More than 2100 years old, Mirisawetiya is one of the most ancient Dagabas in Sri Lanka . Built by the great king Dutugemunu, this Maginficant Structure is a must see for any visitor to the sacred city of Anuradhapura .
It is believed that the great king Dutugemunu made many wishes here that have come true during his lifetime.
King Dutugemunu built it as a Dagoba of the “Mahavihara” fraternity but as the monks started living there, it sees that Mirisawetiya developed as a separate monastery.
However it is believed that it would have functioned as a monastery belonging to the Mahavihara Fraternity.
Several Kings, at different intervals made renovations to the Dagaba. Among them are King Gajabahu 1 (112-134 AC), and King Voharika Tissa (214-236 AC).
King Gajabahu 1: Put a new coating on Mirisawetiya
King Voharika Tissa: Restored the umbrella of the Dagoba and rebuilt a wall around the Dagaba)
The stupa and other buildings needed restoration after the Chola invasion and it is said that King Kassapa V (914-923 AC) did the restoration.
King Kassapa V also is said to have built a massive mansion called “The Chandana Prasada”, adjoining the Temple to house the scared hair relic (keshadathu), which was supposed to have been brought to Sri Lanka during the time of King Moggalana (495-513 AC)
The Dagaba was again damaged by the recurrent Chola invasions and it is said that King Parakaramabahu 1(1153-1186 AC) did a comprehensive restoration and built the stupa to a height of 120 feet.
The last recorded renovations around that period were done by King Nissankamalla (1187-1196 AC).
The Creator of Mirisawetiya
Mirisawetiya was built by the great King Dutugemunu who reigned during the time (161-137 BC) and united Sri Lanka under a single flag.
The occasion that lead to the creation of Mirisawetiya.
It is believed that King Dutugemunu had a sceptre that contained a scared relic of the Buddha. While going to the tank ‘Tissawewa’, for a water festival, the King has planted the scepter in a certain place. When he came back, it is said that his men could not remove the sceptre from the place.
Witnessing the miracle, the King decided to build a dagaba enclosing the scepter. Thus was the creation of Mirisawetiya.
The significance of the sceptre is the fact that this was the king’s “victory sceptre” for his battles with Elara, and by building the Dagaba around it shows the tremendous dedication that the King had for Buddhism and his spirituality.
Mirisawetiya was the first dagaba built by the great king Dutugemunu.
Why the name ‘Mirisawetiya’ was give
One theory is this. It is a custom among Buddhists whenever food is partaken, some of it is symbolically offered to the holy monks. In Sinhala, ‘Mirisaweitiya’ comes from ‘Miris-Wetiya’, which means a pod of Chillie.
It is rumored that the King once forgot to offer a pod of chillie to the Monks before eating . As a token of apology, it is said that the King named the Dagaba Mirisawetiya.
Another theory is that ‘Mirisawetiya‘ is the ancient name of the village on which the dagoba was built (Ref: “Ancient Anuradhapura by Prof. Anuradha Seneviratna”).
The Dagaba’s Period of Ruin.
The next centuries saw the complete disintegration of the dry zone civilization which lead to the shifting of the Rajarata Kingdom . For the next seven hundred years, the Dagaba lay in ruins.
When the Englishman Henry Parker saw the Mirisawetiya in 1873, he saw nothing but a mound covered with large trees and tangled undergrowth. Anuradhapura‘s first government agent J.F Dixon , with the help of Mr Smither, first cleared the area surrounding the Dagaba. In the process Smither examined the dagaba and found a magnificent ?Vahalkada?(frontpiece) and measured the dagaba at a height of 200 feet. At that time they found an image house to the west of the Dagaba. Later on Dixon became the president of the Royal Asiatic Society’s Ceylon Branch and with the help of a Rs. 1000 donation from the Society, enabled excavations around the Dagaba under the supervision of Mr Burrow.
The unparallel artistic value of the “Vahalkada” is said to be the main reason that so much notice was taken of Mirisawetiya.
During the excavations they hoped to find image houses similar to what they found on the Western side, on the other three sides too . However, when they found that the image house on the eastern side was destroyed, they got discouraged and stopped the work.
Excavations started again in 1883 and at that time they found the ruins of two image houses in the northern and southern sides of the dagaba.
Using a grant obtained from the King of Siam (Now Thailand),for Rs. 12,500, a renovation was begun in 1888 but could not be completed.
The construction stopped in 1896 for the lack of funds and what one would see until 1980 , as Mirisawetiya (The half Dagaba), is what that existed when work stopped in 1896.
The Famous Collapse of the 1980 Renovation
Another restoration attempt was made in 1980 through a construction enclosing the old structure. This construction suddenly collapsed even destroying the famous Vahalkada”. The collapse followed wide media coverage and a public outcry which even embarrassed the then government of Sri Lanka . There were even theories that this was a sign displaying the ‘Non-Buddhist governance’ of the then government.
The famous collapse occurred the day before the Poson Poya Day in June 1987. The day before the scheduled opening ceremony. The collapse occurred immediately as the Pirith chanting started in the all night Pirith Ceremony leading to the opening ceremony triggering theories of a “curse of the gods”.
The Successful Restoration in the 1990s
Restoration was again started under the leadership of former President R Premadasa. The successful completion of the renovation was noted in 1993 and the Dagaba was ceremonially opened on Poson Poya Day in 1993.
Under the dynamic leadership of the head monk Ven. Eathalwetunawewe Gnathilake Thera, who was responsible for many of the developments in the last 10 years, Mirisawetiya today, is a must to see for any traveler to Anuradhapura.
How to get to Mirisawetiya
(It is a bit difficult to find your way around Anuradhapura (which is rumored to have the largest number of roundabouts in the country and they all look alike!), and the fact that some roads are now closed for security reasons does not make it any easier)
From Colombo , take the Kandy Road up to Abeypussa: turn to Kurunegala Road : go past Kurunegala, past Dambulla to Anuradhapura and enter the Main street. Right now, with the security measures closing roads, the best way to go is keep going down main street untill you come to “D.S roundabout” (next to the police). Take a right turn at this roundabout and keep going . At some point the road will fork and the left turn goes to isurumuniya so take the right fork. As you keep going, you will pass the turnoff to the Sri Maha Bodhi. Keep going straight and you will come to another junction. Keep going straight and eventually you will see the Mirisawetiya dagaba on your right.
You will see the house of the high priest and other priests on your left.
Visitors are requested to pay a visit to the high priest whom you will find very approachable and dynamic.
The Magnificent Vahalkada that we lost and then Regained
When the Englishman Parker saw Mirisawetiya for the first time he was not impressed. All he saw was a mound of trees and tangled undergrowth. Then why take an interest well, it was the discovery of the famous western frontpiece (Vahalkada) which motivated them to continue. They say that the Mirisawetiya Vahalkada is the best of them all and is the most beautiful and the most well preserved of all Dagabas.This Vahalkada won the praise and admiration of many art historians and archeologists and is regarded as an earliest display of Sinhala Art.
Unfortunately this most admired , acclaimed and most preserved pieces of art, the Vahalkada (frontpiece) of Mirisawetiya was destroyed during the collapse of the renovation in 1987 (How ironic it is !, surviving for over 2000 years under intense invasion plundering and the assault of the Weather and treasure hunters, the vahalkada collapsed in the 20th century with all the modern experts around and with all the latest technology in hand !).
The Monastery is the place where the monks of the temple reside in. Usually monasteries in ancient Anuradhapura temples consist of clusters, each containing five units. A singular feature in the Mirisawetiya is the fact that its monastery consists of clusters, each of which contains three units instead of five.
It is believed that thousands of monks who obtained the highest mind state of ?Arahat? lived in this monastery and Mirisawetiya . Among these ruins you can also see the earliest appearances of the moonstones in Buddhist Temples.
This type of monastery belongs to the type known as “Royal Monasteries”. Below is the Monastic Plan of the Mirisawetiya Temple. Notice the unique resident clusters , each of which contains three units instead of the traditional five (Panchavasa)
The Dana Sala
A ‘Dana Sala’ is the place where the resident monks were offered their meals and this can be seen in the northern side of the Mirissawetiya.
The Rice Boat
Close to the ‘Dana Sala’, you can still see an old rice boat in which, rice offered to the monks who were living in the monastery. People in the area used to make rice and porridge in the morning and would then put them into the boat where the monks would partake them from.
The Ruins of the Chapter House
A chapter house (also known as “Uposathagara”) is an essential building in any monastery. “Patimokka” is recited by the priests there every fortnight and also other acts of “Vinaya” (Discipline) are conducted at the Chapter House. Chapter Houses were also used as residences for monks. Anuradhapura boasts of spectacular Chapter Houses such as the “Lohapasada” which was supposed be nine storeys tall.
Mirisawetiya Dagaba Plan
A visit to the Museum is a must for any serious visitor to the sacred city. Among other things, here you can see a ‘plan’ of the Mirisawetiya Dagaba dating back to 8 th Centaury AC.