The Sacred Footprint in Kelaniya | Sunday Observer

The Sacred Footprint in Kelaniya

MAGNIFICENT  MONUMENT: ‘Sivrudagoba’ small, but beautiful lies on the bank of Kelani Ganga of Kithsirimevan Kelani Raja Maha Viharaya
MAGNIFICENT MONUMENT: ‘Sivrudagoba’ small, but beautiful lies on the bank of Kelani Ganga of Kithsirimevan Kelani Raja Maha Viharaya

After visiting Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya last week, I stepped down under the magnificent white-painted archway and moved towards a shady tree in the lower terrace in search of an elderly villager who promised to keep my shoes until I returned from the temple.

While I was taking leave from him, he inquired, “Mahattaya Egoda Kelaniya pansalata yanne nedda ? ‘Sivrugala’ethana thiyenawa, Ekath Balanna”. (Sir, why don’t you visit the Egoda Kelaniya temple? ‘Sivrugala’ is over there). He showed me the way to the temple on the opposite bank of the Kelani Ganga from the main Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya. The villagers refer to this temple as Egoda Kelani Viharaya. The glistening white-washed dagoba of this Viharaya stands majestically against the clear blue sky surrounded by a white wall with nicely carved oil lamp cavities.

Buddha’s visit

Following the directions of the villager, I made my way to the Egoda Kelani Viharaya. Strolling at the edge of Kelaniya River, I first came across a ‘Sivrugala’, an ancient stone carved slab which the villager pointed out to me.

“Sivrugala, has been in the upper terrace of the Kelaniya Temple for a long time. Now, it has been placed over there on the bank of the river,” said the villager. Sivrugala is a seven foot long and nearly two feet tall decorated granite stone slab, believed to have been graced by the Buddha on his third visit to the island. It is said, the Buddha bathed in the Kelani Ganga, which flows close to the temple.

The sacred stone of Sivrugala will soon be displayed to devotees for veneration in a beautiful structure, which is being built on the bank of the Kelani Ganga in front of the Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya. Walking along the bank of the Kelani Ganga, I stumbled upon a massive ruined stone pillar of antiquity which had fallen on to the river bank. Villagers use this stone pillar to wash their clothes. Crossing the bridge, I ventured into the temple. A ferry service is also operated across the river which is quite adventurous for the young visitors to the Kelaniya temple who use it to reach the Kithsirimevan Kelani Raja Maha Viharaya. The historic Kithsirimevan Kelani Raja Maha Viharaya is located in a wooded grove on the opposite side of the Kelani Ganga close to the main Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya. Although it is separated from the Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya today, the custodianship of the Kithsirimevan Kelani Raja Maha Viharaya temple comes under the chief incumbent of Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya.

The historic significance of the temple is unique and interesting. According to ancient chronicles, on the invitation of Naga King Maniakkitha, the Buddha visited Kelaniya on a Vesak Poya Day on his third visit to the island. During this visit, before partaking of a mid-day meal prepared by King Maniakkitha, the Buddha reached the bank of the Kelani Ganga and bathed there with 500 disciples.

Sacred footprint

On this occasion, it is said that Buddha stamped his sacred footprint on the river bed for the veneration of the Naga kings, and the ‘Nanakadaya’ robe he clad during his bath has been offered to King Maniakkitha.

It is said that the Naga king had built the sprawling dagoba that enshrined a relic of the bathing robe (jalasaatikawa) where the Buddha had changed his bathing robes. Today, the dagoba is known as ‘Sivrudagoba’ which stands majestically in the premises of Kithsirimevan Kelani Raja Maha Viharaya.

The Sivru dagoba, said to have been originally built by the Naga King Maniakkitha had been renovated under royal patronage from time to time. Later, King Kirthi Sri Megawarna or Kithsirimevan (847-875 BC) had widened and renovated this dagoba. It is after him that the temple is named Kithsirimevan Kelani Raja Maha Viharaya. The bathing robe of the Buddha (jalasaatikawa) is enshrined in the dagoba. It is believed, this is the one and only dagoba in the whole world which had been built enshrining a bathing robe (jalasaatikawa) of the Buddha, which is proved by two ancient stone inscriptions in the temple premises.

Relic of bathing robe

Walking around the temple premises, I found several ruins of ancient stone sculptures such as, a torso of the Buddha, stone inscriptions and some parts of stone pillars on the temple ground. An ancient Na tree is seen in the left corner of the dagoba, with a small Devale nearby, where devotees pay veneration. A few yards from the dagoba, an elegant Bo tree enclosure is also being built in the lower terrace of the temple which contains beautiful carvings of elephant heads.

Peace and tranquility prevail in the surrounding atmosphere of the Sivru dagoba of the Kithsirimevan Kelani Raja Maha Viharaya which stands on a sandy compound covered by a green canopy. A special feature of this dagoba is its ‘Sripathula’ or Sacred Footprint of the Buddha which is venerated by devotees. Most visitors to the main Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya miss this ancient temple as they have no knowledge of it.

The villagers believe in the miraculous powers of this revered site once graced by Buddha. Most villagers come here to make vows at the Siripathula for recovery from various ailments and to get blessings.

The present dagoba is believed to have been renovated during the latter part of the Kandyan Kingdom and the adjoining shrine has beautiful murals dating back to the early 1900s, while the serene cross-legged Buddha statue belongs to the Kandyan period.

It is an extremely peaceful place to sit and pray in. As I sat outside, a few devotees explained the history of the temple. Every time I visit a religious monument, it is these conversations with the priests and devotees that I cherish, for they are extremely enlightening.

 

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