The historical Thantirimale Raja Maha Viharaya, boasting a civilization that preceded the period before the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka by Arahath Mahinda Maha Thera is situated in the picturesque valley of Malwathuoya, about thirty miles from the ancient capital, Anuradhapura.
Malwathuoya and the wewa
In addition to the Malwathuoya carrying the holy water of the sacred city Anuradhapura, the wewa situated by the side of the temple and the Dagaba on the rock surface add scenic beauty to the surroundings.
Illumination by WijEya newspapers during the Poson season
The old glory and the scenery of Tantirimale are revived when the whole temple area is illuminated annually by the Wijeya Newspapers during the Poson season. The whole of the sacred area is thronged by devotees from every corner of the country during the Poson season when the temple premises are illuminated and decorated with electric bulbs.
The civilization of Tantirimale dates back to the prehistoric period
According to scholars like Hokart, there were advanced prehistoric civilizations in Tantirimale. Among the important ruins recovered in Tantirimale and rocks in surrounding areas such as Bilewa and Arndiyagala, there are also paintings by prehistoric inhabitants of the area. Paintings relating to nature such as tigers, peacocks and buffaloes are found in caves. A special kind of liquid had been used in these paintings.
The recorded history of Tantirimalai beginning from the period when Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka
The recorded history of Tantirimale begins from the period when Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka in the third century B.C. King Devanampiyatissa mentioned this in the chronicle Mahavamsa as “Puthuwiswara “- the lord of the earth was a revivalist who provided the best royal patronage in religious activities. Arahath Mahinda Maha Thera identified Tantirimale as one of the places touched upon by the Enlightened One during his three visits to the island.
Views expressed regarding the derivation of the name Tantirimale
Various views have been expressed regarding the derivationof the name Tantirimale. In Tamil ‘than thirimale’ means ‘devotees’ sojourn’. There is a belief that the Tantirimale was derived from these Tamil words.
There is mention of Tantirimale in the episode on Saliya and Asokamala. Asokamala had prepared a curry of Thampala Amaranth and sent it to king Dutugemunu, her father-in-law. The king was pleased with his daughter-in-law’s gesture and sent her a gold necklace in the shape of a Thanthriya. ‘Thanthriya’ is a string. ‘Maale’ is necklace. The two words ‘Thanthriya’ and ‘Maale’ were presumably joined. This necklace and some of the jewellery are believed to have been enshrined at the Tantirimale Dagaba.
Premises entirely covered with rock surface appears to be better soil for the Bo tree
The sacred Bo tree planted at Tantirimale is rich in foliage and provides sacredness and serenity to the area. The premises, although entirely covered with a rock surface, appears to be a better site for the Bo tree than land with rich soil.
The rock surface, adverse climatic conditions and the invasion of the South Indians did not adversely affected or disturb the tranquility, serenity or the sacredness brought about by the Bo tree to the area.
This Bo tree is distinguished from other Asathu Bo trees worshipped by Buddhists. The foliage of this tree is bright in colour. Hence it is believed that it belongs to a particular species of Asathu Bo trees. In any event its glory and sacredness remain intact.
Jayasiri Maha Bodhi caused to proceed to Sri Lanka
With the royal patronage provided by “Pruthviswara” king Devananampiyatissa Sri Maha Bodhi was caused to proceed to Sri Lanka by Arahath Sanghamitta Maha Theri. According to chronicle Mahawamsa Thantirimale was one of the most important halting places of the procession causing the procession of Sri Maha Bodhi from Dambakolapatuna to the capital, Anuradhapura.
Village of Brahmin Tivakka
This place in the village of Brahmin Tivakka was prepared to receive the procession. The whole area was covered with a layer of white sand. The village of Brahmin Tivakka as described in chronicle Mahavamsa was an extremely pleasant place similar to “Isipatana” Risis descent, the grove in which the Buddha first preached his Dhamma to the monks and where Risis descended from and ascended to the sky.
Historical importance of Tantirimalai according to a rock inscription recovered from the area
The rock inscription recovered from a place close to Tantirimale provides more information about the historical importance of the location. An image of a Naga–cobra with the hood, a Buddha statue and some rock inscriptions in the shape of footprints were among the ruins recovered from the area. These ruins provide sufficient evidence to decide on the historical importance of the Bo Tree at Tantirimale.
According to the chronicle Mahavamsa, this is one of the Attaphala of the Sacred Jayasiri Maha Bodhi. By virtue of the devotion paid by the king and his followers, eight saplings emerged from the fruits of the Sacred Bodhi and one of them was later presented by the king to be planted at Tantirimale. The Bo tree thus planted stands at the Raja Maha Viharaya.
Buddha statue in Samadhi or meditation posture
During the Polonnaruwa period, Tantirimale became one of the most famous places of worship. The main Buddha statue at Tantirimale is the one in Samadhi or meditation posture. This statue is about eight feet in height. There is a Makara thorana in front of the statue. According to Bell, the Makara Thorana or Makara portico with two Makaras or sea monsters with the head and fore legs of an antelope and body and tail of a fish resembles the Makara Thorana in the Polonnaruwa Galvihare, the work of King Parakramabahu the Great. Henry Parker and John Still are of the opinion that they are not similar in all respects. However, there are many similarities between them.
Buddha statue in reposing or sleeping posture
The Buddha statue in the reposing or sleeping posture is about forty feet long. It is believed that this statue had been carved to depict ‘Detis Maha Purusha Lakshana’- the thirty two characteristics of the Enlightened One, who is said to have been eighteen cubits high including the flame of glory which rose from His head to the height of six cubits. These statues have the peculiarity of the Polonnaruwa Galviharaya statues which Abaddha statues carved on rocks and not separate from the rocks on which they have been carved.
However, the finish on these statues is such that they had presumably not been completed primarily in the absence of royal patronage. It is to be believed that the artists and artisans who went to Polonnaruwa created the marvellous Gal viharaya.
The restoration of temples including Tantirimale by King Vijayabahu
The northern region of Sri Lanka was under the domination of Chola rulers during a period of nearly half a century until King Vijayabahu shifted the capital to Polonnaruwa and saved the country from foreign domination. King Vijayabahu contributed substantially to religion by renovating Buddhist places of worship which had been destroyed by the Cholas. This king rendered a religious service amidst serious hardships. He had to fight foreigners invading the country and taking control in Sri Lanka. He had to spend most of his time in the forest, in caves and in disguise. Thus his task was more difficult than those of great kings like Dutugemunu and Parakramabahu the Great. In spite of such constraints, he renovated most places of Buddhist worship which had been destroyed by Cholas. Tantirimale was one of such temples restored by King Vijayabahu.
Restoration of Tantirimale viharaya by King Parakramabahu the Great
King Parakramabahu the Great not only unified the country but also invaded countries such as Burma and the Chola State in India and contributed to the Sasana by constructing various Buddhist places of worship including Demala Maha Seya, Thuparamaya, Lankatilakaya, Rupawathie Chetiya, Tirana pilimaya, Alahana pirivena, Pothgal viharaya and Uttararamaya. In addition he made repairs to the Ruwanveliseya, Lovamahapaya and Mihintale. Tantirimale Rajamaha viharaya was fully renovated by him.
Devastation after the invasion of Magha from Kalinga
After the invasion of Magha from the Kalinga capital, Polonnaruwa was almost devastated and places of worship including Tantirimalai suffered tremendously. It was in 1960 that Tantirimale was renovated to bring it to the condition it is today. Recently, it was under the threat of terrorism but no serious damage was caused.
Aloka Puja –Illumination of Tantirimale
Tantirimale premises will be illuminated on the 8th, 9th and 10th of this month during the Poson season by Wijeya Newspapers.
Today Tantirimale is a fully equipped place of worship with “Thun Bo”, Sharirikaka Dhathu-Dagaba with Buddha Relics, enshrined, Paribhogika Dhathu–Bo tree which is supposed to be one of the Attaphala and Uddesika Vasthu – the Buddha statues in the meditation posture and reposing posture.