Tuesday, November 09, 2004

A temple unlike any other by Damitha Hemachandra

It is a place where history was made when the daughter of King Kelanitissa, the ruler of the Kelaniya kingdom married the King of Rohana, King Kavantissa, which unified Sri Lanka.

Built to celebrate this union which changed the face of Sri Lankan history forever, Magul Maha Viharaya hosts many characteristics not found in many a temple.

Situated in Lahugala, amidst an elephant infested forest reserve of Lahugala Kithulana, Magul Maha Viharaya carries the look of a lost city hidden amidst the towering trees of the jungle.

The 200-acre archaeological site scattered with temple complexes and granaries sets it apart from any other temple.

According to the chief incumbent of the Magul Maha Viharaya, Ven. Hulannuge Ratanasara Thera, the temple had been home to 12,000 arahants some 2000 years ago.

According to him, the temple had been designed to serve the purpose of a monastery and a fortress where food, weapons and animals were kept in preparation for the Dutugemunu-Elara war.

Moreover, the temple complex itself consists of three courtyards, exterior, interior and centre.

The outer yard comprises a heavy stone wall with seven ponds which provided water to the temple. The interior was house to the bhikshus who inhabited the temple, while the central courtyard comprises of the main interests of the temple.

The image house with an unusual sandakadapahana where the mahout accompanies the elephant and a bodhi-ghara, which was originally the poruwa of Princess Maya and King Kavantissa, are the main attractions of the central courtyard.

The central courtyard or the vihara maluwa also comprises a vihara geya, with a statue of the Buddha sculptured in moonstones, and a dagoba, which is greatly tried by time and weather. The side entrances to the Vihara Maluwa stand upright while the main entrance is a pile of ruins today.

The story of Princess Maya and King Kavantissa is yet to be proved by archaeological evidence. The oldest archaeological evidence found in the form of a stone inscription states that the temple was constructed by King Datusena and was renovated by a second Vihara Maha Devi, who was the wife of Buwanakabahu 4 and Parakramabahu 5 during the 14th century.

" Although the historical importance of the temple was known to the authorities the Cultural Ministry and the Archaeological Department is yet to take strong steps to protect the site," said Ven. Ratanasara Thera, pointing to the rare sandakadapahana covered by earth.

While blaming the authorities for their inaction to preserve the artifacts the Thera also accused the authorities of hindering the development work at the temple site.

"We are not allowed to build or develop inside the archaeological reservation," he said adding that attempts to build a resting place for the pilgrims outside the reserve grounds too were not allowed by authorities.

The temple grounds are being encroached by farmers in Pottuvil who are searching for more farming land.

Ven. Ratanasara Thera, the last of five generations who were the guardians of the temple, seems to be fighting a losing battle with nature, authorities and encroachers.