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'Vessagiri' found in Namal Uyana


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Author Topic: 'Vessagiri' found in Namal Uyana  (Read 248 times)
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« on: May 15, 2010, 05:20:45 am »

When Mahinda Rajapaksa declared Namal Uyana a National Park shortly before he was elected President in 2006, he may not have realised that he was preserving for posterity the refuge of a king who once saved Lanka from foreign domination.

King Devanampiyatissa built the Isurumuniya Vihara to accommodate 500 noblemen after they entered the Order under Arahant Mahinda. That is not the place now called Isurumuni Vihara in Anuradhapura. That really was the Meghagiri Vihara, which housed the sacred Tooth Relic when it was first brought here early in the fourth Century.

In the same way, an inscription found at what is now miscalled 'Vessagiriya' identifies it as the site of the Isurumuni Vihara. Vessagiri Vihara was built by King Devanampiyatissa to house 500 bhikkhus from the Vaisya Clan. It could not have been at the place now called Vessagiri for two reasons. An inscription at the site identifies the Vessagiri of today as the Isurumuni Vihara of yore.

Secondly, it is close to the capital Anuradhapura (only walking distance away) for a reigning monarch to choose as his secret hideout while the capital city was fully occupied by five invading armies.

Vessagiri was the site where King Valagamba sought to hide in after fleeing the enemy in a chariot. The present place so identified may well have been close to where Queen Soma Devi alighted from the overloaded chariot along with the royal regalia, purposefully intending to be caught by the enemy, so that the King and the pregnant Anula, the Queen of his brother the now deceased king, could escape unhurt.

This was about 200 years after King Devanampiyatissa's time. Vessagiri Vihara was dilapidated and uninhabited by then. It became the hideout of the royal family only for a short time.

As no food or water was available there, they had to find sustenance from the begging bowl of a bhikkhu (Kupikkala Mahatissa Thera). This place was also far south of Anuradhapura and the enemy would not suspect it as the likely hideout. It was about six miles west of Dambulla Rock Temple, then called Sagiri (code-named Kupikkala) Vihara.

Prof. Senarat Paranavitana thought that Vessagiri was the Dambulla Rock, which traditional folklore asserts was King Valagamba's hideout for14 years. Namal Uyana is not so far to the west of the Dambulla Rock, and it was closer to the king's next sanctuary at Silasobbhakandaka, for five months. Abandoning the ruins at Vessagiri (at Namal Uyana) he moved to Galewala.

In the Sinhala translation of the Mahavamsa (by Sri Sumangala and Batuvantudave,) it is called Gal-heba-kada, meaning 'Road Gap at the Rock Pool'. But, the part taken as kada is really from akandaka meaning "sanctuary" and not the same as Sinhala kada Silasobbhakandaka is easily recognisable as the present Galewala (the 'Pool on the Rock'). Galewala is closer to the present Namal Uyana (ancient Vessagiri where the king sought refuge) than to Dambulla Rock to which he went only after Kupikkala Thera had enough time to make arrangements for maintenance of the royal refugees now disguised as ordinary refugees from the war torn capital.

So it was from Galewala that the royal family moved on to Kupikkala Ku-bik-gala or 'The Rock where Food is Scarce' derived from the ancient name for Dambulla Rock. Kupikkala was the code name adopted by the record keepers for the ancient Sagiri (Famine Rock) Vihara. Its Pali name was Chatpabbata, was the mountain near which King Devanampiyatissa got the wondrous bamboo shafts to be sent as presents to King Asoka. Incidentally, the Mahavamsa Commentary also states that it was King Saddhatissa who first converted the large cave at Chatapabbata (or Dambulla) to a monastery, and called it Chatapabbata (or Sagiri) Vihara. Maha Rajha Gamini Tisa of the inscription under the drip ledge of Dambulla Rock Cave is therefore King Saddha Tissa and not 'Devanampiya Tissa' as Paranavitana had guessed.

The name Valagamba is from the popular epithet Vala-gam Aba or 'Abhaya the Outlaw'. (He was beyond the Pale of Law for over 14 years.) The record of his itinerary goes to provide clear evidence that Dambulla Rock was where he spent 14 years as a fugitive.

That itinerary also provides the evidence for locating the long lost site of ancient Vessagiri at present-day Namal Uyana.

Buddhists may some day come to believe that Mahinda Rajapaksa's spectacular rise to become almost the King of Sri Lanka today, was a result of the merit he accrued by taking steps to protect Namal Uyana as a "National Park".

He had unwittingly selected for that purpose the very site of Vessagiri Vihara built by King Devanampiyatissa, which later became the refuge of King Valagamba in exile. Refugees in their thousands, rescued by Mahinda Rajapaksa's army, from the terrorist leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, referred to Mahinda as their "King". And, more recently, he was presented with a gem-studded crown of gold, by the Russians).

Scholars in search of more facts may find them presented in greater detail in the research paper by this writer published in the Sri Lanka Journal of Humanities Vol. XXVII, of the University of Peradeniya. Godage Publishers have undertaken to print its Sinhala version as Dambulu Puranaya Saha Aluviharaye Dhamma Sangayanava
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