A treasured discovery in Deliwela Kota Vehera | Sunday Observer

A treasured discovery in Deliwela Kota Vehera

20 November, 2022
A Stupa of Deliwela Kota Vehera
A Stupa of Deliwela Kota Vehera

It was a bright sunny morning when we visited Padavigampola and its environs as the morning sun rays filtered through a vast canopy of trees. The cloudless blue sky gave the vibrant colours mixed with green literally a better shot at photography. The narrow meandering road we travelled to the temple was flanked by lush green paddy fields. Eventually, our vehicle stopped in the compound of the temple after travelling about ten minutes from my last destination.

After visiting the dolmen at Padavigampola, my next destination was the Deliwela Kota Vehera nestling on the summit of a low hill around three kilometres from Padavigampola. It is just four kilometres from Rambukkana on the Rambukkana-Kurunegala road via Dombemada, and is considered to be one of the most ancient Buddhist shrines in the Kegalle district.

We climbed the nicely laid narrow flight of steps which led to the ancient Stupa. At the top of the low hill, we stood facing a vast mound of crumbling earth with a 15-feet high brick wall around it. A recently offered orange robe Kapruk Poojawawas wrapped around the Stupa. As you reach the summit, you abruptly see the old ornate bell tower with elephant faces engraved on it.

The site is considered one of the most ancient Buddhist sites in Rambukkana. A parapet of bricks seems to contain it in place. There is an aged Bo-tree shrine. A statue of Theri Sangamiththa with a sacred Bo sapling in her hands has been erected in a glass structure on the compound of the Stupa. A few yards away from this lies an ancient shrine room. We peered into its dark and musty interior and found elaborate statues and paintings of the Buddha and other deities considered to have been renovated in the recent past. These are the ruins of the Kota Vehera at Deliwela, attributed to the period of King Devanampiyatissa during whose reign Buddhism came to Sri Lanka.

Pastoral village

Deliwela seems to be a prosperous pastoral village with bountiful paddy farming in Rambukkana. According to chronicles, Kota Vehera (Short Pagoda) is said to have been built by a minister of King Devanampiyatissa in 1st Century BC. When considering ancient Stupas of this kind in Sri Lanka, we come across a few places scattered around the country such as, Kota Vehera at Dedigama which is also in the Kegalle district. It is also called Suthigara Chaithya. The Udaganawa Chaitya at Buttala close to Wellawaya in the Moneragala district and the Kantaka Chaitya at Mihintale in the North Central Province are also well known. However, the Deliwela Kota Vehera is out of the ordinary because it has been carved out of a natural hill.

The monastic parasol complex at Deliwela is in a rural setting. The Pattirippuwa (the octagonal building) which is used to exhibit valuable finds from the site, together with a collection of rare Ola manuscripts is the predominant building belonging to recent times. The most interesting monument is the ancient stupa constructed over 100 feet above the level of the Vihara.

A resident bhikkhu at the temple greeted us during our visit to the temple. He was happy to talk to us about the history of the place. He offered to take us to see the ancient Stupa that the site was famous for and narrated the history of the place taking us to every nook and corner of the Vihara premises in around five acres of land on a hillock. We walked slowly around the Stupa under the shade of huge Bo-trees. It was around 11 am, the bright morning sun tinted the tops of the trees with luminous patches and dappled the carpet of green grass on which we walked.

Scholastic explorer, prominent archaeologist and the first Commissioner of Archaeology of Ceylon, H.C.P. Bell was one of the earliest visitors to the shrine in 1890. He left a brief note about the edifice describing it as having a circumference of 640 feet and rising to a height of 112 feet. After the passage of the Antiquities Ordinance, the shrine was declared a protected monument in 1948.

The discovery of a golden casket on February 4, 1957, 7-8 cm in height, resembling a miniature specimen of the Sanchi Stupa was a unique find. The antiquity of the site has been proved by the discovery of pre- Christian bricks with masonry marks in Brahmi letters and the discovery of a coin belonging to the pre-Christian era containing an impression of a seal.


More information about the Stupa surfaced in 1972 during excavations. The Department of Archaeology conserved the Stupa in 1979 as a structure preserving three masonry constructions at the base called Pesa Walalu.

The relic chamber of the Stupa was not located during the excavations. The Stupa conserved during 1972-79 collapsed in 1998 compelling the Department to undertake further excavations during the latter part of 2000. Details of the original structure of the Stupa were revealed. The basement of the Stupa had been on an elevated rock covered with slabs and mud with the outer covering made of bricks.

During recent excavations from the top to the basement reaching the living rock, eight relic chambers had been discovered. Each such chamber contained a miniature reliquary in gold, measuring 2-3 cm with a relic of the Buddha and filled with a large number of relics of Arahats deposited outside the golden casket and covered by a stone casket.

The discovery of the reliquary in 1957 and the subsequent discoveries of the golden reliquaries in excavations during the last quarter of 2000 prove that Deliwela is one of the earliest specimens of a Stupa enshrining the relics of the Buddha. The design of the reliquaries proves links with the Sanchi Stupa of India of 3rd Century BC and the religious contacts established by the great missionary Mahinda Thera during the days of King Devanampiyatissa (250-210 BC).

Golden casket

The Vihara had been constructed during the period of King Devanampiyatissa (250-210 BC). During recent excavations, a golden casket had been found deposited in a stone casket. The Vihara accommodates the Stupa, Bodhi-tree, shrine room and the residences of the monks. It has a history linking it with ‘Sanchi’, a shrine associated with King Ashoka, the Magadhan Emperor responsible for the despatch of Buddhist missionaries to Sri Lanka in 3rd Century BC.

It is believed that the bhikkhus who accompanied Mahinda Thera resided at the cave in Padavigampola and Dambulla-kande due to its association with King Walagamba. This place has been named Kele-Dambulla which is now a cave temple nestled in a scenic rock outcrop a few kilometres from Deliwela.

The fact that the Stupa was modelled on the ‘Sanchi’ style on the instructions of Mahinda Thera is confirmed by the design of the golden, crystal and stone caskets discovered during excavations.

The Vihara had been destroyed during an invasion, but later restored during Buddhist Renaissance in the Kandyan period. Due to the rare archeological finds and historical associations, Deliwela Kota Vehera is of unique historical and archaeological interest.