Neelagiri Stupa – standing tall yet forgotten


Hidden in the vast jungles of Lahugala forest reserve and surrounded by wild elephants is the largest stupa in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka. Built in the third century BC under patron ship of King Kawanthissa the stupa and the monastery around had been called ‘Uttara Seevali Pabbata Viharaya’ in its glory days.

Alleged to be the legendary Maha Nuggala Stupa, where King Kawantissa requested his ten chief generals and the maha sanga to be impartial in case of a dispute over the thorn between his two sons, princes Duttugamunu and Saddatissa after his dismissal the Neelagiri stupa according to the archaeology excavations is a part of a larger monastery complex, which flourished in the Eastern province during the times of Tamil takeover of Anuradhapura, the country’s administrative and cultural centre.

The two princes after a short battle joined hands to defeat the invading Tamil king Elara. While King Dutugamunu ruled from Anuradhapura, prince Saddatissa converted the Eastern province into the rice bowl of country and rich trading hub.

The ruins of stupa are accompanied by a giant cave temple complex scattered in decay. Giant stairways of seven feet width leads to a series of caves carved with drip ledges built initially to house the meditating monks but were later remodelled into a shrine room. The statues had long been destroyed by treasure hunters while the smooth surface of the caves inner walls too has been desecrated.

Many a smaller stupas lie in ruin among the larger stupa and the cave complex while more caves on the top of the rocks too have ben drip ledged and remodelled to house meditating monks.

Forgotten for the last thirty years due to the war that engulfed country’s north and east, the massive stupa lies in a state of ruin today. The remaining structure is 182 meters in circumference and 22 metres in height. The excavations into the stupa, which was launched in 2011, had unearthed two hitherto unknown inscriptions belonging to the first century AC and second century AC detailing the donation by regional queen and a king.

The excavations had also unearthed a monastery complex surrounding the stupa across 89 hectares and a golden casket enshrining the remaining of arhants, who once graced this holy ground.


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