Girihanduseya Vihara is the most significant ancient Buddhist temple in Trincomalee District. “Vihara” is a name for “monastery”. Girihanduseya or Girikanda Chethiya is the name of the main stupa on top of a hill crowded with ancient ruins. “Girihandu” means “rocky hill” and both “Seya” and “Chethiya” mean “stupa”. However, this ancient monastery is also often named after the nearby village Thiriyai. Even more confusingly, there are many different spellings for this village and excavation site: Tiriyaya, Thiriyay, Tiriyayagama, “gama” being the name for “settlement” or “village”. Furthermore, Girihanduseya is known as Nithupatpana, meaning a rock visited by traders. The reason for this name is the foundation story of this dagaba.
Every dagaba contains a relic. The Girihanduseya stupa at Thiriyai is supposed to be the oldest Buddhist dagaba in Sri Lanka enshrined with an original hair relic of the Buddha, which was placed here by the very first two Buddhist lay people at all, Thapassu and Balluka, who had met the Buddha 50 days after his enlightenment and received that hair in return for their veneration and donation. They were traders travelling to many places and out of reverence carried this hair relic with them. When they placed it on this hill of Thiriyai and then wanted to leave this site again, they found it irretrievably embedded in the rock. This way the hair relic indicated, that this place was chosen as its final abode. An original relic of Buddha’s body is called “Saririkadhatu”. This of course is the highest ranking kind of relics that can be enshrined in a stupa. If this legend indicated by the texts of the inscriptions, identifying the founders as the first two laymen, Thapassu and Balluka, is taken literally, Girihanduseya would be the world’s first Buddhist stupa at all.
A miracle story found in Buddhaghosa’s Visuddhimagga mentions a Girihanduseya tells, that a pregnant young woman asked her parents to take her to witness a festival of lights at the Girihanduseya stupa. The parents advised her to watch it only from the foot of the hill. So she did, but due to her devotion she was elevated top by supernatural power. Buddhaghosa is the most important church father of the Theravada Buddhist tradition. He lived in the 5th century and mainly studied in Sri Lanka.
The Girihanduseya dagaba (or stupa or chetiya) that can be seen at Thiriyai today is surrounded by a circular wall, this kind of round temple containing a dagaba is a typical feature of ancient Sinhalese architecture. It's called “Chetiyaghara”, meaning “stupa house”, or “Vatadage”, meaning “circular relic-house”. The Chetiyaghara of Thiriyai is believed to have been built by King Aggabodhi VI in the second half of the 8th century. This remote temple was rediscovered by a group of surveyors in the year 1929. The two inscriptions indicated it was the ancient Girihanduseya.
more information about Girihanduseya in Thiriyai here...
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