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Medirigiriya historical site is located in Thamankaduwa of Polonnaruwa district, Sri Lanka. One needs to travel to the central province on the Colombo – Batticaloa main road. After passing you encounter the famous elephant observation sanctuary, which known as Minneriya. The further journey will take in the direction of Hingurakgoda from Habarana. Twelve miles after Higurakgoda is the Medirigiriya Buddhist temple. The temple is conveniently located near the main road and can be reached by bus or taxi.
The earliest discovery of the temple
The site was discovered by Mr H.C.P Bell as he was the first commissioner of archaeology in Sri Lanka. The excavation was carried out in 1897 and he was helped by Muhandiram D.E Perera. The conservation of Medirigiriya was stated in 1942 by the department of archaeology. Excavation works had been hindered by many external factors such as the Malaria epidemic in the area, impenetrable jungle, wild animals, and scarcity of water. Most useful discoveries were done by Dr Senarath Paranavithana and he was able to convince the importance of this valuable site for the history of Sri Lanka.
History of Medirigiriya Buddhist temple
According to the stone inscription at the temple, the name of the site had been Mediligiri at Vehera. The Mediligiri had been the name of the temple while At Vehera denotes temple built inside. Medirigiriya is the present name of the site which originated in the 10th century. The site was referred to as Medirigiriya in the Pujavaliya, chronicle that was written in 13th century by Monk Mayurapada. But the first chronicle of Sri Lanka Mahawamsa referred the site by the name of “Mandalagiri Vihara”.
Formation of the temple
No one has been able to find the founder of the site. The author of Mahawamsa referred to king Kanittatissa (164-192 A.D) as the one who built the uposathagara (residential quarters of monks). During the reign of the King Agbo 4th (667-683 AD) a relic house was built by a regional ruler who was known as Malayaraja.
Most adorned architectural construction of the site is Vatadage and was built by Kashyapa 5th during his rule from the 914 to 923 AD. He has offered valuable land and wealth for the maintenance of the temple. According to the historical information the site had been a complete Buddhist religious site with all the important parts such as image house, Bo-tree, Dagaba, and upostahgara. The remnants of a hospital proved that there was a hospital in the temple. The heyday of this Buddhist temple came to end with the Chola invasion in 10th century AD.
Involvement of the king during the Polonnaruwa period
As the King Vijayabahu (1070-1110 AD) regained the control of the country to the hands of Sri Lankan again, he had renovated the destroyed Buddhist temples by the Chola army. Medirigiriya was one of such temples in the island. Another important incident evolved around this Buddhist temple is the peace pact signed between King Parakramabahu (1153-1186 AD) and King Gajabahu (1132-1153 AD). The dispute between these two brothers in law was solved with the involvement of a Buddhist monk.
According to the act signed, the wealth of the king who died first had to be handed over to the other king. A copy of the act was discovered by the archaeologist in Sangamu Vihara in Gokarella but the original stone inscription of the act is not discovered so far. The temple had been visited by the King Nissankamalla (1187-1196 AD) of Polonnaruwa.
The temple had been a prominent Buddhist temple during the Polonnaruwa period (10th and 11th Century AD) hence it had been given patronize of all the kings during that period. Archaeologists believe the temple was started in the pre-Christian era but its importance reached the maximum point during the Polonnaruwa period.