Lankaramaya is a revered and ancient monastery in the historic capital of Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. This excellent religious site holds great significance within the Buddhist tradition and carries a rich history that spans centuries. Despite the time, many details about its origin and construction still need to be discovered. However, through various accounts and historical records, we can gain insights into the captivating story of Lankaramaya.

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Historical Background

The history of Lankaramaya is a subject of considerable ambiguity and differing claims. Various sources offer conflicting information about its construction and the monarch responsible for its inception. Captain Chapman makes one such claim in a paper published in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, suggesting that King Abha Sen or Tissa erected the stupa during his reign in 231 AD. On the other hand, Major Forbes, in his work "Eleven Years in Ceylon," states that Lankaramaya was built during the reign of Mahasen, between 276 and 303 AD. However, the accuracy of these assertions needs more solid evidence and remains uncertain.

The Construction of Lankaramaya

According to the views presented by Anuradha Seneviratna, Lankaramaya was built in the 1st century BC by King Vattagamini Abaya, also known as Walagamba. The ancient name of this revered temple was "Silasobbha Khandaka Cetiya." Legend has it that King Walagamba sought refuge in a place called "Silasobbha Khandaka" after being defeated by Tamil invaders. He later reclaimed his throne by defeating the Tamils and commemorated his victory by constructing a stupa at the same site named Lankaramaya.

The Connection with Manisomaramaya

Lankaramaya may have had a different name, possibly referred to as Manisomaramaya. This name honoured Queen Somadevi, who was associated with King Vattagamini Abaya. Historical records mention that King Kanitta Tissa, who reigned from 164 to 192 AD, expanded the temple complex by adding a grand Parivena and a cetiyaghara (vantage). Subsequently, King Gotabhaya (253-266 AD) restored the Vatadage and uposthaghara. Therefore, Manisomaramaya is significant as the Bhikkuni Aramaya (nunnery) alongside the Abhayagri Viharaya, just as Thuparamaya was the Bhikkuni Aramaya of Maha Viahraya.

The Sacred Relics of Buddha

Though not mentioned in the list of restored buildings provided in the Mahavamsa, an ancient and revered stupa is believed to have previously existed on the grounds of Lankaramaya. According to an old tradition documented in the Heladiv Rajaniya, the Lankaramaya is said to enshrine corporeal relics of the Buddha himself. These relics, known by the sacred names "mumpiyali," "kada hal," and "aba," consist of three small pieces of bone. The relics are enclosed in a golden case, with the first piece resembling a half-green gram shining like gold, the second being white and luminescent like a pearl, and the third taking the shape of a jessamine flower, emitting its fragrance. Over time, the stupa has undergone successive encasements, a common practice in ancient times, resulting in its current size.

Religious Significance

The resemblance between Lankaramaya and Thuparamaya, the first stupa built after the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka in 250 BC, suggests that Lankaramaya was constructed during the same early period. Positioned among the most sacred stupas, Lankaramaya holds immense religious importance. It stands as a testament to the deep-rooted faith and devotion of the people, symbolizing the spiritual heritage that has shaped the island's cultural landscape for centuries.

Architectural Features

The present-day Lankaramaya boasts a circumference of 36.5 meters. The stupa rests on a circular platform elevated 10 feet above the ground, with a circumference of 126 meters. Stairways leading from all four sides provide access to the stupa's terrace, although the original vahalkadas, ornate entrances, are now lost. Adjacent to the eastern stairway is a stone tub historically used for cleansing one's feet before entering the stupa's terrace. In addition, several damaged Buddha statues can still be found among the ancient ruins, bearing witness to the stupa's illustrious past.

The Magnificent Vatadage

Lankaramaya was once encircled by a magnificent vantage, a circular structure encompassing the stupa. However, only a few slender and elegant monolithic pillars remain standing today, contrasting with early nineteenth-century photographs that showcase a forest of pillars surrounding the dilapidated stupa. Records indicate that the vantage was supported by 88 stone pillars arranged in three concentric circles, with 20, 28, and 30 pillars, respectively. The pillar capitals are exquisitely carved with intricate designs of lions and geese, showcasing the exceptional craftsmanship of the era. Additionally, near the southeast side of the dagoba, a remarkable stone waterpipe sculpted in the shape of a mythical beast captivates visitors with its artistic allure.



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