Ramba Viharaya, a model monastery
This ancient place of worship in Ruhuna is located on the bank of the
Walawe Ganga, in the village of Udarata on the Nonagama-Ratnapura Road.
It is about 12.8 km from Ambalantota.
Maha Nagakula was the capital of ancient Sri Lanka in the 11th
century AD. The Ramba Viharaya had been the
temple of the Maha Nagakula
City where a large number of artifacts have been found during
excavations. The Ramba Viharaya was the Royal Temple of the day.
It was also the hide-out for King Vijayabahu I who arrived there in
the year 1055, while he planned his war against the Cholas for 15 years.
Sri Lanka was under the Chola rule for a period of 53 years.
Vijayabahu had been canvassing among anti-Ramanna Desas such as
Burma, Kalinga and Pandyan countries, to form an alliance against the
Cholas. He effected three attacks to surround Polonnaruwa and defeated
the Cholas. His son Wickramabahu continued to reign from there while
Prince Parakramabahu continued with the tradition. These reasons have
prompted historians and archaeologists to carry out their research into
the area. They had found a large number of monuments scattered in a land
area of 200 acres of dense jungle.
The Ramba Vihara had become the most important religious and academic
centre of Ruhuna between the 10th and 12th centuries. Scholars of the
time such as Rev. Piyadassi Thera and Rev. Mahanagasena Thera had lived
here and in other temples around it.
There had been an advanced civilization in the area. A large number
of artifacts which had been found following research explorations
conducted by scholars during the dry season had proved this fact. The
venue itself is unique as there had been an ancient international
harbour at Godawaya (there is evidence to support this fact).
Traders had been in the habit of travelling from China to the Arab
Seas and Sri Lanka had served as an ideal venue for entrepot trading
(imports are re-exported) for which customs duties were collected.
Inscriptions found at this venue during the 1st century AD have
indicated that King Gajabahu was believed to have donated the funds
collected as customs duty for the betterment of the temple. It is
believed that it was from the mouth of the River Walawe that ships used
to travel to Mahanagakula.
A strange Buddha image made of white sandstone, had been found from
the site during excavations. It had been refined and preserved. The
image is different from what had been discovered from other sites as it
had been hollow.
When talking about the Ramba Vihara, one has to talk about the
Manawulu Sandeshaya, a Pali poem which comprises about 30 stanzas. This
is said to be a reply to a Buddhist priest from the Ramanna Desha by the
name of Maha Kashyapa. He had sent a letter in Pali to the high priest
of the Ramba Viharaya, inquiring about the activities in Sri Lanka.
The Manawulu Sandeshaya had been written by King Parakramabahu's
heir, King Vijayabahu II. According to the chronicles, it is believed
that the chief priest at the time was Nagasena. There is an inscription
Pali about the Ramba Viharaya.
It is under the Ramba (banana) trees that Samanera priests had been
learning their religion. Due to this reason, the Ramba Vihara had also
been referred to as Kehelgamuwa. During this period in the 11th century,
ships had been arriving from Ramanna Deshaya (lower Burma) at the
southern parts such as Godawaya.
This area had been economically flourishing during the 15th century
AD. During the Portuguese and Dutch periods, a chief priest by the name
Maha Kappinna, had lived there.
Though it had been a role model for a monastery at Maha Nagakula
during the 11th and 12th centuries, now it is somewhat deserted. The
writer, during a recent visit, found that restorations have not been
done properly. The restoration of some of the artifacts were still under
way. Hopefully, we will see a better restoration process in the future
to protect this important place.