The depository of Tooth Relic during the Cōḷa Occupation of Anuradhapura?

By Prasad Fonseka

Veḷaikkāṛa Inscription – Photo Anuradha Piyadasa

From the time the Tooth Relic was brought to Sri Lanka, there were several foreign invasions. The Sri Lankan Chronicles have not recorded any information about the fate of the Relics1 during such invasions in Anuradhapura Period. The Veḷaikkāṛa Inscription provides some important clues on this subject.

This inscription has been first published by H. C. P. Bell in his Annual Report of Archaeological Survey for 1911-12, in 1913. The text of the inscription had been published by Krishna Sastri in the Annual Report of Epigraphy (India) Vol. IV. It had been edited by Wickramasinghe in the Epigraphia Zeylanica Vol. II (No. 40) to be re-edited by Paranavitana and published in the Epigraphia Indica Vol. XVIII, No. 53.

The scripts here are Tamil and Grantha but a few Sinhala letters are also found according to Wickramasinghe, although Paranavitana says that only Tamil and Grantha scripts have been used with a few Sinhala words. The language is largely Tamil mixed with Sanskrit and the introductory phrase is in Sanskrit.

However, both these editors, Wickramasinghe and Paranavitana, have not gone into the matter of the Tooth Relic in their analysis.

There are outstanding differences in the versions of Wickramasinghe and Paranavitana. According to the Wickramasinghe the place of permanent depository of the Tooth Relic was Uttaramūla of Abhayagiri [in Anuradhapura], and the commander of Vijayabāhu named Dēva had built a new building which became the permanent depository in Polonnaruva. Paranavitana has interpreted the word ‘mūlasthāna’ in line 18 of the inscription as the head-quarters of Abhayagiri. Wickramasinghe interprets it as the original place of the depository. Based on his interpretation, Paranavitana considers that Dēva built a new building at Uttaramūla of Abhayagiri in Polonnaruva which he asserts different from the Abhayagiri in Anuradhapura.

The Permanent place of Depository of the Relics

The main historical facts that come to light from the inscription according to the Wickramasinghe version is: The main historical facts that come to light from the inscription according to the Wickramasinghe version is:

 The Temple of Tooth Relic built by the Commander Nagaragiri Deva on the instructions of King Vijayabāhu and the surrounding shrines founded by the Veḷaikkāṛas shall be protected by them unto the dissolution of the world.
King Sirisaňgabō Vijayabāhu on gaining victory over many an enemy entered Anuradhapura and at the request of the Buddhist monks he put on the crown in order to protect the Buddhist Religion.
The Tooth Relic and the Bowl Relic which were at the Uttaramūla of Abhayagiri Vihāra were brought to Pulanari or Vijayarājapura and permanently kept at the Temple of the Tooth Relic.
 The virtuous and learned, Rājaguru Mugalan Thera of Uttaramūla, associating himself with the dignitaries, came to the spot and told the Veḷaikkāṛas ‘The Tooth Relic Temple should be under your custody’.
 For the protection of the shrine one servitor from each of the [three] divisions was appointed and one veli of land was allocated for the maintenance of each person.

A short history of the Tooth Relic during the Anuradhapura Period

When the Tooth Relic was brought to Sri Lanka in the 9th year2 of Mēghavarṇa Abhaya (302-330 A.D.)3 , i.e. in 311 A.D., it was originally kept in a building called Dharmacakra, built by King Devānaṁpiya Tissa, situated near his palace (Cūḷavaṁsa, 37.95-97). Perhaps it was originally built as a small shrine of the palace later to be called the Temple of Tooth Relic. However, according to the Daḷadā Sirita (5.05) and the Dāṭhāvaṁsa (5.37), Mēghavarṇa Abhaya built a new house for Daḷadā. Perhaps the Relic was first deposited in the Dharmacakra and later transferred to a new building built close by.

It is evident that in the Kāliṅga, the responsibility of protecting of the Daḷadā rested with the kings. This is understandable since there were many attempts by the non-Buddhists to destroy it. According to the Daḷadā Sirita when it was brought to Sri Lanka it was first taken to Mēgiri Vihāra. This may be due to Danta and Hēmamālā being under instructions by King Guhasīva of Kāliṅga to hand it over to the successor of King Mahasen (275-302). The reason could be the Mahāyāna orientation of Mahasen which was prevalent in Kālinga. Danta and Hēmamālā arrived in Sri Lanka4 nine years after the death of Mahasen and they probably had to first verify whether it was in order to hand over the relic to the successor Mēghavarṇa Abhaya. It is unlikely that for nine years the Kāliṅgas were unaware of the change in the kingship in Sri Lanka, since Sri Lanka had trade relations with all the countries in the region. According to the Daḷadā Sirita when Danta and Hēmamālā arrived at the port of Tāmralipta, there was a merchant ship ready to sail to Sri Lanka. Perhaps they knew about the change but knew little about the new king. As reported in the Chronicles, Mēghavarṇa was against Mahasen and even about to fight with him due to the destruction of Mahā Vihāra by him. Therefore, Danta and Hēmamālā appear to have first gone to a Vihāra belonged to Mahayana tradition. The Mēgiri Vihāra mentioned in the Daḷadā Sirita is perhaps the Vihāra known as Uttaramēghagiri. According to the Epigraphia Zeylanica Vol. I, No.11 this name is mentioned in an inscription found at the place now known as Kiribat Vehera. This is the first major monastery Danta and Hēmamālā would have come across as they entered Anuradhapura. The theras of the Vihāra would have informed them that the reigning king is also a protector of Buddhism. Perhaps after Mēghavarṇa became king, he treated both Abhayagiri and Mahā Vihāra equally. The Mēgiri Vihāra could be identified as one of the vihāras belonging to the Abhayagiri fraternity. It is clear that the monks of Abhayagiri got to know of the arrival of the Tooth Relic before the others (Daḷadā Sirita 5th chapter). Then they sent a monk to inform the king about the arrival of the Relic. The king was delighted and went with his retinue to see and pay homage to the Tooth Relic.

Following the custom in the Kāliṅga the king arranged for the maximum protection to the Relic by keeping it close to his palace in the inner city. According to the Daḷadā Sirita and the Dāṭhāvaṁsa he had decreed to take it annually to Abhayagiri on a request made by the people so they may see and worship the Relic. Sometimes the reason to send it only to Abhayagiri could be that this institution had some claim over it because in Kāliṅga too it was the non-Theravada traditions prevailed. On the other hand, the Theravada monks very likely not in favour of worshiping of relics.

Fa Hsain’s account provides some important facts about the traditions in the fifth century5. It is reasonable to believe that almost the same traditions continued in the 10th century since some of them are still being followed. He says the Tooth of the Buddha was always brought forth in the middle of the third month. As it is known the festival is held in the month of Äsaḷa (June/July). The middle of the third month is two weeks early due to counting differences in North India and China. Fa Hsian says that the Tooth Relic had been taken to the Abhayagiri Vihāra in procession. It had been brought out and conveyed in the middle of the road to the hall of the Buddha in the Abhayagiri Vihāra to be kept for 90 days before returning to the Vihāra6 within the inner-city.

It could be surmised that the Tooth Relic was at Uttaramūla when the Cōḷa invasion occurred since Vijayabāhu brought it from Uttaramūla. However, that is unlikely since it was the time of southwest monsoon and not possible to cross over to Sri Lanka, which means it would have been at the Temple of Tooth Relic.

The first serious threat to the Tooth Relic, if at all, would have taken place during the invasion of Paṇḍu and his associates (434-461 A.D.) from whom Dhātusēna (461-479 A.D.) annexed the throne. According to the Cūḷavaṁsa (38.12) all the kinsmen of noble families fled to Rōhaṇa. However, there is no mention about the monks leaving Anuradhapura. Therefore, it is possible that it was kept at the Temple of the Tooth Relic or some other secure place in Anuradhapura. After being victories Dhātusēna repaired the Temple of Tooth Relic (Cūḷavaṁsa, 38.71-72), which suggests that the temple was neglected. According to Yālpāna Vayipavamālayi, Paṇḍu destroyed the temple built by Mahasen at Gōkaṇṇa. The reason could be that Mahasen destroyed the dēvālas and built the temple as reported in the Moggallāna Mahāvaṁsa (37.41). However, there are no records that the invaders destroyed any shrines in Anuradhapura. Considering the fact that there were Buddhists among the Cōḷas and other invaders, there is a greater possibility that relics were taken to Abhayagiri if at all, any further protection was needed. It is also observed that the wife of Khuddhapārinda (442-458), an associate of Paṇḍu had made a grant to a vihāra (Epigraphia Zeylanica Vol. IV, No. 13), which further confirms that they did not harm Buddhism and the institutions other than neglecting the shrines and patronising the Hindu shrines.

When two royal families fought with each other (614-673 A.D.) for the throne, Dāṭhōpatissa I (641-653), among other things, looted and set fire to the Temple of Tooth and many more (Cūḷavaṁsa, 44.134). Certainly, the Relics would have been removed before that by the monks. However, there is no mention that either of the royal families attempted to acquire the Tooth Relic as a means of enhancing their legitimacy to the throne. When the Indian monk Vajrabōdhi (671-741) had come to Sri Lanka perhaps by 710 A.D., he worshiped the Relics at Abhayagiri. King Mahinda II (760-780 A.D.) had made an offering to the relics (Cūḷavaṁsa 48.124). During the reign of King Sēna I (819-839 A.D.) the Pāṇḍyan king had looted everything including the Temple of Tooth Relic. Perhaps the Relics were not there at that time or the Pāṇḍyans did not harm the Relics. Sēna II (839-874) had held a festival for the Tooth Relic (Cūḷavaṁsa 51.22-26). King Sēna IV (949-952 A.D.) instituted a sacrificial festival for the Relics (54.05). King Mahinda IV (952-968 A.D.) held a festival for them (Cūḷavaṁsa 54.55).

The second year of Sēna V (968-978 A.D.) marks the period of Tamil domination of Anuradhapura. In the 10th year of Mahinda V (978-1026) the king was unable to pay wages to the soldiers. It is clear from the Cūḷavaṁsa (55.05, 55.11) that there were considerable Kēraḷa and Karṇāṭaka soldiers served in the army of Mahinda V, in addition to the Sinhala soldiers. With the start of the rebellion, the king fled the capital leaving the unpaid soldiers which situation certainly would have resulted in looting and destruction.

The Permanent Depository


Buddha Image inside Hatadage – The Tooth Relic Temple fiunded by king Nissankamalla 12 A.D. Photo -Anuradha Piyadasa

From the above, it is clear that the Tooth Relic was kept at a place known as Dharmacakra when it was brought to Sri Lanka and then moved to the new Vihāra built by Mēghavarṇa Abhaya. Was that the place of permanent depository during the whole of Anuradhapura Period? To answer this question there is a clue in the Cūḷavaṁsa (57.20-23). As mentioned above Dāṭhōpatissa set fire to the Temple of Tooth Relic. Mānavamma (689-698) was the king who brought back peace, and he built a piriveṇa named Uttaramūla. This Uttaramūla cannot be an ordinary piriveṇa as revealed by the details given in the Cūḷavaṁsa. The king had given 600 bhikṣus, seven supervisory officers and five groups of servitors to the chief monk, who was his brother. The king had further given him servants versed in various handicrafts. Then the guardians of the Tooth Relic were placed under the chief monk. The guardians of the Tooth Relic should be granted to a place only if it was kept there. Therefore evidence is strong that the Tooth Relic had been placed at a new location since the old Temple of Tooth Relic was destroyed by Dāṭhōpatissa. As stated above, Vajrabōdhi has reported that he worshiped the Tooth Relic at Abhayagiri which can be considered as further evidence. Therefore, from that time for a certain period, the permanent depository of the Relics seems to be the Uttaramūla built by Mānavamma. Perhaps this could be part of the Mēgiri Vihāra complex. Since the Relics had been there at the Temple of Tooth Relic during the Pāṇḍyan invasion when Sēna I was reigning (Mahāvaṁsa, 51.22-25), it appears that they had been again moved there at some stage. It is likely that during the latter part of Anuradhapura when there were threats the Relics were moved to Uttaramūla. Perhaps the monks of the Uttaramūla controlled the movement of the Relics depending on the situation and the Temple of the Tooth Relic was under them. Further, it is likely that only the Relics were moved and not the other things in the temple. One of the reasons for this can be that the looters came for anything valuable and not to acquire the Relics.


It is now possible to decide that Paranavitana’s contention that Uttaramūla was the main administrative centre of Abhayagiri of Polonnaruva is incorrect. Uttaramūla mentioned in the Veḷaikkāṛa Inscription is to be taken as the name of the piriveṇa, which was built by Mānavamma in Anuradhapura. That means, as stated by Wickramasinghe, the Tooth Relic was brought from the Uttaramūla, which was the original depository during the latter part of Anuradhapura Period, to the new place in Polonnaruva. This also confirms that the relics were kept in Anuradhapura during the Cōḷa occupation. The reasons for such a situation are to be analysed since one would wonder as to why it was not removed from Anuradhapura for safety reasons.

The Protection of the Relics during Cōḷa Occupation

According to the Cūḷavaṁsa (55.21) the Cōḷa representative at Polonnaruva plundered the vihāras of the three fraternities. If so, how the Tooth Relic survived in Anuradhapura has to be investigated. There could be many reasons for the survival of the relics in Anuradhapura. They have looted the valuables from the temples which included the breaking of the dāgäbas. It seems that the Cōḷas did not carry out a campaign against Buddhism, but there was no doubt the Sāsana [dispensation] was neglected leading to its deterioration. They were really interested in amassing of wealth as seen by the description in the Chronicles. It is likely that there were Buddhists among the invading forces since Buddhism in South India vanished much later. As such, there would not have been a general policy of the Cōḷas to do any specific harm to the Buddhism or to the Relics. However, the Veḷaikkāṛa Inscription reveals much protection was provided.

The Cōḷa occupation in the early eleventh century was not sudden. In the second year of the 14-year-old child king Sēna V (968-978), there was a South Indian invasion and during which the king dismissed the commander who was fighting the invaders (Cūḷavaṁsa, 54.59-73) and killed his own brother who was the viceroy. Since that time there was no proper administration in Anuradhapura. The Dravidian soldiers employed by the king had some domination perhaps due to the influence of the Cōḷas. The mother of the king lived in Polonnaruva with the other brother, and the king lived in Rōhaṇa after fleeing there. That was in 970 A.D. After the death of Sēna V, his brother Mahinda V (978-1026) came to the throne in Anuradhapura7. He would have no doubt promised to bring back peace. However, it was very difficult since the administrative system had totally disappeared during the reign of Sēna V, who became an alcoholic and died at the age of 22. In the tenth year [988] the King Mahinda secretly fled the capital Anuradhapura, as he was unable to pay wages to the soldiers. There is no evidence at all that the king took the Relics with him as he fled. Not a single king up to Vijayabāhu had anything to do with the Tooth Relic. When three of them were captured by the Cōḷas there is no mention of the Tooth Relic, though they were able to recover all royal insignia. This again indicates that the Relics were safe at the Uttaramūla of Abhayagiri.

The Veḷaikkāṛa inscription indicates that they were the guards at the site on a previous occasion. They had even built some shrines in the vicinity. It is necessary to find out as to why Vijayabāhu engaged Veḷaikkāṛas as the guards at the site on an earlier occasion, without engaging Sinhala soldiers. Perhaps it was not Vijayabāhu who appointed them as guards but they were on the job even when the Tooth Relic was in Anuradhapura during the occupation. That may be the reason they have mentioned about Vijayabāhu arriving at Anuradhapura after defeating many an enemy. That means, when Vijayabāhu arrived in Anuradhapura the Veḷaikkāṛas were there protecting the relics.

Later Mugalan Thera had invited them following the tradition prevailing earlier. Mugalan Thera would have thought that the re-introduction of the tradition was necessary due to the expected threats. There is an indication in the Cūḷavaṁsa that the Veḷaikkāṛas were involved in their protection during the latter part of the Anuradhapura Period. According to 55.05 the Kēraḷa’s demanded wages from the King Mahinda V. It is known that Veḷaikkāṛas were from Kēraḷa. They are again mentioned in 55.12. Therefore, it could be presumed that the Veḷaikkāṛas were paid soldiers and worked as guards during peaceful times.

Although Mahinda V was unable to pay the guards, it is possible that the guards protecting the Tooth Relic were paid since the shrine had wealth in store and assets donated by the kings. As such, the guards would not have been paid by cash but in kind. Land would have been allocated for their services, as at present. It is apparent that they were assigned to manage the property owned by the Temple of Tooth Relic as well. Therefore it is possible that the Veḷaikkāṛas continued being guards during the Cōḷa occupation. Being a Dravidian community, would have been an added advantage that contributed for better security of the relics. Perhaps that was the main consideration of the monks when selecting the guards. This suggests that the Veḷaikkāṛas were the guards even before the Cōḷa invasion of Anuradhapura and they continued till Vijayabāhu removed them due to their disobedience8.

The assignment of Protection to the Veḷaikkāṛas during the Polonnaruva Period

The Veḷaikkāṛa Inscription could be dated to a period after the death of Vijayabāhu I (1056-1111 A.D.) and the shrines built by the Veḷaikkāṛas could be dated to the reign of Vijayabāhu from the evidence in the Cūḷavaṁsa and the inscription. It further suggests that Mugalan Thera instructed them to take over the job back, since there was a tradition to provide protection to the Relics by the Veḷaikkāṛas. This can be related to the story in the Cūḷavaṁsa (60.35-45), which says that Vijayabāhu punished Veḷaikkāṛas for the rebellion they caused. When Veḷaikkāṛas rebelled refusing to fight against the Cōḷas during an invasion, Vijayabāhu would have removed them being the guards and punished them severely. This gives an indication to the position of the Veḷaikkāṛas. They were a neutral force and the Cōḷas would not have fought with them. Due to the same reason the Veḷaikkāṛas did not want to fight the Cōḷas. For that principle they had to pay a heavy price.

The other reason why the Veḷaikkāṛas were selected on the job of providing protection would have been their neutrality. In any case there is little doubt that prior to their removal they were the guards of the Relics due to the presence of some shrines constructed by them in the surroundings of the Temple of Tooth. It is not clear whether those were Buddhist shrines or Hindu shrines, but agreeing to give protection to them as well, it appears that they also were Buddhist shrines.

It cannot be due to lack of Sinhala soldiers that the South Indian soldiers were engaged originally. The main reason seems to be the necessity for a neutral force to guard the strategic locations pending the Cōḷa invasion. It seems that the monks in charge of the Tooth Relic perceived that Veḷaikkāṛa soldiers could provide better security.

It is important to note that the Veḷaikkāṛas changed the name of the shrine as ‘The great Temple of Tooth Relic belonging to three divisions of Veḷaikkāṛa’. This would have done so to give it an additional protection. However, the protection of Veḷaikkāṛas certainly was not effective against any threats from the king, who is really supposed to protect the Relics. Accordingly, although the Veḷaikkāṛas promised to protect the Tooth Relic till the dissolution of the world, it really lasted perhaps only for a few months until the monks removed it to Rōhaṇa with the continuous onslaught of Vikramabāhu II (1114-1135) towards Polonnaruva.

It should be emphasised that the true guardians of the Relics were the monks perhaps from the time of Mānavamma, but during the periods of invasions, riots etc. since then, the monks appear to have engaged paid guards, as the kings were unable to provide sufficient protection.


During the period of Cōḷa occupation in the early eleventh century, it is likely that the two Relics, namely the Tooth Relic and the Bowl Relic were permanently kept in the Uttaramūla Vihāra of the Abhayagiri Monastery. Perhaps during the Anuradhapura Period, the Relics were more respected and were not considered as objects, to legitimize kingship as suggested by some scholars. As a result, they were removed by the monks from the Temple of Tooth Relic only when there was no security. Perhaps during the early part of Anuradhapura Period when there was a threat, the Relics which were kept near the palace were taken to Abhayagiri Vihāra. During the latter part of Anuradhapura Period, the Relics appear to have been kept permanently at Uttaramūla of the Abhayagiri Vihāra, protected by hired guards.


Cūḷavaṁsa Part I and II, Translated from Pali to German by Geiger W., The English translation published by Ceylon Government Information Department, Colombo, 1953
Epigraphia Zeylanica, Vol. II, edited by D M de Z Wickramasinghe, Archaeological Survey of Ceylon, 1928
Mahāvaṁsa Part II (Sinhala) ed. Sri Sumaṅgala Thera and Paṇḍita Baṭuvantuḍāve Dēvarakṣita, 1963
Moggolāna Mahāvaṁsa (Sinhala) ed. Aruna Talagala, Ministry of Cultural Affairs, 2008
Pūjāvaliya [Sinhala], Buddhist Cultural Centre, 3rd edition, 2007
Yālpāna Vayipavamāla, Mayil Vāganar Pulavar (1736), Translated from Tamil into Sinhala by K. H. De Silva, Ruhuṇu Book Publishers, Colombo, 1999

1  During the past, up to the Kōṭṭe Period the Tooth Relic was always kept along with the Bowl Relic. The Bowl Relic was last reported as possessed by Sēnāsammata Vikramabāhu (1472-1509) the powerful regional king of Kandy (Cūḷavaṁsa, 92.10). According to the Chronicles the Bowl Relic had been brought to Sri Lanka by Sumana Sāmaṇēra.1  During the past, up to the Kōṭṭe Period the Tooth Relic was always kept along with the Bowl Relic. The Bowl Relic was last reported as possessed by Sēnāsammata Vikramabāhu (1472-1509) the powerful regional king of Kandy (Cūḷavaṁsa, 92.10). According to the Chronicles the Bowl Relic had been brought to Sri Lanka by Sumana Sāmaṇēra.
Daḷadā Sirita 4.24, Cūḷavaṁsa 37.92
3  The chronology of kings of this article is based on a research study by the author
4  The place they landed is mentioned as Māvaṭu Paṭuna [Mātoṭa] in the Daḷadā Sirita. In the Pali work Dāṭhāvaṁsa it is mentioned as Laṅkāpaṭṭana. If they got a ship which sailed direct to Sri Lanka they would have landed at Mātoṭa which was the main port. It is also possible to land in the north or east of the country, since they started from Kāliṅga on the east of India. If they landed at Gōkaṇṇa (Trincomalee) they would have entered the city through the eastern gate. If the landing point was Jambukōla in the Jaffna Peninsula they could enter the city from the northern gate. As such it is very unlikely that the landing place was the present Laṅkāpṭuna near Trincimalee. According to Kalyāṇa Inscription of Burma there was a monastery at Nāgapaṭṭana in India called Padarikārāma in 1475, where it is believed that Danta and Hemamāli stayed for a while. It says the monastery was built by order of the king of China. It is possible that the ship they came anchored at Nāgapaṭṭana for business.
5  It is very likely that he was in Sri Lanka from 410-412
6  This should be Vihāra built by Mēghavarṇa Abhaya near his palace
7  He left Anuradhapura in his tenth year and lived in Rōhaṇa. During the last 12 years he was held in India as a prisoner
8  However the Veḷaikkāṛas remained a powerful group even during the reign of Gajabāhu II (1135 -1157) Cūḷavaṁsa 63.24, 63.28, 74.44)