Significance of Duruthu Poya
Duruthu Poya, the first Full Moon Poya Day falls on January 19. It is
of very special significance to Buddhists in Sri Lanka. Legend says that
the Buddha came to Lanka on the ninth Full Moon Poya Day, in the first
year of His Enlightenment. The ninth full moon day is the Duruthu Full
Moon Poya which is usually in January.
The grand finale of the Kelani perahera, one of the great annual
pageants, is on the night before the Duruthu Full Moon Poya Day. Many
think that this perahera is held to mark the Buddha's visit to Kelaniya.
They are mistaken.
The Buddha's visit that poya day was not to Kelaniya but to
Mahiyangana, which is on the right bank of the Mahaweli in the Badulla
The circumstances of His visit as told in the Sinhala classic,
Thupavamsa (History of Thupas or dagobas) is roughly as follows: The
Buddha came to settle a dispute between two groups of Yakkhas. Before
Vijaya and his followers came to Lanka and colonized the island, this
country was inhabited by three main groups. Today we would say 'ethnic'
groups; Yakkhas, Rakshashas and Nagas.
They were human beings like Vijaya and his men. There is in NE India
a state called Nagaland, home of the Naga people. A naga, a serpent must
have been the totem of their ancestors. A totem is usually an animal
regarded as the symbol of a tribe.
The Yakkhas in that area had clashed over something or other and they
had come together in a crowd in an open area in Mahiyangana, and were
throwing barbs at each other. The Buddha seeing this with His divine
eye, came by air and standing above the warring crowd, created a rain
storm and a thick darkness.
The Yakkhas were filled with fear and looking at the sky called out,
"Oh Lord! grant us mercy." "I have granted you mercy," said the Buddha.
"Give me a place to sit." "We give you the whole of Lanka. Please grant
us mercy", they said with one voice. Then the Buddha dispelled the
darkness and stopped the storm.
He then sat on the sheet of skin spread out for Him, and willed that
flames to come out of that sheet. Seeing the flames the Yakkhas were
seized with fear and they rushed towards the beach. Thereupon the Buddha
created an island off the coast and banished the Yakkhas there.
Thereafter, He preached to the Devas who had gathered to witness this
scene. At the end of the sermon, God Sumana or Saman Devi asked the
Buddha for something as an object of veneration.
The Buddha placed His right hand on his head, and gave God Saman some
hairs which God Saman enshrined in a seven cubic dagoba, built on the
spot that the Buddha sat upon. This then is the first dagoba built in
Sri lanka. It was enlarged two or three times, subsequently.
This is the story of the Mahiyangana stupa, which is one of the 16
places of veneration (solosmasthana.)
The Kelani Vihara which is one of the sixteen hallowed places of
worship in Sri Lanka, described in detail by the 15th century poet, Sri
Rahula Thera in his poem Selalihini Sandesa, was razed to the ground by
the Portuguese in 1575. For 200 years it was in ruins. Only a mound of
earth and a few stone pillars remained of the once glorious vihara,
until King Keerthi Sri Rajasinghe rebuilt a part of the main temple in
1767. The murals in the main hall which the King built are typical of
the 'Sittara' art (style of paintings) of the Kandy period in our
history. The murals are dated 2394 Buddha Varsha (Buddhist era). That is
1851 AD. It was Mrs. Helena Wijewardene, mother of D.R. Wijewardene,
founder of Lake House who restored the Kelani Vihara. Through her
generosity Kelani vihara is what it is today, a show piece of Sri Lanka.
The right wing she built has murals by the famous temple artist, Soliyas
Mendis, depicting scenes from Sri Lanka's history.
Mrs. Wijewardene was living at Sedawatta on the other bank of the
Kelani river, within sight of the ruined vihara. The state of this
sacred vihara saddened her. She wanted to rebuild it one day. The first
step in her ambitious plan was the building of a mal aasana (flower
alter) - by her and her husband, Muhandiram D.P. Wijewardene. (The
Muhandiram passed away in 1903). After the construction of the 'mal
aasana', she may have resolved to restore the vihara. A wish became a
Twenty years and more passed before her plan was put into action. The
work on the restoration commenced with the laying of the foundation
stone on January 10, 1927. Her son, Walter Wijewardene who was Basnayaka
Nilame of the Vibhishana Devala of the Kelani Vihara, had suggested that
a perahera be held to mark the event. The perahera was held on Duruthu
Poya night in 1927. The perahera was held again the next year and the
following year, and the Kelani Perahera at Duruthu became an annual
event and notched its name in the calendar of religious celebrations in
Kelaniya has a history going to the days of the Buddha. It was then a
settlement of Nagas, one of the ethnic groups that lived in this island
before Vijaya and his followers came, as explained earlier..
Legend says that the Buddha came to Lanka, for the third time on
Vesak Full Moon Poya Day in the eighth year of His Enlightenment. This
was in response to the invitation extended by Mani Akkhika, the chief of
the Kelaniya Nagas, when he met the Buddha at Nagadeepa five years
The dagoba at the vihara marks the spot where the Buddha sat and has
enshrined in it, the gem-studded seat He sat on, when He preached to the
Nagas and Devas. This dagoba is unlike other dagobas. It is like a heap
of paddy. It is not round like the Ruwanveli Seya or bell-shaped like
We next hear of Kelaniya when it was an independent kingdom, ruled by
Kelani Tissa, like Magama in the south east of the island, which was a
contemporary kingdom. The first recorded tsunami came to Sri Lanka , in
the time of Kelani Tissa.
History books say that the sea invaded Kelaniya because the gods were
angry and horrified by what the king did. He suspected the chief bhikkhu
of having a love affair with his queen and as a punishment made the
bhikkhu sit in a cauldron of boiling oil. (The queen's lover was the
king's brother). The gods were so angry that they made the sea flood the
land. Mind you, at that time Kelaniya was much further from the sea than
it is now. Much of the coastal area was lost in the tsunami.
The king on the advice of his wise men, then sacrificed his daughter,
Vihara Devi to appease the gods who were sending wave after wave of sea
water, into the land.
Kelaniya was never abandoned like many capitals were.
Being one of the places hallowed by the Buddha's visit, it was,
through the centuries, a place of worship set in grand surroundings.
In the 15th century, the heyday of the Kingdom of Kotte, Kelaniya was
an opulent township second only to Jayewardenepura, the capital with
streets lit up at night and flags flying on the minarets of the
mansions. There was even a royal residence in Kelaniya, wherein the
kings came to spend their leisure or to relax after discharging their
duties. Kelaniya was just across the river, a couple of miles from
Thanks to the poet, Totagamuwe Sri Rahula Thera we have a detailed
picture of the Kelani Vihara complex in the 15th century when Parakrama
Bahu VIII was king. At that time, Nagas were still livig in Kelaniya as
a distinct group when the poet wrote the Selalihini Sandesa.
The poet points out to the Selalihini bird who is carrying a message
to God Vibhishana, the Naga maidens seated on the sandy bank of the
river, strumming their veenas and singing hymns to the Buddha (Budu guna
Kelani Vihara then was a vast complex, comprising dagobas, image
houses a preaching hall, the Bodhi tree and the grand shrine of
Vibhishana, the guardian god. In addition to the main dagoba, there was
another with a wall and a roof, a watadage, and a third dagoba called
Sivuru dagoba built on the site where the Buddha is said to have robed
himsel fafter bathing in the river. There was a reclining image of the
Buddha which could be the one that is still there.
There were sedant images, one carved in rock and an image of a seated
Buddha with a serpent coiled round it. This depicts the legend of the
serpent Muchalinda, sheltering the Buddha with its hood during a week of
continuous rain. The poet bids the Selalihini who enters the vihara at
dusk to pay obeisance at several shrines and then watch the girls
dancing before the image of Vibhishana.
Poet Sri Rahula Thera painted a picture in words of the Kelani Vihara
in the twilight of its glory.King Parakramabahu's successor Bhuvaneka
Bahu's grandson, who was baptised Don Juan handed over the vihara to the
Franciscan Friars and it was razed to the ground by the Portuguese in
1575.The restored Kelani vihara is a monument to the generosity and
Sraddha of the lady who lived across the river at Sedawatta.