BUDDHISM IN ANCIENT JAFFNA (revised)
Posted on January 21st, 2018

KAMALIKA PIERIS

(Revised January 2018).

According to the Mahavamsa, the Buddha’s second visit was to ‘Nagadipa’ to settle a quarrel between Chulodara and Mahodara over the possession of a gem-studded throne.  Mahavamsa records many Buddhist shrines at ‘Nagadipa.’ ‘Nagadipa’ is one of the Solosmastana, the 16 places of worship to which Buddhists go on pilgrimage.

Paul. E. Pieris researched into the location of ‘Nagadipa’. He found that the main embarkation point to north India in ancient times was ‘Jambukola’ in ‘Nagadipa’. From Jambukola it took seven days to get to Tamralipti, a port at the mouth of the Ganges. Jambukola therefore had to be in the Jaffna peninsula.   Up to the end of the 17th century, Jaffna was an island separated from the mainland by a narrow strip of water. It was known as Nagadipa. It was linked to the mainland only in the 18 century, said Vinnie Vitarana.

Pieris read a paper before the Royal Asiatic Society, Ceylon Branch, saying that ‘Nagadipa’ was the name given to the Jaffna peninsula and its islands. John M Senaveratne who was present at the talk said that Pieris has ‘confirmed for us what was for long suspected and indicated’ by B. Horsburgh and J.P.Lewis, that Jaffna was a part of the ancient Sinhala Buddhist civilization.  The paper was published as ‘Nagadipa and Buddhist remains in Jaffna’ (1917). The Vallipuram gold plate, found around 1936, settled the matter. It confirmed that ‘Nakadiva’ was the ancient name for Jaffna.

Jaffna was a part of the Sinhala Buddhist civilization.  Devanampiyatissa had built several viharas at Jambukola. Mallaka naga had founded Sali pabbata vihara and Aggabodhi I built the relic house, Rajayatana.    Mahavamsa also records that Mangala vihara was restored by Dhatusena, Vijayabahu I repaired Jambukola vihara and Voharaka tissa built walls around the vihara named Tissa.  Kanitta tissa   had repaired a temple at Nagadipa

Evidence of this Buddhist civilization emerged during British rule. A stone image of the Buddha about 8 feet in height was unearthed near Vishnu temple in Vallipuram, in 1903, together with ruins of buildings, pottery and coins.  The statue was kept in the lumber room of the temple.  J.P.Lewis, then Government Agent, Jaffna, placed it in the Old Park at Jaffna.  Another image of the Buddha found at Chunnakam was also placed there. In 1906, the Vallipuram Buddha was presented by Governor, Sir Henry Blake, to the King of Siam who was particularly anxious to have it, owing to its antiquity. It is now in Bangkok.

Paul. E. Pieris   traveling by train to Jaffna in 1913 had spotted an interesting mound at Chunnakam. He investigated it and found it to be a dagoba. It was the first dagoba to be found in Jaffna. Then he excavated at Kantarodai (Kadurugoda), six miles southwest of Kankesanturai, adjoining Uduvil.

At Kantarodai, he found a vast area containing mounds of dagobas and several badly destroyed Buddha images. A Buddha image of ‘heroic size’ was found abandoned, in sections, in a field.   Another large   Buddha statue measured nearly five and a half feet across the shoulders and weighed nearly three quarters of a ton.  The size indicated ‘the high degree of sanctity once attached to this place’. There was evidence of a huge building complex. One building had a floor area of fifty six feet by thirty six. A religious establishment of great importance had been established here, said Pieris. It had extended on to the adjoining lands as well. The complex was within a shout’s distance of Uduppili tank.

Kantarodai appeared to be a miniature Anuradhapura buried in Tamil country”, said Pieris. No attention had been paid to this complex and instead it was getting systematically erased. The villagers were regularly removing stones from the site to use for other purposes. The materials and images were used as doorsteps, stepping stones, aids for washing at wells and for Hindu worship. Pieris found a large fragment of the torso of what must have been at one time a gigantic stone statue, being used at a well for washing clothes. Pieris renovated some of the dagobas . Total cost was Rs 100.

Pieris (1917) noted that Kantarodai, Uduvil and Chunnakam are in the centre of an extensive Buddhist ‘chunk’ located in the Valikamam division. Valikamam is ‘Weligama”. A chain of other Sinhala place names, like Tellipalam, Vimankam, Chunnakam and Kokuvil can be seen in the division, going up to Kankesanturai, said Pieris .

John M Senaveratne (1917) said that Vallipuram should also be investigated. There seems to be another centre of Buddhism there. Vallipuram had sand heaps with masses of broken blocks extending 3 miles in length.  Ceylon Observer (14.October 1949) noted that Buddhist remains were found at Delft  and that Pieris had  discovered a remarkably fine image of the Buddha at Makayappiddi, in the courtyard of the Meenachchi Amman Temple.

In 1982 M. H. Sirisoma, Asst. Commissioner of Archaeology,   compiled a map of places of archaeological interest in the north and east. The following places in the Jaffna peninsula were listed.  It could be safely assumed, I think, that these were a part of the Buddhist civilization of the ancient period. The places shown on the map are Allaipitti,   Chummakam, Delft, Gotamaluwawatta (  Kattupulam) Kadurugoda, Kilinochchi.  Oddiyawattai, Mahaiyapitti,    Mallakam,  Nagadeepaya,  Nagaviharaya, Nilavarai, Puloli,  Puttur  , Sambiliturai ( Jambukolapatuna) Uduvil,   Urutiruputam,  Vallipuram,  Vavunikulam,   Viralai, and   Waddumakaddu,

E.T. Kannangara in his book Jaffna and the Sinhala heritage (1984) has provided a list of the places in the Jaffna peninsula where Buddhist remains have been found in modern times. Several Buddha images were found at Puttur. Some were in Dhiyana mudra, one was 8 ft tall.  Remains of a dagoba and Buddha statue were found at Mahiyapiti.  Buddha images, shrine and yantra gala were found at Mallakam.  Buddha image, moonstone, door frame, pillars and three mounds of earth were found at Vavunikulam.

A Buddha image and dagoba was found at Koddiyawattai, a hamlet in Chunnakam. Buddha image was found in the village of Navakiri at Nilavarai. A Buddha footprint   was found at Puloli, two miles from Point Pedro.    Remains of dagobas have been found at Nilavari,   Tellipali  Uduvil  and Uruthirupuram. There is evidence of a Buddhist vihara in Keerimalai.  Buddhist ruins were also found at Anakottai,  Chulipuram    and Uruthirupuram. Vallipuram contained old bricks, foundations of buildings, damaged Buddha images, ruins of a Buddhist vihara and a place named ‘sakkawattai’, said Kannangara.

Kannangara stated that place names also showed that Jaffna had been Buddhist. Places named Sakkavattai (sangha watta) are found at Kankesanturai, Mawatapuram and the adjacent villages. Until the 1980s a hamlet close to Tellippalai was known as ‘Buddha Walauwwa’. Puttur is ‘Budugama’. ‘Ur’ means village in Tamil . .There is ‘Gothamaluwawatta’ about a quarter mile from Ponnalai.  There is ‘Pinwatte’  and also ‘Buddhawattai’ close to Kantarodai.

Kannangara says that there were Buddhist temples on the sites of some present day kovils.  Kandasamy kovil at Nallur was earlier a Buddhist shrine with an altar for Skanda.  Buddha images were found quarter mile from this kovil. The Hindu kovil at Mawatupuram, a village near Kankesanturai, was earlier Mawatupura vihara. An ancient Buddhist vihara near the 9th mile post along Jaffna-Karaingar road across Manipay is now a Hindu kovil.

Ven. Ellawela Medhananda  explored the Buddhist monuments of Jaffna Peninsula, starting in 1978. He   said that Valipuram,  known earlier  as Valipura, had been a flourishing town. The evidence is in the massive wall encircling the whole area of the ruins, running more than a mile towards the North east. Most of the Buddhist ruins are now buried under the Vishnu kovil that has been built on top of these Buddhist ruins.

Ven.  Medhananda   found that the following places contained Buddhist ruins: Accuveli, Analutivu,  Anei kottai,Ariyalei,  Buddha valavva, Buddhatotttm, Culipuram,  Cunnakam, Delft, Elvativu,   Gotamaluva watta,  Araitivu,  Kodiyavatta, Mahiyapiddi, Mallakam ,Manipai, Aratamadam ,Mavaddiputam, Nagacca kovil  area,  Nagarkovil,  Nainativu, Nallur , Nilavarai, Pinvatta, Ponnalai, Puloli, Punarin,  Punkudutivu, Puttur, Sambiliturai,  Telippali, Tenavali, Tiruadiniilei, Tisamalei, Tondamannar, Tunukai,  Uduppidi, Uduvil, Uratota, Vadukkode, Vakaveli, Valikanam, Valvetiturai and  Vangane.

Kantarodai, known earlier as Kadurugoda has received much attention. Three acres of the Kantarodai complex were  declared an archaeological reserve and excavated further. Some stupas had been renovated in 1975 and 1976. D.G.B de Silva (2002) stated that the complex would have extended well beyond the three acres recovered. . The available stupas, which have not been precisely recorded, are clearly only a part of the total number of stupas in the original complex.   The stupas are different to the usual stupas and merit closer examination He saw some similarity between Kantarodai and Borobudur and asked could Kantarodai have been a centre for Tantric (Vajrayana) Buddhism?

Ven. Medhananda had  visited Kadurugoda in 1977. The site was bisected, he said. The Uduvil Kantarodai main road runs in between. There are more ruins  outside these boundaries too,  in coconut and talipot palm groves.  An area of about  50 acres can be said to contain ancient Buddhist   ruins, he said. Ven. Medhananda looked at the  literary  evidence  and decided that Kadurugoda was a part of a religious complex known as Nagavehera. He thinks that all these stupas were  around one important central monument. He was told by his informant that this site had earlier been known as  ‘Rajayatana cetiya’

Ven. S. Dhammika (2007) observed that the pinnacles found at Kantarodai indicate that there would have been many more stupas than the ones seen today. Today, there are   only 20 complete stupas. The largest stupa is about 23 feet in diameter and the smallest about 6 feet. The base of each stupa is made of coral stone moulded into four bands and the domes are made of coral rubble coated with plaster fashioned to look like blocks of stone. The hamikas and spires are made of stone, with the pinnacle fitting into a hole in the hamika. The site had been in use from about the 2nd century BC to about the 13th century AD.

Historians see a bleak future for the Buddhist ruins of Jaffna. Nearly all the Buddhist remains in the Jaffna peninsula have now disappeared, due to neglect, pilfering or deliberate destruction, said Ven.  Dhammika.  The extensive ruins at Chunnakam, with stupa, monastery and several large Buddha images were not there now.,  Most of the Buddhist religious sites have vanished   from Jaffna, said Ven. Medhananda in 2005.

D.G.B. de Silva (2002) said that even after Kantarodai was declared an archeological reserve, some stupas disappeared and others are in ruins. Ven. S Dhammika (2007) pointed out that there were only 20 complete stupas now at Kantarodai. Ven. Medhananda re-visited Kandarodai in 2001. It was much changed, he said.  The site had been encroached on all sides, new houses had been built.

Today, Jaffna is not known as ‘Nagadipa’ but as ‘Yalpanam’. The name ‘Nagadipa’, tamilised to ‘Nainativu’,   is now given to a small islet, 2 by 1 ½ miles wide, adjoining the Jaffna peninsula.   This islet is smaller than Delft, Karaitivu or Kayts. Buddhist pilgrims are today, worshipping happily in this small, insignificant island, away from the mainland, accessible only by boat.  E.T .Kannangara (1984) observed that the meeting between Chulodara and Mahodara would not have been on such a small islet when the Jaffna peninsula was within easy reach. Jaffna is the largest of the islands and the one closest to the mainland.

Nainativu had no historical buildings whatsoever when I, then a schoolgirl, visited in the 1950s with my parents.   It only had a small temple which definitely was not ancient.  There was  nothing of archaeological interest there either. There was just one priest. No worshippers either on that day. The deliberate transfer of the ‘solosmastana’ location to a remote island may have taken place during British rule, since the British wanted to turn Jaffna into a Tamil settlement. On the other hand the transfer may have taken place during Pandya rule in Jaffna. That would will tally with the date of 13th century given to Kandarodai.

Buddhists must insist, without delay, that Jaffna be given back its original name ‘Nagadipa’. Jaffna must now replace Nainativu in the list of   ‘solosmastana’ and facilities must be provided for Buddhists to worship in Jaffna on a ‘solosmastana’ pilgrimage. The Nainativu temple should be relocated to Jaffna and the worship conducted there. Buddhists should have asked for this long ago.  They must not delay any longer.  The Maha sangha, particularly he Mahanayakes of Malwatte and Asgiriya, must take this matter immediately.

One Response to “BUDDHISM IN ANCIENT JAFFNA (revised)”

  1. Ancient Sinhalaya Says:

    Click the following link to see how the traitor tamils slowly tamilsed jaffna.
    http://jaffnahistory.com/Northern_Province/Sinhala_Villages_of_Jaffna_1695.html.

    Before the dutch brought tamils to work in tobacco plantations in the north, there was 0 tamils in those areas. Of
    course colonials didn’t care about the natives and did everything to please their labour force since they wanted
    more profit from the plundering. Then after
    independence successive governments didn’t look after the Sinhalese living in those areas to please tamils for their
    support and gradually most of the Sinhalese left those areas. Then slowly slowly tamils tamilised those areas. All
    the Sinhalese names changed to tamil. Tamils knew Sinhalese are divided thanks to traitor catholic run UNPatriotic
    party, the tamilisation of those areas went on without any hindrance. After all that’s what the UNPatriotic party
    wanted. But Sinhala modayas never understood and still don’t understand these Buddhism destroying, Sinhalese-
    murdering UNPatriotics murderous (Sinhalese only please) are slowly but surely digging the grave for the
    Sinhalese Buddhists.

    In this day and age it is difficult to comprehend these followers of religions of conveniences still hell bent on
    destroying the only true religion, Buddhism, in the world. Earth’s size is a grain of sand in the vast universe. Then
    how did these god(s) of those religions managed to spot ‘the grain of sand’ missing all these other big planets. Ok,
    say he found the ‘grain of sand’ then why did he create different looking people? He went to every country and created different different looking people or like Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution creatures evolved to fit the
    environment. All the people who have been to school accept that is to be true. Then where this god going to fit in
    this scientific age? We have to fit him otherwise he is going to punish us. Doesn’t make sense, does it? God is
    supposed to be good guy. So if he punishes people, he is going to be the baddest of all and going to lose his job.
    Another problem. How is he going to keep track all the guys in the universe? A few more facts: Universe is so vast
    no scientist know where the boundaries are. Distances are measured in light years! Not miles folks. Light travels
    at 186,000 miles per second. Don’t use your calculator to work out the distances. It will break! So god created this?
    Too many holes in the gods theory and you can never find a god in any museum in the world. Why? Museums
    are all science, not fiction. Local library for fiction!

    So these followers of religions of conveniences which don’t regard killing, lying, stealing, drugs abuse, sexual misconduct (Buddhism’s five precepts) etc as sin while all the honest people do, including all the law courts under the sun. So these followers of religions of conveniences going down a wrong path accrue a lot of sins and won’t
    be two legged creatures in their next lives. Good for Mother Lanka! At least they should stop destroying the only true religion in the world and do a bit of good karma to better their next lives.

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