Ruwanwelisaya

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Ruwanweli maha Seya was built by the great king Dutugamunu who reigned from 137BC to119BC. The original stupa has been about 180 feet (55 metres) in height and was renovated by many kings. The stupa is 350 feet (107 metres) in height and 300 feet (92 metres) in diameter today.


According to Mahavamsa, the great chronicle of the Sinhalese the preparation for the foundation for the stupa is described as follows; The ruler had the site of the stupa dug to the depth of seven cubits (about 17 ½ feet) round stones brought by warriors and had them broken by small hammers , then for the sake of firmness of the site he had the crushed stones stamped by elephants with feet covered in leather. He had butter clay laid over the stones and bricks over the clay. Rough plaster over it, quarts over that, a network of iron over that, and above that fragrant “marumba”.


The king had crystal spread over that and over the crystal stones. Everywhere in the work was the clay called butter clay with the resin of wood apple mixed with mercury. A bronze plate, eight finger breadths thick was laid over the stones. A silver plate seven finger breadths thick was laid over it with arsenic mixed in the oil of sesame.


Mahavamsa – The Great Chronicle of Sri Lanka
King Dutugamunu didn’t live to see the completion of this chethiya. When the king fell ill he sent his brother to complete the work of the stupa. On King Dutugamunu’s death bed he wanted to see this chethiya and his brother covered the whole dome in white cloth and constructed the upper portion of the stupa in bamboo and painter it in imitation gold and carried the king to the stupa to show the “competed” stupa. After the kings death the Saddhatissa finished the remaining work. Around this stupa you will also see statues made out of stones of King Dutugamunu, Queen Vihara Mahadevi (Mother of king Dutugamunu) and King Bhathika Tissa of 2nd Century.

He commenced the work on the full moon day of Vesak. Having got the inscribed pillar removed, the ruler had the site of the thupa (Stupa) there dug to the depth of seven cubits (about 17 ½ feet) so as to make it firm in various ways.
He who knew the disadvantages, had round stones brought there by warriors and had them broken with hammers; then for the sake of firmness of the site, he had the crushed stones stamped down by elephants with feet covered in leather, he had the butter clay spread there over the layer of stone.
The king had bricks laid over the clay, rough plaster over it, quartz over that, a network of iron over it and , above that fragrant marumba. The king had crystal spread over that and , over the crystal, stones. Everywhere in work was the clay called butter-clay. With the resin of the wood-apple mixed in mercury, a bronze plate, eight finger breadth thick, was laid over the stones.


The king had a silver plate, seven finger-breadth thick, laid over it with arsenic mixed in oil of sesamum. This is how the chronicle Mahavamsa describes the preparatory efforts for the building of the Great Stupa; the Ratnamali Mahathupa popularly known as the Ruwanweli Mahasaya and perhaps the most venerated amongst all the stupas of Lanka.
Even today the giant edifice astounds builders. Its great immensity soaring high into the sky built in a day where technology was mainly man power.
It was built by the famous Dutugemunu , the warrior king and the great hero of the Sinhalese people during his reign between 161- 137 BC on a site believed to have been consecrated by Mahinda Mahathera and marked by a pillar inscription by king Devanampiyatissa (250 -210 BC).
Further description of the foundation ceremony says that for the foundation ceremony alone participated many thousands of Bhikkhus from various countries including monks from Alexandria.


The king also ordered that “no one should work without wages.” So saying he arranged that 1600,000 kahapanas, many garments, various ornaments, soft and hard food with beverages, perfumes, garlands, molasses etc. and the five kinds of fresheners be made available saying “let one work as one desires and take them as one desires”. Royal officers inspected accordingly.
However the stupa cost him 6.4 million coins in wages alone not counting other expenditure. His luck was such that he found a rich vein of silver from Ridigama to cover his expenses.
Sadly king Dutugemunu died before the completion of the stupa. While the work was going on the king fell ill and he sent for his brother Sadatissa and told him to complete the work. Sadatissa seeing that his brother’s end was close, covered the unfinished dome with a covering of white cloth taking pains to cleverly camouflage the unfinished structure to resemble the completed stupa. And so when the dying monarch was brought in a palanquin and beheld what he believed to be the completed superstructure he “became glad at heart”. After Dutugemunu’s death Sadatissa finished the work of the stupa.


Originally the stupa was constructed in the bubble shape. However the stupa continued to be embellished and renovated by successive kings who added further conveniences to the superstructure. For eg- king Lanjatissa (119-109 BC) faced the terraces with limestone blocks.
Kallatanaga (109 – 103 BC) made the sand court yard. Bhatikabhaya (19 BC – 9 AC) built two railings, one on the summit of the dome and the other around the topmost terrace and renewed the plaster work. Amandagamini Abhaya (22 -311) reconstructed the railings and added a second umbrella over the existing one. Sirinaga (195 – 251) reconstructed and gilded the umbrella. Samghatissa (247 -251) gilded the umbrella and put a ring of crystal on it and fixed four great gems on the four sides of the hataras-kotuva. Mittasena ( 432 ) made a gateway through the elephant wall. Dhatusena (459 -477) restored and gilded the umbrella, embellished it with a precious stone and added decorative work. Mahanaga (573 – 575 AC) restored the stucco work, built the Hatthivedi, the elephant railing and renovated paintings. Aggabodhi I (575 -608 AC) installed an umbrella of stone. Parakramabahu I (1153 – 1186 AC) restored the stupa to its original height.


Nissanka Malla (1187 -1196 AC) carried out repairs and erected a stone replica of the stupa on the platform. However by the 19th century the Ruwanweliseya was in ruins and for the first time utterly neglected with the jungle growing on it.
In 1893 the work of reconstruction was begum by Rev. Naranvita Sumanasara thero and later continued by the Sri Ratnamali Chaityavardhana Society.Presently after several renovations and reconstructions the Ruwanwelisaya rises to the height of 350 feet with a diameter of 300 feet.
The height of the golden pinnacle and the crystal is 25 feet. The famous hasti-prakara or the elephant wall upholding the dagoba platform is a simulation of a line of elephants in front view. Some believe that they had real ivory tusks in the past. At each of the cardinal points is a Vahalkada. Some ancient statues and stone work are kept on the paved stone courtyard and in the shrine room. These include the statue of Queen Vihara Maha devi, the mother of king Dutugemunu. The present principal approach to the Ruwanweliseya is from the east.
If you are lucky to spend a poya full moon night in its precincts it is an experience to treasure. The night is cool with a slight chill breeze so much in contrast to the warm uncomfortable rajarata mornings.


The delicate scent of the ollu, nelum, manel flowers carried by the devotees; the pungent smell of the hadunkuru or the smoking incense sticks; the white clad devotees as they sit quietly in meditation or make their subdued veneration at the four altars; and above it all the majestic, super-white, gigantic Ruwanweli so fair against a moonlit, star-sprinkled, jet night.
A lost and an unidentified world
All around the Ruwanweliseya are ruins of buildings mostly unidentified which have not been excavated or conserved. The few buildings which have been recognized have mostly been identified by their architectural features. An early morning stroll in this area through forests of lost columns, stonework, elaborate carvings, ponds and pathways is overwhelming. Many are the mounds yet to be excavated. More are the ruins to be exposed of maybe monastic buildings, hospitals and sacred edifices. But they all lie silent; an ancient world lost under the today. Chattering monkeys, lively squirrels, colourful lizards, birds and butterflies that abound the premises seemingly the only occupants dependent on these holy precincts now, where massive shade trees, delicate wild flowers, soft green grass and sweet wild berries grow and flourish.

Monastery buildings
North of the Ruwanweliseya and between the Thuparama are found the ruins of some buildings thought to be of an ancient monastery.
A stone balustrade found on the main structure carries unique sculptures. Professor Parnavitana details that amongst the carvings can be recognized trees, cave temples, animals such as the mongoose and birds with human heads. One detail of the sculpture found on the outer face of the balustrade on the southern side is very much like the famous sculpture of “horse and man” at Isurumuniya. He concludes that these sculptures depicted some definite scenes and were not casually carved.


Ramsimalaka – The Convocation Hall
In close proximity to the Ruwanweliseya (in front of the Lovamaha Pasada) is an ancient building popularly known as the Ramsimalaka which is believed to have been the Sannipatasala or the Convocation Hall of the monks of the Mahavihara. There is evidence that this building had eight rows of pillars with ten pillars in each row but with no walls in between them. As such scholars believe that this building would have been an open structure. Panhambamalaka – Where Elder Mahinda’s body lay in state. Between the Ruvanveliseya and the Lovamaha Prasada the terraced space is known as the Panhambamalaka or the Panamba maluwa. This is believed to be the place where the body of the great Thera Mahinda lay in state before cremation.
It is also the place where the Maha-vihara monks assembled to distribute the four requisites the monks receive, namely robes, alms, living quarters and medicine.


Catussala or the Alms Hall
Adjoining the Panhambamalaka is the alms hall called the Catussal of the monks of the Mahavihara, built by king Devanampiyatissa in the 3rd century BC.
This building is found to contain the same architectural features of alms hall found at Mihintale. A rice boat found here measures forty five feet long and is believed to have been capable of providing alms to at least three thousand monks. The same number recorded by the 5th century Chinese monk Fa- Hsien as living in the Mahavihara Kujjatissa Pabata vihara or the tomb of Elara
An unidentified small stupa built on a square platform is prominent enough. According to legend the site is associated with the life story of a monk named Kujjatissa who possessed psychic powers. Yet others believe that according to its situation being by the side of the ancient path leading to the southern gate of the citadel, it is the tomb of king Elara.


Hospital complex
In front of the eastern gate of the Ruwanweliseya are found ruins of some buildings believed to be that of a hospital. A beth oruva or medicinal trough was found as evidence here.

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