Tantirimale a historical temple | Sunday Observer

Tantirimale a historical temple

20 September, 2020

The Tantirimale Raja Maha Vihara or monastery is a historic temple about 40km North West of Anuradhapura, the first capital of Sri Lanka. The temple is in a boulder strewn, jungle area and is close to the ancient village of Tantirimale. The environment is peaceful and serene. Hundreds of pilgrims visit the temple annually and it is a ‘hot spot’ on many tour itineraries.

Built in the third century, the Tantirimale Raja Maha Vihara became historically and religiously important during the reign of King Devanampiyatissa. During this time the Theri Sanghamitta brought to Sri Lanka a Bo sapling from the sacred Bo tree in Buddha Gaya, India.

She landed at Jambukola (Dambakola patuna) and journeyed to Anuradhapura with the Bo sapling which is now known as the ‘Jaya Shri Maha Bodhiya.' On the way, the sacred Bo sapling was kept for one night at the Tantirimale Raja Maha Vihara, making it of much historical and religious importance.

The Tantirimale Bo tree stands on stony ground. According to legend, a branch of the original Bo sapling which grew separately in the pot was planted at the temple to mark the historic event of the sacred Bo sapling seeking shelter for a night at the Tantirimale temple. Some people believe that this may be the first Bo sapling to be planted in the country.

Historical records also state that King Devanampiyatissa planted one of the eight off shoots of the sacred Bo sapling at Tantrimale and this is confirmed by a rock inscription near the Bo tree. The Tanthrimale Bo tree is approximately 2,300 years old and still stands proud and tall.

The village of Tantirimale lies surrounded on three sides by the Malwathu Oya and the Kanadara Oya. Its original name was Upatissagama and it was named after its founder, Upatissa, a minister of King Vijaya who civilised the area. Later, the name Upatissa Gama was changed to Thivanka Bamunugama indicating that it was the home of a Brahmin named Thivanka.

However, some archaeologists have a different opinion about the name Thivanka Bamunugama. They say it was so called because it was a Brahmin village surrounded by the three curves of the Malwathu Oya.

This was the name of the village when King Devanampiyatissa visited it. The rock inscription near the Bo tree testifies to this fact. There is also a belief that Tantirimale is Panduwasdevnuwara, the legendary Kingdom of King Panduwasdeva, the grandfather of Pandukabhaya - the first king of Anuradhapura.

Gradually, Tantirimale lost its glory and lay forgotten for years. With the invasion of Anuradhapura by Kalinga Maga many people left Anuradhapura for Polonnaruwa. This is one of the factors for the decline of the Tantrimale Raja Maha Vihara. It was discovered in the early 19 century and its restoration was spearheaded by Ven. Kudakongaskanda Vimalagnana Thera in the early 1960’s.

The eight-foot tall Samadhi Buddha statue and the reclining Buddha statue are beautifully sculpted and the Samadhi statue has elements of the architectural style of the late Anuradhapura period. The reclining Buddha statue is 45 foot in length. The monastery’s library or Poth Gula stands atop a rock.

There are 12 Padhanagarayas served as meditation areas for the bhikkhus. Sometimes, these were used to house sick bhikkhus undergoing treatment.