August 2016


Girihandu seya
August 2016




Girihandu Seya in Thiriyaya

Walking along the shaded path we reached a flight of stone steps that seemed to lead to the sky. We began our ascent in great anticipation of reaching Girihandu Seya, the first stupa in Sri Lanka.


Words Udeshi Amarasinghe | Photography Menaka Aravinda and Vishwathan Tharmakulasingham


The story of Girihandu Seya dates back to the time of the Buddha. Two brothers, Thapassu and Balluka, who were traders that journeyed across oceans in their occupation were the Buddha's first devotees. On the 50th day of enlightenment the brothers offered the first alms of bee's honey to the Buddha. They listened to his sermon and gained great spiritual understanding.


Thapassu and Balluka received a lock of hair from the Buddha to engage in proper worshipping practices. During their travels on the trade routes across the oceans it is said that the two brothers reached the eastern shores of Sri Lanka and placed the sacred hair in a stupa atop the Girikanda rock that became known as the Girihandu Seya. Thus it is believed that Girihandu Seya is the first stupa in Sri Lanka.


This temple is located in Thiriyaya in the Trincomalee district. Situated a short distance from the Yan Oya estuary, the view from the summit is of the great blue ocean merging with the greenery of the land. The climb is quite steep but you can stop, take a break and enjoy the scenery. The significant Thiriyaya stone inscription details that the stupa holding the sacred hair relics was built by Thapassu and Balluka. This stone inscription is a slight detour from the main stairway about mid way of the climb.

The story of Girihandu Seya dates back to the time of the Buddha. Thapassu and Balluka, the first devotees of the buddha placed the sacred hair in a stupa atop the Girikanda that became known as the Girihandu Seya


As the ascent nears the top, there is a pond in the shape of Sri Lanka, which is aptly named as Lanka Pokuna. The pond has been carved out of rock and the water is from the natural springs. A few steps farther and you reach the summit. Stone pillars indicate the entrance and at the centre is the simple structure of the Girihandu Seya enclosed within the vatadage. White clad devotees come in their numbers to worship here.


Two intricately carved guard-stones flank the steps as you walk towards the stupa. Upon entering through the rock doorways the simplistic yet spiritual structure reflects a by-gone era. Intricately carved stone pillars stand resolute in their perseverance against the elements.


Remnants of many buildings lay scattered across the small area, the image house or Budhu gey the most apparent, where the statue of a reclining Buddha is visible. Girihandu Seya had also been a monastery complex and another rock staircase takes you to a mid level where remnants of various buildings remain. While the jungles surround this sacred rock, it is said that many archeological ruins are yet to be uncovered.


Descending to the ground level, we were in deep reflection of the significance of this site. We passed the twin tanks that flank the pathway and also the ancient stone bridge that spoke of the engineering ingenuity of our ancestors.


Thapassu and Balluka voyaged across the sea to reach Arisamalai in the East coast. With them they carried the sacred hair relics of the Buddha and built the first stupa in Sri Lanka at Thiriyaya, little knowing that this Island will in time become one of the world's greatest repositories of Buddhist heritage.

 

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    Thiriyaya stone inscription

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    The cave a short distance away from the stone inscription

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    The view of the ocean from the summit

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    The stupa holds the sacred hair relics of the Buddha

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    Lanka Pokuna

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    The monastery complex

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    One of the many ancient stone structures

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    The secondary staircase takes you to the jungle

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