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Sunday, 19 June 2016

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Mahaweli Maha Seya:

A serene tribute to Kotmale

The ceremonial opening of the Kotmale Mahaweli Maha Seya (Pagoda) will take place tomorrow (June 20) at 2 p.m. in the presence of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. The Stupa then becomes the second largest stupa in Sri Lanka, after the Ruwanweliseya in Anuradhapura. It will also be one of the greatest architectural achievements of Sri Lankan engineers of the 21st century.

The Mahaweli Maha Seya project was first initiated by the late Gamini Dissanayake, the Mahaweli Minister on the advice of several religious leaders including Venerable Elle Gunawansa Thera, as a tribute to the religious shrines in the lands that had to be abandoned and the many sacrifices made by the people of the Kotmale valley with the building of the Kotmale dam and the reservoir.

Ostracized

It is believed that more than 50 temples and other places of worship were submerged with the start of the construction work of the Kotmale reservoir, the first reservoir to be built under the Accelerated Mahaweli Development Project (AMDP) in the eighties.

The foundation stone of the Seya project was laid by the late President J.R. Jayewardene and the late Gamini Dissanayake on March 20, 1983. Coincidentally, it was Minister Dissanayake's birthday. The construction of the Kotmale Maha Seya was undertaken by the Mahaweli Ministry and CECB with the support of several other state institutions, using the latest available technologies and techniques of construction at the time. They chose a location on an escarpment in a village area known as 'Kotagapitiya' at Kotmale, overlooking the dam, not too far from the place where King Dutugemunu is believed to have taken refuge after being ostracized by his father.

The structure of Mahaweli Maha Seya was designed by the former chairman of the Mahaweli Cultural Foundation Trust, the late Vidya-Jyothi Dr. A.N.S. Kulasinghe, an eminent engineer of international repute. Architect Dharma Siriwardene and Gamunu Silva were also among the key people involved in the project.

Beginning

The Mahaweli Maha Seya project was a concept of the late Minister
Gamini Dissanayake

The project received the support of state and private institutions and people of all walks of life throughout the past 33 years. The Ministry of Mahaweli and CECB - the key engineering partner of the Mahaweli project - invested funds at the beginning. The Mahaweli Maha Seya is 289 feet in height, two feet less in height than the highly venerated Ruwanweli Seya in Anuradhapura.

The significance of this Seya is that visitors can walk straight into the hollow dome of the concrete stupa, which is similar to the famous Kalutara Bodhi. However, the area here is much larger and can accommodate up to 4,000 devotees at any given time.

However, the construction work of the stupa came to a virtual standstill in 1991. After 1994, the late Minister's wife Srimathi Dissanayake and his son - current Minister of Plantation Industries, Navin Dissanayake - through the Mahaweli Cultural Foundation Trust got it opened for devotees to worship the Seya.

Dr. A.N.S. Kulasinghe

The recommencement of work on the structure began on May 8, 2003 after a colourful ceremony attended by more than 200 Buddhist monks and several hundreds of devotees. At that time it was the then Minister of Irrigation and Water Management, Gamini Jayawickrama Perera who took the challenge and initiative to recommence the work of Mahaweli Maha Seya. He was keen to complete the construction work of the stupa which was considered as a symbol of peace. The placing of the sacred Jewel on the pinnacle of the Mahaweli Maha Seya took place on March 20, 2016.

Finish

Minister Navin Dissanayake says he is extremely happy to witness the completion of the project. "It has taken 33 years for us to finish this amid a great deal of obstacles. It was my father's idea to start work on this massive project and for over a decade from 1990 work completely stopped. I took over as chairman in 2010 and within six years work has completely finished. I feel this is a great achievement for the whole nation," he told the Sunday Observer.

Former presidents, former Mahaweli Ministers - P. Dayaratne, Maithripala Sirisena, Gamini Jayawickrema Perera and Nimal Siripala de Silva - and former Prime Minister D. M. Jayaratne - also gave their unstinted support to carry out the construction work of the Seya.

Minister Navin Dissanayake participated at a painting ceremony at the Seya recently
Shrine area inside the dome

Today, the Mahaweli Maha Seya stands majestically on an escarpment overlooking the Kotmale Reservoir. The reservoir is known as Gamini Dissanayake Reservoir as it was renamed in honour of the late Minister.

Visitors to the valley can experience the serenity of the environment where the giant stupa stands still in the midst of breathtakingly beautiful greenery, the silent mountains and the reservoir at the foot. The views of the surrounding hill country of Kotmale and Kandy are magnificent.

Mahaweli Maha Seya will undoubtedly be a regular destination among pilgrims and foreign visitors to the country on cultural holidays. Its massive structure containing Buddhist relics and place of meditation is for the use of Buddhists around the world. The late Minister Dissanayake's mission was to see this becoming an international Buddhist centre.

Everyone who got involved in this project over the past 33 years, including engineers, workmen, carpenters, masons, specialist Buddhist artists and countless numbers of people who made donations and supported the project in many different ways - working overnight to make this a reality - should be remembered with gratitude at the time of its opening. Some of them are no longer with us but we shall remember them and offer merit from a grateful nation and ourselves, Minister Dissanayake said.

"They will acquire a great deal of merit for their efforts. The villagers in the surrounding areas are extremely happy that the second largest stupa in the land is in their area. It will bring in a great deal of cultural and economic development to them," he added.


Around the Kotmale valley is woven the epic story of Dutugamunu - hero king of Sri Lanka. During the reign of Kalinga Magha (1214-1235) and Vijayabahu III (1235-26) the name of Kotmale is mentioned. According to Pujavaliya and Rajavaliya, The Buddha's Sacred Tooth Relic was kept in custody at Kotmale at Pussalpitiya Temple.

With the commencement of Kotmale Reservoir, under the accelerated Mahaweli Project, 16 Grama - Sevaka Divisions, 66 Villages, four tea estates and 18 temples and two devalas went under the water of Kotmale Reservoir. Kadadora Shri Priyabimbaramaya, Morape Bodhi Malakaramaya, and Morape Subadrarama Viharaya are three temples on Right Bank of Mahaweli and Kadadora. Wataddara Sri Visuddharamaya, Wataddara Gnanodaya Pirivena, Hedunuwewa Medagoda Gangaramaya, Otalawe Bodhirukkarama Viharaya, Nawangama Abinawaramaya and Tispane Shri Sudarshanaramaya are situated on the left Bank of Tispane Hills. The two devalayes are Morape Devalaya and Hendunuwewa Medagoda Pattini Devalaya which were among the main seven temples and the two devalayas that went under Kotmale reservoir.

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