Buddhist Railing at Jetawana Monastery – unique structure of yesteryear
By Arundathie Abeysinghe
Located approximately 120 meters south of Jetawanarama (also known as Jetawanaramaya stupa or Buddhist reliquary monument) and located in the ruins of *Jetawana Monastery in the UNESCO world heritage city of *Anuradhapura, there is a structure known as “Buddhist Railing” which has been researched and analyzed by many scholars, authors and travelers from the period, the British discovered it in the 1800’s. This site is enclosed by a large railing made of stone slabs and pillars.
According to the Archeological Commissioner’s Report of 1890, *H.C.P. Bell has discovered and restored this unique site.
According to scholars, the stone fence is a Buddhist motif found in ancient Buddhist architecture including *Sanchi in India. According to *Mahawamsa, there had been a *Bodhi tree inside this structure and King Dappula II (797-801) had donated a golden Buddha Image to the Temple within the premises. The plaque at the site indicates that there had been an Image House or Bodhigara (Bodhi tree shrine) as there is a square pit inside the enclosure and the water course leading to it.
There are four entrances to the Buddhist Railing with each entrance on the center of each side. There are entrances with flights of steps from the four sides. At the center are the eastern and western entrances. The rectangular structure is constructed with a long wall of 42 x 34 meters and approximately (1.17 meters) high. The railing comprises plinths, standards with horizontal rails and coping and the railing stands on an attractively designed three feet (approximately one meter) high five layers of molded rock. According to scholars, the rows of columns within the enclosure had once held the superstructure.
The exact identity of the structure is unknown. As there are stone seats, pedestals and fragments of images many scholars are of the view that it was an Image House. Yet, there is a watercourse leading to the structure and a square pit. Hence, some scholars believe that it was a Bodhigara where a Bodhi tree would have been planted. Many scholars are also of the view that the structure would have been utilized as an Image House as well as a Bodhigara.
In 1892, the upper portion of an inscribed slab had been discovered from the site. According to records of the 10th century, there are certain regulations regarding the maintenance of a Gateway Water Pavilion constructed by devotees of Ratnama Pirivena (Pirivena meaning a monastic college for educating Buddhist monks) of Jetawana Monastery.
The period, the structure was constructed nor the constructor is unknown.
Image courtesy – amazinglanka.com
- Anuradhapura – A major city in Sri Lanka, the capital of Anuradhapura District.
- Anuradhapura Period – This was a period in the history of Sri Lanka from 377 BC -1017 AD when the Anuradhapura Kingdom was established as the first kingdom in ancient Sri Lanka. King Pandukabaya (474 BC – 367 BC) was the first monarch to rule Sri Lanka from Anuradhapura from 377 BC. Buddhism played a major role during the Anuradhapura Period.
- Arhat – According to Buddhism, an Arhat is one who has gained insight into the true nature of existence and achieved *Nirvana.
- Arhat Mahinda – The profoundly sapient Thera arrived in Sri Lanka as requested by his father, Emperor Asoka of India (264-267 BC). With the advent of Arhat Mahinda and establishment of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, a socio-religious revolution took place in Sri Lanka changing the life, culture and civilization of people.
- Bodhi tree – Also known as Bo tree is the specific sacred fig tree (Ficus religiosa) under which the Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama) sat when the Buddha attained *Enlightenment at Bodh Gaya in Bihar, India. Ficus religiosa is a species of fig tree native to the Indian subcontinent. Bodhi Tree is also known as the “tree of awakening”. Other sacred Bodhi trees with great significance are Anandabodhi Tree at Jetawana in Sravasti, North India and Sri Maha Bodhi Tree in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, believed to have been propagated from the original Bodhi Tree.
- Enlightenment – In Buddhism, Enlightenment is when a Buddhist finds the truth about life and stops being reborn as he/she has reached *Nirvana.
- C. P. Bell – Harry Charles Purvis Bell (1851 – 1937) known as H.C.P. Bell was a British civil servant and the first Commissioner of Archaeology in Ceylon (Sri Lanka was known as Ceylon until 1972).
- Jetawana Monastery – One of the major Buddhist Monasteries of Sri Lanka founded by King Mahasena (276-303 AC), the location where the great Buddhist missionary *Arhat Mahinda preached Buddhism for seven consecutive days. According to *Mahawamsa, there had been a Bodhigara within the Jetawana Monastery during the reigns of King Agrabodhi (608-618 A.D.) and King Dappula II (815-813 A.D.).
- Mahawamsa – “Great Chronicle” or “Great Dynasty” in Sinhala is the most significant work of Sri Lankan origin written in Pali Language. This Chronicle describes life and times of Sri Lankans from the arrival of Vijaya in 43 BC to the reign of King Mahasena from sixth century BC to fourth century AD. Culavamsa (lesser chronicle) covers the period from fourth century AD to British takeover of Sri Lanka in 1815. Mahawamsa consists of three parts covering a historical record of over two millennia. It is considered as the world’s longest unbroken historical record.
- Nirvana – It refers to a release from the cycle of death and rebirth, the ultimate spiritual goal of Buddhism.
- Sanchi – Also spelled Sanci and considered as the most noteworthy of the structures at the historic site of Sanchi in Madhya Pradesh in India. Located in an upland plateau, the site of Sanchi comprises a group of well-preserved Buddhist monuments (monolithic pillars, palaces, temples and monasteries) dating to the 2nd and 1st centuries B.C. It is the oldest Buddhist sanctuary in existence and was a major Buddhist center in India until the 12th century A.D.