Katugahagalge Rajamaha Viharaya a monastery for the past 2,300 years
Tuesday, 14 January 2014 00:01
Text and Pix by P.D. De Silva
A cave inscription found at Katugahagalge Raja Maha Viharya in Buttala a few months ago states that the cave was an offering by a person known as Vidisa. Historians from the Department of Archaeology date the writing to the time of Devanampiya Tissa the seventh king of Lanka who reigned from 307BC to 267BC. There is evidence that renovations have taken place during the reigns of King Dutugemunu (161BC to 137BC) and King Valagamba (103BC to 77BC). The inscriptions on the granite pillar nearby dates back to the reign of King Nissankamalla (Kalinga Lankeswara) (1187AD to 1196AD) the 136th king of Lanka. Hence it is believed that these caves at Katugahagalge Viharya have been occupied for the most part of 2300 years by Arahats, Buddhist clergy and hermits.
The Katugahagalge Raja Maha Viharaya comprises of many caves, the ruins of an ancient stupa which is said to date back to the Anuradhapura era, a stupa and a shrine room built subsequently a few hundred years ago. There are a few inscriptions which have been discovered but there is much more of the rich heritage and history of our fore fathers to be uncovered in the future.
The turn off to this ancient temple is situated six kilometres away from Buttala on the Badalkumbura road (B35) and borders the Katugahagalge irrigation tank. The location could be described as in keeping with the ancient theme Tank – Stupa, Village and Temple.
“The Katugahagalge RajaMaha Viharaya was vandalised by treasure hunters,” lamented Venerable Mapakada Pemarathne, chief incumbent priest of the temple. “The reclining statue of Lord Buddha which was broken has been restored now. The Chief Minister for Uva Province, Shashindra Rajapaksha has taken a special interest in the restoration work and developing the temple. The Honorable speaker Chamal Rajapakse once told me that there was a walking stick at their ancestral home ‘Meda Mulana Waluwa’ which was a gift to his late father by Ven Amitha sara the chief incumbent of the temple from 1912 to 1968,” he added.
Folk lore states that Therapuththabaya one of the ten giants in King Dutugemunu’s army was a novice priest at this temple prior to serving the king. There is a tale that the giant Gotaimbara who had the strength of ten elephants, got himself intoxicated by consuming seven pots of toddy at the nearby village of Muthukeliyawa. On seeing the cool rock outcrop he decided that this was the ideal place to slumber. After feasting on the kernel of young coconut which he had picked by shaking a few coconut trees, he lay down and continued to disturb the peace and calm with his merry making and muttering.
The chief priest of the temple was away at the time and Therapuththabaya who was the senior novice monk (Samanera) is said to have ordered the miscreant to leave the temple premises.
But as the request was not heeded and Gotaimbara continued his muttering which irked Theraputhtabaya, who is said to have gripped the trouble makers toe with his toes and dragged Gotaimbara to the edge of the rock outcrop and flung him off it.
A villager who had witnessed the incident had reported it to King Kavantissa who sent emissaries to invite Therapuththabaya to serve in the king’s army.
He is said to have agreed on the promise that he be allowed to continue his meditation after King Elara was defeated and sovereignty restored in the country.
There is another outcrop of rock which has a few more caves bordering Medalanda Eco Resort which is about two kilometres away from Katugahagalge Viharaya. There is evidence of an underground tunnel at both these sites and it is to be investigated if the two were interconnected and if so if the tunnel passed beneath the Katugahagalge tank.