ultramarinus – beyond the sea

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RUVANVELISAYA STUPA, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, 2019.12.07

Day 3 (1 of 4).

At 400BC, the great thinker and religious teacher Gautama Buddha passed away.  His body was cremated and the ash was divided into eight portions given to eight different kingdoms as sacred relics.  During the reign of Ashoka the Great (268-232BC), relics of the Buddha was dug up and further subdivided into 84,000 portions.  Stupas were erected across the Indian subcontinent and Central Asia to house the relics.  As time went by, only a small number of relics remain in the original two-thousand-year-old stupas, while most have been transferred to different temples around the world along with the spreading of Buddhism.  Today, Buddhist relics can be found in many Asian countries, and even as far as in Russia and the United States.  As one of the earliest countries where Buddhism was introduced, Sri Lanka has some of the oldest stupas in the world.  Anuradhapura, the ancient capital of Sri Lanka where Buddhism first arrived at Ashoka’s time, was home to the oldest and grandest stupas, also called dagobas, in the nation.  While Buddhism in India has long declined, the religion continues to flourish in Sri Lanka until the present.  Today, a number of ancient stupas in Anurādhapura remain as popular pilgrimage sites for worshipers, just as they were 2000 years ago.

Built by King Dutugamunu in 137BC, Ruvanvelisaya is the stupa believed to house the largest amount of the Buddha’s relics anywhere in the world.  With a diameter of 300 feet and a height of about 350 feet, it was once one of the largest monuments in the ancient world.  As the nation’s political and cultural centre shifted away from Anurādhapura, the stupa fell into ruins during the Medieval time.  Restoration work of the great stupa began in early 20th century.  Since then, the stupa has once again become a religious and historical icon for the ancient capital.

01A short walk from our hotel brought us to the archaeological museum, a well established museum housed in the former district secretariat building.  We stayed briefly at the museum to learn a bit more about the history of the city and its famous stupas.  A museum staff was kind enough to show us around at a number of exhibition rooms.  Then we walked over to the ticket office adjacent to the museum to purchase our one-day cultural heritage tickets.

02After obtaining the cultural heritage tickets, we continued to head north to Ruvanvelisaya Stupa.

03Ruvanvelisaya Stupa was the most crowded stupa we visited in Anuradhapura.

04Before reaching the stupa, we arrived at glass building designated for candle and incense offerings.

05It was interesting to see so many worshipers dresses in white and dogs resting on the floor inside the candle offering building.

06Ruvanvelisaya’s famous elephant wall was originally built by King Dutugamunu’s brother Saddhatissa two thousand years ago.  It was said that the original 344 elephants were coated with gold dust.

07The actual stupa is washed in white paint, and wrapped at the base with a multi coloured band resembling the Buddhist flag of Sri Lanka.

08Around the stupa stand offering tables and stone counters.  Beautiful lotus flowers once again are the most popular offerings.

09Some worshipers prefer to leave their offerings at the base of the stupa.

10At each cardinal directions, a splendid shrine with Buddha’s figure known as vahalkada attract worshipers to leave offerings and chant prayers.

11Once again lotus flowers are the most popular offerings.

12Other than the white paint on the stupa and white clothing of worshipers, almost everything else is vivid in colours.

13Other than lotus flowers, rice and sweet good are also used as offerings.

14Somehow each worshipers would know where to place their flowers in order to create the fantastic flower patterns.

15It was hard to imagine how abundant lotus flowers are in the nation to allow so many worshipers to leave their offerings.

16At one end, we reached a small and crowded shrine.

17Inside the shrine there is a mini stupa protected by transparent partitions.

18Ruvanvelisaya was undergoing an extensive restoration.

19Before leaving, we passed by an area full of incense smoke and devoted worshipers.

20We left Ruvanvelisaya from the same path we came, where worshipers dressed in white continued to enter and pay their respect to the magnificent stupa.