Ruwanwelisaya Stupa – Anuradhapura


Ruwanwelisaya Stupa is a sizeable white stupa that predates the Jetavanarama stupa by over 1000 years. King Dutugemunu, who became king after defeating King Elara, managed its construction in 161 B.C. Wistfully, he did not live long enough to view its achievement. The gleaming white building is pretty extensive, with a height of 91.4 meters and a perimeter of 290 meters. It is the second-highest stupa in Anuradhapura and remains to be an influential site of worship.

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The Ruwanwelisaya Stupa in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, is a remarkable testament to the rich history and religious heritage of the country. This ancient stupa is revered as one of the Solosmasthana, the 16 sacred places of veneration, and also holds a place among the Atamasthana, the 8 sacred places. Standing at a height of 103 meters (338 feet) with a circumference of 290 meters (951 feet), it is one of the tallest ancient monuments in the world. The stupa is also renowned for housing a significant collection of relics associated with the Buddha, making it a site of great importance for Buddhists worldwide.

Historical Background

The construction of the Ruwanwelisaya Stupa dates back to approximately 140 B.C. and is credited to the Sinhalese King Dutugemunu. He ascended to the throne after defeating the Chola King Elāra in a decisive war. The stupa was built as an act of devotion and as a symbol of the king's triumph. Initially, the stupa stood at a height of about 55 meters (180 feet), but it underwent several renovations by subsequent kings throughout history.

Architectural Features

The Ruwanwelisaya Stupa's sheer size and architectural grandeur make it an awe-inspiring sight. The stupa's massive dimensions, with its towering height and vast circumference, reflect the ingenuity and skill of the ancient builders. It is interesting to note that the Kaunghmudaw Pagoda in Sagaing, Myanmar, was modeled after the Ruwanwelisaya Stupa, a testament to its architectural influence.

Significance of Relics

One of the most revered aspects of the Ruwanwelisaya Stupa is the enshrinement of relics associated with the Buddha. According to historical accounts, two quarts or one Dona of the Buddha's relics were placed inside the stupa. This collection of relics is considered to be the largest anywhere in the world, holding immense spiritual value for Buddhists. The process of obtaining and enshrining the relics involved fascinating prophecies and ceremonial rituals.

Restoration and Renovation

Over time, the Ruwanwelisaya Stupa fell into a state of neglect and was covered by wilderness. However, in the early 20th century, efforts were made to restore its former glory. The Ruwanweli Seya Restoration Society, established in 1902, played a significant role in raising funds for the restoration works. Notably, the philanthropist Hendrick Appuhamy donated a substantial amount for the restoration, and the final crowning of the stupa took place in 2019, marking the completion of the restoration efforts.

Crowning and Final Restoration

The crowning ceremony of the Ruwanwelisaya Stupa holds immense symbolic value. The crowning, which occurred in 1940 and was repeated in 2019, involves placing a "crown," a large gem, at the very top of the stupa. This act signifies the completion of the restoration and the restoration of the stupa's spiritual significance.

Solosmasthana and Atamasthana

The Ruwanwelisaya Stupa is regarded as one of the Solosmasthana, the 16 sacred places of veneration in Sri Lanka. It also holds a place among the Atamasthana, the 8 sacred places. These designations highlight the deep spiritual and cultural significance associated with the stupa and its role in religious pilgrimage.

Enshrinement of Relics

The enshrinement of the Buddha's relics within the Ruwanwelisaya Stupa is a momentous event described in ancient texts. According to the Mahavamsa, King Dutthagamini received the relics from the Sangha and, following sacred rituals, enshrined them within an image of the reclining Buddha. The enshrinement involved the participation of celestial beings, symbolic offerings, and miraculous events.

Preservation and Miraculous Events

The Ruwanwelisaya Stupa is believed to be protected by the power of the Arahants present during the enshrinement ceremony. Legends suggest that the relic-chamber will remain unaffected by earthquakes, the flowers offered on the day will not wither, and the lamps kindled with ghee-oil will not be extinguished. The stupa is believed to possess extraordinary qualities, preserving its sanctity throughout the ages.

Influence and Cultural Impact

The Ruwanwelisaya Stupa holds immense influence in Sri Lankan Buddhism and has become an integral part of the country's cultural fabric. It serves as a powerful symbol of faith, heritage, and national pride. The stupa's historical and religious significance has shaped the beliefs and practices of generations, leaving an indelible mark on the cultural identity of the people of Sri Lanka.

Architectural Influence

The grandeur and magnificence of the Ruwanwelisaya Stupa have influenced the architectural styles of subsequent structures. Notably, the Kaunghmudaw Pagoda in Myanmar drew inspiration from the design of the Ruwanwelisaya Stupa, further amplifying its architectural significance.

Importance for Pilgrims and Visitors

The Ruwanwelisaya Stupa holds a special place in the hearts of pilgrims and visitors. The site attracts countless individuals seeking spiritual solace and a connection to Buddhist history. The experience of visiting the stupa is awe-inspiring, evoking a sense of reverence and tranquility.

Maintenance and Conservation Efforts

The preservation and maintenance of the Ruwanwelisaya Stupa require dedicated efforts and resources. Various organizations, including the Ruwanweli Seya Restoration Society, collaborate with local authorities to ensure the stupa's longevity. Conservation initiatives aim to protect and safeguard this ancient monument for future generations to appreciate and cherish.

The Ruwanwelisaya Stupa stands as a testament to the rich heritage and religious devotion of the people of Sri Lanka. Its towering presence and enshrined relics serve as a beacon of faith, attracting pilgrims and visitors from far and wide. The stupa's historical significance, architectural magnificence, and cultural impact make it a cherished symbol of Sri Lankan Buddhism. As the sun sets over the ancient city of Anuradhapura, the Ruwanwelisaya Stupa stands tall, inspiring awe and reverence in all who behold it.


1. How old is the Ruwanwelisaya Stupa? The construction of the Ruwanwelisaya Stupa dates back to approximately 140 B.C., making it over two millennia old.

2. What are the Solosmasthana and Atamasthana? Solosmasthana refers to the 16 sacred places of veneration in Sri Lanka, while Atamasthana refers to the 8 sacred places. The Ruwanwelisaya Stupa holds significance as both a Solosmasthana and an Atamasthana.

3. What is the significance of the relics within the stupa? The Ruwanwelisaya Stupa houses relics associated with the Buddha, making it one of the most sacred and important sites for Buddhists. The collection of relics within the stupa is believed to be the largest anywhere in the world.

4. How was the stupa restored? The Ruwanwelisaya Stupa underwent restoration efforts in the early 20th century after a period of neglect. The Ruwanweli Seya Restoration Society played a vital role in raising funds for the restoration works, and the stupa's final crowning took place in 2019.

5. Can visitors enter the stupa? No, visitors cannot enter the stupa itself, as it is a sacred and revered structure. However, visitors can explore the surrounding area and pay their respects to the stupa from outside.



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