The Somawathiya Chaitya is a significant Buddhist stupa in Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka. It is considered one of the country's most sacred sites and attracts numerous visitors annually. The stupa is believed to have been built more than 2000 years ago and is named after Princess Somawathi, the sister of King Kavantissa and the wife of the regional ruler Prince Giri Abhaya.
History and Significance of Somawathiya Chaitya
The stupa is believed to have been built during the reign of King Kavantissa, who ruled Magama before the time of Dutugemunu. It is said to enshrine the right canine tooth relic of the Buddha, one of the four most sacred relics for Buddhists. As a result, the stupa is considered an important religious site in Sri Lanka.
The stupa is named after Princess Somawathi, the sister of King Kavantissa, and the wife of regional ruler Prince Abhaya. According to legend, the prince built the stupa to enshrine the right tooth relic of the Buddha, obtained from Arahath Mahinda and named it after the princess. After the stupa was completed, the prince and princess handed it to Arahath Mahinda and other monks.
Throughout history, the stupa has been fixed up several times. In the 1980s, it was rebuilt, and a "chuda manikya" (a gem on top of the stupa) was added. However, the stupa was later abandoned during the Sri Lankan civil war, and the LTTE attacked nearby villages. During this time, attempts were made to seize the chuda manikya, which failed due to infighting and an elephant attack - an episode that the monks residing there attribute to a miracle. The gemstone was retrieved and kept safe at the Colombo National Museum until 2002 when it was returned and re-installed at the stupa.
How to Reach Somawathiya Chaitya
The Somawathiya Chaitya is located within the Somawathiya National Park, on the left bank of the Mahaweli River. The easiest way to reach the stupa is by road. The nearest city is Polonnaruwa, which is approximately 30 kilometres away. Visitors can hire a taxi or bus from Polonnaruwa to reach the stupa.
Visitors can also reach the stupa by boat, which is a popular option for those who want to experience the scenic beauty of the Mahaweli River. Boat rides can be arranged at the nearby village of Somawathiya, located approximately 8 kilometres from the stupa.
Visiting Somawathiya Chaitya
The Somawathiya Chaitya is a sacred Buddhist site, and visitors must follow certain customs and practices. For example, visitors must remove their shoes before entering the stupa and dress modestly. In addition, women are expected to cover their shoulders and wear long skirts or pants. Visitors will also likely be respectful and maintain silence within the temple premises.
The temple complex is open from 6 am to 6 pm and has no admission fee. Visitors can explore the stupa and its surrounding areas on foot. Guided tours are also available, which provide visitors with an in-depth understanding of the temple's history and significance.
In conclusion, the Somawathiya Chaitya is a must-visit destination for those interested in Buddhism and Sri Lankan history. The stupa's unique design and rich history make it a fascinating and awe-inspiring site. Visitors can immerse themselves in the temple's spiritual and cultural significance while taking in the stunning natural beauty of the surrounding area.