- Thuparama is one of Sri Lanka’s oldest structures. The small stupa was originally built under ruler Devanampiya Tissa (250-210 BCE). It is the only stupa in Sri Lanka that contains a documented relic from the historical Buddha, brought from India at Mahinda’s request upon Tissa’s conversion. It was subsequently converted into a stupa temple (vatadage) — which involved erecting columns around it to support a wooden roof — in the 1st century CE. However, the existing arrangement (with stone rather wooden columns) likely dates from the Late Anuradhapura period, that is, the 7th-9th centuries.
- On the northern edge of Mahavihara monastery, in the southwest corner of the old city. Toggle Map above.
- Stupa at center of a round platform. The relatively small stupa sits on a high, round platform, the periphery of which is lined with a parapet. This differs from the square platforms of non-vatadage stupas. Buried deep in the center of the anda is one of Sri Lankan Buddhism’s most sacred relics: the Buddha’s right collar bone.
- Shrine-altars. Shrine-altars surround the base of the stupa, four on the cardinal points and four on the intra-cardinal points.
- Wooden roof. Four concentric rows of stone columns with ornate capitals originally supported a wooden roof that covered the stupa and the entire platform.
- Visitor movement. Ancient visitors entered, as they do today, on the south side by way of a double staircase. Once inside, they would circumambulate along column-lined passages, gradually moving from the outer ring to the inner ring, where they would leave offerings on the altars.
A Vestige from the Days Before Colossal Stupas
- Not the hub of the monastery. Its smaller size and position on the periphery of the monastery indicate that Thuparama pre-dates the concept of the colossal stupa — which functions as the primary area for worship and the hub of the monastery’s organization — that prevails throughout Anuradhapura’s subsequent history. At the time of its construction, the stupa was likely viewed as having equal importance to the Sri Maha Bodhi tree shrine; the faithful would move between the two structures as part of ritual worship. It was not until the 2nd century BCE, with the construction of Mirisaveti stupa, that the colossal model was embraced.
- Smaller scale made it a viable vatadage candidate. The stupa — 19 meters/62 feet in height (from the platform) and 18 meters/60 feet in diameter — is dwarfed by Anuradhapura’s others: Jetavana, Ruwanwelisaya and Abhayagiri. These comparatively smaller dimensions likely made it a viable candidate for enclosure by a wooden superstructure, which, as mentioned earlier, likely occurred in the 1st century CE, approximately 300 years after its initial construction.
- The stupa. While it currently conforms to the standard Sri Lankan profile (steep-sided anda, big harmika, inverted cone-shaped chattra spire and triple molding base), the all-white stupa itself shows nothing of its original appearance, having been restored and reconstructed continuously through history, most recently in the 19th century. It is likely appreciably bigger now than when first built.
- Column capitals. The thin octagonal stone columns, which likely date from the Late Anuradhapura period, are topped by capitals with exceptional decorative details. Each capital is crafted to appear as a stylized lotus flower that opens to reveal creatures sustained by the Buddha’s wisdom and the gifts of water he makes available: some have squatting dwarfs (symbolic of the joy of life), while others have rearing lions (symbolic of the Sinhalese people). Many capitals, separated from their respective columns, rest on the stone platform, which allows for up-close inspection. Look for the tenons on the tops of the capitals, perhaps once used to secure the wooden roof.