Dedication of the Bodhighara to the public

The Bodhighara built around one of the three sacred Bo-trees in the premises of the famed Kalutara Bodhi was ceremonially dedicated for veneration by the public on the 26th day of October 2015. This was to mark the 119th birthday of Sir Cyril de Zoysa, founder of the Kalutara Bodhi Trust. Deshabandu Honourable Karu Jayasuriya, Speaker of the Eighth Parliament, represented the State in this act of dedication.

A Bodhighara is an architectural feature constructed around a Bo-tree to protect it, both symbolically and to some extent literally. It is also a medium through which are expressed the creative talent of the carvers and artistes, their devotion, sensitivity and piety and also of those who commissioned the work. It also represents their irrepressible collective desire to maintain and preserve the traditions of a proud nation together with its perfected forms of art. “It contributes to the tenacity of the Sinhala architectural tradition in preserving its ancient Buddhist form.”

Quote: “The bodhighara is a shrine enclosing a Bodhi tree. This shrine consists of two platforms, with the tree on the upper platform. It had a roof that was neither circular nor square. The best examples of a Bodhighara are in Sri Lanka. The Bodhighara at Nillakgama in Kurunegala District (8th century) was the first to be identified. Dr. Paranavitane considered it to be the only well preserved example of this type of shrine in Buddhist countries. It was `somewhat in the original form’. Thereafter 38 more Bodhigharas were found in Sri Lanka.” Unquote. LankaNewspapers, Sunday, 26 October 2008.

Later it has been found that there are more than 38 such shrines.

The very first Bodhighara to be constructed in Sri Lanka was of course round the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi (the Great Resplendent Tree of Truimph) in Anuradhapura, the ancient capital of Sri Lanka (4 B.C. to 11 A.D). This tree grew out of a sapling off the very tree at Gaya, under which Prince Siddhartha of Kapilavastu attained enlightenment. The original tree was destroyed, making this the only tree (of any kind) with a date and age. Of this Bodhighara nothing but a few high terraces and a few sculptures remain.

The best preserved Bodhighara is the one at Nillakgama, next to the Hettigama Wewa, not far from Galgamuwa, in the Kurunegala District, in proximity to the borders of the Anuradhapura District. Some of the other few structures clearly showing affinity to this identified & dated Bodhighara have been found by way of the structure associated with the famous Samadhi image in the Abhayagiriya Vihara. Other examples are Vijayarama, Pankuliya, Puliyankulama, Pacheena-tissa-pabbata and the Magulmaha Viharaya. In this regard, Bolgalla Sri Bodhighara Viharaya in Monaragala too is worth mentioning.

Then follows the Kalutara Bodhighara.

The Nillakkgama Bodhighara upon which the Kalutara Bodhighara is modelled is recorded as having been first observed by H.C.P. Bell, the eminent archaeologist and British Civil Servant in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon). Later, following Mr. D.M. de Zylva, Dr. Senarath Paranavitana the eminent archeologist and epigraphist, appointed Archeological Commissioner in 1940, and Professor of Archaeology of the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya, in 1957, drawing on inscriptional evidence identified and dated this shrine as belonging to the 9th century.

The story of the Kalutara Bodhighara may be recounted here. A copy of a letter in our possession, dated June 26, 1977, addressed by Sir Cyril de Zoysa to the Special Commissioner. Urban Council, Kalutara, confirms that “there is also now erected on this land a Shrine room and a sacred Bo-tree, which is an off-shoot brought from Buddha Gaya and planted thereon”.This confirms the origin of this particular Bo tree in the Kalutara Bodhi premises. In recognition of the value ascribed to this Bo-tree, the Kalutara Bodhi Trust took the bold decision to venture into the construction of this long lasting monument to the sanctity of this tree.

Mr. Ajita de Zoysa, Chairman of the Bodhi Trust, saw a need to make the accommodation more convenient for pilgrims, more so for the innumerable pregnant mothers and those who were yearning for the blessings of motherhood, who held on to the belief in the pre-Buddhist fertility cults. Even to this day pregnant women worship this fig tree wishing or yearning that such faith would enable them to bring forth healthy children of their own. This is despite the great philosophy taught by the sage who preached nothing of this sort.

The Bodhi Trust was in search, so to say, of an idea to make the area surrounding this Bodhi Tree more awe inspiring, more generative of saddha or confidence in the teachings of the Buddha, more representative of the long artistic, cultural and Buddhist heritage of our land. It was then that the idea of a Bodhighara was conceived in 2008; a visit was made to Nillakgama and the decision to build a Gharaya was taken in 2009, the foundation stone laid by Mr. Ajita de Zoysa, Chairman on the 14th May of the same year and completed in October 2015.

The idea developed very fast when the southern boundary of the Bodhi premises was secured. The concept of a Nillakgama-style structure was mooted by Chartered Architect Mr. E.G. Dharmasiriwardana. Mr. Dharmasiriwardana has been associated with the Kalutara Bodhi projects since 1978, beginning with the formulation of a master plan for the sacred area and the later development of the Dana Shalawa (Alms-Hall), the Dharma Shalawa (Preaching Hall), office buildings, the Bodhi Prakaraya (the structure round the Sacred Bo Tree) in the Pahala Maluwa (Lower Compound), Uda Maluwa (Upper Compound) and all the gateways. Although a structure made of brick and mortar was first envisaged, the initial visit to Nillkgama led to the decision to build a stone structure just as in Nillakgama. The meticulously detailed drawings for the project produced by the office of Mr. Dharmasiriwardana, enabled all those concerned to work out the most intricate details that this piece of art commanded. Estimates were called for and the award made to Star Granite. The proprietor of this Company is Vishvakeerthi Deshamanya Lankaputhra Hapuaarachchige Chandra Leelanada Wickramasinghe. Mr.Wickramasinghe was the key person who evinced special interest in undertaking this work. He had the experience of having given direction to the work done on stone at the entire Uda Maluwa of the Sri Maha Bodhiya and many other temples around Sri Lanka. He is a maestro in the field of directing the art of designing, carving and crafting on stone.

His engineer Mr. W.A.W.K. Wijeysinghe was assigned the task of managing the entire project and he worked tirelessly to co-ordinate all activities from quarrying until the product reached the Bodhiya. Mr. Wickremasinghe had quarried the stone off a site at Narammala belonging to the Company itself. The task of carving each and every building block out of large granite boulders was no mean one. It is a marvel that the entire process could be completed in about six years.

The external dimensions of the Kalutara Bodhighara are 60 x 40 feet, while the outer dimensions of the internal ‘protective’ wall is a 17 foot square thereby being larger than the Nillakgama structure. Senake Bandaranayake states that “In the centre of the enclosure, which is about 34 ft. 6 ins. square externally, is an open space about 6 ft. square, surrounded by a decorated stone wall.” (See Sinhalese Monastic Architecture – The Viharas of Anuradhapura – page 164).

states that “In the centre of the enclosure, which is about 34 ft. 6 ins. square externally, is an open space about 6 ft. square, surrounded by a decorated stone wall.” The outer dimensions of the internal square of the Nillakgama Bodhigara is approximately 12 feet x 12 feet. The lion carvings in this internal structure are exactly as in Nillakgama. The other basic concept and the intricate carvings too are a copy of those in Nillakgama although the dimensions are again different. Assumptions had to be made as to what the roof structure and the internal pillars would have been. Some windows with a floral design in cut-work style, also a deviation from the Nillakgama model, were introduced and placed above the boundary wall in keeping with the new design. The entrance and the exit doorways in the Kalutara Ghara are proportionately much bigger and also different from the Nillakgama model, but in keeping in line with the overall structure and allowing them to blend with the buildings around the Bodhi precincts.

The Samadhi Buddha statue here may be described as an abridged version of the Toluvila statue, (4th or 5th century), facing the east towards the doorway of the entrance. All aspects of this Statue are half the scale of the Toluvila Statue. The Toluvila statue is considered a masterpiece, is one of the best preserved and one of the best examples of the ancient Sri Lankan sculpting art, is carved out of a single block of granite,bears a close resemblance to the Samadhi statue of Anuradhapura, (although slightly smaller), 5 feet 9 inches (1.75 m) in height, showing the Buddha seated with his legs crossed and hands together in meditation, depicting the dhyana mudra. The seating style is known as weerasana. The distance between the shoulders is 3 feet 5 inches (1.04 m), while the knees are 5 feet 9 inches (1.75 m) apart. Most Buddha statues of this vintage have long, hanging earlobes but the Toluvila statue lacks this feature. Another unusual feature is that three lines have been carved into the front of the neck. This is believed to have been due to the influence of the Mathura School of India. It was Archaeologist H.C.P. Bell who discovered this statue in 1900. According to him, it was the best historical artifact found in Anuradhapura. The statue was later taken to the National Museum of Colombo, where it is kept to this day. The museum identifies it as the “most significant” sculpture of ancient Sri Lanka that it possesses, and it is displayed directly in front of the main entrance to the building. (Source: mainly Wikipedia). The Kalutara Bodhi has indeed done great to have created a wonder such as this.

As for the polished aluminum ‘beeralu’ railing, introduced perhaps for the first time in Sri Lanka, extruded aluminum rods have been used instead of the locally cast aluminium rods. Both doors at the entrance and the exit are made out of teak with (6) six panels 14” x 14” each, in (chromium plated) brass, heavily carved with a lotus design. Two (2) panels 20” x 14” each, again, heavily carved with the traditiona annasi mala (pine-apple blossom) design have been put together to blend with the traditional set up that Architect Mr. Dharmasiriwardena put together.

This work was entrusted to, and the entrance doors crafted by Dhammika Swarnasinghe, scion of a long line of Kandyan craftsmen, younger son of the State-recognised Master Craftsman, Owite Gedera Swarnasinghe, famed for their skill in beating into shape, moulding and ‘bending’ metal (kjkakokak or kjkaokak) into ornamental and utility items of exquisite beauty – sheer offspring of raw material combined with human talent.

Needless to say that for any creation of this class, funds are a sine qua non. The funding was largely by the Sir Cyri de Zoysa Trust. Sir Cyril through his last will bequeathed his wealth to the Kalutara Bodhi Trust. Part of such income is what was used to fund the construction of this Kalutara Bodhighara. Devotees contributed towards a part of the cost of the ‘silver’ railing (rideevaeta -ߧjeg) made of polished aluminium.

May this serve to inspire generations both born and unborn, with piety, devotion, confidence in the Buddha Dhamma and with sensitivity towards the great national, Sinhala, Buddhist heritage of our land, Sri Lanka.