 19th
century British period building is unfortunately defaced by the construction of
a nondescript extension.
The Vihara also of the same period is a
beautiful old building with a stone entrance and characteristic architecture.
The stone pillars in front are believed to have been from a temple destroyed
during the Portuguese period. The moonstone at the entrance is of the post Kandy
period. The large reclining Buddha statue and wall paintings are in the style of
the Kandy period. There are also 'doratupala' figures or guard stones and a 'Makara
The Maha Pattini devale, which is the main
devale on the premises is also from the 19th century but the front section had
been added more recently. A gold plated statue of the goddess Pattini is
enshrined within. Outside the Maha devale, is an old 'Asana' stone, dating back
to the Kotte period, which is not in its original setting. The other five
shrines stand in a row.
Of these the Vishnu, Kataragama and Dedimunda
devales are of the 19th century while Saman and Moratu devales have been
The Archaeological Department has declared
these important sites protected monuments to be preserved for future
generations. Architectural conservation of the buildings is also being
undertaken to preserve them in their original style as far as possible.
Extensions such as the one to the Sanghavasaya would not be permitted in future.
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