Vessagiriya Buddhist Forest Monastery
Vessagiriya Buddhist forest monastery complex was built in the 3rd-century BC by King Devanampiyatissa. Twenty-three cases have been found in the complex. The legend implies it was supposed to be larger than presently, as rocks from this place have been used for other construction at later stages.
It is considered that the name Vessagiriya has continued to originate from the Sanskrit word Vaishya and Sinhalese word Giri. Vaishya is one of the power castes in Indian culture which serves people in business and merchants. Giri is a Sinhalese word for hill. Hence, Vaishya Giri would mean the mountain of people in industry and traders. It also suggests that the modest monks residing here would have been merchants in their secular lives.
The inscriptions carved on the stones by monks and enthusiasts reveal the story of Vessagiriya. According to the ancient records, Arahat Mahinda Thero, who founded Buddhism in Sri Lanka, ordained 500 Vaishyans in Vessagiriya. There are still flat granite surfaces where the ascetic monks have relaxed.
Vessagiriya was considered to be known formerly as Issarasamanarama during the times of King Devanampiya Tissa.
Nestled amidst the lush landscapes of Sri Lanka, Vessagiriya stands as a testament to the architectural brilliance of ancient times. The site boasts a remarkable fusion of nature and human ingenuity, creating an awe-inspiring marvel. At its core, Vessagiriya embodies Pabbatha Vihara architecture, a style that seamlessly merges man-made structures with the natural rock formations surrounding them. Let us embark on a journey to discover the secrets and splendour of Vessagiriya.
Pabbatha Vihara Architecture
Pabbatha Vihara architecture encompasses a unique approach that integrates constructed elements with the inherent beauty of the landscape. Rather than imposing upon nature, ancient architects worked with it, crafting structures that harmoniously blended into the surroundings. The key feature of this architectural style is the arrangement of rectangular building areas, also known as courtyards, which are strategically positioned at various levels. These courtyards are often encircled by water, enhancing the overall aesthetic appeal and creating a serene atmosphere.
The Four Sacred Buildings
As we ascend to the upper courtyard of Vessagiriya, a mesmerizing sight unfolds. Four sacred buildings, meticulously arranged in a specific order, grace this elevated space. Each building holds its significance and contributes to the spiritual ambience of the site. The first is the stupa, a structure symbolizing enlightenment and spiritual awakening. Next is the bodhighara, a place for meditation and introspection. Following that is the patimaghara, a shrine dedicated to the veneration of Buddha images. Lastly, we encounter the Prasada, a grand structure believed to be the uposathaghara, where monks gather for religious observances.
Manju Sri Bhashitha Vastuvidyawa
To gain deeper insights into the architectural intricacies of Vessagiriya, we turn to an ancient Sanskrit manuscript, Manju Sri Bhashitha Vastuvidyawa. This invaluable book explains the buildings and standards employed in constructing Pabbatha Viharas. It serves as a comprehensive guide, shedding light on the intentions, symbolism, and principles governing these awe-inspiring monasteries' creation.
The Rectangular Precinct
At the heart of Vessagiriya's monasteries lies the large rectangular precinct, a defining feature of this architectural style. This expansive space encapsulates the sacred quadrangle, accommodating the four significant shrines previously mentioned. The rectangular precinct serves as the spiritual nucleus of Vessagiriya, offering visitors a glimpse into the rich history and religious significance associated with these magnificent structures.
Identification of the Uposathaghara
Among the four sacred buildings, the Prasada stands out as a structure of great importance. Scholars and archaeologists have identified it as the uposathaghara, where monks gather for uposatha, a fortnightly Buddhist observance. The prasada's distinctive features, architectural elements, and historical context provide strong evidence supporting this identification, further adding to the allure of Vessagiriya.
Vessagiriya stands as a testament to the rich cultural heritage of Sri Lanka and the artistic prowess of ancient architects. The fusion of natural rock formations with man-made structures exemplifies the harmonious relationship between humans and the environment. As visitors explore the monasteries of Vessagiriya, they are transported back in time, awestruck by the architectural marvels that have withstood the test of centuries. This site serves as a reminder of the wisdom and skill possessed by our ancestors, leaving us with a profound appreciation for the enduring beauty of the past.