The Ruwanwelisaya Dagoba - History and Facts | History Hit

The Ruwanwelisaya Dagoba

Anuradhapura, North Central Province, Sri Lanka

The Ruwanwelisaya Dagoba is a sacred 2nd century BC Buddhist site in Anuradhapura.

Peta Stamper

29 Mar 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About The Ruwanwelisaya Dagoba

The Ruwanwelisaya Dagoba, or the Great Stupa, is a magnificent Buddhist sacred site in the ancient city of Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka. Today, the Ruwanwelisaya Dagoba is the most prominent of the “Atamasthana”, the 8 holy places Buddhists should visit on pilgrimage to Anuradhapura, UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Ruwanwelisaya Dagoba history

The Ruwanwelisaya Dagoba was built in 140 BC by King Dutugemunu, who later became King of all Sri Lanka after defeating the Chola King, Ellalan. Dutugamunu was king of the Anuradhapura Kingdom, and reigned from 161 to 137 BC, expanding the city of Anuradhapura to project the power of Sinhalese culture across Sri Lanka.

The stupa was constructed in a hemispherical shape, its purpose to hold the relics of the Gothama Buddha. However, King Dutugemunu died before its completion, his brother Saddhatissa ascending the throne.

The stupa was a ruin by the 19th century, having been overgrown with new forestry. Yet after meticulous fundraising efforts by a Sinhalese bhikkhu, male Buddhist monks, it was renovated in the early 20th century. The Ruwanveli Seya Restoration Society, including, philanthropist Hendrick Appuhamy, donated Rs 20 million for the restoration works. Foundations were laid in 1902 and the stupa was crowned in June 1940.

The design of the stupa was designed to reflect the teachings of Buddha: the dome representing the vastness of doctrine, the four facets signifying the Four Noble Truths, concentric rings highlighting the Noble Eightfold Middle Path, and a large crystal on top represents the goal of Buddhist enlightenment.

The Ruwanwelisaya Dagoba today

The spectacular white-domed dagoba now stands at over ninety metres tall, surrounded by an immaculate frieze of three-hundred and forty-four elephants guarding the stupa now twice its original height. Walk around the ninety-one metre diameter, before exploring the surrounding site full of ancient pools, columns and carvings, contributing to a peaceful yet regal atmosphere at Ruwanwelisaya.

Wear white on your visit or you will not be granted close access. If you have time, revisit the immense structure at night to see it bathed gloriously in light.

Getting to The Ruwanwelisaya Dagoba

The dagoba is located within a large park of sacred sites. From the nearest car park at the Eastern Gate, it is a 1km walk past the Bodhi tree. The city train station is a half hour walk away, and the nearest bus stop is Mawatha on the AB25 road, a 25 minute walk.

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