Thiriyaya back to its glory
The Girihanduseya temple at Thiriyaya is considered unique as it is
supposed to be the oldest Buddhist temple in Sri Lanka enshrined with
the hair relic of the Buddha.
According to Buddhist annals two trader brothers Thapassu and
Bhallika offered the first `dana' to the Buddha on the 50th day of His
The Buddha delivered an anusasana and having come to know that the
glorious personality to whom they offered alms was the Buddha himself,
they requested him for something for them to worship. The Buddha offered
them a lock of hair from his head.
The jubilant trader brothers placed the hair relic in a golden casket
and carried it with reverence wherever they went. Soon they set sail
with a large consignment of cargo and having arrived in Lanka they
anchored at Galwaraya now known as Kallarawa. The people lived there
were `yakka'. The two brothers who met their chieftain spent the night
on a hilltop where they placed the golden casket on a small rock and
covered it with a white cloth.
The next morning to their astonishment they found that the golden
casket was embedded to the rock. All attempts to retrieve the casket
failed and they left the place having covered the casket with a piece of
rock for safety.
The `yakka' chieftain who came to know about the Buddha began to
worship the relic. Later he became a follower of the Buddha. Legend has
it that king Wasaba (67AD) built the original stupa and also an
irrigation tank which is known as Thiriyaya tank. King Pandukabhaya and
king Devanampiyatissa also venerated this `stupa' till 412 AD, it is
The Girihanduseya is also known as `Neethupatpana' a `Pali' word
meaning rock visited by trade leaders. King Agrabodhi Seelamega (733AD)
built a bigger chetiya over the small one. Later foreign invasions
followed and the people had to seek refuge elsewhere. The overpowering
forest began to set in leaving the chetiya at the mercy of the elements.
It is believed that king Agbo (VI) (772AD) who stationed himself on
the hilltop with an army completed the granite work and also built the `Watadage'.
The area became once again populated with the native Sinhala
Buddhists but who too had to leave the area due to constant enemy
conquest. Once again the temple fell victim to the thick jungle.It was
however in 1929 that a group of surveyors discovered the Chetiya and
observed several stone inscriptions. The inscriptions bore testimony to
the true identity of Girihanduseya where Buddha relics were enshrined.
Later the archaeological department investigations examined the site
and confirmed it to be that of Girihanduseya via a gazette notification
Due to the persuasion of the late D.S. Senanayake the late Dr.
Senarath Paranavithana carried out the restoration work of the `chetiya'
and the `watadage' in 1951-1952.
Subsequently with ethnic violence reaching its peak the Sinhala
population living in that area along with the priest left the area in
For nearly twenty years the area remained under LTTE control.
Except for the newly built `Sangavasa', pilgrims rest and such other
buildings none of the ancient structures were damaged.
The Sri Lanka Navy which took over the security in the area
facilitated the inflow of pilgrims once again.