Somawathiya - Dambulla
- Somawathiya - Where Royalty of Yore Once Trekked -
Travelling back home from the east of the island, we broke journey at Dambulla, at an interesting site still under excavation and restoration. The site is situated somewhat behind its more famous Dambulla Rangiri Raja Maha Viharaya, adjoining the Sri Valagamba Pirivena and is relatively unknown to the usual pilgrim and tourist to Dambulla.
Here the Somawathi Chaithiya dedicated to the queen of King Valagamba is still in the process of being rebuilt. Its vast brick mass looms incomplete up towards the blue skies. Around it is displayed an ancient ‘Siri Pathula’ stone and some stone alter slabs.
What is interesting here is that the old path to the Dambulla cave temple lies from this site. Called the ‘Raja Mawatha,’ it includes a flight of carved stone steps on the rock. On this rock are cut steps, trekked by the royals of yore, to worship at the Dambulla cave shrines above. Short records have been found cut into the sides of these rock steps. Some of these are by ancient kings. One such record that has been deciphered records that the ‘Lord of men, King Kutakanna Abhaya (41-19 BC) was responsible for making thirteen steps of the flight.’
Another interesting detail about this site is a Brahmi inscription found in a small cave at the bottom of the Dambulla rock, close to the Chaithiya. The inscription is believed to refer to this chaithiya. The inscription mentions the construction of the Chaithiya and the donation made to it by a monk named Sedadeva. Scholars deciphering it say that the first line reads: ‘Hail Thera Sedadeva, the disciple of Naga Mahadeva Thera constructed a Chetiya at Chatavana.’ On paleographic grounds the inscription has been dated to the first century AD.
Inferring from this inscription some scholars believe that Catavanaceta may then be the name of the chaithiya which has been traditionally associated as the Somawathiya. However, locally it seems the people have preferred to call it the Somawathiya.
It is also said of this chaithiya, that it was originally a square Stupa which had been converted into a platform and used later to erect a Stupa in the shape of a bubble over it.
It is believed that both these appear to be older than the 7th century AD. The entrance which served the Stupa when it was square had been unearthed in archeological excavations and has been preserved. There is evidence that the entrances connected with the Stupa have been made of bricks and stone. A flight of steps are found on either side in place of balustrades.
Behind the Chaithiya are some ruins identified as a ‘Poya Ge,’ or Convocation Hall and a ‘Bodhigara’. The four entrances to the Poya Ge are delicately pretty. The plain rectangular guard stones devoid of any elaboration except a mere projection at the top are witness to their antiquity. Likewise the simple semi-circular moonstone and balustrades without any elaborate carvings go to say that these buildings may have belonged to a very early architectural period.
It was evening and the setting sun dappled the desolate site; while the birds sang their last songs for the day. On one side the Dambulla rock rose 1118 ft. above sea level, heavily wooded with its relatively unknown caves. Buddhist monks of the pre and early Christian eras once lived side by side with its world famous caves of Buddhist iconography and paintings.
by Kishanie S. Fernando
February 13, 2007