Thantirimale - in existence since Anuradhapura era

By D.C. Ranatunga

On the tenth day he placed the great Bodhi-tree upon a beautiful car and he, the king of men, accompanying this, the king of trees, he who had knowledge of the (right) places caused it to be placed on the spot where the Eastern Monastery (afterwards) was and commanded a morning meal for the people together with the brotherhood. Here the great thera Mahinda related fully to the king the subduing of the nagas which had been achieved by the (Buddha) gifted with the ten powers.

When the monarch heard this from the thera he caused monuments to be raised here and there in such places as had been frequented by the Master by resting there or in other ways.

And, moreover, when he had caused the great Bodhi-tree to be set down at the entrance to the village of the Brahman Tivakka and in this and that place besides, he, (escorting it) on the road, sprinkled with white sand, bestrewn with various flowers, and adorned with planted pennons and festoons of blossoms, bringing thereto offerings unweariedly, day and night, brought the great Bodhi-tree on the fourteenth day to the neighbourhood of the city of Anuradhapura.

The Mahavamsa, the Great Chronicle, thus describes the ceremonial acceptance of the branch of the sacred Bo tree brought in by Theri Sanghamitta, at the seaport of Jambukola, also known as ‘Dambakola Patuna’ situated between Jaffna and Mannar, by King Devanampiyatissa (250-210 BC). The “village of Brahman Tivakka” referred to in the description was then known as ‘Tivakka Bamunugama’ (the village of Brahmana Tivakka), presently called Thantirimale where the royal procession stopped for one day. The highest point in the village was chosen as the spot where the sacred branch was to be placed and that is exactly the place where the picturesque temple stands today. Thera Mahinda, Theri Sanghamitta along with eleven theris, the king and the royal entourage spent the night in the village.

The following day, Brahmana Tivakka himself joined the procession to the capital, Anuradhapura and participated in the planting ceremony. He was among the dignitaries who received one of the eight saplings (‘ashta pala ruha’) which arose from the seeds of the branch. With much pomp and ceremony, he brought the sapling to the village and planted it at the rocky spot where it stands to this day in spite of it being exposed to the elements for centuries. The entire village became Buddhists and Brahmana Tivakka had ensured that the sapling was well protected and made arrangements for the devotees to worship it regularly.

It is said that when Saliya, the son of King Dutugemunu(161-137 BC) was banished for marrying the ‘chandala’ girl Asokamala, the couple came over to live in this village. Later the king pardoned them and presented them with a gold necklace in the shape of a butterfly called ‘tantiri’. The necklace was enshrined in the temple premises and according to folklore, the village got the name ‘Thantirimaalaya’. The place was later known as ‘Thangaitirumalai’ in Tamil which was converted to Thantirimale in Sinhala.

Another version is that the place got the name Thantirimale because of the presence of ‘tantrika’ monks who belonged to the Mahayana tradition during the Anuradhapura period.

Obviously influenced by the rich sculpture of the Anuradhapura era, several neatly sculpted Buddha statues are among the venerated objects of worship at the site. The intricately carved Samadhi statue is around eight feet tall. On either side of the statue are two deities fanning the Buddha. In the background is a ‘makara torana’ with two lions bearing its weight. Dwarf figures have been used at the bottom as a decoration. The design is akin to the Gal Vihara statues in Polonnaruwa.

The statue of the reclining Buddha on the northern side of the rock plane is 45 feet long. The head faces the north. The statue had been vandalized by gangs who were looking for treasures as was evidenced when excavations were carried out in 1974.

The site has several inscriptions in the Brahmi script used since the first century BC right up to 8th century AD. According to the chief priest of Thantirimale, Venerable Thantirimale Chandaratana Thera, these inscriptions carry important messages relating to numerous offerings made and other information.

The temple has taken the lead role in developing the village of Thantirimale. 2700 families were settled in 81 settlements. Although most of them were destroyed by terrorists, the rest have continued with courage and determination.

Thantirimale is just 18 km away from Anuradhapura and has become a popular place of worship for thousands of Poson pilgrims. This year will be no different.

Aloka Pooja by WNL

The annual Aloka Pooja Pinkama at Thantirimale organised by Wijeya News papers Ltd will be held next weekend. The programme is as follows:

Saturday, June 6 - First day of Aloka Pooja
The Chairman, WNL will inaugurate the lighting up
Distribution of donations to staff of Daham Pasal
Sunday, June 7 - Second day of Aloka Pooja- inauguration of
ligting up by Editors of Lankadeepa and The Sunday Times
Distribution of uniform material to children
Monday, June 8 - Third day of Aloka Pooja
Ruwan Wijewardene will inaugurate the lighting up
Distribution of uniform material to children

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