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Abhayagiri Vihara

Anuradhapura, the “Golden Capital” of ancient Lanka, is Sri Lanka 's most ancient capital city, the known history of which extends five or more centuries BC, together with Pre and Proto-historic remains. The capital lasted till the end of the 1st millennium AC. It remains the major Buddhist religious center for more than 2000 years. The whole site is studded with vast expanses of monastic sites. The tallest brick-built stupas of the ancient world, Ruvanvalisaya , Abhayagiri and Jetawana dagabas, constituted the central edifices of the monasteries. Mahavihara, Abhayagiri Vihara and Jetavanarama respectively. The Central Cultural Fund has undertaken a major Excavation and Conservation programme of these three sites over the last twenty five years.

Sri Mahabodhi the sacred tree shrine of the Mahaviharaya, planted in the 3 rd century BC, still remains it's vitality and receives veneration of the Buddhist world all year around. The stone Buddha images of Anuradhapura are among the best classical icons. The decorative sculptures including the moonstones, guardstones, Isuruminiya lovers, etc., remain unparalleled works of art.

One of the great attractions of Anuradhapura is the Twin Ponds (6th Century) belonging to the Abhayagiri monastery. The double pond decked with beautiful fights of steps in a stepped form is considered as one of the architectural wonders of the time. The monument was built for the use of Buddhist monks of the near by Kapararama monastic establishment.

The great building era was when vast monastery complexes and some of the tallest buildings in the ancient world were built. The Jetavanaramaya dagoba of the city is still the highest brick structure in the world.The Maha Vihara was centered around the orthodox Theravadins. This was founded by King Devanampiya Tissa in 249 BC. The heterdox Mahayanists founded the Abhayagiri Vihara. King Mahasena (275-310 BC) built the Jetavanaramaya located in between the Maha Vihara and the Abhayagiri Monasteries. In the suburbs of the city major monasteries with their gigantic stupas were constructed, The Maha Thupa, the Bodhi Tree and Thuparama of the Maha Vihara stood to the south of the city.

The Jetavana dagaba was built by king Mahasena at the end of the 3rd century AC. Its original height being 400 ft, was the tallest brick-built monument of the time. This monastery too was leaning towards Abhayagiri and promoted Mahayana Buddhist thought, the discovery of some gold plates of a famous Mahayana text. From among the ruins of Jethavanarama testifies to the popularity of the monastery for Mahayana leanings, the excavations at the stupa have revealed very rare artifacts of jewelery, sculptures, etc.

The Ratnamali Cetiya (Ruvanvali-saya) built by king Dutthagamani in the 2nd century BC, being 250 feet high originally, is considered the third highest brick-built monument of the ancient world The stupa or cetiya was built enshrining the bodily relics of the Buddha within a relic chamber built of stone slabs. The square tee surmounting the dome corresponds to the railing enclosure of the Sanchi stupas of India, while the cylinder was the original umbrella shaft and the grooved cone the original set of umbrellas.

Abhayagiri Stupa [Fearless Mountain in the canonical language of Pali, ] stands majestically at a 235 hectare land at the northern part of ancient Anuradhapura. Abhayagiri Stupa built by King Gajabahu to a height of 115 m is considered as the largest Stupa in the world, only a little shorter than Jethawanarama, which is 120 m. It is said that the Stupa is built over the footprint of the Buddha and it is one of the eight great places of veneration in Anuradhapura. The Stupa has an inner terrace and an outer terrace enclosed by walls. The outer terrace was sprinkled with sand, while the inner terrace is paved with stone. The rain-water falling on the vast stretch of land was drained into four ponds built near the Stupa grounds. Today stripped parts of the outer casing of the stupa is covered by vegetation.

Built during the second reign of King Vattagamini Abhaya in the first century BC, it has been under construction for a very long time. The original construction of the stupa of the Abhagiri Vihara belongs to the 2nd century BC and was enlarged in the 2nd century AD. It had been restored several times by several kings beginig with king GaJabahu during the period between 7th and 8th century and the yupa stone had been removed and had replaced then with conical spire and a solid cubical block.

The Abhayagiri stupa which was built by king Vattha Gamini Abhaya is situated to the north of the Sri Mahabodhi and the Ruvanvali stupa. It is built on a square platform and there are four entrances, on all the four sides and four frontispiece sculptured with figure of animals and trees. Having been 300ft high, it is considered as the second tallest brick-built monument of the time, The monastery of abhaygiri is well known as the institution which encouraged heterodox teachings leading to the dissemination of Mahayanism in Sri Lanka. Fa-hsien, the traveler Chinese monk of the 5th century lived here for two years.According to him, there were 5000 monks living at the Abhayagiri Vihara as against 3000 monks of the Mahavihara.

Built of solid brickwork laid in a butter clay mortar, the dome contains small, inaccessible chambers or garba concealed in its interior. The superstructure above the dome consists of the massive rectangular cube of the hataraskotuva surmounted by the circular devatakotuva and the badly damaged spire. King Parakramabahu I (1153-1186 AD) is said to have renovated the Stupa last. Since the construction work is still going on, there are ruins of the vahalkada, scattered behind the image house near the stupa.

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Page last modified: 16-11-2014 20:22:18 ZULU