Category Archives: Sri Lanka

Unique plaque depicting a Universal Monarch

The Island

"Unique plaque depicting a Universal Monarch from Tissamaharama"

“Unique plaque depicting a Universal Monarch from Tissamaharama”

January 10, 2017, 9:10 pm

By Osmund Bopearachchi

(UC Berkeley-CNRS Paris)

The present article is based on a unique plaque depicting a Universal Monarch – Cakravartin in Sanskrit, cakravartin in Pali and Sakvithi in Sinhalese – found accidently in Tissamaharama, now conserved in the head office of the Department of Archaeology, Colombo (see plate 1). I wish to express my sincere gratitude to Prof. Senarath Disanayaka, Director General of Archaeology, for authorising me to publish it. Before discussing the importance of this relief in understanding the early forms of Sri Lankan art, let me narrate briefly the story of its discovery. Mr. K. Lahiru Sampath, from Tissamaharama found this sculpture in early 2016, in the irrigation canal carrying water from the Tissa Reservoir to the paddy-fields in the vicinity of the Tissamaharama Rajamahavihara. The canal runs along the Tissa-Akurugoda Road between the two ancient sites of Tissamaharama stupa and Sandagiri Dagoba. The precise place of its discovery, according to Ms. Rathubambarandage Nirosha kanthi, Curator of the Yatala Archaeological Museum, is about 100m from the junction of Rubberwatta Road and Tissa-Akurugoda Road, towards Tissamaharama Rajamahavihara. The villager who found it at the depth of the dried-out canal, seeing its unusual iconography and understanding its archaeological importance, donated it to the chief monk of the Yatala Rajamahaviharya. Through the intervention of Ms. Wasanthi Alahakoon, Regional Office, Department of Archaeology in Galle, the plaque was given to the head Office of the Department of Archaeology in Colombo on the 5th of February 2016. On the 7th of July 2016, on the day of the annual celebrations of archaeology (Puravidya Dinaya), the Department of Archaeology officially honoured Mr. K. Lahiru Sampath for his contribution.

Iconography:

The plaque depicts a Universal Monarch, considered an ideal universal king, who reigns ethically and compassionately over the entire world. In a Buddhist context, Cakra-vartin means the one who turns the Dharmacakra, or Wheel of the Dharma. The central figure with the raised right arm is no doubt a universal monarch, since he is shown with all the seven treasures that a Cakravartin should posses. The concept of Cakravartin, the universal monarch with Seven Jewels, as correctly argued by Monika Zin, is a frequent topic in Buddhist literature: Mahasudassanasutta (Dighanikaya XVII); Brahmayusutta (Majjhimanikaya 9 l); Mahapadanasutta (Dighanikaya XIV); Lakkhanasutta (Dighanikaya XXX); Cakkavattisihanadasutta (Dighanikaya XXVI); and Cakkavatisutta (Samyuttanikaya XLYL.5.2), to name only canonical Pali texts. In the Cakkavattisihanadasutta (The Lion’s Roar on the Turning of the Wheel), in the Dighanikaya, the Buddha defines the seven treasures possessed by a wheel-turning monarch as: the Wheel Treasure, the Elephant Treasure, the Horse treasure, the Jewel Treasure, the Woman Treasure, the Householder Treasure, and the Counsellor Treasure. In Buddhist literature, the notion of a ‘Wheel-Turner,’ or Cakravartin, applies to the Buddha himself. For example, in the Lalitavistara Sutra,

when the sage Asita came to see the newly born prince Siddhartha in the royal palace of Kapilavastu, he looked at the Bodhisattva, and saw that his body was wonderfully adorned with the thirty-two marks and eighty signs of a great being predicted to either subdue and conquer the entire world and its oceans without using force or weapons or to leave his home and go forth as a homeless monk and a Tathāgata, a completely perfect Buddha. He further says that if the Bodhisattva remains at home, he will be a Dharma king, possessing the seven jewels: the wheel, the elephant, the horse, the mani stone, the queen, the chancellor and the counselor. Likewise, the present plaque depicts the universal monarch with all the seven treasures. The Cakravartin stands in the middle, wearing an upper garment (uttarīya) over an under garment (paridhāna) belted with a cord around the waist, imitating most probably a fine silk fabric, wrapped around the left shoulder and arm leaving most of the torso exposed. His majesty is emphasized by the highly elaborated jatamukuta (headdress) with a crest in the middle and rich jewellery: long earrings, bracelets and a flat collar necklace. He raises his right hand executing the gesture of making the coins (wealth) to drop from the sky. Although the coins are not depicted clearly, the famous relief of the Cakravartin from Jaggayyapeta stupa in Andhra Pradesh, shows very clearly square coins resembling closely punch-marked coins. Once the identity of the principal figure is established, it is easy to interpret the other characters and symbols depicted on this hitherto unpublished plaque. To our right, at the upper extremity, is a forepart of elephant and to its right, and close to the head of the universal king, is a head of a horse. The unusual symbol between the head and raised right arm of the monarch is the wheel treasure. The symbol at the upper extremity to our left, taking the form of a conch (shankha), is the gem. Among the three standing human figures, the one to our right holding a water pot and wearing a lavish jatamukuta and rich jewellery is the householder treasure or the son of the monarch and heir to the throne.
Dressed in sumptuous garments, wearing long earrings and a sophisticated headdress, and holding most probably a lotus (symbol of purity), the queen (or the woman treasure) is shown standing between the heir to the throne and the Cakravartin. The figure standing to our left, richly dressed with fine jewellery and garments, with arms crossed over the chest, is the Counsellor. This plaque thus depicts the universal monarch with all the seven treasures. Though there are sculptures attempting to depict the Cakravartin in early Sri Lankan art, to my knowledge, this the only ancient sculpture so far attested to in the island showing this ideal universal king with all the seven symbols. We shall come back to this point a little later. Continue reading

BUDUGALA: TRANQUIL MONASTERY AT THE HEART OF WALAWE VALLEY

z_p36-budugala1Sunday Observer

6 November, 2016
Story and pictures by Mahil Wijesinghe

The meandering Walawe River begins as a spring in the Horton Plains and flows down across several provinces until it meets the sea at Godawaya in the Southern city of Ambalantota. An extensive land area in Sabaragamuwa is known as the valley of Walawe and hidden in this heartland are some very impressive prehistoric ancient stone beauties from the classical Anuradhapura period. In 2002, the Department of Archaeology carried out an extensive exploration at the archaeological site, Budugala at Kaltota in close proximity to the Walawe River where a complex of ancient Buddhist monasteries have been found and restored.

A long arduous journey through the harsh terrain of the otherwise lush Sabaragamuwa Province, brought us to the Balangoda-Kaltota road. From Balangoda, the road was ever winding as we kept descending steadily from Balangoda toward Kaltota for around 30 kilometres. The scenery was refreshing with the edge of the mountain affording a distant view of the plains of the entire Southern province before melting into misty greens.

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The road then runs on flat terrain and we met a gushing canal carrying Walawe waters, running parallel with the road. The canal gives water to the paddy-fields on the opposite side of the road. We saw shallow bathing spots along the canal where locals were washing and relaxing after a bath. The huge, tall trees along the canal give ample shade to the road. The rugged steep road to Kaltota took a right turn, leading us to the Weli-Oya – Kaltota narrow carpeted road and we reached a place steeped in history.

Boundary
The scenic, rustic village of Budugala, (meaning ‘the rock of Buddha’) nestles in the boundary of the Udawalawe National Park, at the edge of the Sabaragamuwa Province, and the Walawe River flows across this village. Paddy cultivation is the main source of livelihood of the villagers of this area.

We stopped at an Archaeological Department signboard and parked on the side of the narrow road. There was hardly any traffic, and hardly any room for two vehicles to pass. We crossed the canal by a narrow bridge and reached the small watch hut built by the Department of Archaeology at the entrance to the site.

Although the site meeting our eyes seemed interesting, there was hardly any information available. Since we visited the Budugala ruins in Kaltota on a drought ridden day, the area was surrounded by clumps of yellow sunburnt grass and brownish shrub jungle. There were hardly any visitors. It was quiet, save for the sudden wind that took a fancy to howl through the huge trees. But, in a bygone era, this was a main spiritual hub and part of the ancient site in Ruhuna and may be in Anuradhapura – far enough for seclusion, and yet, near enough to maintain some kind of contact. Both were essential requirements for a forest monastery. Continue reading

Salvaging Rajagala from being lost forever

z_p04-salvaging

Daily News (Sri Lanka)
Friday, October 7, 2016 – 01:00
Zahrah Imtiaz

Within the dense forests of Rajagala in Ampara, a team of Archaeologists from the University of Sri Jayawardenapura are uncovering an 800 year old Buddhist monastery, bringing it back to life- one dig at a time.

The site spanning over 1,025 acres of forest, rocky hills, Stupas, Refectory, Uposathagra (Building devoted to religious observances), a hot water bath house and cave dwellings is said to have been built during the 1st Century BC. The team has been successful in discovering over 50 cave dwellings, leading them to believe that around 500 monks would have resided in them.

“It is interesting that some of these caves have the inscription “Seethalena” which depicts the name of cool cave,” said Director of Conservation and Maintenance, Prof Prashantha B. Mandawala.

According to Prof Mandawala’s research, the monastic complex was vacated due to the South Indian invasions in 1215 AD and it has since then gradually deteriorated due to natural causes and also due to vandalism by treasure hunters in the recent past.

Among other unusual inscriptions found at the site, Prof Mandawala also highlighted that they had found inscriptions on one of the Stupas which read that, the ‘ashes’ or ‘relics’ of Arahat Mahinda was enshrined within the stupa. Continue reading

Situationer: Pakistan and Lanka tread the path of Buddhist heritage

Dawn, FRANCES BULATHSINGHALA — UPDATED OCT 07, 2016 09:13AM

Pakistan and Sri Lanka have embarked on a new journey in bilateral relations by benefiting from a common Buddhist heritage.

Till the end of Lanka’s war with the Tamil Tiger rebels in mid-2009, the relationship was based on military support to the Lankan government. However, a gradual cultural orientation was in the offing in Pakistan’s diplomatic policy with Sri Lanka. In 2007, the book Buddhist Gandhara — History, Art and Architecture, written by a Pakistani musicologist and archaeologist, Mr Ihsan H Nadiem, was translated into Sinhala.

In 2009, the then Pakistan High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Seema Baloch, revived Pakistan’s ancient links with the Buddhist world, with the intention of introducing the Lankan public to the archaeological, aesthetic and cultural diversity of its neighbouring state.

Muhammed Daud Ehtisham, the Press Attache in 2010 and the principal cultural aficionado in the Pakistan High Commission, led the shaping of the new stage of Pak-Lanka relations, expanding it with arts and culture-related initiatives.

He compiled a publication, Majestic Pakistan, this year and published it in three official languages in Sri Lanka: English, Sinhala and Tamil. He felt that these efforts would help in breaking stereotypes about Pakistan by offering glimpses of Pakistan’s landscape and culture with a separate section dedicated to Buddhist sites and their archaeological relevance.

Among the famous Buddhist sites mentioned in the publication are the Takht-i-Bahi, a monastic complex 80 kilometres from Peshawar. It was unearthed in the early 20th century and included in the Unesco World Heritage list. Mohra Muradu, a 3rd century monastery based in Taxila, is among other sites mentioned in the book. Continue reading

Navigating the musical sea with Prinivan Mangalyaya

The Island
August 13, 2016, 12:00 pm
Anoja Weerasinghe

Dusk was slowly falling upon Abhina Academy of Performing Arts in Bellanvila, as the timbre of musically-bent sailors of the Sri Lanka Navy filled the tranquil environs in reverence to Lord Buddha. Rehearsing for the cantata pirinivan mangalyaya, originally created by the doyen of Lankan music, Premasiri Khemadasa were the naval voices fine-tuned by his musician daughter Gayathri Khemadasa. Caught in a melodious reverie, we spoke to the talent behind the ambitious musical feat which is to come alive soon at the Nelum Pokuna theatre.

On notifying the unusual earth tremors, Bhikku Ananda who functions as a valet to Lord Buddha approached him. After paying the due respect by worshipping His feet, inquired the reason behind those unusual signals of the mother earth.

Thus our Lord has answered: ‘Ananda, the mother earth has shaken herself on two occasions earlier, that of my birth and attainment of Buddhahood by defeating Vasavarthi Maara (the death) under the Bo tree. When the day nearing of my demise, the mother earth has started releasing her tremors again…’

Thus goes the English rendering of an extract from Pirinivan Mangalyaya, original verses of which were composed during the time of the Kandyan kingdom by an unknown folk poet based on the popular Parinirvana Sutta. They were collected and published by J.E. Sedaraman. The original Pali sutta is a reportage of the demise of Lord Buddha and the rituals which followed afterwards, written in hyperbolic and metaphorical language.
Continue reading

Buddhist sacred bone relics from Pakistan to arrive in Sri Lanka on Vesak festival

The Nation
May 18, 2016, 5:25 pm

COLOMBO: In order to be part of the most important annual Vesak Buddhist Festival falling on 21st May, the government of Pakistan is providing the most sacred bone relics of Lord Buddha to Sri Lanka for exposition throughout Sri Lanka.

The exposition is being organized on the request of the Sri Lankan government under the bilateral cooperation agreement in the field of Culture.

The relics will be arriving in Sri Lanka for an extended period on the auspicious day of Vesak on 21st May 2016 and will be exhibited until Full Moon Poson Poya Day.

The Sri Lankan Minister for Sustainable Development and Wildlife Hon. Gamini Jayawickrama Perera, Secretary Ministry of Buddhasasana Mr. Wasantha Ekanayaka, Venerable Thiniyawala Palitha Thero, Chief Incumbent Nalandramaya, Nugegoda along with other high level officials left for Pakistan today to bring the sacred relics.

The sacred relics will be handed over by the Pakistani authorities to the Sri Lankan side in a special ceremony to be held at Taxilla on 19th of May 2016 Continue reading

U.S. Continues Support for Sri Lankan Cultural and Religious Heritage

Rajagala Monastery

Rajagala Monastery: The new 50,000 grant with the University of Sri Jayewardenepura to continue restoring the Rajagala Monastery adds to the previous 00,000 grant from 2013 for the same project.

Mon, 2015-10-05 18:30
Colombo, 05 October, (Asiantribune.com):

As part of its continuing efforts to preserve Sri Lanka’s cultural and religious heritage, the Embassy of the United States of America is pleased to announce new grants totaling $300,000 (42.1 million LKR) to help restore the ancient Buddhist Rajagala Monastery and improve preservation of artifacts at the Anuradhapura Archeological Museum.

Rajagala Monastery: The new 50,000 grant with the University of Sri Jayewardenepura to continue restoring the Rajagala Monastery adds to the previous 00,000 grant from 2013 for the same project.

“The United States recognizes the importance of preserving Sri Lankan religious and cultural heritage sites and has committed 100 million Sri Lankan Rupees to this effort since 2005,” said U.S. Ambassador Atul Keshap. “We hope that our cooperation with Sri Lanka to preserve cultural heritage sites will help raise international awareness and provide a boost for tourism and people-to-people understanding.”

Under the new grant, the University of Sri Jayewardenepura will receive $150,000 from the U.S. Embassy through the Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP) to continue its restoration of the Rajagala Monastery. The funding will support a detailed ground survey of the monastery and conserve some of the most important monuments used by early Buddhist priests. This is the second phase of U.S. assistance on this project, adding to an initial $100,000 grant from 2013. Continue reading