The ancient place of Buddhist worship, Thanthirimale Raja Maha Viharaya is situated in a picturesque valley in the North Central Province, not far away from Anuradhapura, the glorious ancient capital of Sri Lanka.
The beautiful stream Malwatuoya, carrying the holy water of the sacred city, Anuradhapura flows by the side of the Raja Maha Viharaya. Malwatuoya and the beautiful lake “the wewa” situated by the side of the temple and the Dagaba constructed on a slab of rock add serenity to the environment.
The beauty of the environment, especially when it is illuminated by Aloka Pooja is such that a visitor to the place will invariably be inclined to ask himself or herself whether there is a more pleasant place than Thanthirimale.
History of Thanthirimale
Thanthirimale has a long history running back to the period when Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka by Arahant Mahinda Maha Thera. The ruler of the country at that time was King Devanampiyatissa, mentioned in our chronicle, Mahawansa as Pruthuviswara” the Lord of the earth. He was a revivalist who provided the best of royal patronage in religious activities. King Devanampiyatissa was the first to identify Thanthirimale as a sacred place which had been touched upon by Gautama Buddha. Pruthuviswara or the king had learnt from Arahant Mahinda Maha Thera that the most important from “Dambakolapatuna” to Anuradhapura is Thanthirimale because it is the place used by the Thathagatha or Buddha to set foot on during His three visits to Sri Lanka, i.e. to Mahiyangana, Nagadeepa and Kelaniya.
Village of Brahmin Thiwakka
The name given to the place in Mahawansa is Thiwakka the village of Brahmin Thiwakka. This name had been changed in the course of time presumably due to the influence of the Tamil and Hindu culture after the invasion of South Indians.
Emperor Dharmasoka in India and his contemporary in Sri Lanka, King Devanampiyatissa
According to our chronicle Mahawansa, the emperor Dharmasoka of Dambadiva –India had done everything possible for the sake of his friend and his counterpart in Sri Lanka, King Devanampiyatissa who also had sought solace in Buddhism. The emperor Dharmasoka sent a delegation led by his own son, Arahant Mahinda Maha Thera to establish Buddhism in Sri Lanka.
Action taken to establish the Order of Nuns in Sri Lanka
Arahant Mahinda Maha Thera found it impossible to establish Meheni Sasana in Sri Lanka due to the no availability of nuns here. King Devanampiyatissa had sent an envoy to the emperor Dharmasoka requesting him to send nuns to Sri Lanka with a sapling of Sri Maha Bodhi.
According to the legendary information it was prince Aritta who had served as King Devanampiyatissa’s envoy who carried the message to emperor Dharmasoka realizing that his counter part in Sri Lanka had found solace in Buddhism as he had done earlier had his own daughter, Arahant Sanghamitta Maha Theri with a sapling of Sri Maha Bodhi in Buddhagaya. Arahant Theri and her followers had disembarked at port Dambakola about three miles away from Kankasanthurai as archaeologists suspect.
King Devanampiyatissa receiving Sri Maha Bodhi on his head with devotion
According to Mahawansa King Devanampiyatissa had stepped in to the sea and proceeded until the water reached his neck when he saw the Sri Maha Bodhi being brought. He received Sri Maha Bodhi on his head after being brought to the shore. He had placed the Sri Maha Bodhi in a chariot and the ceremonial procession started early in the morning.
After the breakfast the procession had proceeded and the people had gathered on the road side to worship the Sri Maha Bodhi.
Thanthirimale – the important halting place of the procession taking the Sri Maha Bodhi
According to chronicle Mahawansa Thanthirimale was one of the important halting places of the procession bringing the Sri Maha Bodhi. This place in the village of Brahmin Thiwakka was cleared and cleaned to receive the procession and the whole area was covered with a layer of white sand. The village of Brahmin Thiwakka as described in Mahawansa was an extremely pleasant place similar to Isipathana “Rishis Descend” the grove in Benares where Buddha first preached His monks where Rishis descend from and ascend to the sky.
Chronicler of Mahawansa states that by virtue of devotion King Devanampiyatissa and his followers had eight Bodhi saplings had emerged from the fruits of the sacred Bodhi and one of them was later presented by the king to be planted at Thanthirimale. The Bo tree planted in that manner is standing at the Raja Maha Viharaya rich with foliage.
The king was delighted, enraptured and charmed at the sight of the Sri Maha Bodhi and the eight saplings.
Serenity of Thanthirimale not affected by adverse conditions or foreign invasions
The rock surface, adverse climatic conditions, the South Indian invasions or any other harmful incidents had not disturbed the tranquility, serenity and the sacredness brought about by this Bo tree. This Bo tree is distinguished from other Esathu Bo trees worshipped by Buddhists. The foliage of this Bo tree is bright in colour. Hence it is believed that it belongs to a particular species of Esathu Bo trees. In any event its glory and sacredness remains intact.
The main Buddha statue in the Samadhi or meditation posture
The main Buddha statue at Thanthirimale is in the Samadhi or meditation posture. The statue has the peculiarity of Polonnaruwa Galviharaya statues which are statues carved on rocks including the one in the reposing or sleeping posture. These statues are presumably belonging to the Polonnaruwa period.