Velgam Vehera is a rarely visited excavation site of an ancient Buddhist monastery, located 13 km north of Trincomalee, not far from the A12 main road. The Tamil name of the temple is Natanar Kovil. This Buddhist temple has a Tamil history, too, though a simplifying chauvinist historical view, following the lines of genuine western concepts of ethnic devides, tends to interpret this temple as an example of both Sinhalese Buddhist predominance in the East and persecution of Buddhism by Tamils.
Indeed, there is inscriptional evidence that Velgam Vehera was a Sinhalese monastery already in the Anuradhapura period, for example there is a rock inscription from the second century AD. A sapling of the Anuradhapura Botree is said to have been planted here even earlier, by none other than King Devanampiya Tissa, who officially introduced Buddhism in his island kingdom in the 3rd century BC.
Furthermore, when the Southindian Tamil empire of the Chola dynasty occupied Sri Lanka in the early 11th century, the Cholas began to build or enlarge Hindu temples in the North and East of the island and maybe even damaged Buddhist monasteries. In most cases the decline of the Buddhist order and the decay of ancient monasteries was simply the result of neglect, but Velgam Vehera could be an example of arbitrary destruction, though this is not quite sure.
However, this is not the whole story about Buddhism under the Cholas. Tamil inscriptions call Velgam Vehera “Rajaraja Perum Palli”. Rajaraja was the name of the Chola king. The Chola dynasty did not persecute Buddhism in general. Quite the contrary, Buddhist art flourished in their Southindian capital Tanjavur (Tanjore), and the Cholas supported the reestablishment of a Buddhist monastery at the main harbour of their maritime empire, Nagapattinam, in order to show good will to cooperate with the Buddhist Srivijaya empire of Sumatra and West-Java. The relations with Srivijaya were friendly under Rajaraja Chola but became hostile under his successor Rajendra Chola. Nevertheless, a Buddha statue of Nagapattinam’s great monastery, which is known as Chudamani Vihara, carried an inscription calling it “Perum Palli of Rajendra Chola”, indicating that the power struggle with Srivijaya had no anti-Buddhist background.
Tamil inscriptions mention donations for the Velgam Vehera. Chola renovation work went so far that the doyen of Sri Lankan historiography, Paranavitana, called Velgam Vehera „Buddhist shrine of the Tamil people“. It is the only known "Buddhist Palli" or "Tamil Vihara" in Sri Lanka.
Most of the structures that can be seen today date from the Chola or from the later Polonnaruwa period. Though all elements belonging to a traditional Buddhist monastery of the Anuradhapura period occur in Velgam Vehara, assembly hall, stupa, bodhigara, image house, enclosing walls, tank, occur in Velgam Vehera, there is one item emphasised by its sheer size and its central location: the image house with a standing Buddha. This is a characteristic feature of the Polonnaruwa period. There can be no doubt that Polonnaruwa image houses were inspired by South Indian Hindu temple architecture, particularly of the Chola architecture. But the date of the Velgam Vehera image house may be even pre-Polonnaruwa. In this case it would have helped to set the Polonnaruwa style of Sinhalese architecture.
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