Skip Navigation LinksSri Salike > Ruins > Polonnaruwa > Somawathiya Stupa


Somawathiya Stupa

  Province North Central
  District Polonnaruva
  Nearest Town Polonnaruva
  Period 2nd Century A.C.
  Ruler King Giriaba


Somawathiya was built in 2nd century BC. According to chronicles, Somawathi Chethiya was built by Prince Giri-aba on the request of his wife Princess Somawathi (sister of King Kavanthissa) who lived on a small community called "Somapura" on the banks of Mahaveli River. Upon completion of the Stupa, Sacred right tooth relic of Buddha was gifted to the prince by Buddhist monk Maha Thera Mahinda. The relic was enshrined in relic chamber of the stupa. From then on till 4th century AD, the sacred city was renovated by King Kannitta Tissa, King Kurtakanna Tissa, King Gamini Abhaya and King Amanda Gamini.

The Somawathiya Chethiya is located by the bank of the River Mahaveli within the Somawathiya strict natural reserve and wildlife sanctuary. Sungawila is the last route to Somawathiya. It is said to have been the abode of 500 Arahat (supremely enlightened, who broke free from the suffering in the cosmos, the eternal cycle of birth, death & rebirth) Bhikkhus in the 2nd century BC..

The River Mahaweli that changed its course 800 years ago The historical records narrate that the Somawathiya stupa was built on the eastern bank of the Mahaveli River. But today the stupa is located about 1/2 km from the west bank of the river. Initial confusion was subsequently solved with discovery that the river has changed its course during the last 800 years and in fact the current sandy road leading to the Somawathi was the path of the river some 800 years ago. The change of course River Mahaweli at Somawthiya correlate well with A. Denis N. Fernando's (at BMICH on 18th October 2002) theory in relation to the "Decline of the ancient Hydraulic civilization of Sri Lanka".

Rediscovery of the site & excavations The site was rediscovered in 1940's and in 1948 Ceylon secured independence from the British colonialists. Renovations were initiated by a group of devotees. In 1964 archaeologists started excavating the site. While excavating the main stupa, a smaller stupa at a depth of 5 feet into the main stupa was found. It is believed this smaller stupa was the original Somawathi Chethiya build by prince Giriaba in the 2nd century BC and the latter stupa build around the original was the work of King Kanitta Tissa in 164 AD. Archaeologists unearthed several ruins of structures including a wall surrounding the stupa. Also unearthed are four moonstones, flower pedestals, six 3 1/2 feet long "siripa gal" (rocks carved with the image of sole of the feet of Buddha). Nine stone inscriptions have been found around this site & four of the nine inscriptions on the Eric Swan rock.

Eric Swan rock The Eric Swan rock is located a few meters away from the gravel road, about 100 meters before the main entrance to the temple. Eric Swan who took a shot at the massive reclining Buddha statue carved into the rock was killed by one of the wild elephants who were disturbed by the sound of the gunshot. Elephants used to rub their backs & butts (Eh!) on a nearby rock outcrop. Carved into the rock surface where Eric Swan stood standing cross-legged, flamboyantly took his aim & shot at the Buddha statue is the print of his shuffled feet. A villager has resolved to etch the uncivilized act right into the huge rock itself.

Howard Carter (the legendary discoverer of Tomb of King Tutankaman) Vs Giragama Nilame (then guardian of Holy Temple of Tooth, Kandy)