Джетавана Дагоба (Jetavanaramaya)


Jetavana monastery, Jetavana stupa, Jetavana Museum and ruins are located east of the Ruwanweliseya Stupa (Ruwan Weli Saye) at Anuradhapura.

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Following king Jettha Tissa’s death his brother Mahasena was consecrated as king by monk Sanghamitta, under the monk’s influence king Mahasena brought about a campaign against Orthodox Theravadins dwelling in the mahavihara. The differences between the Theravadins and Mahayanins escalated to an extent to which a penalty was established to any person providing alms to monks dwelling in the mahavihara. The Mahavamsa quotes Sanghamitta: «The dwellers in the Mahavihara do not teach the (true) vinaya, we are those who teach the (true) vinaya, O king».

The Mahavihara was eventually abandoned. The monks dwelling at the premises moved to Malaya Rata and Ruhuna, this followed by the pillaging of Mahavihara by Sanghamitta and minister Sona, all valuable were transferred to Abhayagiri vihāra. The pillaging prompted a rebellion by minister Meghavannabhaya, the minister raised an army from Malaya and set camp by the Duratissaka tank. King Mahasena marches an army to meet minister Meghavannabhaya, where negotiations ensue the night before the battle and the king apologizes for the pillaging and agrees to build a vihara at the grounds of Mahavihara, the Mahavamsa quotes the king: » will make the vihara to be dwelt in yet again; forgive me my fault». Sanghamitta was assassinated by a laborer on the instructions of a wife of the king, following his demise and the construction of parivena by Meghavannabhaya marked the return of monks to the site of Mahavihara.

Thus the construction of Jetavanaramaya began and offered to the monk Tissa, but the monk was accused of a grave offense upon investigation and proof by a minister, monk Tissa was disrobed and expelled from the order. The dakkinagiri monks were then entrusted with the premises of Jetavana Vihara.

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Design and construction

Carving of a Nāgaraja (see Nāga)

As the largest ancient stupa constructed and one of the tallest ancient structures in the world, the structural ingenuity and engineering skills employed for the construction are significant. The foundations of the structure were 8.5m deep and the size of the structure required bricks which could withstand loads of up to 166 kg. The solid foundation lay on bed-rock and the dome was constructed of full and half bricks and earth fill, the unique shape of a perfect ellipsoid allowed for stress and thus allowed the construction of the large structure. The Mahavamsa describes the foundation laying, where fissures were filled with stones and stamped down by elephants whose feet were protected with leather bindings. The bricks used for the construction were a significant development of ancient Sri Lankan engineering, the bricks used for Jetavanaramaya had a composition of 60 percent fine sand and 35 percent clay, the bricks could withstand 281 kg/in2. Linear elastic finite element analysis under self weight produced a maximum compressive stress of 839 kPa at the bottom centre, thus the maximum stress in the dome is ten times less than what the bricks could withstand.

Finely crushed dolomite, limestone, sieved sand and clay provided the bonding material for the bricks. The clay employed was pliable and thus accommodates movement within the structure. One of the sides of the brick was roughened to trap the bonding slurry thus limiting lateral movement. The stupa was then covered with lime plaster; the plaster used contained seashells, sugar syrup, egg whites, coconut water, glues, oils, plant resin, sand, clay and pebbles. The plaster also provided waterproofing for the structure. The Mahavamsa also mentions the use of copper sheets over the foundation and arsenic dissolved in sesame oil to prevent insect and plant intrusions inside the stupa. It is estimated that Jetavanaramaya took 15 years to complete and would have required a skillful workforce of hundreds, including brickyard workers and bricklayers, and stonemasons.

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Ongoing restoration

UNESCO sponsored restoration began in 1981 but is still far from finished: A part of the structure is still encased in scaffolding & restoration work hasn’t been continuous.

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Late history

Carvings at Jetavanaramya

The Jetavanaramaya was under the monks of the Sagalika sect. The Sagalica sect was closely linked with the Abhyagiri viharaya. Towards the end of the Anuradhapura period, Jetavana had developed into one of the three fraternities of the island along with Mahavihara and Abhyagiriya. The fraternities were united during the reign of King Parakramabahu I. A pasada constructed by King Sena I was destroyed by fire. King Agghabodhi VI constructed and added a new pasada. Chola invaders during the reign of king Udaya IV destroyed the gold images of Buddha by King Sena. Repairs were completed by King Mahendra IV. Juma, a Sri Lankan merchant, presented King Silakala with a Mahayana book Dhammadatu brought from Benares. King Silakala held a festival annually in celebration of Dhammadatu. Monks of Mahavihara have boycotted the festivals, citing the Mahayana origins of the book, but were later persuaded by Abhayagiri monks to participate in the festivities. The leadership of the Mahavihara was later accepted during the reign of King Aggabodhi I, following the defeat of a public debate between the monks.

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Four entrances to the courtyard

The dagoba stands on an enormous but rather overgrown platform. Only two of the dagoba’s four vahakadas (entrances to the courtyard) have so far been excavated; the one facing the entrance on the southern side is the finest. It is studded with eroded elephant heads, with Nagaraja (cobra king) guardstones to either side & an unidentified goddess.

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Carvings at Jetavanaramya

Until 1909 the colossal structure was covered with shrub jungle. Monk Kumbuke Dhammarama of Sailabimbaramaya temple of Gammanpita received approval to clear the stupa and the court from the Atamasthana committee. The approval was subsequently canceled as the monk decided to settle down. Palannaruwe Sobita thereto sought and received permission to continue clearing the premises but approval was once again canceled when the monk initiated the collection of contributions. However, the monk refused to leave; in the legal procedures which ensued he was forced to leave.

Conservation work has been funded by the income from ticket sales, mainly to foreign tourists to the three cultural triangle sites of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Sigiriya. Bricks were burned using the same kind of mixture that was used by the builders of the original dagoba. Excavations have revealed artifacts indicating that Sri Lanka was the primary entrepot for trade activity connecting the Indian rim countries as well as the Mediterranean and the Far East, and artistic influences that point to a shared culture in South Asia.

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Semi nude: lissome women of matchless grace

The Jetavanarama’s eastern vahalkada was decorated with beautiful figures of lissome women of matchless grace: they appear to be moving, even dancing, and wearing elaborate but scanty attire.

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Lost to the sword & fire of marauding Dravidian invaders

The size of the Patimaghara (image house) here shows that King Mahasena (276-303 AD) had an enormous Buddha image built herein, even larger than the famous Aukana Buddha Statue, facing the dagoba. A tall, slender door leads between eight-meter high surviving sections of wall into a narrow image chamber, at the end of which is a lotus base which once supported a standing Buddha image. The image was destroyed by the marauding Dravidian invaders from South India.

A little south of the Jetavanarama Dagoba, & on another side of the road, there is a stone railing built in imitation of a long wall. It encloses a site 42m by 34m, but the building within too was destroyed by the marauding Dravidian invaders from South India.

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The remains of the monastery

The area south of the dagoba is littered with the Jetavana monastery‘s extensive remains of impressive scale. All ruins are carefully excavated & landscaped. The monastery would once have housed some 3000 monks. The first monastery buildings were constructed during the third century in the area north of the dagoba (which remains largely unexcavated) & gradually spread south & east as the monastery expanded until the tenth century.

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  • This page incorporates content from Dr. Rohan Hettiarachchi’s lankalibrary.com used with permission of website owner.
  • Ratnayake, Hema (1993) Jetavana. In The Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka. Paris: Unesco Publishing/CCF.
  • Schroeder, Ulrich von. (1990). Buddhist Sculptures of Sri Lanka. (752 p.; 1620 illustrations). Hong Kong: Visual Dharma Publications, Ltd. ISBN 962-7049-05-0

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Jetavana Museum

The interesting Jetavana Museum holds a striking collection of objects recovered during excavations since 1981 at the 300 — acre site monastery. Among the unearthed are fragments of decorative friezes & carvings from the site, including Buddha statues & guradstones, some of great delicacy & fine jewellery, ivory carvings, ear ornaments & bangles, all of extremely fine workmanship, as well as stones such as amethyst & garnet, collection of pottery & the skillfully crafted three-tiered urinal pot. A pavilion outside has more stone sculptures: friezes, elephants & guardstones.

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Buddhist Railing

Immediately behind the Jetavana museum lies a latticed fence pierced with four entrances oriented towards the cardinal points; the three tiers of the fence are claimed to represent Buddhism’s «triple gems» (the Buddha; his teachings; & the Sangha). The building which the railing formerly enclosed was an image house.

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The Roman Connection (The Jetavana treasures)

The treasury of objects from the Jetavanaram complex has become known as the Jetavana Treasures. They show how far-reaching were Anuradhapura’s foreign connections. There are Roman & Indian coins, ceramics from North & West Asia, & fragments of Islamic & Chinese ware. Huge numbers of beads made of clay, glass, silver, ivory & carnelian have also been found, as have intaglio seals made in semiprecious stone & gold, & bronze religious statuettes.

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The first Jetavana Monastery

The first Jetavana Monastery called Jetavane Anathapindikassa arama (Pali: in Jeta Grove, Anathapindika’s Monastery) was located just over the perimeter of the city of Savatthi. Sravasti or Savatthi was situated in the fertile Gangetic plains in the present day Gonda District of Uttar Pradesh near Balrampur 120 km north of modern Lucknow in Northern India.

Jetavana Monastry was the second monastery donated to Gautama Buddha, following Veluvnanarama or Veluvana Monastery in Rajagaha or Rajgir in Nalanda district in the modern Indian state of Bihar. The city of Rajgir was the first capital of the kingdom of Magadha, a state that would eventually evolve into the Mauryan Empire. Jetavana was the monastery where Gauthama Buddha dispensed the majority of his teachings and discourses. According to Buddhist literature Buddha has spent 19 out of the 45 vassas (Pali: a traditional time of monastic retreat) of his life time Jetavana Monastery. Vassa (Pali: vasso, Sanskrit var?a? meaning rain) is the annual retreat of three lunar months observed by practitioners of Theravada Buddhism.

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History of Jetavana monastery, Sri Lanka

Jetavana Monastery at Nandana Pleasure Garden, Anuradhapura of Sri Lanka Holidays was founded by King Mahasena (276-303 AC) subsequent to the establishment of Mahavihara at Mahameghavana Park at Anuradhapura, Mihintale Monastery at Mihintale (12km east of Anuradhapura) by King Devanampiya Tissa (Sinhala: dear to the gods) (307-267 BC) and Abhayagiri monastery by King Valagambahu (103 BC) & (89-76 BC), the builder of Sri Lanka Holidays Golden Dambulla Rock Cave Temple.

Jetavana Monastery, in its construction design had apparently taken a leaf out of the book of the architect that was at Abhayagiri monastery: the center of the attraction is the colossal Jetavana stupa. Around the stupa ran a belt of residential colleges of the monks with the entrances to them facing the stupa. The rest of the main building were built in cardinal directions in relation to the stupa: pilimage (Sinhala: image house) to the west; Bodhigara (Sinhala: Peepal Bo tree Shrine) and uposathagara (Sinhala: chapter house) to the south; danasala (Sinhala; refectory) to the east and sannipatasala (Sinhala: assembly hall) to the north. The refectory reveals the monastery is home to about 3000 resident Buddhist monks.

However, though Mahavihara monastery and Abhayagiri monastery were founded upon Theravada Buddhism, Jetavana monastery was founded upon Mahayana Buddhism: the deviation was a result of the arrival of a Sinhalese Buddhist monk called Sanghamitra, who had embraced Mahayana Buddhism and lived in exile in Kaveri, India. Mahayana (Sanskrit; great vehicle) called Theravada Hinayana (Sanskrit: lesser vehicle) while the Theravada Buddhists called Mahayana Buddhism a heresy (vaitulyavada). The arrival of Sanghamitra during the reign of King Mahasena saw the culmination of the differences two cannons of Buddhism between Theravada Buddhists and Mahayana Buddhists. Worse still, it witnessed the destruction of the glorious Mahavihara monastery. The Nikayasangaraha, a Sinhalese Buddhist chronicle records, among the destroyed buildings were 364 Buddhist academies and great temples, including magnificent Lovammhapaya (Sinhala: brazen place). Not being satisfied with the sinful destruction of Mahavihara monastery, the land was ploughed and planted with a grain called Undu in Sinhalese or Urad in Hindi. Venerable Prof Walpola Sri Rahula Maha Thera (1907-1997) observes that this period concided with the activities of the Yogacara (Sanskrit: yoga practice) school in India.

It is believed that Sangamitra had arrived with a copy of a Mahayana work titled Lankavatara Sutra (Sinhala: Descent into Lanka or The invasion of Lanka) with the intention of substituting same in place of Tripitaka inscribed during the reign of lionhearted King Valagambahu (Watta Gamini Abhaya) at Aluvihare Rock Temple. Lankavatara Sutra was subsequently included in the Vaipulya-sutras of Mahayana Buddhism.

King Mahasena himself was unaware of the enormous influence of the Mahavihara until one of his close friends, Meghavanna-Abhaya, who had fled to the Rununa raised an army and challenged him. Mahasena is said to have awoken from his slumber, met with his friend, regretted and repented on the damage done to the Mahavihara, and promised restore it. The king kept his world: Lovamahapaya (Sinhala: brazen place) and many other academies and temples were rebuilt.

Today no ancient copy of Lankavatara Sutra is found in Sri Lanka Holidays. The reason none of this literature survived in the Sri Lankan Buddhist traditions is that Sanghamitra (ironically his name mean ‘friends of Sangha in Sanskrit) and his followers were dealt with so severely after the reconciliation between King Mahasena and his minister and friend Meghavanna-Abhya, the angry crowd went on a rampage. One of the king’s favorite wives, who was bitter about the suffering of the Mahavihara monks had Sanghamitra killed. Nothing associated with Sanghamitra survived. Even one of the closest friends of the king, a Sinhalese minister named Sona, was slain. It would have been a miracle had any Mahayana literature from this period remained in the island of Sri Lanka.

Though following his repentance and restoration of Mahavihara Monastery, the name of the great king was rewritten in the annals of history of Sri Lanka, as a great benefactor of Theravada Buddhism, today he is best remembered as one of the greatest builders of tanks (rainwater reservoirs) of Sri Lanka. Such was the glory of the king, following the construction of vast Minneriya tank, the great tank builder was bestowed with the divine eminence and named «Minneriya Deviyo» (Sinhala: the god of Minneriya) in the glorious history of Sri Lanka. The vast Minneriya reservoir together with the in-land sea like Parakrama Samudra; immense Nuwara Weva reservoir; glorious Kala weva reservoir, built by King Dhatusena (father of King Sigiri Kassapa, the builder of Sri Lanka Holidays Sigiriya); Padaviya weva reservoir still extend the lifeline to Nuvara Kalaviya (the region of Nuwara weva, Kala weva, Padaviya weva) region which encompass Sri Lanka Holidays Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. Jetavana Monastery Jetavana Dagoba is one of the sixteen most sacred cultural destinations of the Sinhalese Buddhists of Sri Lanka.

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Jetavana Dagoba

Jetavana Dagoba

Jetavana Dagoba

Jetavana Dagoba

Jetavana Dagoba

Stone Sculptures

Jetavana Monastery’s

Ruin Bridge Around the Area

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