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Sunday, 23 January 2005    
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Mihintalava - The Birthplace of Sri Lankan Buddhist Civilization

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Standing Sentinel

The killer waves that destroyed much of Sri Lanka's coastal belt, miraculously left the ruins of the Gokanna, Erakavilli and Kalanda viharas in the east coast, intact, offering Sri Lankans a chance to truly treasure the contributions of the great kings. Prof. Abaya Aryasinghe traces the history of these monuments and the need to preserve them.

King Mahadathika Mahanaga (9-21 A.D.) had built a number of viharas in Kalayana Kannika. He is credited with the construction of the Kalanda Vihara and Bohogiri Nakapavata Vihara.

King Mahasena is known as the builder of Gokanna Vihara, Erakavilli Vihara and the Kalanda Vihara on the coastal belt. He had built these three Viharas after demolishing Brahmanical temples sited on them earlier. Out of them, the Gokanna Vihara has been identified as one within the Fort of Trincomalee.

The second one, Erakavilla Vihara may be identified with the ruined stupa situated inland away from the Oluvil harbour. This stupa escaped vandalism planned by the road constructers recently.

The third one 'built' by king Mahasena was Kalanda awaiting identification. Ruins of the place and the marked situation together with the Vansatthappakasini reference lead to identify this vihara with the Mudumahavihara lying to the south of Pottuvil. This monument bore the name Kalanda till about the 8th century when king Aggabodhi VII (772-777 A.D.) rebuilt it.

'Building' the same vihara by three kings may mean it had been conserved several times. Sea erosion may have called for several rebuilding attempts.

Some stone pillars, one buddha image and two Bodhisatva images are notable ruins seen at this place. A large extent of the vihara land has disappeared due to sea erosion. The remaining land area has been engulfed by illegal encroachment. The Buddha image standing among stone pillars shows features of 8-9th century style. Of the two Bodhisatva images the well-preserved one is very impressive and wears a miniature Buddha figure on its forehead.

This mark helps one to identify it as that of Avalokiteshvara Bodhisatva of the Mahayana pantheon. The other image is mutilated beyond identification.

The original extent of the vihara land was 264 acres. Now it has been reduced to about 30 acres. It is miraculous that tsunami disaster has not done any damage to these ruins. The images are intact. In the process of rehabilitation, the original land should be assigned to the vihara.

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