Unveiling Eastern treasures


According to the chronicles, Deeghavapi was known as Deeghanakha and Deeghanaka. This is one of the well-known Buddhist monasteries in Sri Lanka and is one of the 16 most sacred Buddhist pilgrimage sites known as the Solosmasthana.

As Mahavamsa states, this was first constructed by King Saddhathissa
(137 – 119 BCE).

The monastery is spread over a large area, surrounding the large brick stupa. The Deeghavapi Stupa is also one of the largest stupas in Sri Lanka. Today, the brick stupa is being re-constructed. A number of small relic caskets have been found from the excavations of the stupa and its vicinity. These miniature stupa structures reveal that during the early times when the stupa was first constructed it was constructed following the prototype of an early Buddhist stupa, which was the Sanchi Stupa model. This means the stupa had a Chathrawaliya or a number of umbrellas on top of each other that was placed on the stupa’s dome, surrounded by the Garadi Weta or the railing.

These relic caskets and other archaeological studies also reveal that during the 8 – 9th centuries, the stupa was constructed and upgraded to the stupa model that was in the use at that time which had a Koth Kerella, Devatha Kotuwa and the Hatharas Kotuwa. 

Ruins of an ancient hospital have also been found at this monastery. Ruins of ancient ponds, stone pillars, stone carvings, and stone inscriptions can be found here.

Neelagiri Stupa and monastery

This place is located close to the Lahugala area. Neelagiri or the ‘Blue Mountain’ is a beautiful ancient place one should not miss during their travels. The massive brick stupa and the surrounding monastery with caves are delightful sights and a significant Buddhist heritage place.

Based on chronicle and inscription information it is believed that the place was first built by King Mahadatika Mahanaga (9 – 21 CE) and the ancient name is known as Pasanadeepika Vihara. However, today the monastery is known by the name of the Neelagiri or Blue Mountain which is located in the vicinity.

The massive stupa, compared to the diameter of the dome is short in height. Therefore, archaeologists believe that this was constructed in a ‘Kota Vehera’ stupa style, which means the dome is not tall but short in size but the diameter is large. Although the monastery is known to be a work of King Mahadatika Mahanaga, the stupa is believed to be built by King Surathissa (247 – 237 BCE) or King Kavanthissa (205 – 161 BCE). Some archaeologists and historians say that this could be the Mahanuggala Dagaba built by King Kavanthissa.

There are a number of caves in the Neelagiri mountain area which were used by Buddhist monks. These caves have drip ledges and some have Brahmi inscriptions. Some of the caves still have ancient plaster and fragments of paintings.

The second stupa at this large monastery is the stupa on top of the Neelagiri Mountain. There are 160 steps carved on the rock to reach the top. This stupa is known as an Aakasa Chethiya. On the sides of the flight of stairs reaching the top of the mountain, resting places have been built. What we can see today are ruins of these resting huts.

Kudumbigala monastery

During the time when the LTTE was terrorising the island, Kudumbigala was a forbidden place for pilgrims and travellers. Known for the unique brick stupa, cave monastery, and fragments of ancient rock paintings, Kudumbigala today is open to the public.

The place was inhabited by Buddhist monks since the early pre-Christian era and the drip-ledged caves with inscriptions are evidence of that. Among the large number of cave inscriptions found here, the inscription bearing the name of ‘Nandimitta’ is important. This Nandimitta is identified as one of the Ten Giants (Dasamaha Yodhayo) of King Dutugamunu (161 – 137 BCE).

The stupa has a unique cylinder shape that can be rarely seen among the stupas of Sri Lanka.

Kirivehera, Lahugala

The Lahugala area is known for its historical and archaeological value. A large number of stupas, monasteries, and cave monasteries can be seen in the Lahugala area. Apart from the main Lahugala monasteries that we have previously explored in our articles, the Lahugala Kirivehera Stupa monastery is a place that is on the verge of being destroyed.

Archaeologists say that the antiquity of this place goes back to the time of King Dappula I (661 – 664 CE). This ruined stupa is in a dilapidated condition and must be restored soon. Also, the ruins that are spread in the vicinity are being highly vandalised by religious extremists and treasure hunters.

Therefore, we urge the Department of Archaeology (DoA) to shift its attention to this site and other similar sites in the Ampara District before it is too late.

Paragahakale ruins

This is another ancient Buddhist site in the Ampara District that needs to be restored as soon as possible. These ruins are located in the area known as Paragahakale, on the Paragahakale – Abepura road.

We learned that the ruins are on private land. To see the ruined brick stupa, stone pillars, scattered bricks and stone carvings, a severely damaged inscription, tiles, and ruins of a building being decayed by every passing day due to heavy negligence is a pity sight.

Paadagoda monastery

This is another ancient Buddhist monastery that urgently needs the attention of the DoA. The current location of the monastery is known as Damana.

The ruins of an ancient Buddhist monastery can be seen scattered in a large area. The ancient stupa is in ruins.

Stone carvings, ruins of buildings, stone pillars, and terracotta tiles can be seen spread around.

Muwangala and Galmaduwa monastery

Muwangala is a village located on the Ampara – Hingurana road. The ruins at Muwangala can be identified as an ancient Buddhist monastery.

An ancient brick stupa can be seen on the rock and also ruins of a building below the rock. There are also inscriptions at this place. The place needs to be restored at the earliest.

Galmaduwa monastery is another ancient place in the Muwangamuwa village. In this place also you can see a small ruined brick stupa, ruins of a building, stone carvings, and pillars all around. These carvings are believed to belong to the early Anuradhapura Period.

Pulukunawa ruins

Pulukunawa ruins can be clearly identified as ruins belonging to the early Anuradhapura Period. The most interesting and significant monument of this place is the early Anuradhapura-Period architectural structure known as an Asanaghara.

An Asanaghara is an architectural structure that was built to keep the Asana which was venerated as a symbol of the Buddha. The Asana which symbolises the Buddha was kept in the centre and a circular shaped building is constructed around it. Devotees can circulate around the sacred Asana. These were objects of veneration used before the creation of the Buddha statue. Thus, we understand that this building is surely a structure belonging to the early Anuradhapura Period. In the Buddhist world, such architectural buildings are rare.

 Ruins of ancient stupas, ponds, stone pillars, and other stone carvings and tiles can be seen all over the area.

The number of ancient historical places in Ampara District is extremely high and we covered only a few of them today. Most of these places are large monasteries with caves. If you ever visit the Ampara District make sure to travel to these beautiful places and witness the story they tell, the history and the legacy of this island nation

We end our exploration in the Ampara District here. For the next couple of weeks, we shall continue our exploration in the Batticaloa District. The vast number of ruins in the Ampara District reveals a lot about its past. Most of these places need to be urgently restored and protected. Many of them have faced destruction caused by terrorists, religious extremists, and treasure hunters. Some places continue to suffer damages and vandalising. Sadly though despite all this destruction taking place, the DoA remains silent.

Distortion of ancient place names

Also, we noted that still many places in the Ampara District have their original names which bear a legacy and are testimonies of the past. In the entire Northern Province, Trincomalee District and Batticaloa District many place names have been distorted and ‘Tamilised’. The danger is that these distorted names have been entered into maps and official documents and even name boards. What happens when a place’s name is changed or distorted is that the identity and the legacy of the place is completely erased deliberately.

We understand that the majority of people in these areas use Tamil as their language and they pronounce the place names in their own ways for local use, and we respect that. However, it is not fair and justifiable that Tamilised names are used in official documents, name boards, and maps. That is causing unjust to the original identity of those places and to the Buddhist communities those who venerate those places. Therefore, the Government should take measures to make sure the original names are being used in all official documents, name boards, and maps. The public, including scholars, should make sure they use always use the original place names instead of the recently-given names, in order to protect the true identity and legacy of those places.

To be continued…

By Ama H. Vanniarachchy

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