Stupas in Memory of Warriors
By Ama H. Vanniarachchy
Although most of the stupas we see in Sri Lanka were built for the purpose of veneration for the Buddhists, there are a number of stupas which were not built for this purpose. These rare stupas were built to commemorate heroic warrior kings, their birth places, or notable incidents that took place in history.
These stupas could be the result of the age-old practice of building memorial mounds for the dead, especially if they were prominent warriors. While building a stupa or a mound in memory of a prominent figure is not that uncommon of a practice in history, what is surprising is to witness a special stupa in Kotte built for a queen which could be the only stupa built for a queen in Sri Lanka.
Also it must be noted that these stupas are built in the style known as Kota Vehera. Kota-Vehera style stupas are identified as tombs rather than Buddhist stupas. There is no koth karalla or chathras (umbrellas) in such stupas. Another interesting fact of such stupas or memorials is that most of them were built in memory of the warrior king Dutugemunu. His birth, his historic battles and his death were remembered through these monuments. Today we will explore some of such stupas in Sri Lanka.
Lahugala Kota Vehera
Located in the Monaragala – Pottuvil main road, Lahugala Kota Vehera is also known as the Kota Pabbatha, Kotagala Vehera or Lahugala Stupa. The largest known image house in ancient Ruhuna could be seen at this religious site. This is one of the few Kota-Vehera style stupas discovered in Sri Lanka.
What is interesting about this stupa is that this was built to commemorate the birth (not the birth place) of the heroic Sinhalese king Dutugemunu. According to folklore, this was built at the place where a novice monk (samanera) who is believed to be reborn as Dutugamunu lived. The stupa and the surrounding monastery were neglected for years due to the internal conflict prevailed in the area.
Stupas at Chulangani and Yundhaganawa
Located in Buttala in Moneragala District, Chulangani and Yudhaganawa sites reveal interesting stories from the island’s history. What we can witness today is two ruined brick stupas; a small stupa and a considerably larger stupa.
Chulangani Stupa is a small stupa built on a stage and the Yudhaganawa Stupa is a large stupa which bears some resemblance to Dakkina Stupa and Deegawapi Stupa. There are terracotta slabs with beautiful carvings at Chulangani which belongs to the Anuradhapura Period.
Chulangani is the place where the historic battle between the two brothers - Dutugemunu and Saddhathissa happened. According to chronicles and folklore this was a great, terrifying battle which resulted in many deaths and injuries. Defeated Dutugemunu ran away with his most loyal minister Thissa and his mare Dighathunika.
After a brief ceasefire Dutugemunu returned to the battlefront but instead of a full-on battle, the two princes decided to make it a duel between them. Dutugemunu was on his mare and Saddhathissa was on the magnificent tusker Kanduala. After a deadly battle Saddhathissa was defeated and he ran away and hid in a temple nearby. Raging Dutugemunu followed Saddhathissa to the temple at which point the Buddhist monks intervened and settled the rift between the two brothers. The two stupas at Chulangani and Yudhaganawa are built at the place where this historic battle took place. The names of these sites are mentioned in the Pali chronicles.
Dakkina Stupa, Anuradhapura
Dakkina Stupa is one of the earliest Buddhist stupas, located in the southern part of the ancient capital Anuradhapura - out of the citadel and closer to the Thissa Wewa. The name Dakkina Stupa means the Southern Stupa. Other names for this stupa include Dakshina Stupa or Dakunu Dagaba, which also means ‘Southern Dagaba’. What remains now is a ruined brick structure of the ancient stupa. Basal rings of the stupa and dome have survived but not the upper part. There are remains of the ayakas (wahalkada) and some stone pillars with carvings.
The stupa once belonged to the Dakkina Vehera or the Dakkina Monastery, which was built by Utthiya, a minister of King Watta Gamini Abhaya, during the 1st century BCE. The name of the stupa and monastery is identified as Dakkina Vehera as it is mentioned in a stone inscription, discovered in 1948 by Prof. Senarath Paranavithana. As the stone inscription clearly mentions, the monastery and the stupa can be identified without any confusions as the Dakkina Vehera and stupa. The great chronicle Mahavamsa records that king Watta Gamini Abyaya’s minister Uttiya built a vehera named Dakkina. In the above-mentioned stone inscription, it refers to a king of the name ‘Pitha Maha raja’, which is another name for the King Watta Gamini Abhaya.
Prof. Paranavithana, presenting evidences of ashes discovered during the excavations of the the stupa, claimed this stupa was built in the place where the heroic Sinhalese king Dutta Gamini Abhaya (Dutugemunu) was cremated. Scientific analysis of the ashes revealed that they are in fact human-bone ashes and that they belong to the period of Dutta Gamini Abhaya. All the evidence strongly suggestthat the ancient Sinhalese has built this stupa enshrining the ashes of King Dutta Gamini Abhaya to commemorate the great warrior king-one of the greatest rulers of the ancient Sri Lanka.
The notable archaeological feature of Dakkina Stupa is the remains of ayakas with beautiful carvings. One stone pillar has a carving of a ‘Kalpawruksha’, which is one fine piece of stonework. Another figure can be identified as ‘Kuwera’ - the god of wealth.
A small stupa mound that is situated in Anuradhapura among the Maha Vihara monastic ruins is named Bujjathissa Stupa. The dome is constructed with bricks and is built on a stage of granite. The guardstones and the moonstones are beautifully carved and display Anuradhapura-Period characteristics.
According to some folklore this stupa was named after an arhat named Bujjathissa and some other folklore suggests that this is the tomb of King Elara. The stupa is located near the southern gate of the citadel. Mahavamsa records that the last battle between Elara and Dutugemunu happened near the southern gate of the citadel and Elara was killed there. The chronicles also say that King Dutugemunu held a proper royal funeral for the defeated king and that he built a tomb enshrining the ashes of Elara. A perahera was also paraded in honour of the deceased king. King Dutugemunu further ordered that all music and dancing must be paused when passing the tomb. Yet, the identity of this stupa is not archaeologically proven.
This is an interesting story about a stupa built for an unusual reason. Mahavamsa narrates the story of this stupa as follows; after king Walagamba claimed the throne by defeating the invaders, he brought back his queen Soma Devi who was imprisoned in South India. One day she told the king that when she was hiding behind the Kolom trees on the day she got off the chariot to save the king, she has witnessed a young samanera monk who was urinating covering himself with his hands. After hearing her words, the king built a stupa in remembrance of this incident and named it Galhebakada Stupa.
The exact location of this stupa is not clear and involves many debates. Some believe that this could be the Lankaramaya Stupa at Anuradhapura. The stupa we see today is a white washed beautiful monument with an unusual shaped dome built on a stage. Another name to this stupa is Manisomaramaya.
Dedigama Kota Vehera
Situated in Dedigama, at Nelumdeniya in Warakapola, Dedigama Kota Vehera is also known as the Suthikaghara Stupa. It is believed that this was built by King Parakramabahu the Great in honour of himself and his mother, Queen Rathnavali.
This 12th-entury stupa has not gone through a satisfactory amount of renovations. However, during excavations it has been discovered that the stupa was built on top of another small stupa.
The smaller stupa was found closer to the basal rings on the eastern side. It is believed that the smaller stupa was built on the exact place where the birth of King Parakramabahu the Great took place and later a bigger stupa was built surrounding it. The most outstanding discovery at this place was the bronze plated oil lamp. This unique masterpiece displays high degree of skill and hydraulic engineering, making it one of the best artefacts discovered ever.
Stupas at Baddegana, Kotte
Located in Baddagana, Kotte these two stupas are referred to as the Veherakanda ruins. They are built on a stage made of kabook. The smaller stupa is constructed in kabook while the bigger stupa is partly kabook and partly brick. The two stupas belonging to the Kotte Period are believed to be built by king Parakramabahu VI or after.
According to some folklore one of these stupas was built enshrining the ashes of Queen Sunethradevi, mother of Parakramabahu VI and the other stupa was built enshrining the ashes of Vidagama Maitreya Thera. Some believe that these stupas are tombs of the King himself and his queen. The stupas were examined and conserved in 1949 under the supervision of Prof. Paranavitana.