Unveiling Eastern treasures

Seruwila Mangala Maha Seya

The white-washed bubble-shaped stupa is a pious sight to see. Today, the stupa and the monastery are like an oasis of food, water, and shelter in a vast spread of semi-arid surrounding. Most of the time of the year, the surrounding area is dry. The soil is hard. Mostly, you see thorny shrubs and trees. Elephants are a common sight in the monastery’s surroundings. Wild boars, deer, monkeys, and peacocks are usual inhabitants of the area.

For decades, due to the terrorist activities of the LTTE, the area has lost its prosperity. People who call the area their traditional home were forced to leave their farmlands and homes in order to save their lives.

The area is now slowly recovering.

However, centuries ago, Seruwila or ancient Seru Nuwara was a land of prosperity. The vast paddy fields and remnants of irrigational work are evidence of the past agricultural prosperity of the area.

Years of misery

From time to time, the Sri Lankan civilisation and the Sinhala kingdom were disturbed by foreign invasions, usurpers, and some years of anarchy. After the fall of the Rajarata Civilisation, Sinhala kingdoms gradually shifted towards the Northwest.

During the 13th century, the power of Kalinga Magha and his foreign troops and people grew in Jaffna. Javaka Chandrabanu also invaded Jaffna. As Prof. Senarath Paranavithana clarified a majority Malay population grew during the time of Javaka Chandrabanu (Ja) and Magha (Kalinga of South East Asia). Both of these usurpers brought their own people and settled them in Jaffna to increase their power.

During the time of King Parakramabahu VI of Kotte (1412 – 1467) the power of Arya Chakravartin was crushed and Sri Lanka was brought under one kingdom once again.

The dawn of the 16th century was a doomed period for Sri Lanka. Portuguese arrived and chaos happened. They ruined the country. The country was further ruined by the Dutch and then the British. Although Sinhalese people lived in the mostly abandoned areas in the North and East, many fled southwards.

During the time of Chankili or Sankili and his father Pararajasekaran in Jaffna, the Tamil population grew in the Jaffna Peninsula and eventually in the North. Sinhalese faced harassment. Not only Sinhalese even Muslims were massacred and forced to leave their homes in the North during Sankili’s time. The mass graves in Mannar are evidence of Sankili’s genocide of the Sinhalese and Muslims. It is also reported that his own relatives who converted to Christianity fled to Goa, fearing the violent-aggressive nature of Sankili.

During the Dutch period, many groups of people were brought to Jaffna from South India by the Dutch and settled in Jaffna and areas of the modern Northern Province. These people were of Dravidian origin in South India and spoke Dravidian languages, mainly the Tamil language. Due to this, the demography of the Northern and Eastern provinces eventually started to change.

In the east, the situation was the same. Adding to this, in the East something different happened. The Muslims were facing severe harassment by the Portuguese in the Western and Southern areas of the country. These were the Muslim merchants who were engaged in trade. Then the Sinhala king, King Rajasinghe I (Seetawaka Rajasinghe) settled them in the Eastern coastal areas for their safety, especially in Batticaloa District for their wellbeing. This population gradually grew, once again changing the demography of the Eastern Province further.

Thus, the Buddhist population of the North and Eastern provinces gradually shrunken due to historical genocides, ethnic cleansing, forceful land encroachments, and harassment based on race and religion. As the irrigation systems were abandoned and not maintained, the Sinhalese (the majority are farmers) lost their main occupation.

Due to these tragedies, many of the Buddhist temples of the North and East were ruined and abandoned.

Racism grows

During the 1930s and 1940s when irrigation and agricultural projects were started, it was planned to resettle the Sinhalese in these areas. However, by this time, wretchedly, seeds of racism and separationism were in the minds of some racist politicians. Thus, they ardently and adamantly opposed the resettlement of Sinhalese farmers. Meanwhile, the struggle for a separate State or the Tamil Elam was also staged by this time. First, it was a political discussion, and then soon, it broke into a violent terrorist organisation; the LTTE.

The Northern and Eastern parts of Sri Lanka were the central focus of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. As the Tamil politicians would claim, that part had been a traditional Tamil homeland for thousands of years. Based on this thought, in the 1930s/40s, Tamil politicians opposed when the British initiated irrigation and agricultural projects in the Northern plains. Based on this thought they stood against the Sinhalese farmers in the Northern plains and propagated a process to drive away the Sinhalese and also the Muslims from the North and the East.

It is unfortunate that these thoughts occurred in the minds of these early politicians as they spread thoughts of hatred and racism between the Sinhalese and the Tamils. We also must note that these were not the general thoughts of the Tamil public, but only of vicious politicians, and also, nourished by the British rulers who enjoyed, ‘Divide and Rule’.

Elam; the true meaning of the word in Tamil

The irony here is that the word Elam is a Tamilised word that means Sinhala or the Sinhala country. This is not fabricated but a fact accepted widely by scholars. Archaeological evidence reveals that Tamil Elam is a mythical concept and did not exist in reality.

Ila is the historical name of the Sinhala homeland. No matter how many distorted stories are written and published by certain ‘scholars’, these facts cannot be changed.

In the Ancient Jaffna by Mudliyar C.Rasanayagam, Dr. S. Krishnaswami Ayianagar writes in the preface as follows;

“The attempt of the author to derive the name Ilam does not appeal to us as quite successful: Ilam to us seems to be directly derived from the Pali word Sihalam, which in Tamil would be Singalam or even Singanam, but a strict Tamilising would make it Ilam much as the Jainagar of Kosala becomes Sadinagar and then Adinagar in Tamil inscriptions. The transformation of S into I and the la into illa is not so difficult of achievement philologically. The question of whether Pali word has a Tamil original must be left open for the present.”

Revival of Seruwila ancient Buddhist monastery

During the 1930s and 1940s, some of these ancient places of the North and East were revived by Buddhist monks and Buddhist devotees. The Seruwila ancient monastery is one such place.

In 1922 the Most Ven. Dambagasare Sri Sumedhankara Thera visited the ruined ancient monastery. When he first arrived at the place, Seruwila was all covered by the jungle tide. After years of dedicated hard work and sacrifices, the ancient stupa was once again restored in 1931. Sir D.B. Jayathilaka has come to the opening of the restored stupa for the public in September 1935.

The restoration work was initiated by Most Ven. Sri Sumedhankara Thera. Lay devotees who patronage this sacred task was the owner of T.A.D. Bus company Dodanduwe K.P.W. Sugathadasa and Kaluthara D.A. Samaraweera. They started the Seruwila Chaitha Wardhana Samithiya in order to restore the stupa.

The society not only restored the stupa but also built four wahalkada at the four directions of the stupa and also a resting hall for pilgrims.

Professor H.T. Basnayake in his book Seruwila Pinbima writes that the Stupa displays characteristics of the stupa construction of the early Anuradhapura Period. He further says that there are ruins of an image house. He reports the diameter of the stupa as 593 feet and its height as approximately 100 feet.

There are ruins of a Bodhighara, Uposathaghara, and a Sangharama and a large number of Buddha statues.

One of the most remarkable Buddha statues found here is the Buddha statue which is depicted as sitting on a Naga (Cobra) coil. The Naga has nine hoods. Another Buddha statue has been found with a Naga with seven hoods behind the Buddha. The Buddha is depicted as seated on the Naga coil.

There are a number of caves at the place, where Buddhist monks inhabited. There are drip ledges and Brahmi inscriptions on them. 9th-century and 10th-century inscriptions of King Kasyapa IV and King Kasyapa V have been also found at the premises.

The 10th-century King Kasyapa IV inscription mentions the name of the temple and half of it is erased. The remaining part reads as ‘Thissa Maha Viharaya’. Hence the ancient name of this place is Seruwila Thissa Maha Viharaya.

(Last week we narrated the tale of Kavanthissa and that he built this ancient stupa.)

Vilankulama ruins

Located in the Trincomalee District Vilankumala ruins are on the Trincomalee – Habarana road. The ruins can be seen scattered in a notably large area close to the large Vilankulama tank.

Close to the tank bunt, there are ruins of an ancient brick stupa and remnants of an ancient Buddhist monastery in the vicinity. Today it is in an extremely dilapidated tragic condition.

Purawidhya Chakrawarthi, Purawidhya Paryeshanashuri Ven. Ellawala Medhanandha Thera visited and recorded details about this place. As he writes, there had been pieces of limestone that he identified as pieces of a Buddha statue. He also clarifies the ruins belonging to the Anuradhapura Period.

He writes that in 1978 when he first examined the place, a person named Sellappa Nallaiya and Eenamuththusami built a house on top of the ruined stupa, including a toilet and a hut for cows.

What are the role, duties, and responsibilities of the DoA?

We wonder why the Department of Archaeology (DoA) is not taking any legal action against such acts happening all over the Eastern Province. When we contacted officials of the DoA to know the present situation of the stupa and Vilankulama ruins, it was disappointing. While some said, they will get back to us some new officials haven’t even heard the name before.

Last week, it was reported on social media that an inscription of King Mahadatika Mahanaga was used as a seat at the Mannar Government Hospital. When we inquired about this, we were enlightened that the inscription was copied in 2009 by the DoA and then neglected.

Do we actually need careless officials like this at the DoA?

We immediately informed the Director General of the DoA and he assured us that he informed the Mannar – Vavunia Assistant Director of the DoA and asked to take immediate action. 

However, if the inscription was copied in 2009, why necessary actions to preserve the original stone inscription weren’t taken back then?

To be continued…

By Ama H. Vanniarachhcy

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