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Kalutara Bodhi Chaitya | 1974

     

 

As you travel south along the Galle Road, the Kalutara Bodhiya stands out as a hallowed and glorious land mark with thousands of devotees, especially travellers make a momentary stop to drop a few coins and receive blessings for a safe onward journey.

The Kalutara Bodhiya (then known as the Gangatilaka Viharaya) dates back its origins to the second century AD when under the direction of Arahant Mahinda Thera, then King Devanampiyatissa ensured that one of 32 saplings taken from the Sri Mahabodhiya was rooted here. In addition to being a popular spice trading destination,

Kalutara hosted the northern boundary of Ruhuna on the west, that was the Kalu Ganga, not the Bentara Ganga as presumed today. The mouth of the Kalu Ganga was also the north western extremity or apex of Ruhunu Rata and it was thus an ideal place for rooting.

The King paid specific attention to the Kalutara sapling and even at the time the Portuguese invaded the country in the 16th Century (1505) and demolished the Gangatilaka Viharaya however the sapling remained untouched.

An Indian Prince from the Pandya country named Wickrama Pandya in 1042 A.D. (who later became Viceroy of Kalutara) planted another sapling in the lower terrace of Pahalamaluwa and thus the site became a focal point of veneration as it was easily accessible.

Following the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British also utilized the upper terrace or Udamaluwa as a camp prior to the 19th century. After the kingdom of Kandy surrendered in 1815, and the whole island came under the British, they set about establishing Lankaadministrative units from which point it became the official residence and office of the Government agent, Kalutara. The main Galle Road was also built between the Udamaluwa and the Pahalamaluwa during the colonial era amidst much protest from the local populous.

The Bodhi premises was shared with the Government Agent’s office which caused major inconvenience to both devotees and members of the public seeking state services.

Following a request made by Sir Cyril De Zoysa, who established The Kalutara Bodhi Trust, from the first Prime Minister of the country, D S Senanayake, the then Assistant Government Agent of Kalutara, C P De Silva took steps to release the small hillock to the east of the Galle Road, for the Bodiya and also to demolish the Government Agent’s bungalow together with other buildings on the hillock.

Having obtained the desired space, Sir Cyril set in motion plans to build a hollow chaitya with great energy and dynamism consulting Dr. A N S Kulasinghe, blueprints were drawn for the construction of the first thin hemispherical shell in Sri Lanka.

 

INSIDE ITS CAVERNOUS ECHOING INTERIOR THERE IS A MINI-DAGOBA SURROUNDED ON EACH OF THE FOUR SIDES BY A GOLDEN BUDDHA, WHILE BRIGHTLY COLOURED BUDDHIST FLAGS FLAP DOWN FROM THE CEILING. NARROW WINDOWS

AFFORD A 360-DEGREE PANORAMIC VIEW OVER THE RIVER AND SOUTH INTO KALUTARA TOWN.

Built upon a pre-stressed concrete frame, the chaitya has a thin shell of 100 ft. diameter with a thickness of 51/2 inches and a circumference of 300 feet. This unique design followed the traditional shape of a stupa, at the same time replacing the traditional solid brickwork with a thick concrete shell. The hollow stupa was constructed against the resistance of some parties who insisted that a stupa should be a solid structure.

The design and construction were carried out by the State Engineering Corporation whose computer (the first in the country) enabled the complicated calculations to be carried out without resorting to approximations that become necessary when working with calculators. The Architectural consultant was Dr. Justin Samarasekara. The construction was by conventional methods involving the construction of form work for the whole shell before placing the steel reinforcing and concrete.

Within the hollow inside are four small chaityas and on the walls scenes from Jataka tales are painted. Visitors can walk inside the chaitya and look at the statues and wall paintings telling the story of the Buddha. It is the world’s only hollow Buddhist shrine and its interior contains 74 murals, each depicting a different aspect of the Buddha’s life.

The foundation for the imposing structure was laid in 1964, and after ten years of work the pinnacle of the chaitya was laid in January of 1974. The pinnacle was unveiled and relics deposited in the inner chamber by President J R Jayewardene on February 25, 1980.