A restoration project that took 18 years has finally come to an end. On 31 July, Sri Lanka’s president Maithripala Sirisena hosted a puja, or prayer ritual, to unveil the restored Abayagiriya Chaithya (stupa) and to declare the site open to the public. Directed by Sri Lanka’s Central Cultural Fund (CCF), the project cost a total of Rs519.5 million (US$3.9 million).
The opening ceremony for the renovated stupa. From Omlanka
The conservation effort was initiated in 1997 as a UNESCO project under the supervision of CCF director Dr. Roland de Silva, with archaeological director Professor T. G. Kulathunga as project director. Funds were gathered through the CCF from donations by individuals and organizations both locally and overseas.
According to the CCF, 1,000 guests, including 250 Buddhist monks and 50 Buddhist nuns, were invited to the opening.
Addressing the gathering, Sirisena noted that Buddhist philosophy had found acceptance not only among Buddhists, but also among people throughout the world in general, and commended the teachings as a route to creating a more spiritual society. “While the developed countries speak about their scientific and technological developments, we have a proud heritage going back to centuries. Based on this heritage we should build the sound future for our future generation,” he said. (NEWS.LK)
Buddhism was introduced into Sri Lanka in the 3rd century BCE by Mahinda Bhikkhu, the son of the Indian emperor Ashoka. During this period, a sapling of the holy Bodhi Tree beneath which the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, attained enlightenment was brought to Sri Lanka and the first Buddhist monasteries and monuments were established.
A view of the stupa before renovation. From Welcome Ahlan
Sirisena also expressed gratitude to the philanthropists, officials, and other donors who contributed to the conservation of the historic heritage site.
Sri Lanka’s prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe sent a message for the occasion extolling the history and traditions of the historic site, which had been witness to a thorough study of the basic principles of Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism aimed at distilling the essence of the teachings. He also emphasized the significance of Sri Lanka as a home to education centers representing the three principal traditions of Buddhism.
Among the participants at the opening were Chief Incumbent of Atamasthana Most Venerable Pallegama Sirinivasa Thero, Chief Incumbent of Abayagiriya Temple, Ven. Kallanchiye Ratanasiri Thero, Dr. Senarath Dissanayake, director general of the Department of Archaeology, Director General of the CCF Professor Prishantha Gunawardena, and former Director General of Archaeology Dr. Roland de Silva.
Located at the north of the ancient town of Anuradhapura, the Abhayagirya stupa is part of the larger Abhayagiriya Viharaya complex, which was constructed during the second reign of King Vattagamini Abaya (commonly known as King Valagamba) (89–77 BCE). The complex became a renowned monastic center and a royal capital, with magnificent monasteries rising to many stories—the Abayagiriya stupa itself stands at 246 feet, and may originally have been even taller. By the 1st century CE, the Abhayagiriya Viharaya had grown into an international institution visited by scholars from all over the world and welcoming all existing schools of Buddhist philosophy.
In 1982, the ancient city of Anuradhapura was proclaimed a World Heritage Site and the Central Cultural Fund took initial steps to begin conserving the locality.