An archaeological site with a unique stupa | Sunday Observer
Pallama Rajamaha Vihara:

An archaeological site with a unique stupa

27 December, 2020

There are many archaeologically protected sites that are lesser-known and less visited, located in outlying areas of the island. On my way home from Colombo a few days ago travelling on the Colombo - Puttalam road I decided to visit an archaeological site in Anamaduwa, and turned my bike to the road leading to Anamaduwa at the Bangadeniya junction.

The Bangadeniya Anamaduwa road filled with potholes earlier is now a fully carpeted road. Although it is in the dry zone, this area is covered in lush green vegetation due to the incessant rain these days. Coconut estates, paddy fields, tanks filled with water, lotus and lily flowers are a common sight.

Proceeding towards Anamaduwa is a signboard erected by the Department of Archaeology directing to an ancient temple called ‘Sri Nandimiththra Nawawangu Rajamaha Vihara.’ It is located around 600m along a gravel path in the Pallama area. Best known in the area as Pallama Rajamaha Vihara it is indeed a less visited place.

Idyllic environment

The temple is situated in a serene, idyllic environment. Except for the chirping of birds quietness prevails. A few metres away is a small tank filled with fresh water with a cool breeze blowing through it. It is quite refreshing and we do not feel that we are in a dry zone.

A concrete signboard indicated that the site belonged to the Department of Archaeology, and that unauthorised tree felling and damaging items of archaeological importance on the premises are prohibited.

The first sight that caught my eye was the remains of a somewhat large ancient stupa, covered with tin sheets. It was in a state of dilapidation, with bricks and stone column pieces scattered around with no restoration carried out.

I met the chief incumbent of the temple, Ven. Poththukkulame Dheerananda Thera, a school teacher by profession. He gave me a brief description of this historic place.

Ven. Dheerananda Thera said according to historical records, this temple had been built during the reign of King Dutugemunu. As history records the King had ten warrior giants, and Nandimiththra was one of them. The Pallama area is said to be his birthplace, and as a reward to his great contribution to win many battles fought then, the King had presented him with a large area of land – nearly 40 acres, which included the Pallama area.

The giant Nandimiththra who received the land wanted to build a temple complex in his name and hence the name Nandimiththra Rajamaha Vihara’. The giant Nandimiththra had initiated much of the work done in Anuradhapura during the reign of King Dutugemunu in and around this area, the remains of which bear testimony to his work.

The reason why this stupa became a significant world heritage is its particular shape, the Thera said. It has been built in the shape of a lotus flower and no other structure in that shape is found anywhere else in the country.

It is built entirely of bricks, and enshrined in it are golden swords used by King Dutugemunu and the golden chain that had adorned his Kadol tusker, thus adding to its historical importance.

The excavation work of this stupa which had begun in 2017, has now come to a standstill. As a result, the brick structure is falling into decay. The reason for halting work was a problem in connection with the tender for the supply of bricks, the Thera said.

The bricks used for the construction of this structure are different from other brick shapes as nearly 26 kinds of bricks have been used for its construction. Normal brick manufacturers would find it difficult to make bricks of these shapes.

Conservation work

Hence, the conservation work was stopped for nearly two years. At present the bricks are being manufactured in the Mahiyanganaya area by a state institute that makes porcelain bricks, the Thera said.

The matter has been brought to the notice of the Department of Archaeology, he said. Due to excavations the stupa is in great danger of dilapidation in bad weather conditions. The building materials such as cement, lime and sand brought about four or five months ago lie in the Dhamma hall of the temple, as the construction work has not yet begun.

The Thera said if further excavations are carried out in the nearly 36 places that have so far been identified in the 40 acre site, many archaeological items lying hidden as well as facts about our history, heritage, culture, lifestyles and artistic skills of ancient people could be discovered.

A few objects dating back to historic times such as pebbles, lime plaster, statues, earthenware have been unearthed through initial excavations. A Buddha statue unearthed at the site is now on display at the Colombo Public Museum.

The Thera, highlighting the importance of conserving this historic Buddhist heritage site for the future generation makes a humble request from the Government to take action in this regard. Otherwise, the archaeological structures of this place would fall into a state of dilapidation in the course of time.