Bellanwila Rajamaha Vihara

In the temple-studded paradise island of Sri Lanka, Bellanwila Rajamaha Vihara occupies a special place. This temple is considered so sacred that there is a long cherished belief that a child who treads the ground under the shade of its scared Bodhi-tree will never fail in life.

Situated in the outskirts of the city of Colombo, in the village of Bellanwila, just three kilometers from the city limits, Bellanwila temple has a long and hallowed history. The great sanctity attached to the temple is due to its sacred Bodhi-tree. There is authorative literary evidence in ancient texts such as the Sinhala Bodhivamsaya which records that this Bodhi-tree is one of the thirty two saplings that sprang from the sacred Bodhi-tree at Anuradhapura planted in the 3rd century B.C.E.

The recorded tradition is as follows: There were five twigs in the Bodhi-sapling that was brought from India to Sri Lanka and planted in the Mahameghavana at Anuradhapura. When the sapling had grown into a tree, eight new saplings sprang from its eastern side. These are called the astaphalaruka-Bodhi-trees and they were planted at eight different spots on the Island. From the other four original branches sprang thirty-two additional saplings which were also distributed throughout the Island. One such plant is the sacred Bodhi-tree at Bellanwila.

The reason why this particular spot at Bellanwila was selected is not clear. Scholars have forwarded various hypothesis. But what appears plausible is that even at such early times this particular spot had been recognized as a hallowed site, and further, that there may have already been a well established shrine here with resident holy monks.

The state of the shrine after the planting of the Bodhi-sapling is shrouded in the mists of history. Neither literary nor archaeological evidence is available to reconstruct its history. Bellanwila was far away from the then capital of the Island and as it had no significant role in the history of the Island, it did not find any mention in the chronicles or other historical documents.

In the 15th century, Bellanwila again is mentioned in literary works. This is when Kotte, which is in close proximity to Bellanwila, became the capital. In the Kotte period Buddhism rose to great heights with the royal patronage of King Parakramabahu VI (1412-1467). But even during this period, Bellanwila is cast in the shadow of Sunthradevi Pirivena, a shrine built by the king himself.

The subjugation of the maritime provinces by the Portuguese in the latter part of the 17th century and consequent loss of royal patronage, dealt a severe blow to Buddhism. as a result many places of worship were neglected. Bellanwila seems to have fallen on especially hard times, was abandoned and covered by a dense thicket.

Rediscovery

It is in the middle part of the 19th century that Bellanwila once again comes into religious prominence. The story of the revival of Bellanwila is closely linked with Attidiya, a village adjoining Bellanwila. The discoverer was an adventurous monk known as Thengodagedara Hamuduruwo. It is not known to which temple or sect he belonged but he was said to be the founder of Galauda Vihara. One day in 1850, he was traveling by boat along the Katu-ala stream towards Pepiliyana. On his journey it is said that he heard the sound of drums from a nearby thicket. Being inquisitive, he left the boat and walked towards the sounds.

As he approached, the drum sounds faded away and he was surprised to see a Bodhi-tree. Subsequently he came to discover that this was one of the thirty two saplings from the sacred Bodhi-tree at Anuradhapura.. With the help of villagers, he cleared the land around the tree and built a modest shelter for monks.

With this modest and mysterious beginning, Bellanwila began to attract the attention of devotees in the neighborhood. As they were mostly poor villagers, they were not in a position to contribute much to the temple’s structural development.

Since Thengodagedara Hamuduruwo rediscovered Bellanwila it has had a succession of chief monks including Ven. Udugampola Sri Ratanapala, Udugampola Sri Dammakkhandha, Abhidhamma Weboda Sri Sangharatana, Asgiriya Devarakkhita and Bellanwila Sri Somaratana. amongst these erudite, well-disciplined monks it is Ven. Bellanwila Sri Somaratana who must be given credit for raising Bellanwila Rajamaha Vihara to its present state of glory and grandeur.

Social Service

Besides being a place of worship, the temple serves as a dynamic social service center. The Dayaka Sabha, The Women’s Organization and the Buddhist Youth Organization work in coordination to provide a variety of services to the benefit of the entire community. The Dhamma School has an enrolment of over 1500 students. They begin arriving with their parents every Sunday at 7:30. They are dressed in pure white clothing given to them by the temple. They are led by one of the monks in chanting and meditation after which they file to their class rooms for further Dhamma instruction until noon. On any given Sunday there will be over one thousand children at the Dhamma school. Older students and volunteers help keep order and focus by walking among the children and encouraging them in respectful behavior.

Other services include the donation of a house each year to a destitute family, scholarships are granted to needy children. Others receive books, stationery and clothing in able to continue their education. In poor rural areas, support is provided to under-funded temples and the villages they serve. The Sri Somaratana Memorial Foundation is another branch of the temple supporting social services and scholarships. 

You can visit this ancient temple at http://www.bellanwila.org/