Friday, September 17, 2010

Somawathie Chethiya

The Somawathie Chetiya, which is situated about 40 kilometres from Polonnaruwa, is once again attracting pilgrims from throughout the island. This venerated Buddhist site is said to enshrine the right canine Tooth Relic of the Buddha.

Ancient chronicles of Sri Lanka state that the very first Arahat of this country, Aritta Thera, visited the residence of Gods and brought back to Sri Lanka the Sacred Right Tooth of the Buddha.
It is believed to have been built long before the time of Dutugemunu and as such, is much older than the Ruwanweliseya, Mirisawetiya or Jetawanaramaya. It is believed to have been built during the reign of King Kavantissa - Dutugemunu's father who ruled Magama.

Legend has it that Kavantissa's sister Somawathie Devi, married to a prince named Abhaya, built a dragomanfor her husband in her name, in the second century BC. According to the Mahawamsa, the royal couple left Ruhuna and sought refuge in Raja Rata over a disagreement with King Dutugemunu who was also the nephew of Somawathie.
Queen Somawathie had a yearning to construct a stupa in honour of the Buddha. The King himself agreed to this idea with much enthusiasm.
Giri Abhaya had explored a possible site to construct this stupa. In the course of his survey, he came upon an area where Bhikkhus led by Arahat Mahinda resided. When the King suggested his idea to Arahat Mahinda, he gave his consent to the stupa-building project.

This location was known as Somapura. There were companion stupas named Kumbanacchaduwa (identified as the place where the Kadol elephant had died), Gal Amuna, Sangabodhigama and Vihara Surangala.

The pilgrim to this holy shrine today can see on one side of the dagoba, a trench-like opening revealing some five feet inside the present dagoba, wherein is the ancient brick masonry of the earlier dagoba.
As such, the present freshly painted white dagoba is an enlargement of an earlier one. Two kings have renovated the chetiya and visitors can view the section of the chetiya which reveals the three layers illustrating the three periods during which renovations were undertaken.

According to scholars, some Brahmin characters found at this site have been identified with the second century. Seven stone inscriptions detailing the history of the dagoba have been found in the area.

Some ancient pillars that have been destroyed
Separate inscriptions found here refer to the Rebavehera and Pajini Naka Araba Vihara, which are presumed to be the ancient names of this monument. According to the latter, it is believed that this vihara was constructed by Naka, the son of King Mahallaka Naga in the second century.

Like the road to Seruwila Dagoba, here too, the journey itself offers you a variety of thick jungle and swamp as well as their inhabitants, big and small. In fact, the dagoba is often visited at night by elephants. Sungawila is the last little town and border village from where you cross the Mahaveli to travel on some 13 kilometres of unsealed road that cuts through the Somawathie's strict natural reserve and wildlife sanctuary, and takes you through the jungle and marshy land to the great dagoba.

Because elephants encroach into the temple premises, an electric fence has been installed there. This fence is powered by solar electricity. Electricity is switched on in the evening from six onwards. The Somawathie Chetiya is very famous in recent history due to the miracles which took place in the temple. Some of the valuable ancient ruins found from this place have been kept at the Polonnaruwa Museum.

Pix: Janani

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