Pichchamal Viharaya: Where Jasmines Bloomed

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The Samudragiri Pichchamal Viharaya or simply The Pichchamal Viharaya is an ancient Buddhist Temple in Kuchchaveli, Trincomalee, and is located on a beautiful small rocky outcrop at the sea. The temple is situated between the Kuchchaveli Police Station and a navy camp, 4km away to North from the Yan Oya estuary and needs permission from the navy camp to enter. The greeny rock on which the temple is situated is called Karadi Malai in Tamil which translates to English as The Bear Rock. It makes sense as it is said that the area had been a habitat of bears before the civilisations were established in the Kuchchaveli area.

The temple belongs to the ancient tradition of sea temples called Samudragiri Vihara or Muhudu Vihara: a type of temples designed to suit the coastal landscape and sea wind. ‘Ambalantota Gotha Pabbatha Viharaya’, ‘Kirinda Viharaya’ and ‘Okanda temple’ are such classic Samudragiri Vihara found along the coastal line of Sri Lanka.

However the temple’s name: Pichchamal, sounds a bit odd since it is not the type of a name that would be given to a Buddhist temple. But the folks of Kuchchaveli have a nice story which explains the naming of the temple. According to them, Kuchchaveli had been the place from where King Dutugamunu used to collect Pichchamal (Jasmines) in order to offer to the Ruwanweliseya temple of Anuradhapura. So when a temple was constructed there, the people started calling it Pichchamal Viharaya. Also it is said that masses had come to worship this temple all the way from Anuradhapura during the ancient times.

Despite the irritating heat in the coast during the day, the rocky outcrop; Karadi Malai, remains cool even in the noon, thanks to its higher elevation and the sea breeze that reduces the heat. This mild climate makes the constructed caves found below the temple ideal for meditating even during the day time. Perhaps that is why the place had been particularly selected to establish the temple.

Even though most of the parts have been destroyed due to the sea erosion and terrorist activities in the past, the ruins evidence the past elegance of the temple. The most intriguing one among them is the engraving of 16 stupas on face of a rock; on a panel of 4’x4′ which is neatly divided into 16 squares. It is very unique because no such engravings have been found yet in Sri Lanka. According the archeologists, the artistry of the engraving belongs to the tradition of ‘Mahayana’. There is also an illegible inscription next to it. Prof. Senarath Paranavithana, discussing about the engraving in the book, Egigraphia Zeylanica, has dated the inscription to 7th century.   

On top of the small rock by the sea lies a restored stupa and some of the archaeological artifacts found at various times. There is a limestone statue of Buddha in the standing position of which the head and the torso have been found separately. Ven. Ellawala Medhananda thera, who was engaged in archeological researches there, dates this statue to 2nd century based on its artistic style. There is another inscription written in Sanskrit, which has been dated to 6th century. It is mentioned that the inscription contains the information about the inauguration of the temple.

So, if you are visiting Trincomalee, Samudragiri Pichchamal Viharaya is a great pick since it allows you to profit the scenic seascape which surrounds the temple while enjoying the sun.  Also if you are interested you can dig deep in to the past through the antiquities and folklore of the area.

(Pic courtesy Amazing Lanka)

By Induwara Athapattu