Abhayagiri stupa belongs to the aramic complex of Abhayagiri Viharaya which was constructed in the reign of King Vattagamini Abaya (commonly known as King Valagamba) in the 1st Century BC.
Today, the main attraction of this site is massive Abayagiri Stupa which stands at 235 feet (72 metres) to the tip of the damaged spire. It is the second largest stupa in the island today. According to the 5th century traveler Chinese monk Fa-Hsien's descriptions, this stupa has been 400 feet (122 metres) in height and has been decorated with gold and silver and studded with all kinds of jewels. There also has been a 20 foot (6.1 metres) high Buddha statue made out of green jade.
This monument is carries a special importance in ancient Sri Lankan Stupas as the top portions of the original stupa (known the “hatharas kotuwa”) still survives after thousand years of negligence, giving a glimpse to what it would have looked like thousand years ago.
Today there is a massive effort by the archeological department to restore this stupa to its original glory without destroying the archeological value. The work has been painstakingly slow due to the lack of funds. As you can see in the pictures, the stupa is still covered by grass and trees grown on it which more like a mound of earth.
The story of the birth of this aramic complex is very interesting. According to the hronicles, soon after the king Vattagamini Abaya ascended to the throne in 109 BC, a Tamil invasion took place. The new king unable to withstand the attack, was retreating from the capital. At this time a Jain monk was residing in the area which Abhayagiri stands today. When the king was passing this area the Jain monk named “Geri” shouted insultingly “Lo the great black Sinhala king is in flight”. The king ignored this comment but when he came back to Anuradhapura after 14 years after defeating the invaders, he has not forgotten this incident. The king razed this hermitage to the ground and built a massive stupa and 12 buildings and offered it to Mahathissa Thero. The stupa was named by coining the two rivals names “Abaya” (The kings name) and “Geri” (The Jain monk) – The “Abayagiri”
Later, this vihara became a rival to Mahavihara. Mahaviharians were followers of pure “Theravada Buddhism” and the priests at the Abayagiri were open to more ideas and followed principles of both Theravada and Mahayana teachings.
Abhayagiri Dagoba one of the oldest monastic complexes of Anuradhapura - Daily Mirror, July 25, 2005
Photos before restoration from www.imagesofceylon.com
February 5, 2012