Thanthirimale Raja Maha Vihara
By Sanuj Hathurusighe
Located in Mannar District surrounded by huge boulders and forest, Thanthirimale Raja Maha Vihara is a less-travelled Buddhist archaeological and historical destination in the northern part of the country.
Although not as popular as the usual Buddhist travel destinations in Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa Thanthirimale Raja Maha Vihara too possesses a rich history, dating back to the 3rd Century BC. Built first as a one-off pit stop for Arahat Sangamitta on her way to Anuradhapura by King Devanampiyatissa, the small temple grew to be a large monastery by the end of Anuradhapura Period.
The most iconic structure in the temple has to be the Samadhi and reclining Buddha statues carved into a large rock. The Samadhi Buddha statue is 8 feet tall and bears qualities of late Anuradhapura-Period sculpture. The reclining Buddha statue which is 45 feet long however, has features that belongs to Polonnaruwa Period.
Both these statues look unfinished and it is believed that the reason for this was the sudden Kalinga-Maga invasion which essentially marked the end of Anuradhapura Period. When Thanthirimale was re-discovered by Ven. Kudakongaskada Vimalagnana Thera in the ‘60s, the two statues were badly destroyed by the treasure hunters.
Only the monastery library (Pothgula) and the meditation caves were spared by the treasure hunters who has practically destroyed everything else in the site. Five meditating caves deep inside the forest bear Brahmi inscriptions belonging to 1st Century BC and suggests that Thanthirimale was civilised 4,000 years ago, long before Arahat Mahinda visited Sri Lanka. (Pix by Laksiri Rukman)