A journey back in time | Sunday Observer

A journey back in time

16 September, 2018
MAGNIFICENT MONUMENTS: The glorious brick built ruined dagoba seen after excavations
MAGNIFICENT MONUMENTS: The glorious brick built ruined dagoba seen after excavations

The ancient cultural concept of the Dagoba, Keth Yaya (paddy field), and Wewa (tank) revolved around the Pansala (temple) and Gama (village). Such ancient sites featuring the Wewa and Dagoba are rooted not only in the Rajarata, Mayarata and Ruhunurata, but also in the outskirts of Anamaduwa, in the Puttalam District.

Not far from the Chilaw town, along the Chilaw-Anamaduwa highway, in the Divisional Secretariat of Pallama, near the Police Station, nestles a historic temple called, Nandimithra Nawawangu Raja Maha Viharaya. Its massive ancient dagoba and stone ruins indicate an imposing Vihara dating to the reign of King Dutugemunu (167-131 BC) in the Anuradhapura period.

I was fortunate to explore this archaeologically important Nandimithra Nawawangu Raja Maha Viharaya last week. It happened at the request of my friend, who took me to visit the ancient Vihara. At the temple, we first paid homage to the chief incumbent Ven. Pothuthukkulame Deerananda Thera, a learned young Bhikku who narrated the history of the Vihara, as gathered from historical chronicles and legend.

In the days when the temple was still a refuge for ascetics on a spiritual journey, the whole complex spreading over some 4,000 acres of land was gifted to the temple as ‘Nindagama’. Today, it has dwindled to 40 acres. According to archaeological evidence, the origins of the temple go back to the early period of Anuradhapura. It is said, this temple had been built by the warrior Nandimithra, one of the ten warrior giants (Dasa maha yodhayas) in King Dutugemunu’s Army.


Ven. Deerananda Thera, the chief incumbent says, he believes the dagoba had been one of the tasks undertaken in that period, and would have been done by warrior giant Nandimithra who had been responsible for the construction of the Nawawangu Raja Maha Viharaya.

According to the chief monk, the construction of the dagoba is said to have begun a day after the Ruwanweliseya at Anuradhapura. It is an unusual dagoba, the terrace of which was built in the shape of a nonagon with nine edges symbolic of warriors. Nandimithra made the nine edges in memory of the nine warriors of King Dutugemunu who had waged war on King Elara. He is supposed to have built the Dagoba to commemorate that war victory.

The dagoba which looks like a lotus flower with nine petals is said to be the only one of its kind in Sri Lanka. There are four main entrances with moonstones, with steps leading from ground level, to the top of the dagoba. A square relic chamber stands at the top, which had been dug in the search for treasure. There are also four flower altars with steps built with elaborately carved decorated bricks. As you reach the top, one is treated to a panoramic view.

Ven. Deerananda Thera had come to this temple several years ago when it was an abandoned shrine, overgrown with jungle. The Thera had got the dagoba cleaned and made the place suitable for veneration.

From 2012 to 2017, the Department of Archaeology had begun excavations of the dagoba on several occasions. Today, the excavations have been halted and the chief incumbent fears that exposing it to nature would lead to further damage to the brick structure, even though a temporary roof has been erected with roofing sheets. 

The dagoba is so large, that one cannot go back far enough to be able to get the whole edifice into the camera frame. The massive size takes one’s breath away. Ven. Deerananda Thera believes, when the dagoba was originally built, it would have been out in the open like the Thuparamaya in Anuradhapura.

A few yards away, is a ruined foundation of a stone structure called ‘Pohoya Geya’ with massive stone pillars and doorways. We walked on, grid after grid of exposed foundations. Among the archaeological treasures are faded guard stones, a massive mal-asana (flower altar), seven natural ponds full of water even in drought, a row of stone steps and a moonstone.

Through the excavations, a large number of ancient artifacts have been unearthed from the site and kept in protection in the temple. “I have an idea to build a museum behind the temple, and display all the artifacts. My aim is to attract more visitors to the temple as a spiritual tourism venue,” the Ven. Thera says.

In fact, the entire temple premises is dotted with ancient ruins. When the land was dug to lay the foundation for a new building at the back of the Avasage (priests’ residence) recently, a row of stone steps and moonstones were discovered about five feet below the ground. “I believe, these stone steps and moonstones belong to the Anuradhapura period,” he says, pointing to the ruins.

Ancient concept

In the vicinity of the temple is the placid Pallama Wewa. According to the chronicles, the tank too had been built by Nandimithra. “It was the place from where the soil was taken to make bricks to build the dagoba. So, this is one of the places where the ancient concept of development in our native culture is evident – the village, the temple, the wewa (the tank),” says the Ven. Thera. The chief monk also showed us several stone grinding vessels which were probably used to grind herbs at the site. The chief monk believes, in ancient times this was a hospital.


At the Avasage, there were several artifacts, especially, the relics found at the dagoba, an old mammoty, an agricultural tool dating back to the King Dutugemunu era, found under the bed of the Pallama wewa.

The soft-spoken monk said, when he first arrived, the summit of the dagoba had been dug by vandals, probably hoping to find treasure. “We can’t say who destroyed the temple.

May be Chola or the colonial invaders. We also found several VOC coins in the temple ground,” Ven. Deerananda Thera adds. However, almost all the valuables have been taken away from several places in the temple.

Today, the temple is on a journey of revival due to the unwavering efforts of the Thera. “There are a few burning problems, such as repairing the 700 metre long gravel road which leads to the temple. I urge the relevant authorities to repair the road,” requests the Thera.

The remnants of a bygone era can still be seen at the temple premises, showcasing history and what may have been. Much of it has succumbed to decay, confirming the impermanent nature of all worldly things, which is a well-known Buddhist teaching. But what is left remains intact and is safeguarded. With great effort, Ven. Pothuthukkulame Deerananda Thera ensures that the heritage of the Nandimithra Nawawangu Raja Maha Vihara is preserved for posterity so that future generations can see how our ancestors prospered.