About 8 miles from Trincomalee, on a path extending beyond the bound of the beautiful tank called Periyakulam (2 miles left just short of Milepost 6 on the Northcoast Road) is a Buddhist temple of unusual interest; Velgam Vihara, known to Hindus as Natanar Kovil.
Lying north-west of Trincomalee, it is close to Kinniyai. This ancient vihara dating back to the 2nd century was one of the few Buddhist sites that was not destroyed by the invading Cholas. Instead they called it Rajarajaperumpalli after their emperor Rajaraja and added their own structures and embellishments. When Vijaya Bahu seized the throne and installed himself as the sovereign of Lanka in the 11th century, Velgam Vihara was restored by him.
Within the walls of a broad prakara enclosing a huge area are several structures half covered by grass and shaded by trees. Dominating the centre is the tall stone Buddha statue.
Several entrances lead into the enclosure. There are brick dagobas with plain stone guardstones and plain moonstones. Scattered here and there are stone bowls, Tamil inscriptions, yantra galas and image houses. Two stone baths lay on the jungle side of the enclosure, one inside the walls and the other just outside the perimeter. Cut into the base of this bath are small grooves akin to stone waves to prevent slipping.
Steps leading out of the prakara head into the jungle-covered hill. On a rock upon this hill is an inscription by a commander of King Bhatiya Tissa II (142-168 AD) named Abhaya which records a vihara at the site was named Abhagara.
Welgam Vihara remains visually untouched by the strife that haunts the region. An LTTE camp lies close by. The Buddhist monks are still in occupation. Spectres of massacres haunt them and often the jungle is their refuge and fear is their constant companion.
by Anu Weerasuriya, September 2005
Added December 23, 2006