WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka

Buddhist shrines in the Trincomalee district

by Walter Rupesinghe

(The Island) Attention has been drawn in the issues of The Island (Magazine section) of 27th April, 18th May and 8th June 2002 to three Buddhist shrines in the Trincomalee district namely Tiriyay, Welgam Vehera and Seruwila respectively which are held in great reverence and affection not only by Buddhists but also by all lovers of Sri Lanka.

There are many other lesser known shrines in this district. The late Mr. Cyril Matthew, a former Minister of Industries, together with the assistance of his friends had identified no less than 74 shrines and depicted them on a map an extract from which is reproduced with this article. As the reader may wish to know a little more about these, some notes made by the Archaeological Department on a few of these shrines are given below:

Galmetiyawa in the Kinniya AGA’s division:

This site lies below the Galmetiyawa reservoir some four miles off the 102nd mile on the Trincomalee road.

A Buddha statue sculptured in marble was found here. Although the statue appeared to have been worn out by the action of flowing water it was beautifully sculptured in the Amaravati style. Around the statue were the remains of ancient buildings. Bricks and pieces of pottery were lying around.

Ancient site at Kuchchaveli:

The torso of a limestone Buddha statue was found at this site. The statue is a beautiful work in the Amaravati style. Pieces of flat tiles and bricks were found in large quantities. It is possible that there was a monastic establishment of the Anuradhapura period at this site. On a boulder of rock at the foot of a hillock is a sculpture consisting of 16 dagaba presentations. The Buddha statue was transferred to the Archaeological Museum in Trincomalee.

Ancient site at Kantalai:
(Tract 13 of Kantalai sugar farm)

At this site two broken Buddha statues were found along with guard stones. There were also pieces of bricks and tiles. The Buddha statue depicted as seated under the nine hooded Muchalinda Naga Raajaya (about four feet in height) has been transferred to the Archaeological Museum in Trincomalee.

Ancient site Mahaweli river ford in Koddiyar Pattu:

Here are the remains of a structure with 42 pillars. On one of these pillars is an inscription.

Sri Gajaba Len Vihara:

On an eminence strewn with large boulders at a site on the right bank of the Morawewa colony are several dripledged caves. In three of these there are Brahmi inscriptions.

Ancient site at Etabendiwewa:

(on a by-road between 87th and 88th mile post on the Horowupotana—Trincomalee road).

There are remains of a dagaba built on a square terrace which has been vandalised. On each of the four sides of the terrace is a flight of steps with plain guard stones and a moonstone. West of the dagaba are the ruins of a building.

Ancient site Pulmodai:

About 1 1/2 miles away from the Ilmenite factory is an ancient site where there are a number of caves. In one cave is a Brahmi inscription. Close by is a pillared building with the torso of a Buddha statue.

On one occasion in 1978/79 I met the late Mr. Cyril Matthew at Nilaveli and had the privilege of going along with him to see some of the lesser known Buddhist sites. There was no doubt at all that he had meticulously scoured the area with his friends with the irrepressible zeal of a missionary and found these sites and appointed watchers to look after them. I particularly remember one spot on the road from Kuchchaveli to Tiriyay where he took me to a lowly cadjan hut inside which was a beautiful head of the Buddha about 15 kilos in weight and some delicate artefacts. When I inquired from him as to where he found them he took me to a jungle clearing some distance behind the hut where there were remnants of stone pillars and the foundation of a dagaba. There were several other places which he showed me where once upon a time there had been temples, dharmasalawas and monasteries around which had been thriving Buddhist communities.

Fort Frederick Trincomalee

Some time in 1971 when I was functioning as the General Manager of the Ceylon Hotels Corporation, it was decided to add eight more bedrooms to the Trincomalee Tourist Inn which was situated on the summit of a hill in Fort Frederick overlooking the harbour. The Tourist Inn had only two rooms then. When excavation work for the foundations was in progress the workers unearthed several bricks and tiles which were identified as belonging to the Anuradhapura period. According to the records of the Archaeological Department in ancient times Trincomalee had been known as Gokarna. Swami Rock which is the highest point in Fort Frederick is an ancient site where there had been Buddhist and Hindu shrines for a long time. King Mahasen (275-301 AD) had built the Gokarna Vihare. King Agbo V (718-724 AD) had added a preaching hall to the Vihare. These structures had been demolished by the Portuguese to build a fortress.

The evidence that emerges from all this is incontrovertible. There had been several Buddhist shrines in the district during the Anuradhapura period of our history. Around these shrines had been thriving Buddhist communities which maintained these shrines.

It is up to the authorities concerned together with the co-operation of the public to ensure that these holy places are not defaced or obliterated but are preserved for veneration not only by the present generation but also by generations yet unborn.

In my next article I propose to deal with the Buddhist shrines in the Batticaloa and the Amparai districts.

Note: The information given here is taken from a map prepared by the late Mr. Cyril Matthew showing the Buddhist shrines in the North and East of Sri Lanka.

Location of Buddhist shrines

67 - Iranei 68 - Madawarichchi 130 - Pulmoddai 131 - Kiulakadawala 132 - Sembimalai 133 - Kallampattu 134 - Kuchchaveli 135 - Muduwankulam 136 - near Kuchchaveli 137 - Galmaduwa 138 - Tiriyay 139 - near Kuchchaveli 140 - near fifth mile post 141 - Aalankulam 142 - Mailawewa 143 - Rangiri Ulpatha 144 - Puliyankulam 145 - Veherabendi Kanda 146 - Kattakulampattu west 147 - Gomarankadawela 148 - Ridi Kanda 149 - Galmetiyawa 150 - Wilpanakulam 151 - Kumbukwewa 152 - Tamarawewa 153 - Marangwadiya 154 - Kumbukwewa 155 - Morawewa 156 - Kimbulpatiyawa 157 - Mahadiulwewa 158 - Namalwatte159 - near Morawewa 160 - near Morawewa 161 - Gajaba len vihara 162 - Parampanjam 163 - Galmetiyawa164 - near 6th mile post 165 - Welgam Vehera 166 - Tekkewatte167 - near 152/13 culvert 168 - Kalampattu 170 - Aandakulam 171 - Katsunai 172 - Tamblegamuwa 173 - Sampur 173 A - Lankapatuna 174 - Pattikimbula 175 - Sunethra Wewa 176 - Ruins in Mutur 177 - Mandangiri 178 - Kiliweddi 179 - Neelahelagama 180 - Dehiwatte 181 - Pallewela 182 - Seruwila 183 - Somapura Dhakshinaramaya 184 - Somapura Pashwimaramaya 185 - Aarama Kande 186 - Kallar 187 - Pavanei 188 - Serunuwara 189 - Vilgam vehera 190 - Ruins at Keenganga191 - Wan ela 192 - Kantalai 193 - Kantalai 194 - Kantalai town 195 - Wellunnaa 196 - Raja Ela 197 - Maithree wewa 198 - to 200 in vicinity of Kantalai.

Walter Rupesinghe, Former High Commissioner of Sri Lanka in Canada, Kotte.

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