Seruwila Raja Maha Vihara is a historically important Buddhist temple located in eastern Sri Lanka in the district of Trincomalee. Seruwila Raja Maha Vihara is one of most sacred places for the Buddhist on the island and it is a place for pilgrimage tours. Seruwila Raja Maha Vihara is a popular temple among the local travellers but it is rarely included in Sri Lanka tour itineraries made for foreign travellers, due to the remoteness from Colombo.
This ancient temple is one of the few places in the island where Buddha had been to in the 6th Century BC. Seruwila Raja Maha Vihara is one of the good examples to show the occupation of Sinhala Buddhist in the Eastern Province from the early days of the civilization in the island. Even though about the Sinhala Buddhist in the region first being mention with the arrival of Buddha, historians believe that the area was inhabited by native indigenous people since the beginning of Stone Age.
History of Seruwila
Historical evidence suggests that the temple was inhabited by a large number of monks. The temple with 500 monks had been well-developed monastery complex; it was consisting of living quarters for monks, image house, Dagoba, Bo-tree and other amenities required by the monks. King Kawantissa had granted a number of villages to the temple. The earnings from the villages had been used to maintain the temple.
The most important element of this temple is the Dagoba, which enshrined the hair relic of Buddha. Part of the hair relic of Buddha that was received by Thapassu, Balluka (two Indian merchants) are enshrined in the Dagoba. The ancient chronicle Dhatuwansa claims that the dagoba was built by King Kawantissa (205-61 BC).
According to the historical evidence a Bo-tree was planted in a nearby Buddhist village in 3rd century BC. The village, where the Bo-tree was planted is identified as the modern Kiliveddi by the historians. The Bo-tree was known as Sri Wardana Bodhi and was managed by Seruwila Raja Maha Vihara; the Bo-tree was destroyed by the terrorists during the civil war.
Archaeologists have found the number of artefacts during the excavation at the Seruwila Raja Maha Vihara. Based on the findings at the site, archaeologists believe that the temple had been an important religious place for the Nagas tribe. Two rare Buddha statues were among the valuable items that were unearthed at the site, one statue is protected by a nine hooded cobra and another one is protected by a cobra with seven heads. There is a large number of monuments are still hidden in the jungle. Hundreds of houses made of stones, stone ponds, and remnants of Buddhist temples are among the valuable items found during the excavations.
The revival of the temple
The modern revival of this historical, sacred place starts with the arrival of Sumedhankara Maha Nahimi (chief monk) in 1921. Initially, the sacred area was inhabited by wild animals such as elephants, bear, and leopards etc. furthermore there were lots of hardships for the monks during the thirty years civil war in eastern Sri Lanka. A large number of people fled villages around the temple due to threats from the terrorists. But the braveness of the monks made them stay behind and help the remaining families of the nearby villages. Thanks to the number of Buddhist monks, it has become a well built Buddhist temple today and which helps to prove the inheritance of Sinhalese Buddhist in eastern Sri Lanka.
How to get there
There are two main routes to reach Seruwila Raja Maha Vihara. one is from Trincomalee while the second route begins in Kantalay. In the first route, one needs to go by boat to Muttur, which is located around 14 km from Trincomalee then a 16 km long drive to Seruwila Raja Maha Vihara. Kinniyatota and Uppuarutota are two important landmarks that are passed along this way. Most Buddhist are using the second route which starts from Kantalay and the drive estimated to be around 90 km.