Ven Thotagamuwe Sri Rahula Thera:
A great literary figure shrouded in mystery
The perusal of numerous manuscripts and books written on Thotagamuwe
Sri Rahula Thera reveals that the descriptive narratives have been
compiled using the eulogistic epithets with the aim of highlighting the
erudition and his unique supernatural skills.
His birth in 1408 AD, his relationship to the royalty, upbringing in
the palace of King Parakramabahu VI receiving love, patronage and
affection of the king as his own son, precocious nature, becoming a
Bhikkhu and learning all the ancient sciences and languages, achieving
the highest order of Sangaraja and succeeding to the leadership of
Vijayaba Pirivena and finally breathing his last mysteriously in a cave
at Ambana surrounded by thick jungle in 1491 AD. at the age of 83 years
prove that his life was full of adventures.
Ever since his early childhood a large corpus of legends, folklore
and mythic references had been woven around Sri Rahula Thera.
The body believed to be that of Ven Sri Rahula Thera
This could be attributed to his popularity among the members of
royalty, clergy and laity of both highest echelons of society and even
at the grassroot levels.
The chief consort of King Parakramabahu VI was known as Queen
Keerawelle and her sister Seelawathie's son was Prince Jayabahu the lay
name of Sri Rahula Thera. He was conferred the degree of Skanda at the
age of 15 years.
Sri Rahula Jayabahu was the lay name of Sri Rahula Thera. Prince
Jayabahu's mother Seelawathie passed away in 1409 on Jayabahu's first
year of birth. His father Prince Wickramabahu became a Brahmachari and a
Bhikkhu in 1410 and left for Siam in 1426 for higher ordination.
Ven. Uthurumula Thera was the grandfather of Prince Jayabahu and
Prince Jayabahu had entered the order of Sangha under Ven. Uthurumula
Thera and Ven. Wilgammula Rahula at the Thotagamuwa Rathpath Vihara.
After ordination Sri Rahula Thera was known as Vachchiswara.
Kavyasekara which is considered the second great book of poetry in
Sinhala literature clearly explains that "Dematana" as the birth place
of Sri Rahula Thera. The theme of this great book of poetry composed by
Sri Rahula Thera was based on the unsuccessful marriage of the Princess
Ulakudaya, the younger daughter of King Parakramabahu VI to a
non-Sinhalese national known as Nanunuthunaiyar.
Rahula Thera was the chief incumbent and the principal of Thotagamuwe
Vijayaba Pirivena which was internationally acclaimed as one of the
leading institutions of education across the world. It was founded in
the 15th century by King Vijayabahu 1.
Students representing numerous South Asian countries including India
keen on studying Buddhist Thripitaka, Vedic literature including four
Vedas of Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda, Atharva Veda Ayurveda,
Astrology, Arthasastra (Economics), Puranas and arts and crafts came to
Vijayaba Pirivena located at Thotagamuwa adjoining Telwatta a tiny
coastal village in close proximity to Hikkaduwa on the South coast of
Since the Polonnaruwa era royal patronage of King Vijayabahu 1, King
Parakramabahu 11, and his Chief Minister Devapathiraja, King
Parakramabahu IV, and King Parakramabahu VI extended Royal patronage for
the uplift and progress of every sphere of Thotagamuwe Vijayaba
In the Kotte period the golden era of Vijayaba Pirivena could be
attributed to the leadership of Thotagamuwe Sri Rahula Thera.
The cave at Ambana
Vijayaba Pirivena along with Rathpath Vihara was completely destroyed
by the Portuguese invaders led by Thome de Souza in 1580 A.D. Only some
granite pillars around Natha Devala could be seen which they found
difficult to burn and after more than two hundred years it was Ven.
Pallattara Thera who discovered the ruins of the temple invaded by the
thick jungle in 1760 AD and took the initiative to reconstruct the
Thotagamuwe Rathpath Vihara in 1765 A.D. Samaneras Ven.Nugawela
Indrjothi Thera, Ven. Kahawe Rathanasara Thera and Ven. Habarakada
Deerarakkitha Thera had provided assistance to Ven. Pallatara Thera in
the rehabilitation work of the temple.
Some scholars say that Vijayaba Pirivena was founded by Prince
Mahanaga who was the brother of King Devanampiyatissa during the
A few days after the arrival of Arhat Mahinda at Mihintale Prince
Mahanaga on his visit to Ruhuna was believed to have constructed the
Rathpath Vihara at Thotagamuwa as far back as the days of the arrival of
Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Dr. Senarath Paranavithana who deciphered the
inscriptions on the four granite columns to be seen around the Natha
Devala of the temple premises said that the history of Thotagamuwa
Rathpath Vihara could be traced back to 8th or 9th century.
During the era of Kings, the prestigious and highly venerated post of
“ Sangaraja” was usually conferred on the Bhikkhu who lived in the
But Thotagamuwe Sri Rahula Thera happened to be the first Bhikkhu to
obtain the post of Sangaraja. It was conferred on him by King
Parakramabahu VI. Gira Sandesaya and Kawyasekara known as the greatest
literary work compiled by Sri Rahula Thera reveal the system of Pirivena
Education that flourished in ancient Sri Lanka.
The books compiled by Thotagamuwe Sri Rahula Thera such as
Buddhagajjaya (1430), Uruthamala Sandesaya (1435), Paravi Sandesaya
(1445), Selalihini Sandesaya (1447), Kawyasekaraya (1449), Panchika
Pradeepaya (1457), Buddhipasadiniya (1480), Sakaskada, and Mawula
Sandesaya provide sufficient evidence to prove his erudition.
Sri Rahula Thera was known by numerous names and titles bestowed upon
him mostly by the royalty, such as ‘Vijayaba Muni’‘Rahula Badda’
'Vachissara Gathara’, Rahula Yathindra, Rahula Sangaraja, ‘Rahula
Munindra’, Shadbasha Parameswara Thripitaka Vagisvaracharya ’Bauddha
Charawarthi’and ‘Sinhala Maha Kavi’ (Sinhala Great Poet).
Folklore created about Sri Rahula Thera are abound with numerous
miracles and supernatural feats.
Long before becoming a Bhikkhu as a layman the powers of rhetoric
proved to be a rare skill inherent in him. Even as a young village boy
he was very eloquent and even the erudite scholarly Bhikkhu of the era
had found it difficult to convince him certain things.
Another folk tale attributed to Sri Rahula highlighted his jealousy
towards his own pupil Ven. Wattawe Thera’s extraordinary intellectual
powers. To send him away from Thotagamuwa Temple, Sri Rahula Thera had
made arrangements to serve many portions of leafy vegetables (Pala,
pala) whenever he was offered alms in the temple premises.
This was considered as an implication to convey him the message to
leave the temple.
Wettawe Thera was believed to have compiled Guttila Kavya based on
the incident and to prove that he never had malicious intentions, rival
competitions or challenges against the erudition of his own teacher and
mentor Sri Rahula Thera.
There are numerous legends and myths based on his memory power,
departure from Thotagamuwe Vijayaba Pirivena and finally living in
Indurugal Lena cave at Ambana surrounded by thick jungle are unravelled
mysteries. Some scholars said that Indurugal Lena was a hideout of Sri
Rahula Thera for the safety of his life from King Buwanekabahu VI .
After the death of King Parakramabahu VI, Prince Jayabahu II who was the
rightful heir became the King of Kotte Kingdom.
Two years since his coronation, Prince Sapumal who was the provincial
King of Jaffna invaded the Kingdom of Kotte and killed King Jayabahu –II
and ushered in as King Buwanekabahu VI.
It was Thotagamuwe Sri Rahula Sangaraja Thera who disapproved this
act vehemently and led campaigns against King Buwanekabahu VI. The anti
- Buwanekabahu campaign was then known as “Sinhala Revolution.”
Realising that King Buwanekabahu VI could resort to vengeance
Thotagamuwe Sri Rahula left Vijayaba Pirivena and lived in the cave at
Thotagamuwe Sri Rahula Thera’s demise was shrouded in mythology and
When he was living at Ambana cave he had eaten an Ayurvedic
preparation known as Siddalaoka Rasaya and some believe due to the
effect of the this drug his body continued to remain intact without
decomposing till the year 4230 AD.
According to Buddhists the Portuguese who invaded the maritime
provinces of Sri Lanka had made arrangements to send the body of
Thotagamuwe Sri Rahula to Goa by ship. St. Francis Zavier who was
present in Sri Lanka at the time engaged in missionary activities
planned to join the Portuguese representatives accompanying the body to
Goa in India.
A few days before that St. Francis Zavier died in Sri Lanka.
The Portuguese instead of St. Francis Zavier’s body, the body of Sri
Rahula was taken to Goa as the body of St. Francis Zavier and kept it in
the Basilica of Bon Jesu in Goa, India.
The credibility of the stories created around the mysterious body
kept in the Basilica of Bon Jesu in Goa could be challenged only though
scientific research and not by the theories and legends lacking any
historical or scientific evidence.