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Jetavana Dagoba (Stupa), Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

Jetavana monastery, Jetavana stupa, Jetavana Museum and ruins are located east of the Ruwanweliseya Stupa (Ruwan Weli Saye) at Anuradhapura.

Enough bricks for a great wall from London to Edinburgh

The Jetavana stupa looming impressively from the plain is the highest brick-built dagoba in the world. The paved platform on which it stands covers more than 8 acres (3 hectares) of land & has a diameter of over 100m. In its original form the dagoba stood 120m high, & was the third-tallest structure in the world, surpassed only by the two great pyramids Khufru & Khafra at Gizeh, Egypt. It was also the world's biggest stupa & is still the tallest & largest structure made entirely of brick anywhere on earth. It took 27 years to build & contains over ninety million bricks.

In 1860 Emerson Tennent, in his book Ceylon, calculated that it had enough bricks to build a 3-m high brick wall 25 cm thick from London to Edinburgh, equal to the distance from the southernmost tip of Sri Lanka at Dondra head to northernmost point in Sri Lanka at Point Pedro & again back down to the coast at Trincomalee. Although it had stood over 120m high in its days of glory, today it is about 70m, similar height to the Abayagiri Stupa.

Ongoing restoration

UNESCO sponsored restoration began in 1981 but is still far from finished: A part of the structure is still encased in scaffolding & restoration work hasn't been continuous.

Four entrances to the courtyard

The dagoba stands on an enormous but rather overgrown platform. Only two of the dagoba's four vahakadas (entrances to the courtyard) have so far been excavated; the one facing the entrance on the southern side is the finest. It is studded with eroded elephant heads, with Nagaraja (cobra king) guardstones to either side & an unidentified goddess.

Semi nude: lissome women of matchless grace

The Jetavanarama's eastern vahalkada was decorated with beautiful figures of lissome women of matchless grace: they appear to be moving, even dancing, and wearing elaborate but scanty attire.

Lost to the sword & fire of marauding Dravidian invaders

The size of the Patimaghara (image house) here shows that King Mahasena (276-303 AD) had an enormous Buddha image built herein, even larger than the famous Aukana Buddha Statue, facing the dagoba. A tall, slender door leads between eight-meter high surviving sections of wall into a narrow image chamber, at the end of which is a lotus base which once supported a standing Buddha image. The image was destroyed by the marauding Dravidian invaders from South India.

A little south of the Jetavanarama Dagoba, & on another side of the road, there is a stone railing built in imitation of a long wall. It encloses a site 42m by 34m, but the building within too was destroyed by the marauding Dravidian invaders from South India.

The remains of the monastery

The area south of the dagoba is littered with the Jetavana monastery's extensive remains of impressive scale. All ruins are carefully excavated & landscaped. The monastery would once have housed some 3000 monks. The first monastery buildings were constructed during the third century in the area north of the dagoba (which remains largely unexcavated) & gradually spread south & east as the monastery expanded until the tenth century.

Jetavana Museum

The interesting Jetavana Museum holds a striking collection of objects recovered during excavations since 1981 at the 300 - acre site monastery. Among the unearthed are fragments of decorative friezes & carvings from the site, including Buddha statues & guradstones, some of great delicacy & fine jewellery, ivory carvings, ear ornaments & bangles, all of extremely fine workmanship, as well as stones such as amethyst & garnet, collection of pottery & the skillfully crafted three-tiered urinal pot. A pavilion outside has more stone sculptures: friezes, elephants & guardstones.

Buddhist Railing

Immediately behind the Jetavana museum lies a latticed fence pierced with four entrances oriented towards the cardinal points; the three tiers of the fence are claimed to represent Buddhism's "triple gems" (the Buddha; his teachings; & the Sangha). The building which the railing formerly enclosed was an image house.

The Roman Connection (The Jetavana treasures)

The treasury of objects from the Jetavanaram complex has become known as the Jetavana Treasures. They show how far-reaching were Anuradhapura's foreign connections. There are Roman & Indian coins, ceramics from North & West Asia, & fragments of Islamic & Chinese ware. Huge numbers of beads made of clay, glass, silver, ivory & carnelian have also been found, as have intaglio seals made in semiprecious stone & gold, & bronze religious statuettes.

The first Jetavana Monastery

The first Jetavana Monastery called Jetavane Anathapindikassa arama (Pali: in Jeta Grove, Anathapindika's Monastery) was located just over the perimeter of the city of Savatthi. Sravasti or Savatthi was situated in the fertile Gangetic plains in the present day Gonda District of Uttar Pradesh near Balrampur 120 km north of modern Lucknow in Northern India.

Jetavana Monastry was the second monastery donated to Gautama Buddha, following Veluvnanarama or Veluvana Monastery in Rajagaha or Rajgir in Nalanda district in the modern Indian state of Bihar. The city of Rajgir was the first capital of the kingdom of Magadha, a state that would eventually evolve into the Mauryan Empire. Jetavana was the monastery where Gauthama Buddha dispensed the majority of his teachings and discourses. According to Buddhist literature Buddha has spent 19 out of the 45 vassas (Pali: a traditional time of monastic retreat) of his life time Jetavana Monastery. Vassa (Pali: vasso, Sanskrit var?a? meaning rain) is the annual retreat of three lunar months observed by practitioners of Theravada Buddhism.

History of Jetavana monastery, Sri Lanka

Jetavana Monastery at Nandana Pleasure Garden, Anuradhapura of Sri Lanka Holidays was founded by King Mahasena (276-303 AC) subsequent to the establishment of Mahavihara at Mahameghavana Park at Anuradhapura, Mihintale Monastery at Mihintale (12km east of Anuradhapura) by King Devanampiya Tissa (Sinhala: dear to the gods) (307-267 BC) and Abhayagiri monastery by King Valagambahu (103 BC) & (89-76 BC), the builder of Sri Lanka Holidays Golden Dambulla Rock Cave Temple.

Jetavana Monastery, in its construction design had apparently taken a leaf out of the book of the architect that was at Abhayagiri monastery: the center of the attraction is the colossal Jetavana stupa. Around the stupa ran a belt of residential colleges of the monks with the entrances to them facing the stupa. The rest of the main building were built in cardinal directions in relation to the stupa: pilimage (Sinhala: image house) to the west; Bodhigara (Sinhala: Peepal Bo tree Shrine) and uposathagara (Sinhala: chapter house) to the south; danasala (Sinhala; refectory) to the east and sannipatasala (Sinhala: assembly hall) to the north. The refectory reveals the monastery is home to about 3000 resident Buddhist monks.

However, though Mahavihara monastery and Abhayagiri monastery were founded upon Theravada Buddhism, Jetavana monastery was founded upon Mahayana Buddhism: the deviation was a result of the arrival of a Sinhalese Buddhist monk called Sanghamitra, who had embraced Mahayana Buddhism and lived in exile in Kaveri, India. Mahayana (Sanskrit; great vehicle) called Theravada Hinayana (Sanskrit: lesser vehicle) while the Theravada Buddhists called Mahayana Buddhism a heresy (vaitulyavada). The arrival of Sanghamitra during the reign of King Mahasena saw the culmination of the differences two cannons of Buddhism between Theravada Buddhists and Mahayana Buddhists. Worse still, it witnessed the destruction of the glorious Mahavihara monastery. The Nikayasangaraha, a Sinhalese Buddhist chronicle records, among the destroyed buildings were 364 Buddhist academies and great temples, including magnificent Lovammhapaya (Sinhala: brazen place). Not being satisfied with the sinful destruction of Mahavihara monastery, the land was ploughed and planted with a grain called Undu in Sinhalese [Vigna mungo] or Urad in Hindi. Venerable Prof Walpola Sri Rahula Maha Thera (1907-1997) observes that this period concided with the activities of the Yogacara (Sanskrit: yoga practice) school in India.

It is believed that Sangamitra had arrived with a copy of a Mahayana work titled Lankavatara Sutra (Sinhala: Descent into Lanka or The invasion of Lanka) with the intention of substituting same in place of Tripitaka inscribed during the reign of lionhearted King Valagambahu (Watta Gamini Abhaya) at Aluvihare Rock Temple. Lankavatara Sutra was subsequently included in the Vaipulya-sutras of Mahayana Buddhism.

King Mahasena himself was unaware of the enormous influence of the Mahavihara until one of his close friends, Meghavanna-Abhaya, who had fled to the Rununa raised an army and challenged him. Mahasena is said to have awoken from his slumber, met with his friend, regretted and repented on the damage done to the Mahavihara, and promised restore it. The king kept his world: Lovamahapaya (Sinhala: brazen place) and many other academies and temples were rebuilt.

Today no ancient copy of Lankavatara Sutra is found in Sri Lanka Holidays. [Modern copy: The Lankavatara Sutra: A Mahayana Text by Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki (1870 - 1966), 1932] The reason none of this literature survived in the Sri Lankan Buddhist traditions is that Sanghamitra (ironically his name mean 'friends of Sangha in Sanskrit) and his followers were dealt with so severely after the reconciliation between King Mahasena and his minister and friend Meghavanna-Abhya, the angry crowd went on a rampage. One of the king's favorite wives, who was bitter about the suffering of the Mahavihara monks had Sanghamitra killed. Nothing associated with Sanghamitra survived. Even one of the closest friends of the king, a Sinhalese minister named Sona, was slain. It would have been a miracle had any Mahayana literature from this period remained in the island of Sri Lanka.

Though following his repentance and restoration of Mahavihara Monastery, the name of the great king was rewritten in the annals of history of Sri Lanka, as a great benefactor of Theravada Buddhism, today he is best remembered as one of the greatest builders of tanks (rainwater reservoirs) of Sri Lanka. Such was the glory of the king, following the construction of vast Minneriya tank, the great tank builder was bestowed with the divine eminence and named "Minneriya Deviyo" (Sinhala: the god of Minneriya) in the glorious history of Sri Lanka. The vast Minneriya reservoir together with the in-land sea like Parakrama Samudra; immense Nuwara Weva reservoir; glorious Kala weva reservoir, built by King Dhatusena (father of King Sigiri Kassapa, the builder of Sri Lanka Holidays Sigiriya); Padaviya weva reservoir still extend the lifeline to Nuvara Kalaviya (the region of Nuwara weva, Kala weva, Padaviya weva) region which encompass Sri Lanka Holidays Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. Jetavana Monastery Jetavana Dagoba is one of the sixteen most sacred cultural destinations of the Sinhalese Buddhists of Sri Lanka.

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Photo Gallery

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Jetavana Dagoba

Jetavana Dagoba

Jetavana Dagoba

Jetavana Dagoba

Jetavana Dagoba

Stone Sculptures

Jetavana Monastery's

Ruin Bridge Around the Area

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