Relics tell a story in Berendi Kovil | Sunday Observer

Relics tell a story in Berendi Kovil

17 January, 2021

On a short weekend or when time permits the desire to explore is great so that the best thing is to take a one day excursion to a historic site around the 16th century Kingdom of Seethawaka, while adhering to Covid-19 health guidelines. A 90-minute journey from Colombo will take you to Avissawella, the area once known as the ‘Kingdom of Seethawaka’ though little remains of the glorious kingdom today. 

The road and the destination are equally spectacular. The way to the Berendi Kovil is scenic, with lush greenery on both sides and the glistening Seethawaka Oya in the backdrop of the temple. The temple complex is stunning in a unique way. It is surrounded by towering trees while silence envelops the site at Talduwa. The relics lying around evoke a sense of awe, recalling antiquity and old times.

Berendi Kovil, to be specific is situated near Talduwa on the Avissawella –Dehiowita road, two kilometres from the Avissawella town. Berendi Kovil can be reached along the Avissawella – Hatton road just past the bridge over the Seethawaka Oya. Visitors should keep an eye for the iconic archaeological board along the way.

Berendi Kovil

On the opposite side, close to the section of the Seethawaka Oya known as the Kalamediyan Wala are the ruins of the Berendi Kovil believed to have been built during the reign of King Rajasingha I (1581-1593 AD) in the kingdom of Seethawaka. The Berendi Kovil is said to have derived its name from the Bhairava, a deity manifestation of Shiva.

We were quite taken aback by some of the elaborate stone work that decorated the ruins of this temple. As we walked through the gate installed by the Archaeological Department, we could see three distinct terraces built upon each other. The third and upper terrace housed the ruins of the Kovil, a square structure with stone pillars. The Kovil was renovated by the first Archaeology Commissioner of Ceylon, H.C.P.Bell, on its discovery in 1896.

The stone moulded base revealed motifs of Bhairava faces, leafy and floral designs that have been perfectly executed. Borders of charming stone petals decorated the base of the whole structure. A carved water spout was a surprising showpiece. At one entrance stood two guard stones, carved with full pots. And in one corner of the terraced stone work is an elephant carved so surreptitiously that many who see it wonder the purpose for which it was built.


Many are the stories told of the origin of this structure. Some say it was in existence before the Seethawaka Kingdom. Scholars, taking into account the style of stone work and the motifs of floral and leafy carvings, attribute it to the Polonnaruwa period when such Hindu shrines were built.

While it is generally attributed to King Rajasingha I of Seethawaka, most relate it to the period in King Rajasingha’s time where he had a group of Hindu sects brought from the Chola country. Among them was a learned person versed in astrology and efficient in the execution of warfare, named Aritta Kivendu Perumal.

Due to his excellent services rendered to the King, he was duly conferred with the title of Mannapperuma Mohotti and became the King’s confederate and trusted official who was second-in-command to the King. In the chronicle Rajawaliya it is recorded that Mannapperuma Mohotti married King Rajasingha’s daughter.

And when guilt came upon Rajasingha about the alleged killing of his father, the King duly consulted him as to what appeasement could be done to atone the sin he had committed under the Hindu rituals. It is believed that Mohotti said the only way to placate the alleged sins of the crime was to build a Kovil by diverting the Seetawaka Oya.

Eventually, the Berendi Kovil was destroyed by the Portuguese. But the ruins left are sufficient to tell a tale of a once grand Kovil that stood on the bank of the Seethawaka Oya.