Kelani Rajamaha Viharaya
Kelani Rajamaha Viharaya is one of the several revered well-known Buddhist temples of the orient in the Colombo region. Set on the summit of a bit of hill lapped by the streams of the river Kelani, this magnificent shrine presents one of the most scenic views ever offered to the tourist.
Amongst the many Buddhist temples of Sri Lanka, the Kelani Viharaya reaches out as one of the most elegant examples of the sculptor's art. Its story runs back to more than 2500 years. In the days of yore, it always assumed full royal patronage, and to this day, it has been highly respected by the island's people. Furthermore, its significance as a place of Buddhist worship is apparent in the island's traditions.
According to historical chronicles, the Buddha's visit to the kingdom in Kelaniya, where the Kelani Rajamaha Viharaya, commonly known as the Kelaniya Temple, is located, holds immense importance. This visit took place in the eighth year after the Buddha attained enlightenment. The king who invited the Buddha was King Maniakkhika, the ruler of the "Naga" (Cobra) tribe. The invitation was extended during the Buddha's second visit to the country, and it aimed to settle a battle between two Naga kings, Culodara and Mahodara, over a gem-studded throne at Nagadeepa.
The Buddha's Visit to Kelaniya
Accompanied by a retinue of 500 bhikkhus (monks), the Buddha travelled to Kelaniya and imparted his teachings to the king and his people. The preaching occurred on the very spot where the Kelaniya Temple stands today. This location is considered one of the Solosmasthana, the 16 sacred sites hallowed by the Buddha. After his visit to Kelaniya, the Buddha continued his journey to the domain of the deity Sumana Saman at the mountain of Samanthakuta, which is now known as Sri Pada.
Kelaniya as a Holy Site
The significance of the Buddha's visit elevated Kelaniya to a sacred status. It became one of the Solosmasthana, which are revered as holy sites. The presence of the Kelaniya Temple today reinforces the spiritual and historical value associated with this location.
Construction of the Stupa
A stupa was built at the site where the Buddha preached his sermons. It enshrines a gem-studded throne seat and other utensils used by the Buddha during his stay. While the exact builder of the stupa remains unclear, historical chronicles indicate that King Uttiya renovated it in the 3rd century BC. This implies that the stupa existed even before that time. Over the years, many kings contributed to the extension and enhancement of the temple. During the Kingdom of Kotte in the 14th century, the Kelaniya Temple reached its zenith as a highly developed place of worship.
Dark Era under Portuguese Rule
The arrival of the Portuguese in 1505 marked a dark period for Buddhists in the Kotte Kingdom. Driven by religious intolerance and avarice for wealth, the Portuguese ruthlessly plundered and destroyed temples, confiscating all valuable artifacts. Taking advantage of internal conflicts, the King of Kotte was compelled to seek refuge under Portuguese firepower. In 1557, the puppet king Dharmapala of the Kotte Kingdom handed over the Temple of Kelaniya and the three-storied Daladage, which housed the Tooth Relic of the Buddha, to the Portuguese as payment for military assistance. The Portuguese systematically devastated and razed the Daladage and the seven-storied Kithsirimevanpaya in Kelaniya.
Furthermore, Captain Deyasen de Melo destroyed and burned the Kelaniya temple in 1575. The Portuguese executed Buddhist priests and public members who resisted their oppressive rule, and the worship of Buddhists at the Kelaniya temple was strictly prohibited. Over time, the temple disintegrated, reduced to a pile of rubble.
Revival under Dutch Rule
With the arrival of the Dutch in the 18th century, the restrictions on Buddhist worship were somewhat relaxed, allowing Kelaniya to regain its status as a place of worship. The Dutch even permitted King Kirthi Sri Rajasingha of Kandy to develop the temple in 1767, perhaps to win his favour. The reconstruction of the vihara was spearheaded by Venerable Mapitigama Buddharakkhita Thero, the Chief Incumbent, who received funds from the royal treasury. In 1780, the king bestowed ownership of the temple and the surrounding land upon the same Thero.
The Kelani Rajamaha Viharaya, popularly known as the Kelaniya Temple, holds immense historical and spiritual significance. The Buddha's visit to this temple, at the invitation of King Maniakkhika, has solidified its place among the Solosmasthana, the sacred sites revered by Buddhists. Despite enduring dark periods of destruction under Portuguese rule, the temple resurfaced and regained its prominence during Dutch law, thanks to the efforts of Venerable Mapitigama Buddharakkhita Thero. The existence of the Kelaniya Temple today stands as a testament to the resilience and significance of Sri Lanka's historical and cultural heritage.
- Is the Kelaniya Temple still an active place of worship?
- Yes, the Kelaniya Temple remains an active and revered place of worship for Sri Lank Buddhists. It attracts devotees and visitors throughout the year.
- Are there any relics or artifacts from the Buddha's visit on display?
- While specific relics or artifacts directly linked to the Buddha's visit are not prominently displayed, the temple houses a collection of ancient statues, murals, and historical artifacts that depict the rich Buddhist heritage of Sri Lanka.
- How can visitors reach Kelaniya Temple?
- The Kelaniya Temple is located in Kelaniya, approximately 11 kilometres northeast of Colombo, the capital city of Sri Lanka. Visitors can easily access the temple by road, private transportation or public buses.
- Are there any festivals or special events held at the temple?
- Yes, the Kelaniya Temple hosts several festivals and special events yearly. The most notable festival is the Duruthu Perahera, which takes place in January and attracts large crowds. Other ceremonies and religious observances occur regularly, allowing visitors to witness traditional rituals.
- Can visitors participate in religious rituals or ceremonies at the temple?
- Yes, visitors can participate in religious rituals and ceremonies at the Kelaniya Temple. However, it is essential to respect the sanctity of the place and adhere to any instructions or guidelines provided by the temple authorities or resident monks.