Out of the past
In the Kotte period, during the reign of King Parakrama
Bahu VI (1412-1469 A.D.), the southern part of the country - ancient
Ruhunu Rata was said to have been administered by a person called
Demeta Kumaraya. He was also called Jayamahaladana Kumaru.
Kumaraya once officiated in a religious ceremony at Welitana, close
to Balapitiya. There the chivalrous Demeta Kumaraya met the beautiful
daughter of a chieftain of the village called Salaya, Sunethra Mahadevi.
A son was born
to them in Dematenna in the Kegalle district. He was to become famous
in Sinhala prose and verse. Named Jayaba, he became a learned Buddhist
monk - Ven. Sri Totagamuwe Rahula.
After the death
of his mother, the boy took refuge in the Kotte Royal Palace. There
he came under the tutelage of the most erudite Buddhist monk of
the time, namely Ven. Vidagama Maha Maithri Thera, and was later
As the years
passed, the young Buddhist monk, Sri Totagamuwe Sri Rahula Himi
acquired a mine of Buddhist scholastic works and literary brilliance
in prose and verse. Later he became a proficient native physician,
well versed in manthrams.
He became proficient
in eight languages and was known as Sath Basha Paramahimi.
As a Buddhist monk he stayed for some time at the Totagamuwa temple.
He also founded the famed Sunethra Devi Pirivena in Pepiliyana.
Among his eminent literary works in prose, verse and classic Sandesa
(Message Poems) are Paravi Sandesaya, Selalihini Sandesaya, Kavya
Sekaraya, Mogagallana Panchika Pradapaya and Buddhippasadini. Of
these brilliant works, his first one was Paravi Sandesaya written
in the Buddhist era of 1972 (1430-A.D.) in the reign of King Parakrama
Rahula Raja Maha Viharaya is located along Galle Road, off the 57th
milepost from Colombo. Its about 5 kms from Hikkaduwa. In
the foreground of the temple premises stands the statue of Sri Rahula
Nahimi Sangaraja under a canopy. Prof. Vinnie Vitharana, a well-known
scholar and author of books on our culture, history and archaeology,
in his authoritative book titled 'Totagamuwa' (1986) gives vivid
accounts of the origin of this historic temple. The bulk of the
material in this article has been taken with due acknowledgement
from this valuable monograph.
temple is in the village of Telwatta, (the village used to supply
coconut oil to light lamps in the temple). Totagamuwa originated
from Thittagama - meaning in Sanscrit, 'Thirtha', and 'Tittha-tota
(port) in Pali. In the 'Culavamsa' Part II, (pages 206-207), mention
is made of a long prasada of forty-five cubits, which was created
by King Vijaya Bahu III (1232-1236 A.D). As it had fallen into decay,
King Parakrama Bahu VI (1410-1468), had later built a long prasada
of thirty cubits consisting of two storeys. In this chronicle it
is referred to as Titthagama meaning this Totagamuwe temple.
temple recently, I met the incumbent priest - Ven. Pituwala Sumana
Thera. He was helpful in giving me access to the temple's library
where I was able to get useful information on books on Totagamuwa
temple like Dr.Vinnie Vitharana's book, and the pictorial book Paintings
of Sri Lanka, Telvatta, a publication of the Archaeological Department.
during their occupation of the Southern Province in the 16th century
had destroyed almost all these buildings. What remains are four
standing monolithic pillars behind the devale premises. Some of
these have stone inscriptions which date back to the 15th century
Part II, it is recorded that Parakrama Bahu VI of the 15th century
A.D. had laid out a park filled with 5000 coconut palms. At the
turn off from the Galle Road at the Telwatta junction is a board
put up by the Wildlife Conservation Department, indicating the 'Telwatta
Sanctuary', which had existed from British times.
though is deceptive as all that remains of the sanctuary are a few
acres of coconut palms and other plants. Villagers say that wild
boar, porcupine, mouse deer and jungle fowl are found here.
The epic 'Ira
Sandesaya' describes vividly the grand buildings that had existed
then, like the Vijayabahu Pirivena, and image houses and the approach
roads through groves and groves of coconut and other trees like
sal, sapu, na and water plants like lotus and nelum.
VI died in 1467, but before his demise, he conferred the highest
royal prelate title of Sangaraja on Totagamuwe Sri Rahula Himi for
his literary contributions. During the Dutch period in the 17th
century, it is recorded that Totagamuwa served as a company village
of the V.O.C. (Dutch East India Company) to which it had supplied
coconuts, arecanuts and cinnamon in bulk.
In the late
18th century came the dynamic Buddhist monk Ven.Veliwita Saranankara.
He played an active part in the resurgence of the Totagamuwa temple.
It was during his period from 1734-99, that another equally dedicated
Buddhist priest Ven. Pallaththara Punnyasoma made his timely arrival.
He took refuge in the ambalama close to the famed Seenigama Devale
by the seashore, a little distance away from the temple. His mission
was to restore the buildings damaged by the Portuguese. He, along
with a band of villagers, spearheaded the movement to restore these
buildings. Such restorations commenced from 1792 and were completed
by 1799 along with the devales.
Among the legacy
of Ven. Totagamuwe Sri Rahula Sangaraja are the works written on
Vijaya bahu Pirivena comprising verses and prose compositions and
other Sanskrit scripts titled - 'Buddha Setaka and Viri Karutna
Pancika' written by his pupil - Sri Ramachandra Bharata of India.
There is also the portrait of Sri Rahula Sangaraja hung on the wall.
The inscription in Sinhala script reads thus: "Sri Rahula Maha
Sanganayake Wahansege Murtha Sariraya" meaning "The mortal
remains of Ven. Sri Rahula Maha Sangaraja which were interred by
the Portuguese in Goa.
(Part II next week)
Sabba thanesu patitthitam
Saririka dhatu-Maha bodhim
I salute every cetiya (shrine)
That may stand in any place
The bodily relics, the Great Bodhi
And all images of the Buddha.
Buddhists recite this stanza in salutation to the three main objects
of veneration - the cetiya or stupa, the bodhi tree and the image
of the Buddha - found in any Buddhist temple throughout the world.
The stupa is
a beautiful piece of architecture where the Buddha's relics, images
and other valuable objects are enshrined and people venerate and
pay homage. The stupa is also known as dagaba, chetiya or vehera.
In the temple
premises, the stupa is generally located at a higher elevation.
Stupas have been built from early days. The emperor Asoka built
several stupas at hallowed sites in India. In Sri Lanka, although
there are legends about stupas said to have been built during the
lifetime of the Buddha, the earliest recorded is the Thuparama dagaba
built by King Devanampiya Tissa (250-210 BC). When originally built,
it was in the form of a heap of paddy. After several restorations,
the Thuparama dagaba has a diameter of 59 feet at the base.
several shapes. At least six types are on record - Bell (ghantakara),
Pot (ghatakara), Bubble (bubulakara), heap of paddy (dhanyakara),
lotus (padmakara) and myrobalam fruit (amalakara).
At the entrance
to a Buddhist shrine room or a stupa are masterpieces of Sinhala
craftsmanship created by stonemasons showing a high degree of competence
in sculpture. These are the guardstones, the flight of steps and
(sandakada pahana) is a semi-circular slab of stone at the foot
of a flight of steps. During the first stages of sculpting a moonstone,
only a plain slab of stone was used. It had a lotus flower in the
centre. The decorative features are a later development.
(mura gal) on either side at the bottom of the flight of steps are
joined by a set of decorative balustrades (korawak gal). At the
early stages, these may have been used as pegs and did not have
any sculptural work. It is possible that in the early stages a full
vase may have been kept in front of each guardstone and later sculptured
onto it. A full vase symbolizes prosperity and abundance. Later
the figure of a naga (cobra) came into it. The nagas are considered
guardians of water, celestial as well as terrestrial. They are represented
both in animal and human forms. When in human form, three, seven
or nine hoods are sculptured.