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Sunday, 17 May 2009





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The splendour of Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara

Polonnaruwa or Anuradhapura may be the very first places that would enter your mind when you begin to think of Buddhist religious sites in Sri Lanka. But the next moment you may remember that the most sacred of all is situated just a six miles away from Colombo, beside the Kelani River stretching over an area of ten acres. Kelani Raja Maha Vihara which is never devoid of Buddhist devotees was filled with Upasaka, Upasika as usual last weekend. Of all twelve poyas, Vesak Full Moon Poya is of the greatest importance to Kelani Vihara as in the Buddhist era of 2531, it was on a Vesak Full Moon Poya Day, the Buddha had visited Kelaniya.

“Out of His three visits to the country, His visit to Kelaniya is considered the most significant one as this was the first instance the Enlightened One had set his foot on the ground, before leaving for Sripada to place His foot imprint.

On other two occasions the Buddha had preached Dhamma while staying afloat,” Viharadhipathi Ven. Prof. Kollupitiye Mahinda Sangharakkita Nayake Thera explained to us.

During its over thousand years of history, Kelani Vihara has always attracted the attention of devout Buddhists, becoming a popular subject for numerous books, newspaper articles and documentaries. As Ven. Kollupitiye Mahinda Sangharakkita Thera says the history of Kelani Vihara can be analysed in two ways - as mentioned in Mahavamsa and in Ramayana.According to Ramayana, the King Vibeeshana who ruled Kelaniya had supported Prince Rama to take Princess Seetha (who was abducted by King Ravana) back to India. As Rama defeated a King of Lanka, Ravana, the former crowned Vibeeshana as the King. Later he was elevated to God - like status.

As Mahavamsa says, on the 8th year of His supreme Enlightenment, the Buddha visited Kelaniya with 500 Arhats on the invitation of the Naga King Maniakkika.

“As mentioned in `Vansa Katha Atuwa’, Naga King Maniakkika had been both in Mahiyangana and Nagadeepa, when the Buddha visited these places.

It was during the Buddha’s visit to Nagadeepa that he was invited by the Naga King to visit Kelaniya.

“Naga King had brought the gem-studded chair over to Kelaniya from Nagadeepa and had placed it in a gem studded Mandapa. It is from there that the Buddha had preached to the crowds after partaking alms .That is where the Cetiya (pagoda) was built.”

Referring to the pagoda which stands on the other bank of the Kelani river, the thera said it was built enshrining the `Jala Sateeka’ which the Buddha worn while having a bath in the Kelani River.

In 1970, Ven. Prof. Kamburupitiye Vanarathana Thera of Vidyodaya University who was engaged in excavation work at Kelaniya, came across an inscription carved on a stone pillar of the Vibeeshana Devala in the temple premises.

It says that King Kanishka had offered a pooja to the pagoda which enshrines the `Jala Satika’ (Uda kasda) of the Buddha. According to the inscription it is clear that both pagodas had been there during the Anuradhapura kingdom.

Next, it was during the reign of King Yatalalatissa, brother of King Kelanitissa that the Mahavamsa talks of Kelani Vihara. He is the one who reconstructed the Vihara. His successor was Kelanitissa.” Devotees largely used to visit the temple during that time, in the 3rd Century B.C.

When Princess Devi, daughter of king Kelanitissa was offered as a sacrifice to the `sea-gods’ she safely arrived in the shores of Magama and later became the Chief Queen of King Kavantissa. By the time, the Kelani Kingdom had come to an end and Kelaniya was ruled from Magama.

Kelaniya again becomes a subject of interest in Mahavamsa during the reign of Chola King, Kalinga Magha, an invader who ruled the Polonnaruwa Kingdom.

“It was king Vijayabahu III who organised an army against Magha while dwelling in this area. In response to Vijayabahu’s army, Magha dispatched a powerful contingent of troops towards Kelaniya which caused severe damage to the temple. “ Anyway King Vijayabahu could defeat Magha’s army and ensure his power in Polonnaruwa kingdom. Subsequently he rebuild the temple.”

Mahavamsa also mentions how King Parakramabahu, King Agbo and King Mihindu IV of Anuradhapura performed Poojas at this Vihara.

Kelaniya Vihara reached the peak of its glory in the Kotte era. During the reign of King Buwanekabahu IV, monks who arrived from Myanmar (then Burma) were ordained in Kelaniya. “Unfortunately the Portuguese who arrived here in 1505 caused much havoc to the temple. In 1510 they destroyed Kelani Vihara.

For about ten years it had been a `forbidden zone’ to Buddhists. The Bo-Tree which is there today is a sapling sprouted from the original Bo tree, which was mercilessly destroyed by the Portuguese.

Anyway in 1767 during the Dutch rule, King Keerthi Sri Rajasingha of the Kandyan Kingdom reconstructed the Vihara. he old pagoda was renovated while a new Dharmashala, Makara Thorana (which is on the right side), and a Poya Geya were added to the precincts.

Referring to the developments in the 20th century, Ven. Sangarakkitta Thera paid a compliment to the late Ms. Helena Wijewardene who constructed the new Vihara in 1927 encircling the old Vihara which was constructed by King Keerthi Sri Rajasingha in 1767. Paintings of New Vihara were done by the veteran artist Solius Mendis and are known for their originality and diversity .

From earlier times the practice has been to paint the walls of temples with pictures of the Jataka stories (Old paintings of Kelani Vihara too repeat Jathaka stories).

But the new paintings had taken a novel turn by depicting a series of historical scenes that are connected with the birth, rise and progress of Buddhism in Sri Lanka....

Today the Kelani procession is composed of the processions of the Buddha Relics and those of the three devalas of Vibhishana, Vishnu and Kataragama Gods.

The procession has been conducted for centuries, it was stopped during the time the country was under the control of the Portuguese.

Afterwards it was with the help of Mrs. Helena Wejewardene that the procession was started again. To this day, Duruthu Perehara of Kelani Raja Maha Vihara parades through the streets in the month of January.



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