Last week I mentioned that I spent a couple of years at the Sinhapura Meditation Centre near Polonnaruwa, and would regularly visit some of the historical sites in the north of Sri Lanka.
One of the main sites just 40km north of Sinhapura is Somawathiya Chaitya, but we were unable to visit it at the time, as the land around that area was controlled by the Tamil Tigers.
So it is one of the main pilgrimage sites I missed seeing in the fifteen years I spent in Sri Lanka. On this return visit, however, I finally got the chance.
Following the end of the civil war the site became accessible again and indeed a major road was built to connect Somawathiya with Polonnaruwa at some considerable cost.
Starting from Sinhapura just after the Poson Full Moon day we eventually intersected with this new road and the journey was then fairly straightforward.
When we arrived at the site we drove into the main grounds, and first went to pay our respects to the Head Monk who received us very cordially.
The Chaitya itself houses the right eye tooth relic of the Buddha, which was brought shortly after the Mission to Sri Lanka began by the novice Sumana (this is different from the tooth relic at the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy).
The Chaitya appears to have been built by King Kavantissa in the 2nd century BCE, and is therefore one of the earliest in Sri Lanka, and was named after the King’s sister Queen Somawathi.
From inscriptions that were found in the area it is clear that Somawathiya was the centre of a large monastic complex at one time, though the only ancient building remaining is the Chaitya itself.
Besides the Chaitya itself, there is also a very fine Bodhi Tree in its own enclosure, of uncertain age, and a number of new and well-designed buildings for the holding of festivities.