The Girihanduseya temple at Thiriyai is supposed to be the oldest Buddhist Temple in Sri Lanka enshrined with the hair relic of the Buddha.
According to Buddhist annuls two trader brothers, Thapassu and Balluka have offered the first ‘dana’ to the Buddha on the 50th day after attaining Buddhahood. They have offered alms to a noble personality seated under a huge banjan tree not knowing it was the Buddha.
The Buddha delivered a sermon and having come to know that the glorious personality to whom they offered alms they requested for something for them to worship. The Buddha offered them a lock of hair from his head.
The two trader brothers were so jubilant they placed the hair relic in a golden casket and carried it in reverence wherever they went. Soon they set sail with a large consignment of cargo and having arrived in Sri Lanka they anchored at Galwaraya presently known as Kallarawa. The area was under the command of a ‘yakka’ ruler and the two brothers having met the yakka chief have climbed the nearby hill for safety. They have spent the night on the hilltop having placed the golden casket on a small rock and covering it with a white cloth.
The next morning when they were ready to leave they having worshipped the hair relic in the casket wanted to take it away only to find it was embedded to the rock. All attempts made to retrieve the casket failed and they left the place having covered the casket with pieces of rock for safety.
Thereafter the ‘yakka’ chieftain continued to worship the relic having become a Buddhist. It is believed that king Wasaba 67AD built the original ‘stupa’ and also built an irrigation tank which is now known as the Thiriyai tank. King Pandukabaya and King Devanampiyatissa also have venerated this stupa till 412AD.
The Girihanduseya is also known as Neethupatpana a ‘pali’ word meaning rock visited by trade leaders. King Agrabodhi Seelamega (733AD) had built a bigger chetiya over the small one and done some of the granite work. Thereafter, with people leaving the area due to foreign invasion the temple was uncared for and gradually forest set in covering the entire area. It is said King Agbo the 6th (772AD) cleared the path to the temple on the hilltop and was stationed there with an army. It was during that period he had completed the granite work and built the ‘Watadage’.
With Sinhala Buddhists gradually leaving the area due to constant enemy invasion the temple was totally neglected and the surrounding area became a thick jungle. This place was discovered by a group of surveyors in the year 1929 and on examination several stone inscriptions were found. The inscriptions disclosed this to be the Girihanduseya enshrined with the hair relic of Buddha by the two trader brothers Thapassu and Balluka.
After discovery of the ruined temple the archaeological department was informed and after necessary investigations the existence of the temple with the hair relic of the Buddha was made public by a gazette notification in 1930. On the persuasion of the late D. S. Senanayake, the late Paranavithana rehabilitated the ‘chetiya’ and the ‘watadage’ in 1951 – 1952.
Till 1982 a bhikku – Ven. Gandara Dhamakeerthi Sri Ananda resided at the ‘Sangavasa’ erected at the foot of the rock. With ethnic violence reaching its peak the Sinhala population living in that area along with the priest left the area in 1982.
For twenty years the area was under LTTE control but except for the newly built ‘sangawasa’ pilgrims rest and other such buildings none of the ancient structure was damaged. Not even a stone had been displaced.
Recently the officer in charge of the Kuchchaveli Police Inspector Travin Ludewyke (a non-Buddhist) wanted the road from Kachchaveli to Girihanduseya temple cleared so that pilgrims can once again visit this historic temple with the help of policemen, home guards and villagers mostly Muslims he begun to clear the road form the Kuchchaveli and ably supported by Sri Lanka Navy who began clearing the road from the Thiriyai end.
This road is now cleared and renovated by the Navy and people can now go on pilgrimage to the Girihanduseya temple after twenty long years. The Sri Lanka Navy arranged a ‘pinkama’ on Poson full moon day.
By K. D. Jayasekera