The myth behind the Girihadu Seya is interesting; Thapussu and Balluka, two traders from North India, created the stupa after meeting with the Buddha himself more than 2,500 years ago. It is said that this was the initial stupa in Sri Lanka. Up to the modern time, located atop a 212ft stone, near the Yan Oya water, the Girihadu Seya tranquil holds noble and pride.
Panoramic views of the picturesque haven surround the sacred place of worship and wonder. Climbing your way up towards the rock, you would come across stone slab inscriptions called the ‘Thiriyaya stone inscriptions’, dictating the origins of the stupa.
A peaceful and spiritual environment unfolds as you finally see the ‘vatadage’ and the remains of the ‘Buddhu gey’ (image house) and its stone pillars and bricks with its reclining Buddha statue.
Girihandu Seya owes its existence to the efforts of Trapusa and Bahalika, two seafaring merchants who embarked on a remarkable journey to spread Buddhism. According to some scholars, these merchants believed to be influenced by Mahayana traditions, hailed from the Pallava Kingdom. The temple's construction was attributed to the guilds of Trapassuka and Vallika merchants, with the names recorded as Tapassu and Bhalluka in later Sinhala chronicles. The presence of Mahayana influences further adds to the temple's historical significance.
Architecture of the Temple
Perched on a small hillock near the sea coast, approximately 47 kilometres north of Trincomalee, Girihandu Seya boasts an impressive architectural ensemble. At its summit, a Vatadage encloses the Stupa, which was initially small but later enlarged in the 8th century A.D. The Vatadage features concentric circles of stone pillars, reminiscent of other prominent Stupas like Thuparama and Lankarama in Anuradhapura. Accessible from all four directions, the stone platform of the Vatadage is adorned with intricately carved steps, guard stones (Muragala), and barriers (Korawak Gala), exemplifying the exquisite Sinhalese architectural style. Surrounding the Vatadage, vestiges of monastic structures, including ruined buildings, stone pillars, ponds, and a stone bridge, offer a glimpse into the temple's past. Additionally, there are rock caves on the hill's slope, two of which feature Brahmi inscriptions, providing further historical context.
Monastic Structures and Inscriptions
The remnants of monastic structures surrounding Girihandu Seya offer valuable insights into the lives of Buddhist monks who inhabited the temple premises. Ruined buildings, stone pillars, and a flight of steps testify to the vibrant monastic community once thrived there. In addition, the rock caves on the hillside hold special significance, with two bearing Brahmi inscriptions. One inscription dates back to the pre-Christian era, while the other is from around the first century. These inscriptions provide invaluable historical information about the temple and its surroundings.
The Hair Relics of Buddha
One of the primary reasons for the veneration of Girihandu Seya is the belief that it contains the hair relics of the Buddha. Buddhists regard relics associated with the Buddha with great reverence, and Girihandu Seya is an important pilgrimage site for those seeking spiritual solace. The presence of Buddha's relics within the Stupa further elevates its importance and attracts devotees from near and far. Recognizing the temple's historical and cultural significance, the Sri Lankan government has formally recognized Girihandu Seya as an archaeological site.
Trapusa and Bahalika
The names Trapusa and Bahalika hold immense significance in the context of Girihandu Seya. These two merchants are believed to be the corruptions of Trapussaka (Tapussa in Pali) and Bhallika, who played a vital role in the early propagation of Buddhism. Legends state that the two merchants, originally from Ukkala (Utkala in Sanskrit), offered food to the Buddha immediately after his enlightenment. As a result of their devotion, they received hair relics from the Buddha and constructed Stupas in their native land. The Chinese pilgrim Hieun Tsang even mentioned the existence of two Stupas enshrining the hair relics during his journey through Gandhara.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Is Girihandu Seya accessible to the public?
- Girihandu Seya is open to the public for visitation and religious activities.
- What are the best ways to reach Girihandu Seya?
- Girihandu Seya is located approximately 47 kilometres north of Trincomalee. Visitors can access the temple by road or hire local transportation services.
- Are there any restrictions on photography or videography within the temple premises?
- While photography and videography are generally allowed, respecting the temple's sanctity and seeking permission from the authorities before capturing any visuals is advisable.
- Are there any specific dress codes to be followed when visiting Girihandu Seya?
- It is recommended to dress modestly and respectfully when visiting Girihandu Seya. Covering the shoulders and knees is considered appropriate.
- Are there any accommodation options available near Girihandu Seya?
- Several accommodation options are available in Trincomalee and its surrounding areas to cater to visitors' needs. However, it is advisable to plan accommodations to ensure a comfortable stay.