Heritage in Peril


Goddess Manimekhala is also known as a guardian goddess of the sea. She also appears in Buddhist Jataka stories as a lifesaver of sailors. The ancient Kiri Palu tree at Nagadeepa was also known to be associated with sailors.

Her name Mani-Mekhala, the old name of the islet Mani-Pallavam, Mani-Nak Divayina, and the Naga king Mani-Akkhitha all has the term ‘mani’ which can be interpreted as gems. This fills our mind with curiosity. Are you not feeling the same? As further research is needed to be done on this, we cannot further explain with certainty if there is a connection or not.

Manimekhala; famous in Thailand

The story of Manimekhala is popular in Southeast Asian countries, more than it is in Sri Lanka or in South India today. A large number of works of art are woven around the story of Manimekhala.

We also must mention that the story of Manimekhala, is popular in Thai Buddhist culture and there are dances, music, and songs woven around this story. It is interesting that an epic composed in the Tamil country, by a Tamil scholar, which was believed that had taken part mainly in the Tamil country and partly in Maninagadeepa (Sri Lanka), has been forgotten from the consciousness of the people of both of these countries, but is still popular and well-known in the Southeast region of Asia.

Nagadeepa was the ancient Jaffna peninsula

Through our previous articles, we understood that the term Nakadiva, Naagadeepa, Nagadib was the historical name of the Jaffna peninsula and the one who was in charge of this area was the Yuva-Raja or Deepa-Raja. The islet today known as Nagadeepa or Nainativu was historically known as Maninagadeepa, Maninakdiva, or Manipallavamdivu.

To get more information, Ceylon Today contacted Lecturer at the Department of Archaeology of Buddhist and Pali University, Dr. Ishankha Malsiri.

He explained that in the 10th chapter of Mahavamsa it says that the group including king Devanampiyathissa who visited the port Dambakola Patuna to welcome the Maha Bodhi sapling and Arhat Sangamitta, stopped at the Pachina Viharaya to have their breakfast. Then Arhat Mahinda narrated the story of Buddha’s visit to Nagadeepa. Hearing this, the king marked the place where this event happened. Vansaththappakasini further writes about this. Therefore, Dr. Ishankha argues that the place where Buddha met the Naga kings was the place where the king was having breakfast on that day and this place should be somewhere between the Dambakola Patuna port and the capital Anuradhapura.

There had been a main road connecting the port and the capital city. Thus, he says that the Nagadeepa Buddha visited should be a place close to Dambakola Patuna, along the main road connecting the port and the capital, but not a small islet, beyond the mainland. Dr. Ishankha further says that as per ancient textual evidence, we cannot assume that Buddha only visited one exact location; in fact, he travelled and visited a vast area in Nagadeepa or Jaffna.

Pointing out more evidence, he said that the 20th chapter of the Mahavamsa, mentions that king Devanampiyathissa built the Jambukola Vihara at Nagadeepa.

“During the 1st century BCE, there was a great famine in Sri Lanka and some monks left the country as it was hard to survive. They left for South India for survival and as per the Vibhanga Atuwawa, a group of monks gathered at Nagadeepa, and at the Dambakola Patuna port they took a three-story vessel to South India,” he said. “Now as per this story, it is logical to think that Dambakola Patuna was located at Nagadeepa which means the peninsula, the mainland, and not an islet. Therefore, we understand the Nagadeepa is not a small location or one city but a larger geographic area.”

(Note that these monks fled to South India for shelter. During the Anuradhapura Kingdom, when there were famines and droughts in Sri Lanka, many Buddhist monks went to South India for shelter. This makes us think that Buddhist monks were safe and welcomed in South India during the historic times as there were many Buddhist monasteries, Tamil Buddhist scholars, and monks in South India. Kaveripattanam had been a well-known Buddhist centre. Tamil Buddhist monks arrived in Sri Lanka for further studies as well as to be engaged in scholarly work in Buddhist centres such as Abhayagiri and Jetavana.)

Another point to back our argument that the Jaffna peninsula was historically known as Nagadeepa is an inscription at the Dambulla Cave Temple. This inscription is located close to the steps at the temple. As Dr. Ishankha explained, this 1st century CE inscription is about seven steps carved and offered to the temple by a devotee named Naga of Puwaku, who was the brother of Nagasala of Nakadivu. As the word ‘Puwaku’ is used to refer to Naga, scholars assume that it means, he was from Puwangu Divayina or the islet today known as Punkudutivu. Nagasala of Nakadivu must have been a citizen of Nagadeepa or the peninsula. Puwangu Divayina was an islet belonging to Nagadeepa.

The present-day Nagadeepa Temple

The temple we today see at the Nagadeepa islet and the Buddha Walawwa place is also of great historical value as we have explored in our last segment.

The present-day beautiful temple was first built by the Most Ven. Randombe Somasiri Thissa Thera in the 1940s. It was in the year 1939 that this monk travelled to Jaffna in search of the Nagadeepa Temple and the Rajayathana Chethiya as is mentioned in Buddhist gathas. Until then, the sacred Nagadeepa Temple was not yet discovered.

Most Ven. Somasiri Thissa Thera was determined to discover this most sacred place, where Buddha visited, and also to revive abandoned Buddhist temples in the North and East. With this intention, in 1939 he left his temple at Ambalngoda and arrived at Jaffna.

After a rigorous search, and a tiresome journey, he arrived at the islet we know today as Nagadeepa. He stayed under the Banyan tree for some days and with the help of the villagers he built a small hut for himself. After his studies and search, he was sure that this was the place where Buddha visited to meet the Nagas.

Afterward, with the generous donations and contributions of Buddhist devotees all over the island, the temple we see today was constructed. The first devotee to donate money to the temple was a wealthy businessman of Nuwara Eliya, D.A. Seneviratne and his wife Mallika Seneviratne in 1940. The Nagadeepa Rajayathana Buddhist Society was established and the temple was beautifully constructed.

After completing the temple, Most Ven. Somasiri Thissa Thera wanted to hand over the temple to another monk and, the Most Ven. Brahmanawatte Dhammakiththi Thera was made the chief monk of the temple.

In 1964 the temple was almost destroyed due to a massive thunderstorm.

Needless to say the temple faced severe hardships during the times of the war in the North. It was not publicised at the time when racists had completely destroyed the temple, stolen valuables, and completely destroyed the Buddha statue that was gifted from Burma. The Buddha Walawwa temple was bombed and completely destroyed. During the time this carnage was taking place, Buddhist monks were given shelter at the nearby Navy camp.

The monks’ lives were threatened but the chief monk Most Ven. Navadagala Padumakiththi Thissa Thera refused to leave the temple and he was determined to protect the sacred place. Facing death threats and great challenges bravely, the Thera was able to protect the temple during the most dangerous times of the war.

The year 2009, when the LTTE was defeated, the temple was once again safe and opened to devotees and travellers from all over the world.

Next, we shall travel to the Kadurugoda ancient temple in Jaffna.

Kadurugoda Ancient Temple

Kadurugoda Ancient Temple is a unique place, and it is the only temple found in Sri Lanka of that style. It is situated in the village today known as Chunnakam. According to old texts, the older Sinhala name of the place was Hunugama which means the ‘limestone village’.

To reach this place one must travel far into the village and it is a pleasant, calm little rural area. Palmyrah trees can be seen everywhere and the dryness of the place is rather unbearable and makes one feel uncomfortable.

Kadurugoda is today known as Kandarodai in Tamil. Scholars believe that this is the place mentioned in the 15th-century book Nampotha, as Kadurugoda Vihara of the Demalapattanama. Thus, it is clear that the Sinhala name of the temple was Kadurugoda Vihara.

A large number of small stone stupas of various sizes are located in the place. The place looks lonely and forlorn. Although tall palmyrah trees provide shade to the tired traveller, the dryness and the dust in uncomfortable. Today the sacred place is looked after by the Sri Lankan army and is under the care of the Department of Archaeology (DoA).

The story behind the 60 stupas

Although today we can see only about 20 small stupas, it is said that there had been about 60 stupas originally. According to folklore, the story behind these sacred stupas is tragic, as it is of the Buddhist heritage of Jaffna.

Interestingly, this folklore tallies with the Tamil text, Yalpana Vaipava Malai. Yalpana Vaipa Malai and folklore both says that during the rule of the Tamil king Sankili he persecuted Sinhala Buddhists and those who did not follow the Hindu religion. He was a ruthless ruler and being unbearable to face his torture and massacre, many Sinhalese and Muslims had left Jaffna. This is clearly mentioned in Yalpana Vaipava Malai, in fact, it is even glorified. It was written by a Tamil poet named Mayil Vaakaanar in the 18 century (around 1736). The folklore says that 60 Arhat monks who lived in the area decided to leave the country, to avoid Sankili’s massacre, and arrived at this place on their way to the port to have their meals. The arhats were given alms at this place and the food was poisoned. They all passed away and their relics are enshrined in the 60 stupas.

However, the antiquity of the temple is clearly older than the time of Sankili and goes back to the Anuradhapura period. Sri Lankan scholars also believe this is the accurate location where Buddha visited and met the two Naga kings. The inscription found here belongs to the Anuradhapura Period and the coins found here belongs to the Polonnaruwa Period.

Research at Kadurugoda

It was the renowned scholar and then Jaffna District Magistrate Paul E. Peries who first excavated and studied this place in 1917 followed by many local scholars of both ethnicities.

The 10th-century Sinhala inscription found at Kadurugoda is now kept at the Jaffna Archaeology Museum. This inscription belongs to king Dappula IV or king Sena III and is evident that during the 10th century CE the temple and the area were under the authority of the king of Anuradhapura. This inscription also mentions the Abayagiriy monastery and reveals the link between Kadurugoda and Abayagiri.

To be continued…

By Ama H. Vanniarachchy