Lankapatuna Samudragiri Vihara steeped in history and legend | Sunday Observer

Lankapatuna Samudragiri Vihara steeped in history and legend

23 July, 2023
A panoramic view of the temple
A panoramic view of the temple

The Lankapatuna Vihara commonly known as the Lankapatuna Samudragiri Vihara in Trincomalee is one of the most ancient temples in Sri Lanka.

The temple is close to the ocean and also close to the historical port of Lankapatuna where Prince Dantha and Princess Hemamala set foot in Sri Lanka bringing the sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha in  the 4th century A.D.

This sacred site is surrounded by the sea from the East and by the Ullakkuliya lagoon from the West.

The temple, believed  to  have  been  built  near  the  entrance  of  the  port  for  the  worship  of  merchants  and  travellers, is  on  an  elevated  rock  that  sticks  out  of  the shoreline  of  the  Ullakkuliya lagoon.

If  you look around from  the  top  of  the  rock  where  the Dagaba  is,  your  eyes  will  catch a breathtaking scenery. 

The  area  is  now  called  “Ilankathurai”. The  legend  has   it  that the  Prince  Dantha  and  the  Princess   Hemamala  who  had  reached  the  place in the  evening  had   stayed  there performing poojas and  other  religious  rites with  the  help  of  the Brahmin  who  was  at  the  Giri  Devala  on  the  rock. In  the  following  morning, they  went  to  Anuradhapura  and handed  over  the  Sacred Tooth  Relic to  King  Kithsiri Mewan.

The Lankapatuna temple stood near the shores of Trincomalee for many years. Unfortunately, due to the  war  and  the  tsunami, some  important  historical  factors  and  landmarks  have  been  damaged. But the location still has a wonderful historical value. The ruins  of  an  ancient  dagaba, a  korawakgala,  a  pond  and  other  ruins  of  the  ancient  temple  are  still   visible.

Pura  Vidya  Chakrawarthi Ven. Ellawala Medhananda  Thera who  had  visited  the site in 1965 had  reported  about  the  ruins  scattered  at  the  place  including  the remnants  of  an  ancient Buddhist stupa  of  about  6  feet  tall. The Thera has stated about the  destruction  caused  to  the  sacred  site by  terrorist  activities  in  his  book  titled “Buddhist Heritage  in  the  Eastern  Province.

As the old bridge was destroyed by terrorists and a 150-metre new  bridge  was  constructed  in  2019,  the  temple  was  renovated  and  a  new  stupa  was constructed  to  replace  the  one  which  had  fallen  into  ruins.

A flight of stairs  belonging to  the  Anuradhapura   period was  discovered  through  excavations at the site.

According to historical  records,  the  sacred  site  had  been  discovered  in  1940  by Ven. Dambagasare Sri  Sumedhalankara Nayaka Thera  and the  foundation  stone  for  a Sangawasa  for  the bhikkhus  had  been  laid   in 1982 under  the  guidance  of  Chief  Sangha  Nayaka  of   the  Eastern  Province Ven. Seruwila Saranakiththi Thera. Chief  Incumbent  of  the  temple Ven. Bandarawela Sumedha  Thera said that it has been  revealed that  several  buildings had  been  built  at  this  site  for  bhikkhus  during  the Anuradhapura  era.

Sea beach with a lagoon

Other than the temple site, there are several features that are touristically important. The beautiful sea beach with a lagoon is a paradise for tourists. The beach with mild sand, the vegetation which is endemic to the area create an elegant view. The small thicket on which the temple is situated is also very unique. Those who visit the place can also visit more sacred places such as Somawathiya temple and Sri Palamugar Hindu Kovil and foul point of the light house.

The remaining ruins of this site are being researched by the archaeologists who believe them to be historically and culturally important.

Chief Incumbent of the temple Ven. Sumedha Thera said, “We developed  this  sacred  site  with dedication  and  the  assistance of  the Sri Lanka Army  and the Navy. The  pilgrims  too  have  helped  us  in numerous  ways  for  this  worthy cause. We built a resting hall for pilgrims.”