The Amazing Stupa of Ruwanweli Maha Seya in Sri Lanka!

We all know that Sri Lanka is a country with a remarkable history that runs for more than 30,000 years back. The establishment of Buddhism in Sri Lanka was the key turning point that altered the lifestyles of people as well as the customs and traditions they followed. Also, Sri Lanka is having a rich culture that is mainly based on Buddhism. Therefore, without having any doubts, we can clearly consider that the Buddhist religious attractions on this island are indeed significant. Among them, Ruwanweli Maha Seya is one of the remarkable monuments that represents Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

So, if you have heard about Ruwanweli Maha Seya, and know nothing much about it, you might be surely wondering what this is. However, nothing to worry about, you will get to know everything about this great monument, as you complete this read. So, why not? Let us start getting to know about it.

The Tourists Attraction to Ruwanweli Maha Seya

If we consider the countries throughout the world where Buddhism is still alive, it is rare to find a country like Sri Lanka that has wonderful creations that attract tourists. Thus, it is not a secret that sacred places like stupas are great sites of cultural and religious attractions. Duly, the tourist attraction Ruwanweli Maha Seya has is indeed impressive, and thus, it is a great tourist attraction on this splendid island beyond doubt.

What is Ruwanweli Maha Seya?

Ruwanweli Seya, the great stupa which protects a Drona of relics of the Lord Buddha, is a marvel created by the ancestral strength. Moreover, anyone who visits there feels the glamour of this great stupa. Further, King Dutugemunu, the warrior who won the great war against King Elara, who was a South Indian invader, built Ruwanweli Maha Seya to show his gratitude to the Lord Buddha as well as Buddhism.

According to the historical records, we can consider that King Dutugemunu built Ruwanweli Maha Seya nearly 2500 years ago in the year 140 B.C. With time, it became a famous site among both the local and international Buddhists, as one of the most venerated religious places in the sacred city of Anuradhapura.

How King Dutugemunu Got the Message to Build Ruwanweli Maha Seya

This is indeed an interesting story worth getting to know!

The Lord Buddha determined to enshrine a Drona of his relics in the future, in Ruwanweli Maha Seya. Arhat Mahinda, the beloved son of emperor Dharmashoka who reigned in India, brought pure Buddhism to Sri Lanka during the time period of King Devanampiyathissa. The great chronicle of Sri Lanka, The Mahavansa discloses that Arhath Mahinda reserved the sacred land to build the great Stupa, Ruwanweli Maha Seya, in the future. So King Dewanampiyathissa raised a stone pillar hoping that King Dutugemunu would see it in the future. Finally, his intentions were successful. King Dutugemunu found the stone pillar and decided to construct Ruwanweli Maha Seya at that place.

How Ruwanweli Maha Seya Got Its Name

Another interesting story! The builders found a “Thelambu” tree at the site reserved for the construction of Ruwanweli Maha Seya. So they planned to cut down the tree. But there lived a goddess persisting in the tree. So she refused the discussion of builders about cutting down the tree. The chronicles say that the King revealed to her that he was going to build a large stupa on this site. Then the goddess has made a humble request, “I will change my abode, but please use my name “Swarnamali” as the name of this constructing stupa”. Afterward, the King was happy and pleased with her words and decided to name the stupa, “Swarnamali”.

Although we pronounce it as “Ruwanweli Seya”, the exact term for this great stupa is “Ruwanmali Maha Seya”. Also, Ruwanweli Seya is famous with the names, “Mahathupa”, “Swarnamali Dagaba”, and “Swarnamali Chetti” in pali.

The Foundation of Ruwanweli Maha Seya

Constructing Ruwanweli Maha Seya was a little bit complicated. Just as at present, there were no specialized engineers and machinery to accomplish these big tasks. Therefore, you will agree if we call it a miracle created by the ancestors of Sri Lanka.

The builders paid special attention to the foundation of it. To be honest, we can consider it as an incredible foundation. The chronicles of Sri Lanka explains clearly how they did the foundation. Another important thing is that King Dutugemunu initiated the construction of Ruwanweli Maha Seya on a Vesak full moon poya day.

When we consider the foundation, it was dug to a depth of seven cubits, and round stones were laid in the bottom of it. After, they crushed the stones into small chunks. Later, elephants stamped those chunks using leather shoes. The amazing thing is that they spread butter clay brought from Himalaya on the stones with layers of bricks, quartz, rough plaster, iron meshes, pieces of white stone, rock crystals, and stone slabs placed on it.

Another thing is they dissipated a mixture of fine clay, wood apple resin, and mercury on the stone slabs. Then builders laid bronze sheets over the mixture. The thickness of the sheets was 8 inches. Another important thing is that they covered the bronze sheets with silver sheets of four inches thickness after applying a mixture of arsenic and sesame oil.

According to the experts, the amazing thing about the foundation of Ruwanweli Maha Seya is that this foundation is very robust. To be specific, this overall construction is capable of standing stable even in an earthquake.

How Builders Found Materials to Construct Ruwanweli Maha Seya?

People used “Yodun” as a unit to measure the length in the past. According to the ancient texts, one “Yodun” equals 16 miles. They calculated the distance for the sources where they supplied materials in “Yodun”. Its details are as follows.

  • They extracted clay in order to make bricks from the river basin of “Gambheera Nadee”. The location of it was one “Yodun” away from the North to the Kingdom of Anuradhapura.
  • They supplied gold from the “Awruwini” village located in the southeast, three Yoduns away from the Kingdom.
  • “Ridhee” stone cave was the source for the silver that was used in the construction.
  • People brought gems from the “ Samanwewa” and “Palawaapi” villages. There were four large amazing gems among the collection.
  • They brought “Nelli” fruit sized pearls from the “Uruwela” city which was five Yoduns away from the kingdom.

I hope now you can clearly understand the way of material supply in order to construct this tremendous creation. Now let us move on to the next section and have a good idea about how the festival of enshrining the relics took place at Ruwanweli Maha Seya.

Festival of Enshrining the Relics in Ruwanweli Maha Seya

King Dutugemunu organized a giant ceremony in order to enshrine the relics of the Lord Buddha in the  Ruwanweli Maha Seya on an Esala full moon poya day. On the day before the ceremony, the king invited the monks to bring the holy relics. On the poya day, they enshrined the relics at an auspicious time. They placed the relic casket on a seat adorned with diamonds and sealed inside with stone slabs. The amazing thing is that the relic chamber of Ruwanweli Maha Seya was not an ordinary one. They made it entirely using pure gold, silver, and gems. Also, they adorned the walls of the relic chamber with murals and also with a replica of a Bo-Tree.

Although the relic chamber was not archaeologically excavated yet, Buddhists believe that an inimical person would never see the relics.

After enshrining the relics it took some years to complete the construction work of Ruwanweli Maha Seya due to many reasons. Let us now go through the following section and have a good idea about how its constructions took place.

Completion of the Construction of Ruwanweli Maha Seya

Actually, it is sad to say that King Dutugemunu was unable to stay alive until the completion of the construction of Ruwanweli Maha Seya. Therefore, when he fell ill-bed, he kindly invited his beloved brother Saddathissa, who was the next heir to the throne, to complete the remaining work. Unfortunately, the health condition of the King turned horrible day by day. However, King Dutugemunu understood it. His final intention was to die in front of Ruwanweli Maha Seya sensing the magnificence of it.

Understanding all these things, Prince Saddathissa covered the dome of the stupa with white cloth and finished the upper part of the stupa using bamboo, applying gold paint on it. In this way Prince Saddathissa made King Dutugemunu delighted by declaring that the work is completed. King Dutugemunu exhaled his final breath in front of the great stupa with a happy mind.

Later, after the death of King Dutugemunu, his brother Prince Saddathissa got the throne of Sri Lanka. Finally, he successfully completed the remaining constructions of the sthupa.

The Structure of Ruwanweli Maha Seya

It is hemispherical in shape. Its present height is about 103 meters and the circumference is about 290 meters. Actually, it is believed that the original stupa has been about 55 meters in height. Later, kings who ruled the country expanded and renovated the height and the size of the stupa. Therefore, we can clearly see that the height and the size of the stupa increased gradually from era to era.

Another thing is if you are able to visit Ruwanweli Maha Seya, you can clearly see many monuments in this place of worship. Also you can see the statues of King Dutugemunu, Queen Vihara Maha Devi, and King Bhathika Thissa erected within the premises. They have used granite to build those statues.

If we consider the entrance to it, there were four entrances to the courtyard of the stupa in the past. But at present, there are only three entrances. The entrance located in the Southern part has been ruined due to several reasons. Another thing is that the interior boundary of the “Weli Maluwa” ends with a wonderful “Ath Paura”.

Through this read up to now, we hope that you got a really wonderful knowledge about Ruwanweli Maha Seya. Of course, you surely might be eager to visit this sacred place. So, why not? Let us go through the following section and see how you can reach it.

How You Can Reach The Ruwanweli Maha Seya?

Ruwanweli Maha Seya is located in the Anuradhapura district of Northern Central Province which is nearly 200kms away from the commercial capital of Sri Lanka, Colombo. If you are heading to this site from Colombo, you can reach Anuradhapura mainly across two routes. One through Puttalam and the other through Kurunegala. From Kurunegala, you have to follow the Dambulla route or Galgamuwa route. If you take the Puttalam route, you are able to experience the elegance of Wilpattu too. However, you have the opportunity of choosing your favorite transportation modes among trains, buses, etc. to reach this wonderful destination. Besides, as a matter of fact, when comparing the time taken to travel, you can use the train to reach Anuradhapura more efficiently.

The Bottom Line

We all know that Sri Lanka is a country enriched with many significant cultural and religious attractions. Also, the beauty of nature has made this island a really amazing paradise. Thus, if you are planning to spend your holiday in Sri Lanka, you have got many things to do here. Out of them, one of the best things for you to do is to explore the grandeur of these amazing sites. And if you do so, visiting Ruwanweli Maha Seya, is simply a must. If you choose to visit there, you will simply realize how the ancient kings who ruled Sri Lanka took a huge effort to endeavor Buddhism as best as they could. Moreover, religious places like this not only portray religious beliefs, but also the delight of the traditional artistic values. Therefore, visiting them and appreciating them would certainly enhance the delight of your Sri Lankan visit.

So, if you visit Sri Lanka, never forget to visit Ruwanweli Maha Seya to witness the majesty of this marvel. Happy and Safe traveling!