Kotte Raja Maha Vihara steeped in history
The sacred na tree of
Decorated entrance to the tunnel
Away from the hustle and bustle of the Nugegoda metropolis, a 20
minute drive towards the Pita-Kotte junction leads the way to Kotte Raja
Maha Vihara, one of the ancient temples of the city. The tranquillity of
the temple invited us for a journey towards a life full of peace and
happiness. Since it was almost twilight, the temple was crowded with
many worshippers. The light of the oil lamps and the aroma of the
incense sticks took us to an incredible world, making us forget that we
are at the edge of a busy town.
"When King Parakumbha VI (1415-1467) ruled the country, he built this
temple closer to his palace, with the intention of doing the necessary
duties to the Sangha regularly," the Chief Incumbent of the Kotte Raja
Maha Vihara, Ven. Aluthnuwara Anuruddha Thera explained. With the
arrival of the Portuguese, the Kotte Kingdom faced a tragic situation.
The fate of the temple was no difference. It was in 1813, when Ven.
Pilane Dharma Keerthi Sri Buddha Rakkhitha Thera found this ancient
temple in ruins and restored it to the present condition. "The Thera
found the place, with some ruins of the present Chethiya, foundation of
the Vihara and the Katharagama Devalaya, and some stone pillars here and
there," said Anuruddha Thera. "However, most of the artifacts had been
taken away by the foreigners leaving only a few ruins at this place," he
A kabok tunnel situated at the Kotte Ananda Shasthralaya premises is
another important artefact that belongs to the temple. This tunnel has
three openings. One doorway leads to the palace and another to escape
safely during an enemy attack. It is noticeable that during the past the
entrance to the tunnel had been decorated with a 'Makara Thorana'. The
outline of the decoration still remains at the doorway. It is said that
there was another tunnel connected to this one. That is for the purpose
of enabling the Queen and her maids safely reach the other nearby
Inside the tunnel
A bronze plate kept at the temple, with the engraving 'vaasala'
(palace), is one of the historic artifacts found at this premises. It is
said that this plate was sent from the palace during alms-givings. Now
the plate is restored at the Vihara.
The 'Viharage' of the temple has many ancient drawings and one of the
old 'Devala' contains a drawing of a Portuguese Mudliyar or a soldier,
with a bronze-buttoned shirt, a sarong with some designs, and a hat. One
of the wall paintings depicts this Portuguese man holding a bird and a
devil dancing nearby and another show the Mudliyar pointing a finger at
something. The paintings are almost vanishing. It gives some signs of
colour, however, now it is visible in black and white. The
Sandakadapahana or the moonstone of the temple is adorned with swans,
horses, elephants, and leaves (liyavel). The centre of the moonstone is
decorated with some coloured glass beads, to give the effect of the
seeds of the lotus.
The land towards the east of the temple is another important part of
the ancient temple. It had been a place named 'Kota Vehera', a place
that was worshipped by the kings, ministers as well as the public.
Unlike other temples, this temple has an ironwood (Na) tree instead
of a bo tree. History of this tree dates back to the era of the prince
Sapumal Bandara, the prince who defeated Aryachakravarthis and won the
administration of Jaffna. Before leaving for this war, he had worshipped
this ancient naa tree and made a vow.
He returned to Kotte as a winner and national hero. From that day
onwards, people had the habit of worshipping the tree before attending
any of their major tasks. The kings during that era paid a visit to the
temple after their coronation ceremony to pay homage to the Buddha. H.
C. P. Bell an Archaeological Commissioner of Ceylon once said, "At the
village of Pita-Kotte, which consisted of the outer city stood the
Dagaba and temple to which according to tradition, before the coronation
the monarchs of Kotte used to ride on horseback for the ceremony of
cutting the tali-pot tree that sprang into life again like the golden
bough of Virgil with student of each successive ruler. The temple had
vanished centuries ago, with the other Buddhist buildings. The Dagaba,
which had remained in facet, spaced alike by conqueror and by time, has
recently been exploited and the bricks of the dome daily abstracted to
build a house. Now, only the basement is left of it, and that too is
"Later this land was handed over to a mission by the Dutch," says
Anuruddha Thera. "They cut off the Bo-tree and built a church on that
place," He added. To date, the main temple of the Kotte Vihara does not
have a Bo-tree.
||Painting of a mudliyar
The area with the Bo-Tree is situated a few metres away from the main
temple. C.M. de Silva states in his book 'Antiquities of the Kingdom of
Kotte', "The Rajamaha Vihara is the meeting point of thousands of
devotees from all parts of the neighbouring towns and villages.
The perehera of the temple is viewed with a spirit of devotion and
happiness evoking a sense of national pride is perpetuation a historic
event of the bygone days of Kotte." Explaining further he wrote, "The
Rajamaha Vihara in Pita-Kotte was constructed by Sri Parakramabahu VI
about the year 1415. For the upkeep of the temple, considerable lands
yielding and the King had endowed adequate income. Under the Portuguese
rule the temple was reduced to ruins and for nearly one and a half
centuries the palace was under the jungle."
According to the Department of Archaeology, there is no other place
in the country like Kotte, where most of the ancient buildings,
artefacts, and ruins were lost.
The chief incumbent of the temple, humbly requests the public to
present voluntarily whatever the artefact they have, which is related to
the history of the temple. It would be a social service for the
betterment of the future generations.