Buddhist Stupas in Sri Lanka – The tallest pre-modern structures
Stupas, also called dagobas and cetiyas, are considered an outstanding type of architectural creation of ancient Sri Lanka.
Table of Contents
- 1 - Origin of Buddhist Stupas in Sri Lanka
- 2 - List of Buddhist Stupas in Sri Lanka
- 2.1 - Lahugala Kota Vehera
- 2.2 - Ancient Kadurugoda Viharaya
- 2.3 - Peace Pagoda – Ampara
- 2.4 - Velgam Vehera
- 2.5 - Vahalkada
- 2.6 - Unagalawehera Rajamaha Viharaya – Hingurakgoda
- 2.7 - Tissamaharama Raja Maha Vihara
- 2.8 - Somawathiya Chaitya
- 2.9 - Sithulpawwa Rajamaha Viharaya
- 2.10 - Seruvila Mangala Raja Maha Vihara
- 2.11 - Satmahal Prasada
- 2.12 - Sandahiru Seya
- 2.13 - Rankoth Vehera
- 2.14 - Pusulpitiya Raja Maha Vihara
- 2.15 - Neelagiriseya
- 2.16 - Ovagiriya
- 2.17 - Bellanwila Rajamaha Viharaya
- 2.18 - Nagadeepa Purana Vihara
- 2.19 - Muthiyangana Raja Maha Vihara
- 2.20 - Mahiyangana Raja Maha Vihara
- 2.21 - Magul Maha Viharaya
- 2.22 - Lahugala Kiri Vehera
- 2.23 - Kotmale Mahaweli Maha Seya
- 2.24 - Kiri Vehera
- 2.25 - Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara
- 2.26 - Kalutara Chaitya
- 2.27 - Girihandu Seya
- 2.28 - Deeghawapi
- 2.29 - Yatala Vehera
Origin of Buddhist Stupas in Sri Lanka
Stupas were built in Sri Lanka soon after Devanampiya Tissa of Anuradhapura converted to Buddhism.
The first stupa to be built was the Thuparamaya. Later, many more were built over the years, some like the Jetavanaramaya in Anuradhapura, being one of the tallest ancient structures in the world.
Under the influence of Buddhism, there were several changes in the field of architecture in Sri Lanka.
The stupa commands a prominent place among these changes.
The Stupa is also known by synonymous names such as Chaithya, Dagaba, Thupa, Seya and Vehera.
Stupas designed and constructed in Sri Lanka are the largest brick structures known to the pre-modern world.
The ancient city of Anuradhapura includes some of the tallest, most ancient and best preserved stupas in the world, such as Ruwanwelisaya.
List of Buddhist Stupas in Sri Lanka
This is a list of historical Buddhist Stupas found in Sri Lanka.
Lahugala Kota Vehera
Lahugala Kota Vehera or Kota Vehara Raja Maha Vihara is an ancient Buddhist temple situated in Lahugala, Ampara District, Sri Lanka. The temple is located in Pansalgoda Grama Niladari division of Lahugala DS and lies on Colombo – Batticaloa main road about 10 km (6.2 mi) far from Pothuvil town. The temple has been formally recognised by the Government as an archaeological site in Sri Lanka. The designation was declared on 10 October 2014 under the government Gazette number 1884. The protected monuments include the ancient Dagaba, building sites with stone pillars, flight of steps carved on natural rock plain and drip ledged caves. The Stupa in the Vihara has been identified as one of four Kota Vehera Styled structures found around Sri Lanka.
Ancient Kadurugoda Viharaya
Ancient Kadurugoda Viharaya with some remains of Stupas is situated in Kandarodai village in Chunnakam, Sri Lanka. The temple is considered one of the ancient Buddhist remains in existence today in Jaffna Peninsula.
Peace Pagoda – Ampara
Ampara Peace Pagoda is one of a number of Peace Pagodas in the world, built since World War II and designed to promote the non-violence in the community and unite them in their search for world peace. It is located in Ampara, a small town located in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka and is one of the Ampara’s most prominent landmarks.
Velgam Vehera is a historical Buddhist temple situated in Kanniya, Trincomalee District, Sri Lanka. It also known to Hindus as Natanar Kovil. Historically Velgam Vehera was one of important Buddhist temples in the country, worshiped by both Sinhala and Tamil Buddhists.
A vahalkada, known as a frontispiece in English, is a structure constructed joining a stupa at its four cardinal directions as a decorative flourish. Later, these frontispieces came to be decorated or embellished with designs such as the creeper design. Stone slabs erected for the purpose of offering flower at the stupa too have been added to these frontispieces.
Unagalawehera Rajamaha Viharaya – Hingurakgoda
The Unagalawehera Rajamaha Viharaya is a Buddhist temple in Hingurakgoda, Sri Lanka. It is 6 km (3.7 mi) south of Hingurakgoda and 7 km (4.3 mi) north of Polonnaruwa. It is an ancient site with temple complexes and ruins which are considered to belong to the early period of the Anuradhapura era.
Tissamaharama Raja Maha Vihara
The Tissamaharama Raja Maha Vihara is an ancient Buddhist temple in Tissamaharama, Southern Province of Sri Lanka. It was one of the four major Buddhist monasteries established in Sri Lanka, after the arrival of Arhant Mahinda Thera to the country. The site of the Tissamaharama Raja Maha Vihara was consecrated by Buddha himself, who spent some time in meditation there with 500 arhats, during his third visit to the island. Tissamaharama monastery had been recognized as a pre-eminent Buddhist educational center of the southern Sri Lanka from the 3rd century B.C. to the 11th century A.D. The Tissamaharama Dagoba which is situated in the premises of the monastery is one of the largest stupas in Sri Lanka. The present chief incumbent of Tissamaharama Raja Maha Vihara is Ven. Devalegama Dhammasena Nayaka Thera.
The Somawathiya Chaitya is a Buddhist Stupa situated in the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka. Chaitya premises is called the Somawathiya Rajamaha Viharaya.
Sithulpawwa Rajamaha Viharaya
Sithulpawwa Rajamaha Viharaya is an ancient Buddhist monastery located in Hambantota District, South Eastern Sri Lanka. Situated 18 km east of the pilgrimage town Katharagama, it is believed to have been built in the 2nd century B.C by king Kavantissa. Sithulpawwa Vihara can be reached by travelling 18 miles along the Tissamaharama-Yodhakandiya road towards the Yala National Park. The name Sithulpawwa is derived from the word “Chiththala Pabbatha”, which means “the hill of the quiet mind”.
Seruvila Mangala Raja Maha Vihara
Seruwawila Mangala Raja Maha Vihara is an ancient Buddhist temple in Trincomalee district in Eastern Province, which is among the sixteen or seventeen holiest Buddhist shrines (Solosmasthana) in Sri Lanka.
The Satmahal Prasada is a 12th century step pyramid in the northeast corner of the archaeological complex of Polonnaruwa in Sri Lanka. It is believed to be a stupa because it is in a Buddhist environment. It is unique in the area, of unknown builder and purpose. It is often compared to the stupa at Wat Kukut in Lamphun in Thailand and to the Buddhist architecture of Cambodia.
Sandahiru Seya is a second largest hemispherical stupa in Sri Lanka located in Anuradhapura.
Rankoth Vehera is a stupa located in the ancient city of Polonnaruwa in Sri Lanka. The stupa was built by Nissanka Malla of Polonnaruwa, who ruled the country from 1187 to 1196. The Rankoth Vehera has been built according to the tradition of the stupas of the Anuradhapura Maha Viharaya and bears a close resemblance to Ruwanwelisaya. In fact, a stone inscription situated close to the stupa even identifies it by the name “Ruwanweli”. However, it has later come to be known by the currently used name, Rankoth Vehera. In Sinhalese, ran means gold, kotha is the name given to the pinnacle of a stupa, and vehera means stupa or temple. Thus, the name Rankoth Vehera can be roughly translated to English as “Gold Pinnacled Stupa”. Along with the Kiri Vehera, it is one of the most revered stupas in Polonnaruwa.
Pusulpitiya Raja Maha Vihara
Pusulpitiya Raja Maha Vihara is an ancient Buddhist temple which is located in Pusulpitiya village, Nuwara Eliya District, Sri Lanka. It is situated in Kotmale about 3 miles from Morape on the banks of the Kotmale Oya. Currently this temple has been recognized as an archaeological protected site in Sri Lanka.
Neelagiriseya is an ancient colossal Stupa situated in Lahugala, Ampara District, Sri Lanka. It is the largest Buddhist Stupa in the Eastern Province of the country. It has a circumference of 182 m (597 ft) and 22 m (72 ft) height in the current status. In the recent history the Stupa and its monastery site had been neglected and abandoned over three decades as the rise of activities of military organization LTTE in the area.
Ovagiriya is one of archaeological sites in Polwatta, Ampara District, Sri Lanka. It is situated on Ampara-Inginiyagala road, about 19 km (12 mi) away from Ampara town.
Bellanwila Rajamaha Viharaya
Bellanwila Rajamaha Viharaya is a Buddhist temple situated in Bellanwila, Colombo District, Sri Lanka. Located around 12 km south to the Colombo city, near Dehiwala – Maharagama road, the temple attracts hundreds of devotees daily and is famous for its annual Esala Perehera festival which usually takes place in the month of August or September. One of the most venerated Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka, many devotees flock to worship the sacred Bo tree of Bellanwila Rajamaha Vihara, which is considered to be one of the first offshoots of Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. The present chief incumbent of Bellanwila Rajamaha Vihara is Ven. Dr. Bellanwila Dhammaratana Nayaka Thera.
Nagadeepa Purana Vihara
Nagadeepa Purana Vihara is an ancient Buddhist temple situated in Jaffna district of Northern Province, Sri Lanka. It is among the country’s sixteen holiest Buddhist shrines (Solosmasthana). According to contemporary history, the Gautama Buddha visited the site after five years of attaining Enlightenment to settle the dispute between two warring Naga kings, Chulodara and Mahodara.
Muthiyangana Raja Maha Vihara
Muthiyangana Raja Maha Vihara is an ancient Buddhist temple located in the middle of Badulla town in the Badulla District of Uva Province in Sri Lanka.
Mahiyangana Raja Maha Vihara
Mahiyangana Raja Maha Vihara is an ancient Buddhist temple in Mahiyangana, Sri Lanka. It is believed to be the site of Gautama Buddha’s first visit to the country, and is one of the Solosmasthana, the 16 sacred religious locations in Sri Lanka. Currently this temple has been declared as one of archaeological site in Sri Lanka.
Magul Maha Viharaya
Magul Maha Viharaya is an ancient Buddhist temple situated in Lahugala, Ampara District of Sri Lanka. The temple lies on the northern edge of the Lahugala National Park, about 22 km off from Siyambalanduwa town and about 11 km off Pottuvil town. Lahugala has been part of the Kingdom of Ruhuna in ancient Sri Lanka. The ruins of Magul Maha Vihara are one of the major tourist attractions of the Eastern province. This temple is also an archaeologically protected monument of the country.
Lahugala Kiri Vehera
Lahugala Kiri Vehera or Kiri Vehera Viharaya is an ancient Buddhist temple situated in Lahugala, Ampara District, Sri Lanka. The temple is located in Perani Lahugala Grama Niladari division of Lahugala DS. It is believed that this temple is belonged to the reign of king Dappula I (661-664). The temple has been formally recognised by the Government as an archaeological site in Sri Lanka. The designation was declared on 10 October 2014 under the government Gazette number 1884.
Kotmale Mahaweli Maha Seya
Kotmale Mahaweli Maha Seya is a stupa located in Kotmale, Sri Lanka.
Kiri Vehera is an ancient stupa situated in Kataragama, Sri Lanka. This stupa probably dates back to the 3rd century BC and is believed to have been built by King Mahasena, a regional ruler of Kataragama area. One of the most popular Buddhist pilgrimage sites in the country, Kiri Vehera is among the Solosmasthana, the 16 most sacred Buddhist pilgrimage sites of ancient Sri Lanka. This stupa which is 95 ft. in height with a circumference of 280 ft. is located 800 m North to the famous Ruhunu Maha Kataragama Devalaya. Venerable Kobawaka Dhamminda Thera is the present Chief Prelate of Kirivehera Rajamaha Viharaya.
Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara
The Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara or Kelaniya Temple is a Buddhist temple in Kelaniya, Sri Lanka. It is located 11 km (6.8 mi) north-east of Colombo. The current chief incumbent is Venerable Professor Kollupitiye Mahinda Sangharakkhitha Thera.
The Kalutara Chaitya is a Stupa located immediately south of the Kalutara Bridge in the Kalutara District of Sri Lanka.
Girihandu Seya is an ancient Buddhist temple situated in Thiriyai, Trincomalee, Sri Lanka. The temple is supposed to be the first Buddhist Stupa in Sri Lanka, believed to be constructed by two seafaring merchants Trapusa and Bahalika. The names of the two merchants are recorded in a rock inscription found in the Vihara premises. According to the inscription, Girihandu Seya was built by the guilds of merchants named Trapassuka and Vallika where the names are written as Tapassu and Bhalluka in later Sinhala chronicles. Some scholars also hold the view that Mahayana influenced seafaring merchants from the Pallava Kingdom were responsible for the construction of this temple.
Deeghawapi is a Buddhist sacred shrine and an archaeological site in the Ampara District of Sri Lanka, boasting of historical records dating back to the 3rd century BCE. Water reservoirs, called “tanks”, were an important feature of the hydraulic civilization of ancient Sri Lanka, and temples and cities were built around them. The importance of Dighavapi is connected with legends about visits to this site by the Buddha himself, and many allusions to Deeghawapi in the ancient chronicles as well as in the Pali literature. It has also played a role in the political history of the region. In more recent (medieval) times, the Sinhalese kings have settled Moor and Dutch settlers in the neighbouring areas. The construction is expected to be finished by the end 2023.
Yatala Vehera is an ancient Buddhist stupa dating back to the 3rd Century B.C, located in Deberawewa – Thissamaharama in Hambantota District of Sri Lanka. The stupa is built on a stage made of large flat granite stones and has a surrounding wall of sculpted elephant heads, a moat and a large moonstone. It is believed that the stupa was built 2300 years ago by regional king Yatala Thissa of Ruhuna to commemorate the place where he was born. However some believe that the stupa was built by regional king Mahanaga, father of Yatala Thissa to mark the birth of his son.