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Seruwila Mangala Raja Maha Vihara

Date of Submission: 30/10/2006
Criteria: (ii)(v)
Category: Cultural
State, Province or Region:
Village of Toppur, Koddiyar Pattu of Trincomalee District, Eastern Province
Coordinates: N8 22 00 E81 19 00
Ref.: 5083
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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party

Description

Seruwila Mangala Raja Maha Vihara is an ancient temple which is among the sixteen holiest Buddhist shrines [Solomathana] in Sri Lanka.

It is reachable both from road and sea. Sea route begins at Trincomalee to Muttur on boat and another 16 km by roads. Land route is via Kantalai, to Allai which is approximately 45 km through dense forest.

List of Monuments in the complex:

  1. Stupa - Origin 2nd Century B.C. - restored in 1920's.
  2. Restored Northern entrance - This building has evidence of molded bricks, balustrades, guard stones and moonstones. In addition there is ruined ceremonial gateway with carved stone door frame.
  3. Western entrance - Evidences of preliminary stages of stone works in moldings showing exemplary stone jointing methods.
  4. Southern entrance - Balustrades with elephant motifs, guard stones and stone door frame etc.
  5. Eastern entrance
  6. Image house building at the Stupa terrace
  7. Sculptured stone lotus
  8. Bo tree shrine [Bodhighara]
  9. Ancient pond
  10. Remains of ancient Chapter House
  11. Remains of monasteries
  12. Remains of a building on stone pillars
  13. Natural stone platform and caves with primitive paintings

History and Development

During the reign of Kavantissa (2nd century B.C.) the Kingdom of Ruhuna was threatened by invaders. The king had to evolve a strategy to prevent a disaster. He was very well aware that there was a buffer state of Seru on the north eastern seaboard of Sri Lanka which was ruled by a prince by the name of Siva. The King finally had been able to solve the problem avoiding military confrontation and as a result he had to build a Stupa at Seruwila.

King Kavantissa knew that he could make use of the loyalty and respect the Sinhala nobles and the populace had for Buddhism to win over Princes Siva and Abhaya, his ally. The word was spread by religious teachers that Sacred Relic of the Buddha which was in the possession of Kavantissa was destined to be enshrined by him personally in a stupa to be built at Seru and that Lord Buddha had prophesied this would happen.  Once the ground work had been laid, Kavantissa had marched with his army towards Seru proclaiming the purpose of his visit asking all the landowners in and around Seru to come to his assistance. The Thera who had propagated the story about the Relic of the Buddha had also accompanied him.

"The kinglets of Seru and Soma must have found themselves in the horns of a dilemma. If they received Kavantissa in a friendly manner it would have amounted to acknowledging him as their suzerain. If they did not do so they would have alienated the sympathies of their own subjects, for the declared purpose of Kavantissa's visit was one which the people as a whole would have approved. Besides Kavantissa was accompanied by a powerful force and the spiritual mentor who had accompanied him on this expedition was the one who commanded the respect of the local rulers as the prince of Mahagama. The outcome was, the kinglets of Seru and Soma and their retainers received Kavantissa with honour due to an overlord and assisted him in the building of the shrine. Thus Kavantissa achieved well described as a Dhamma- Vijaya which ultimately was of benefit to all parties concerned'. -Dhatuvamsa-

Thus the Sacred Relic, which was the frontal bone of the Buddha, was enshrined in the stupa which was known as Tissa Maha Vehera.

Reconciliation had brought in its rewards. The stratagem adopted by Kavantissa helped him to unify the entire portion of the country to the south of the Mahaweli and Kelani rivers and establish his capital at Mahagama. Meanwhile, the fame of the Seruwila shrine had spread far and wide and it became a great place of worship and pilgrimage.

Having extended his authority to the Seru district Kavantissa had caused the marsh in the vicinity of the stupa to be drained and converted into a lake. Having done this, he had dedicated the lands around the shrine to a distance of eleven miles for cultivation so the harvests could be used for the maintenance of the sacred shrine and the 500 monks who were the residents there. There are evidences that Arahats have resided in the caves around the Stupa terrace. In the vicinity of the dagaba is an ancient inscription which goes back to the second century. It states -

"Bata Gutaha Lene Caduke" which when translated means - "The cave of Lord Gutta is dedicated to the Sangha of the four quarters."

There is another rock inscription belong to the period of King Kassapa IV [A.D. 898 - 9141 mentioning about the Arahats and identification of the place name as Tissa Maha Vehera. Another inscription found at the Stupa terrace belongs to the reign of Kassapa V [A.D. 914 - 923].

Over the years, the stupa fell into decay under the pressure of the Tamil invasions from the north. But there are evidences in the literature that this area was under the purview of the Kandyan territory during the 17'~ Century AD and the existence of this stupa.

During the Colonial occupation of the island, priority was given to fertile western part of the island and as a result the arid dry zone neglected left to wilderness.

According to the late Dr. R. L. Brohier, Seruwila region was a vast swamp or villu where the flood waters of the Mahaweli Ganga collected. This villu was the home of large flocks of teal (seru) during migratory period. That perhaps was how the place came to be known as Seruwila (Seeing Ceylon by R. L. Brohier).

Development

It was only in 1922 that the dagaba was re-discovered by Ven. Dambagasare Sumedhankara Thero and assisted by the Archeological Department, he restored the Stupa using remains of ancient structures still survive around the Stupa to conjecture the conservation work. The conservation was completed in 1931.

In view of the importance of this sacred shrine and to attract more pilgrims to the area, the Department of Town and Country Planning has drawn up a plan for the development of a new town complete with pilgrim rests, market areas etc. during 1970's.

Because of the unrest in the North and the East of the island, past two decades show low progress in restoration and development activities and the raging war situation has aggravated the deterioration of the remains.

Form and date of most recent records of site

"Historic Seruwila" - An unpublished M.A. Dissertation by Mr. P.D. Ratnasiri submitted for the Post Graduate Examination in Archaeology of the University of Kelaniya. Submitted in May 2002.

Present state of conservation

Because of the unrest in the North and the East of the island, past two decades show very low progress in restoration activities and the raging war situation has aggravated the deterioration of the remains.

The nation must be grateful to the Ven. Dambagasare Sri Sumedhankara Thero for discovering the long forgotten Seruwila Stupa in 1922. After the re-discovery it was repaired with the permission of the English Government in 1924 with finances collected forming a society. In 1931, the stupa was opened to the public veneration.

The Stupa and its environs covering approximately 85 acres had been declared as an Archaeological Reserve in 1962. After this the Department of Archaeology had been carrying out conservation work by stages.

Monument - Year of conservation

Ancient Pond - 1970's

Northern entrance - 1973 [conjectural restoration]

Western entrance - 1979

Bodhighara - 1980

Stone Paved Terrace of Stupa - 1981

Awasa [monks' residence] - 1983

The Department of Archaeology is responsible for the conservation work and preservation of the site. The Chief incumbent thero and the development society of the Temple are managing and maintain the premises at present.

 Policies and programmes related to the presentation and promotion of the property

Meaningful and urgent measures are necessary to upgrade its environs so that pilgrims would not be inconvenienced after a long journey. It is vital that we should retain Seruwila as a prime pilgrim location in the East of the Island. The National Physical Planning Department has been drafted a Development and Management Plan for the Buffer zone of the site, which is to be developed as a socio-cultural entity with museums, educational programmes, information centres to facilitate the pilgrims.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The Stupa was restored by enthusiastic monk and people of the island in 1920's. The restoration carried out with the approval and supervision of the Department of Archaeology and based on the available evidences, which is mostly conjectural. Apart from this, other  

ruins lay covered with jungle until in 1960's the department took over the conservation work. They undertook the task by stages and conserved the Entrances, ancient Pond, the Chapter House and the Bo-tree shrine (Bodhighara). Still there are other monuments and ruins, which are original parts of the complex that require immediate attention.

Comparison with other similar properties

Buddhists consider Stupa enshrining relics of Lord Buddha are the highest places for worship and they venerate such places. There are few such places in the country; Temple of the Tooth Relic in Kandy, Yatala Stupa in Hambantota, Seruwila Raja Maha Viharaya and Somawathie Stupa in Polonnaruva are considered as the places that are believed to be enshrined Buddha's relics.

Temple of the Tooth in Kandy is already declared a World Heritage with its immediate environment and Yatala is conserved by the Department of Archaeology in recent past. Somawathie Stupa is also situated boarded to the troubled area but it is also restored. Seruwila is in the midst of the stricken area and directly faces brunt of the war. The area is inaccessible sometimes and as a result it lay isolated.