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Somawathiya Chethiya (Somawathi Stupa), Sri Lanka

Archeological site, Ancient Buddhist temple, Ancient renovated stupa, Jungle, grassland, river banks, elephants & wild life sanctuary

Reaching Somawathiya Chethiya (Stupa)
We will be arriving from Polonnaruwa or from Minneriya. Coming from Minneriya, we will have to pass the Higurakgoda town to reach Sungawila. From Pollonnaruwa, we will need to turn at the Hospital Junction (between Polonnaruwa and Kaduruwela towns). The distance to the stupa from both these towns (Minneriya as well as Polonnaruwa) is about 40 kilometers. The Somawathiya Chethiya is located by the bank of the River Mahaveli within the Somawathiya strict natural reserve and wildlife sanctuary. Sungawila is the last village we come across on the route to Somawathiya. Once we pass this village we are at Somawathiya strict natural reserve and wildlife sanctuary. It is said to have been the abode of 500 Arahat (supremely enlightened, who broke free from the suffering in the cosmos, the eternal cycle of birth, death & rebirth) Bhikkhus in the 2nd century BC.

Somawathiya strict natural reserve and wildlife sanctuary
The flood plains of Mahaveli River with luxuriously growing grasslands have been inhibited by a large number of wild animals ranging from elephants, wild buffalo & deer. On the low lying banks of the mighty river are other areas protecting wildlife, i.e. Wasgomuwa National Park, Flood Plains National Park and Trikonamadu Natural Reserve.

Through the jungle and The Villu wetlands
Sungawila onwards it's a lonely dusty unpaved road of 12 kilometers. We will be driving through the jungle and villus to the great isolated dagoba. The last stretch of the road is right in the land of elephants. Early morning or late in the evening, we are sure to come across few wild elephants. The villagers are used to encounters with wild elephants in the temple grounds during the nights too. The keepers of the cadjan stalls do not fail to throw few bunches of bananas here & there for the benefit of the wild elephants. The beasts would be content with the small gift to leave the occupants of the stalls unharmed.

The River Mahaweli that changed its course 800 years ago
The historical records narrate that the Somawathiya stupa was built on the eastern bank of the Mahaveli River. But today the stupa is located about 1/2 km from the west bank of the river. Initial confusion was subsequently solved with discovery that the river has changed its course during the last 800 years and in fact the current sandy road leading to the Somawathi was the path of the river some 800 years ago. The change of course River Mahaweli at Somawthiya correlate well with A. Denis N. Fernando's (at BMICH on 18th October 2002) theory in relation to the "Decline of the ancient Hydraulic civilization of Sri Lanka".

Sacred right tooth relic of Buddha
Somawathiya was built in 2nd century BC. According to chronicles, Somawathi Chethiya was built by Prince Giri-aba on the request of his wife Princess Somawathi (sister of King Kavanthissa) who lived on a small community called "Somapura" on the banks of Mahaveli River. Upon completion of the Stupa, Sacred right tooth relic of Buddha was gifted to the prince by Buddhist monk Maha Thera Mahinda. The relic was enshrined in relic chamber of the stupa. From then on till 4th century AD, the sacred city was renovated by King Kannitta Tissa, King Kurtakanna Tissa, King Gamini Abhaya and King Amanda Gamini.

Rediscovery of the site & excavations
The site was rediscovered in 1940's and in 1948 Ceylon secured independence from the British colonialists. Renovations were initiated by a group of devotees. In 1964 archaeologists started excavating the site. While excavating the main stupa, a smaller stupa at a depth of 5 feet into the main stupa was found. It is believed this smaller stupa was the original Somawathi Chethiya build by prince Giriaba in the 2nd century BC and the latter stupa build around the original was the work of King Kanitta Tissa in 164 AD. Archaeologists unearthed several ruins of structures including a wall surrounding the stupa. Also unearthed are four moonstones, flower pedestals, six 3 1/2 feet long "siripa gal" (rocks carved with the image of sole of the feet of Buddha). Nine stone inscriptions have been found around this site & four of the nine inscriptions on the Eric Swan rock.

Eric Swan rock
The Eric Swan rock is located a few meters away from the gravel road, about 100 meters before the main entrance to the temple. Eric Swan who took a shot at the massive reclining Buddha statue carved into the rock was killed by one of the wild elephants who were disturbed by the sound of the gunshot. Elephants used to rub their backs & butts (Eh!) on a nearby rock outcrop. Carved into the rock surface where Eric Swan stood standing cross-legged, flamboyantly took his aim & shot at the Buddha statue is the print of his shuffled feet. A villager has resolved to etch the uncivilized act right into the huge rock itself.

Howard Carter (the legendary discoverer of Tomb of King Tutankaman) Vs Giragama Nilame (then guardian of Holy Temple of Tooth, Kandy)

When it was revealed that the Sacred Right Tooth Relic of Buddha was enshrined in the relic chamber of this stupa, Diyawadane Nilame (Appointed Guardian of the other existing tooth relic) Giragama Nilame, of Dalada Maligawa (The Holy Temple of the Tooth) launched a search for the lost stupa. The misdirected intention of the Guardian of the Holy Temple of Tooth at Kandy was to secure the custody of the right tooth relic & to deposit it alongside the left tooth relic at Holy Temple of Tooth at Kandy. It is said that the guide lost his sight on the day the team reached the stupa. During the excavation cobras surfaced & a swarm of wasps attacked the team. While fleeing from the wasps the Guardian of The Holy Temple of Tooth was injured. He later died of the wound. The story rings a bell. Death of Howard Carter & others following the excavation of tomb of Tutankhamen.

The light & no sound show 1 for Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC)
A flash in the pan. During the renovation of the stupa a ceremony was held for the purpose of enshrining relics in the relic chamber of the stupa. The ceremony on 30th June 1977 was attended by correspondents of Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation. Beams of light radiated out of the stupa illuminating the sky. 7.20a.m.

The light & no sound show 2 for the President of Sri Lanka
A freak. A repetition of freak of rays of lights took place on 4th July in 1981 at the inauguration ceremony. At the arrival of then President of Sri Lanka Mr. J. R. Jayawardhana for the purpose of ceremonious unveiling of "Kotha" (pinnacle) of the stupa at 2 pm, once the phenomena of "rays of light" took place illuminating whole sky with the colour of yellow & the seemed as if it is moon. The all yellow colour of the sky seemed to have a fleeting effect of shrouding the sun. The white clothes of the pilgrims attending the ceremony too were illuminated in the colour of yellow.

It was arranged for the president to unveil the "kotha" (pinnacle studded with a large jewel) by simply pulling down a rope tied with the flag knot to the pinnacle of the stupa. Having witnesses the phenomena, the president decided to rise to the occasion & go hell for leather. He climbed to the top by way of a temporary stairway built for workers and unveiled the pinnacle with bare hands.

The light & no sound show 3 for the President's sister & brother
Freak 2. As if the President himself wouldn't do, a repetition of the show took place for his siblings on the 28th April 2002. Among the thousands of pilgrims were sister and the brother of President J..R. Jayawardhana who were there to pay homage to the chethiya. This time it was continued for over 45 minutes.

The light & no sound show 4
Freak 3. Again on 13th August 2006, poya day (full moon day) and continued for about 3 minutes. Could all these freak incidents are caused by the congregation of deities (other superior beings in other worlds = celestial beings = extraterrestrial beings) who visited to pay respect for the Sacred Tooth Relic?

Seruwila Raja Maha Vihara (Seruwila stupa)
Habarana Trincomalee road via beautiful Kantalai tank is the quickest route to Seruwila. At Somapura we pass an approach road to Somawathie Chatiya National Park. Close to Allai tank is Seruwila Stupa. It was originally built by King Kavantissa in the second century AD. The small restored dagoba is said to enshrine the Buddha's frontal bone relic. Around the stupa are several ancient structures & two caves housing Buddha sheltered by Nagaraja (cobra king) statues.

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Photo Gallery

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Somawathiya Chethiya

Somawathiya Chethiya

Somawathiya Chethiya

Somawathiya Chethiya

Somawathiya Chethiya

Seruwila Stupa

Seruwila Raja Maha Vihara

Seruwila Raja Maha Vihara

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