Nawagamuwa Pattini Devalaya
- (Sri Sugathabimbaramaya) -
Among the archaeologically significant sites in the Colombo District, Nawagamuwa Devale is important as a historic place of worship. Legend has it that the origin of this Pattini devale close to the Kelani river goes back to the early Anuradhapura period.
But, due to destruction by foreign forces and reconstruction over the years, little visible proof remains to confirm this belief. However, archaeological research has revealed several sites in the Nawagamuwa area to confirm that settlements in the area date back to a B.C. era.
When the early Aryan settlements were being established, Kelani river and Kelani thota were of importance. Nawagamuwa is located at the 13th milepost on the old Colombo - Ratnapura road. It is believed that during the early Anuradhapura period, Nawagamuwa belonged to the Kelani kingdom.
According to a popular legend, when King Gajaba 1 (A.D. 114 - 136) came from India with 12,000 men as prisoners, bringing with him a Pattini anklet, he alighted at the landing place close to the devale. It is said that he built a devale, enshrined the anklet and held poojas here. From then till the Kotte period no significant facts have been discovered about the site.
During the Kotte period, the area was known as Hewagam Korale, according to Rajavaliya. It is said that when Rajasinghe I fought the Portuguese forces at Mulleriyawa, his last camp was pitched here. After his victory, he named the area Hewagam Korale in gratitude to the Hewagama soldiers who came to his aid. During this period, it is said, Nawagamuwa was used as a jetty on the road connecting Colombo Fort with Malwana, Hanwella and Gurubebili. The Pattini Devale was then famed as the Pattini Kovil. The first historical mention of the Nawagamuwa Pattini Devale is found during the Kotte period. Mention is made in the 'Godagama Sannasa', made known by Buwanekabahu V (A.D. 1521 - 1580), of a royal decree for a gift of oil to be made for the Nawagamuwa Pattini Kovil perahera.
During the Sitawaka period too this area was historically important. It is noted that when King Mayadunne (A.D. 1521 - 1580) set out to fight the Portuguese in the Colombo Fort, he stopped on his way at the Nawagamuwa Pattini Devale to make a vow before he went to war. According to Portuguese reports, in 1550, the Portuguese king sent 600 troops to help King Buwanekabahu V. They clashed with King Mayadunne at Nawagamuwa. It is also recorded that in 1576, the Portuguese army destroyed Nawagamuwa Devale and established an army camp there. The devale was rebuilt by King Mayadunne only to be destroyed again by the Captain of the Colombo fort, leaving a pile of ruins.
Mr. A.E.L.Tillekewardene of the Archaeological Department says that according to popular beliefs and historical data, Nawagamuwa devale was known as a pilgrim site from the beginning of the 15th century. Excavations around the devale from time to time unearthed building materials, wells, Dutch coins and iron implements of the middle ages. North of the old devale at what was known as the old landing place, coins used during the Dutch period in Ceylon, 1554 - 1765, have been found. Old stone posts have been found discarded on some of the private properties in the vicinity. Signs that a pier or similar erection had existed on a large flat rock by the riverside, have also been uncovered. These archeological artifacts were discovered when construction work on a suspension bridge across the river was in progress. The Archaeological Department then stepped in and construction has been discontinued until further research on the site is carried out.
During recent research conducted in the Nawagamuwa Devale area, remains of several buildings of the Kotte period and some buildings of the 19th century have been identified. The Department has declared eight archeologically important sites as protected monuments to be conserved. These sites are the Viharaya or Pilimage, the monks' abode or Sanghavasaya, Galkanu devale, Maha Pattini Devale, Vishnu, Kataragama and Dedimunda devales and the grove of ancient Na trees, which is over 100 years old.
The oldest of the shrines is the Galkanu devale. It was a 'tampita' devale, which is built on four stone posts, Mr. Tillekewardene explained. The original stone posts still remain. It is believed by some to be the site of the original Pattini devale. A shrine was rebuilt by Katuwawala Sri Sumanatissa Himi, the chief priest of the temple during A.D. 1813 - 1928.
When Sri Sumanatissa Himi first came to Nawagamuwa he built a small cadjan thatched dwelling place or 'Awasaya' at 'Thanayamwatte', where the fruit stalls are now. This place was known as thanayamwatte because there had been a rest house for travellers there. The autobiography of the learned Kalukonduwawe Sri Pagnasekera Nahimi, who was a student of Shri Sumanatissa Himi, describes the temple constructions undertaken by his guru. According to this the old name of the devale was Sri Sudarsharamaya, which was later changed to Sri Sugathabimbaramaya. It was Sri Sumanatissa Himi who also constructed a permanent abode for the monks.
After constructing the Galkanu devale, Sri Sumanatissa Himi constructed the monks abode or Sanghavasaya and the Vihare or Pilimage in 1894. The Maha Pattini devale and the Dharma shalawa were constructed later.
The facade of the Sanghavasaya, an old 19th century British period building is unfortunately defaced by the construction of a nondescript extension.
The Vihara also of the same period is a beautiful old building with a stone entrance and characteristic architecture. The stone pillars in front are believed to have been from a temple destroyed during the Portuguese period. The moonstone at the entrance is of the post Kandy period. The large reclining Buddha statue and wall paintings are in the style of the Kandy period. There are also 'doratupala' figures or guard stones and a 'Makara thorana'.
The Maha Pattini devale, which is the main devale on the premises is also from the 19th century but the front section had been added more recently. A gold plated statue of the goddess Pattini is enshrined within. Outside the Maha devale, is an old 'Asana' stone, dating back to the Kotte period, which is not in its original setting. The other five shrines stand in a row.
Of these the Vishnu, Kataragama and Dedimunda devales are of the 19th century while Saman and Moratu devales have been constructed recently.
The Archaeological Department has declared these important sites protected monuments to be preserved for future generations. Architectural conservation of the buildings is also being undertaken to preserve them in their original style as far as possible. Extensions such as the one to the Sanghavasaya would not be permitted in future.
by Hiranthi Fernando
How to get there
Take the bus route number 143 from Pettah to Hanwella and passing 16 Km from Colombo (or 4 Km from Kaduwela junction) you could reach the Navagamuwa Sri Maha Paththini Develaya.
Nawagamuwe Pattini devale- Shrine steeped in Hindu-Buddhist folklore : Sunday Observer, 11 January 2004
Updated April 7, 2007