Ruwanweli Maha Seya:
The unparalleled marvel in Sri Lanka
Sakyamuni Siddhartha Gautama was a glorious global gift to humanity.
He blossomed forth into the universe to put them on the correct track
for their emancipation.
Never was there a day an hour or a minute that He thought of Himself
but the entire humanity.
He discovered the realities of life the eternal bliss the truth of
life, the joy of Vimukthi and offered it to the humanity for their
liberation from samsara. After the Parinibbana of the Buddha millions of
devotees venerated Him in various ways. Chetiya worship was one such
method of paying respect to His doctrine of Dhamma.
In the Mahaparinibbana Sutta the Buddha is said to have mentioned
that there were four classes of people over whose remains stupas or
chetiyas should be built such as the Buddhas, Pacheka Buddhas, Arahats
and universal monarchs. Further, the Buddha is said to have advised
stupas to be built over the relics of the great Theras Sariputta and
Moggallana. Hence chetiya worship seems to have existed during the
Buddha's time. There is evidence to this effect in Dhammapadattakatha.
the practice has been continued and mostly the Buddha's relics were
enshrined in chetiyas.
After the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka Arahat Mahinda
Himself introduced chetiya worship here, so much so that Anuradhapura
became known as Atamasthana.
As Mihintale was 12 miles away from the capital, King Devanampiya
Tissa donated the Mahameghawana gardens to Ven. Mahinda and His mission.
Mahavihara was later constructed here and it became the centre of
Theravada doctrine with the three great symbols of the Triple Gem,
Chetiya enshrining the Buddha relics, the sacred Bo tree symbolising the
Enlightenment and the main temple signifying the Maha Sangha. Hence, the
Ruwanweliseya, Mahavihara and the Sri Maha Bodhi became the associated
places of worship of the Mahavihara and it received the special
attention of the kings.
In close proximity to the sacred Bo tree is the Dagaba of Mahavihara,
Ruwanweliseya, the largest chetiya built by King Dutugemunu, the
national hero of Sri Lanka as well as Mahavamsa as mentioned by its
author Thera Mahanama.
History reveals that it became customary for every temple to have a
chetiya, ever afterwards.
Emergence of the sacred site
Chetiyas became so important part of Buddhism mostly due to the fact
that the Buddha relics are enshrined in them and Ruwanweliseya is an
outstanding example. According to the ancient chronicles the Buddha is
believed to have visited Mahiyangana and Nagadeepa and on His third
visit He had blessed this sacred site with 500 ascetics. Subsequently,
when Thera Mahinda had made an offering of flowers there had been a
tremor. When King Devanampiya tissa was anxious to know the reason for
this miraculous tremor from the Thera, He predicted that in time to come
a stupa will be erected where the Buddha relics would be enshrined and
the particular salutation of the earth was in anticipation of the
The King's happiness knew no bounds "I can do it", he replied
unhesitatingly. The Thera said there is sufficient sasana work for you
to be involved in and therefore the right person to undertake this
sacred task will soon appear and he is none other than Dutugemunu Abhaya
who will be your grandson. the astonished king preserved a document
carved in golden letters in the royal treasury. He also set up a tower
with a royal edict inscribed on it on the site where Ratnamali Chetiya
will be built. Years later King Dutugemunu seeing the document and the
inscription, was impatient until it materialised. Having consulted the
Bhikkhus, the sacred task was begun.
The determined king first laid the foundation with eight golden
bricks, specially made for the purpose witnessing another earth tremor.
With the inauguration of the chetiya construction the king is said to
have been blessed with heaps of peals, gold and gems. the chetiya was
elaborately planned and well laid out. When the "pesale" the platform on
which the chetiya rests, was being built, it had sunk repeatedly for
three times. the king in dismay, consulted the monks. Their reply was
that it was due to their firm determination to instil strength and
stability to the blissful chetiya. With the completion of the third
Pesale the Chetiya was said to contain within its depth a gem studded
Bodhiya with its outspreading branches, all decorated well.
A Buddha statue was erected on the backdrop of the Bo tree depicting
Mara Parajaya and the consequent enlightenment of the Buddha.
The interior was decorated with the sculpture of 16 Buddha statues.
it was also covered with the scenes and events from the life of the
Buddha giving prominence to Wessantara Jathaka. Finally, a silver bed
was prepared and later Thera Sonuttara was requested to get the relics
from Nagaloka where it had been safely kept on his return. When the
relics were about to be placed on the bed the miracles of Yama Maha
Pelahara were seen on the sky and the relics flew spontaneously on to
the head of the king.
His firm determination was that the Buddha be seen on this perfect
setting of the silver bed in the reclining pose which he did see with
his own eyes.
His shraddah(piety) was overflowing. It is said that there is no
other chetiya which could be compared to Ruwanweliseya in the whole
The last stages
King Dutugemunu having achieved his ambition of unifying the island
and then becoming the benefactor of Buddhism erected many religious
buildings such as Lovamahapaya, Mirisa Vetiya etc., with a magnanimous
service to Buddhism. But his versatile genius could not live to see the
completion of this magnificent Dagaba-Ruwanweliseya.
He passed away at the site while admiring the last stages of the
construction. His brother King Saddhatissa who succeeded him is said to
have temporarily covered it with cloth to the shape of a Dagaba enabling
him to pass his last breath peacefully with his clasped hands on his
forehead with 'Sadhu Sadhu' and a sigh of relief. Later, King
Saddhatissa had really and truly completed the chetiya to its present
position, after fulfilling his brother's ambition. today it lies
majestically adding beauty and sanctity to the city of Anuradhapura
where our heritage lies.
It is one of the main attractions reflecting the past glory and pride
of this paradise isle.