February 2012


The Temple Civilisation: Jethawanaramaya
February 2012




The Jethawanaramaya red brick stupa rising from the ruins

Remnants from the many stone ruins lay scattered incessantly and my thoughts were no different as I wandered through this sacred, ancient ground on which King Mahasen had built an architectural marvel that now contributes to being one of Sri Lanka's most revered heritages, in Anuradhapura.

Words Sonali Kadurugamuwa | Photography Prabath Chathuranga

I wasn't sure from which point I had begun exploring this temple-like complex, but one thing I knew for certain... this place was a massive piece of work. Even Jethawanaramaya's dagoba stood high and mighty over the tallest tamarind and kohomba (neem) trees. It is said to have been at the time of construction, over 400ft in height.

King Mahasen (272-303 AD) was believed to have, on a large scale, contributed to building the most technologically advanced agricultural systems during the Anuradhapura period and, according to the Buddhist history of Jethawanaramaya, the civilisation was developed under themes associated with Buddhism and agriculture. Over 3,000 monks had lived off this land which spanned nearly 200 acres. Amongst the many had-been structures in the compound, their way of life was quite evident.

The monks didn't seem to have had to leave their monastery for any reason as everything they needed for their existence was already inbuilt...

Many wells and ponds, still brimming with cool water, some built for bathing, others for storing rain water and various more purposes, were now being put to good use by thirsty langur monkeys while frolicking in the hot midday sun.

The monks didn't seem to have had to leave their monastery for any reason as everything they needed for their existence was already inbuilt and surrounded by a boundary wall that secured the entire premises. An ayurvedic hospital, where they would bathe in troughs of medicated herbs and clay solutions to heal their ailments, image houses, one of which had a doorway that towered to 26ft and a large preaching centre that may have housed a good number of the 3,000 plus monks... these were only a few of the countless ruins that were more or less identifiable. In the midst of all, however, it was hard not to notice the expressive presence of holy deities or nagarajah figures carved into stones (also known as guard stones) placed on either side of the entrance to any stairwell.

The giant dagoba, at all times, hung in the balance of the ancient monastery's entirety and its most unusual red brick colour, which one would think quite unorthodox for a dagoba, is what sets this structure apart. The dome sat on an elevated, exceptionally wide yet bare, square-shaped brick stage, where the sun beat down on it with no obstruction of shade and I felt the baking bricks right through to my feet. The dagoba's arena was as easy to exit as it was to enter by way of large, open stone stairways on all fours sides... this made dashing off for respite under the tamarind trees every now and then all the more accessible.

The giant dagoba, at all times, hung in the balance of the ancient monastery's entirety...

According to historical chronicles in the Mahawamsa, Mihindu Maha Rahatan Vahansa, son of the Indian Emperor Ashoka (304-232 BC), first preached the dharma desanawa or Buddhist teachings to the Sri Lankan people in a place known as Nandana Uyana (250-210 BC), which we now address as Jethawanaramaya, after King Mahasen's rule. It is believed that this may explain why this particular expanse was chosen to create such a magnificent structure.

I came to a realisation, that Jethawanaramaya was not only an excavated monastery civilisation...

Trailing towards a large and a most uniquely built stone fence, partially in ruins, I found this structure to be regarded as the Bo tree shrine or the Bodighara. According to historical evidence there may have been a Bo tree planted here taking into account a narrow water path which led into it. However, other facts suggest that the stone fence may have been an enclosure that was oriented with an image house. And yet another structure, far from ordinary, was a system of brick wells designed in the shape of a key. It is believed that these wells were designed in such a way to connect with an underground water channel and supply drinking water for the monastery.

At first my suspicions led me to comprehend these wells as water supply systems for the ongoing renovations of Jethawanaramaya, as they seemed to plainly appear new and very modern. Then again, so was the structure of the entire monastery, but that was just how advanced the civilisation was during the time of King Mahasen.

From where I stood that hot afternoon, I came to a realisation: that Jethawanaramaya was not only an excavated monastery civilisation, but also an unearthed moment in time that we still have much to learn of.

 

 

  • image01
    image01

    A malasanaya, which surrounds the dagoba

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    A meditation hall for the monks

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    One of the largest image houses at Jethawanaramaya

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    A key-shaped well

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    Bo tree shrine or the Bodighara

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    Remains of pedestals which once held images

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    Carvings on large columns or pillars which indicate sanctity

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    A guard stone carving or Nagarajah

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    The massive dagoba sits on a vast stage

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    Ponds like these were used to store water and also for bathing, by the monks

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    Carvings on stone stairwells were usually indicated for protection of sanctity

    Prev Next
  • image01
    image01

    Guard stones placed on each side of a stairway

    Prev Next