THE HISTORY OF BUDDHIST ARCHITECTURE IN SRI LANKA

L. K. KARUNARATNE - ARCHITECT A.I.A (SL.)
The 1998 INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIUM ON DESIGN & DEVELOPMEAY OF BUDDHIST ARCHITCTURE
PP.85-96


. P.85 ABSTRACT Remains of religious edifices of Buddhist shrines are the main sources  for a study  of the  Buddhist  architecture  of Sri Lanka.  Buddhism  was  introduced  into  the  island  by the missionary  son of Ashoka in the 3rd century  BC.  Ashoka is credited  to have given birth  to Buddhist  Architecture  in India which spread to the neignowring countries. The Architectural remains of Sri Lanka, of Buddhist monuments can be studied and dated from three sources. The Mahawansa a great  chronical  gives an account  of the work done by each King during his period.  These accounts are useful to get an idea of the buildings themselves and their construction  and development.   The  second  source  is  Epigraphical,  being letters  inscribed  on rock often  to record  donation  of a building or monastery.  The third is archeological  ovidence from excavation  and the monuments.  A more important source is  the  study  of  the  development  of  architecture   and architectural design over the years from all 3 sources. My talk attempts  to trace  the history  and development  of Buddhist  Architecture  through  a study  of the  monumental remains  of a living Buddhist  culture  and religion  in Sri Lanka continuous for over 2500 years. KEYWORD : Buddhist Architecture of Sri Lanka P.86 Remains of religious  edifices of Buddhist and Hindu shrines are the main sources for a study of the ancient architecture of Sri Lanka. Buddhism  was introduced  into the island  by the missionary son  of Ashoka  in the reign  of King  Devanampiyatissa  3rd cent. BC. Ashoka is credited to have given birth to Buddhist Architecture in India.  An examination of the early forms of Buddhist buildings in India would therefore  be necessary to an understanding of the history of Architecture in Sri Lanka as well.  We also have three sources  from which we can date the Architectural remains of Sri Lanka. The Mahawansa This great chronicle  gives  an account  of the work done by each King during his period.  These accounts are useful both to  get  an  idea  of the  buildings  themselves  and  their construction methods as well as their dates of construction, addition or development. Epigraphical The second source  in Epigraphical, being letters  inscribed on rock  often  to record  a donation  of  a building  or  a monastery. Archeological Evidence The third is archeological evidence from excavation. This is achieved  by a study  of the site  and from  a study  of the associated pottery and other finds.  A more important source to us would be the study of the development  of architecture and architectural design over the years.  Our study would be the study of architecture  from an analysis of the buildings and architectural decoration. Since Buddhist architecture in Sri Lanka is linked with the spread of Buddhism  in India it is relevant and necessary  to look at Buddhist  architecture in India.  In this study the main architectural  type is the pillar, i.e.  STUMBA.  Other  architectural  forms  are  the STUPA, the CHAITYA and the VIHARA. P.87 STUMBA the Pillar The pillar  in Indian  architecture  has been traced  to the Vedic  YUPA  set  up  at the  sacrificial  altar.  The  best examples  of the pillar  are those set up by Ashoka  bearing his edicts.  In one of them  it is mentioned  that  26 years after his consecration  Ashoka  set up these pillars  in the length and breadth of his country so that his subjects could be benefited by the teachings of the DHARMA. These  free  standing  pillars  of polished  sandstone  were erected  along  the  highways  and at places  sacred  to the Buddhists.  A pillar consists of a shaft and a capital.  The shaft  is monolithic  and  is carved  out to be circular  in section  and  tapering  to  the  top.   The  capital  craved separately  was in three parts, an inverted lotus, an abacus and  the  crowning  figure  of an  animal.  The  abacus  was circular or square and had relieves of animals carved on it. The crowning  animal has been a bull, an elephant, a lion or a horse.  The lion  capital  from  Saranath  has four  lions seated  back to back, and has in recent  years  been used as the national emblem on the flag of India. The STUPA The STUPA traces  its origin to very early times.  After the death of the Buddha  his ashes were enshrined  by Ashoka  in eight STUPAS which have since not been found. Ashoka is said to  have  constructed  as  many  as 84000  STUPAS  and  thus initiated  the STUPA worship.  In Sri Lanka or elsewhere the STUPA indicates  a spot sacred to Buddhism.  STUPAS are said to enshrine the SARIRIKA, bodily relics, PARIBOSIKA, objects associated   with  the  Buddha,  UDESIKA  relics  sacred  to Buddhism.  The STUPA  evolved  from  the prehistoric  burial mound.  Buddhist  STUPAS  however,  have  undergone  several periods of development in each country and has evolved forms of exceptional beauty.  The development of the STUPA and the STUPA house, WATADAGE, makes an interesting study. In no other country in Asia has the STUPA undergone  so much of development  and  change, and  continues  to develop  and change, as in Sri Lanka. The STUPA  form was introduced  from India  and in the early examples  retain  the characteristics  of the Ashoka form at SANCHI.  However, over the years many large and small STUPAS came to be erected  by pious  Kings for the Enshrinement  of Buddha  relics  or as commemorative  STUPAS  or  to  contain objects associated with the Buhhha and the Dhamma. P.88 The shapes of the STUPAS developed  according  to their size and one is able today to recognize six significant  examples defined by the shape of the dome. Such  shapes  as the BUBBLE, the BELL  shape, the POT shape, the LOTUS  shape, the HEAP  OF PADDY  shape  and the AMALAKA shape are seen in the large MAHA VIHARA as well as the small STUPA of the village temple. The STUPA  also  gains  its value  from  the enshrinment  of telics or sacred objects  at various  levels done with great reverence and meanings.  Several ancient STUPAS now in ruins have  revealed  their  sacred  treasures  providing  the art historian much material for study. The WATADAGE The WATADAGE literally means a circular relic house. This is a development of a STUPA sheltered by a roof and as expected it is a pillared building around a small STUPA provided with four entrances and four Buddha images placed at the cardinal points.  Several  examples  of these are found in Sri Lanka, the earliest  being  the ones at Mihintale  and Anuradhapura 3rd century  BC.  These  mark the spots  connected  with the introduction of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Much   later   and  more  developed   forms   are  seen   at Medirigiriya, 8th  Cent.  and  Plonnaruva  12th  Cent., both considered as gems of architectural design. In modern  times  architects  have  designed  and  built  in concrete a circular  relic house enclosing  a small STUPA in the  south  of Colombo.  This  is also  the  site  of a much venerated  Bodhi  tree temple  situated  alongside  the main southern  highway and is visited by pilgrims  from all parts of the island. The BODHIGHARA ów Bo-tree Temple The Buddha, Gautama  (563-BC  to 483-BC) found Enlightenment at  Buddha-Gaya  in  South  Bihar, seated  on  a  stone-seat ("Vajrasana") under  a Bo-tree.  Therefore, both the Bo-tree and  Vajrasana  became  objects  of  worship,  not  only  in Buddha-Gaya, but also in P.89 many other  places  in India  and Sri Lanka.  Soon after the introduction  of Buddhism in Sri Lanka a Bo-sapling from the great Bodhi-tree  in India was brought to Sri Lanka by Theri Sanghamitta, the daughter  of the Indian Emperor, Ashoka and was planted by King Devanam Piyatissa  (250 to 210BC) in the royal  garden  of the  City  of Anuradhapura.  The Chronicle states  that the first "Bodhigara"  tree temple, was erected during this time, and since then many kings are said to have built or repaired Bodhigharas. The  Bodhighara  was  a  structure, designed  to  house  the bodhi-tree (Ficus religiosa). But like the thupaghara or the patimaghara, it could not be entirely  covered  with a roof, for the Bodhi-tree  requires  sunshine  for its growth.  The Bodhighara  was designed  in a manner  as to cover  only the area around the tree, leaving an open space in the center. Whether roofed, or enclosed with a railing or wall, "Bo-tree Shrines" were usually terraced on three or more levels, each enclosed by a railing.  At the four sides, steps with Makara balustrades   at  the  entrances,  with   guard-stones,  and moonstones were provided. SRI MAHA BODHI This is the oldest historical  tree on record  in the world. Besides   its   historical   value,  it  is   of   religious significance, as it belongs  to  the  original  tree, at the foot of which the Buddha attained Enlightenment.  Presently, it stands on a high terrace enclosed with a railing. In  any  contemporary  monastery  or temple, the  Bodhi-tree takes its place both locationally  and ritually  on the same level  as the  stupa  and  the  image-house, which  together constitute   the  three  principal  shrines  in  the  sacred precinct of a temple. The Bodhighara generally contains a large Vajrasana to the east and three smaller altars  facing the other directions. All these, display images of the Buddha with flower-altars. As  the Bodhighara and Bodhimalaka have the same objects of worship, their religious  practices are the same. Although the development of the Bodhighara deviated from the  Bo-maluva at a certain stage of its evolution, both continued to develop on parallel lines. Architectural Development p.90 The first stage of development  of the "Bo-tree  Shrine" was an  elevated   terrace   known  as  Bodhimalaka   which  was approached by a decorative flight of steps. The next stage  of development  took the form of an elevated terrace, in which four Buddha images were placed at the four cardinal  points, as  seen  at the  Samadhi-  Bodhighara  at Anuradhapura. The 3rd stage of development  is represented by the erection of  "railing  sites"  referred  to as the  Buddhist  railing Temples an elevated terraced, four Buddha images and a fence very similar  to that in Buddha-Gaya, in India.  The railing was erected to define the ambulatory area around the shrine. The third important  shrine in a Buddhist  temple complex is the Image house.  Images  for worship  had been built inside caves or were placed  at the cardinal  points  of stupas  in early times.  There are reference to images of Buddha having been deposited  in the relic  chambers  of the large stupas. However we see three different types of image houses being open to allow the tree to grow and spread out. PILIMAGE, Image house The best example of a Bo-tree shrine is seen at Nillakegama. Here  one could  see all the features  of a Bodhighara  with doorways,  guard-stones,  flower-altars  and  pillars  which supported a roof over the ambulatory  space.  The center was architecturally developed over the years.  These include the single seated image house. The image is almost always in the Samadhi attitude of meditation. The standing image is in the attitude  of blessing, is set in a high image  house  and is sometimes in the posture of thribanga, standing at ease. The recumbent  image or the reclining Buddha is more often found in cave temples due perhaps  to the shape of space available in a shallow  cave.  Such shrines  contain  a large  area of painted  surface on the rock ceiling  and the exterior  wall surface. There are also examples  of image houses with several images in them  or combinations  of the  seated  and  the  standing image.  An image house in Polonnaruva  is considered by some to  represent  the  Buddha, the  Damma  and  the  Sanga, the thri-ratna.   Most  image   houses   were  built   of  stone foundations, brick walls and timber roof. p.91 TAMPITA VIHARA,  Temple on pillars Some remarkable  examples of timber and mud image houses set on stone  pillars  have been built  by the craftsmen  of the mediaeval period and are still in use in several villages of the central  highlands.  The temple  of the Tooth  relic  in Kandy is indeed the finest timber  shrine  room built in the mediaeval period and still maintained in good repair. This temple is the center  of a week long festival  of dance and  celebration  in the month  of August  when  a colourful procession parades in the temple square every night. Kandy  also has the two large  monasteries  of Malwatte  and Asgiriya occupied by the two high priests, a continuation of the Maha Vihara  concept  which  originated  in Anuradhapura after the introduction of Buddhism. MAHA VIHARA and the PIRIVENA Soon  after  the introduction  of Biddhism  large  monastery complexes  came to be built  in Anuradhapura.  Some of these were Universities  or seats of learning  where monks learned in apprenticeship  under very learned  teacher  monks.  Such complexes  accommodating  several hundred  monks needed more buildings  of refectories, assembly halls, dwelling  houses, toilet facilities and even hospitals and infirmaries. In Sri Lanka we are fortunate  in being able to identify  all these buildings and their complex layout in several of the ancient sites.  Other facilities  at these sites included meditation halls, ponds  and spouts  for bathing  and paved  paths  and stairways.  The development  of the site as a monastery park was for providing  the serenity and quiet required by a monk for study and meditation.  Besides  the large complexes, the villages, temple  was a part of every  village  and also had the  basic  requirements  for worship  and  teaching  of the Dhamma.  These  small but well planned  buildings  continued over the years and their remains go to make up the stone and timber  Viharas  of the type called  the TAMPITA  VIHARA  or temple on stone pillars.  Several  hundred  of these, one in each village  make up an interesting  study.  The finest  of these being Temple complex in Kandy, the Dalada Maligawa. p.92 CHAITYA Buddhists who in the beginning congregated  in the park soon found the necessity for a room and shrine as a symbol of the Buddha.  The  hall  which  the Chaitya  as its  main  shrine originated  with the rock cut halls of Ajants  containing  a Stupa at one end and a hall in front for congregation.  This perhaps  provided  the form for the Watadage  concept in Sri Lanka, further developed over the years. VIHARA As a dwelling  place  for monks, was  built  a room  near  a Chaitya.  A complex with a number of rooms for several monks came to be called the Sangarama.  Viharas were originally of mud and timber construction.  These timber and mud buildings have totally disappeared and are referred to in the texts. The viharas  built of stone  and brick in later years remain in ruins.  Early caves converted, contain walls of stone and brick   and  are  identified   by  drip  ledge  inscriptions indicating they are donated to the monks. Sri Lankan architecture is not without its secular buildings of palaces, assembly halls, council chambers, royal pleasure gardens, houses  of chieftains  and farmers, rest halls  and many  other  buildings.  We  have  in the  island  a complex collection of these restored and documented. TOWN PLANNING  In the field of town planning  there are the capital cities, the monastery  and meditation  parks, temple  and the devala villages, and irrigation  schemes of village tanks and large reservoirs  fed by transbasin  canals.  There are also parks and pleasure  gardens for public use and for use of royalty. A  living  tradition   of  pilgrimages   and  festivals  for generations, continue todate.  The most important  being the full moon of May (Wesak), June (Poson) and August (Esala). p.93 REFERENCE 1894    -    Architectural remains of Anuradhapura - James G. Simither 1931    -    The temple of the tooth Kandy - A. M. Hocart 1946    -    The stupa in Ceylon - S. Paranavithana 1972    -    Glimpses of Ceylon past - S. Paranavithana 1990    -    Buddhist tree temples in Sri Lanka - S. Bandaranayake 1993    -    Heritage of Asia and Oceania - ICOMOS              Timber Architecture of Sri Lanka - L. K. Karunaratne 1993    -    The cultural Triangle              UNESCO - Sri Lanka              Central - Cultural Fund
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ILLUSTRATIONS - Slides

1.  Standing and recumbent images at Gal Vihara Polonnaruva12th Cent.

2.  Guard stone from Anuradhapura

3.  Pabulu Vehera - Stupa at Polonnaruva 12th Cent

4.  Lankatillake Vihara, Kandy - Madeaeval period

5.  Ruwanweli Seya - Stupa at Anuradhapura

6.  Samadhi Statue at Anuradhapura - Bodighara

Photo Credits
Cultural Triangle - Sri Lanka