‘Abhayagiri Vihara’ (monastery) is one of the most important and largest monastery in Anuradhapura era. It has housed thousands of monks with all required facilities. Abhayagiri Vihara is mentioned over and over again in the history (Mahavansa) through out Anuradhapura era. That indicates it was very important and influential monastery in Sri Lanka.
What we are going to talk about today, Abhayagiri Stupa, is a part of the Abhayagiri Vihara. It is believed that both the monastery and the stupa was built by ‘King Vattagamini Abaya’, also popularly known as ‘King Walagamba’, in his second reign.
History of Abhayagiri Stupa
In his first reign, he had to face two invasions, one from inside the country and one from South India. He couldn’t withstand them and ran away. A ‘Jain (a religious group from India) Priest’ in a monastery called ‘Giri’ had saw the fleeing king and had said insultingly, ‘The great black Sinhalese is fleeing’. The king didn’t react to that at the moment, but he kept it in mind. He made a vow to himself that if he could ever take the throne back, he would remove that ‘Giri Monastery’ from there and would build a Buddhist monastery there.
While hiding, he prepared his army to defeat the South Indian invaders. After more than fourteen years, he came back and fought with the invaders in 89 BC. And he won. His first task was to build a Buddhist monastery after razing Giri Monastery. That newly built monastery was ‘Abhayagiri Vihara’. The name ‘Abhaya + Giri’ consists a part from the king’s name (Abhaya) and a part from the previous monastery there (Giri). According to the history King Walagamba, has built this massive stupa and 12 buildings initially. After that, a number of kings have added parts to and renovated this monastery.
For more details on history of Abhayagiri Stupa, refer Wikipedia.
The stupa said to be 122m high originally, but today only 75m (approx.) stands. The history says that the stupa was heavily decorated in ancient times. Abhayagiri Stupa is the second largest stupa in Sri Lanka, after Jethawanaramaya Stupa.
Just like all other stupa in Anudhapura, stone carvings can be seen around Abhayagiri Stupa. As I said earlier also the stupa had been decorated heavily. Therefore there must have been lot of stone carvings also. But there are not much of them remaining since the stupa was abandoned for ages.
Among the decorations, ‘Vahalkada’ is one of major thing. History says that, in the ancient times, there were Vahalkada at most of major stupa. But, only handful of them are remaining today. Here, you will find two Vahalkada which are conservated.
More incredible stone works and carvings can be seen among the other remains of the Abhayagiri Vihara. The best example is, the best ‘Moonstone’ and ‘Guard Stone’ ever founded are situated among the remains of Abhayagiri Vihara. As I said you earlier also, Abhayagiri Vihara is large monastery. So the remains are spread over a large area.
Just like all other stupa, Abhayagiri Stupa was also abandoned due to South Indian invasions and shifting of kingdom to ‘Polonnaruwa’. After ages, in 1880 it was rediscovered and identified. The conservation and restoration of the stupa started at somewhere in 1900’s
There are another two world famous places situated nearby Abhayagiri Stupa, ‘Samadhi Statue’ (statue of Lord Buddha) and ‘Kuttam Pokuna’ (twin ponds). I’ll talk about them in the future separately.
How to Reach…?
If you are interested visiting this place, here is the exact location.
At the entrance of the Abhayagiri Stupa, there is a large circular pond. You can see that in the map also. I couldn’t find out what exactly that pond was for. But, we can guess that was a water storage tank for all the buildings of Abhayagiri Vihara, by the size of it.
Abhayagiri Stupa is a highly recommended place to visit in Anudhapura. Parking area is available for visitors. There are few shops also where you can buy some traditional souvenirs, such as reed products, statues, models of stupa etc. And if you are looking for an accommodation in Anuradhapura, click here.
So that is about Abhayagiri Stupa. If you have any doubts or queries, feel free to leave a comment below. See you in the next article.