Originally published in The Sunday Leader on 01/04/2012 (http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2012/04/01/the-ceylon-traveller-magul-maha-viharaya-lahugala/)
I visited Magul Maha Viharaya in Lahugala back in 2009. It is yet another place that has so much history behind it and lots of interesting tidbits but isn’t flaunting any of it, preferring to exist quietly.
Lahugala is ten miles inland off the East Coast town of Pottuvil, an area believed to have been part of the Ruhunu kingdom. It is home to several tanks, beautiful green vegetation, a National Park (with a good chance of seeing elephants frolicking near the road) and the Magul Maha Viharaya, which is also known as Ruhunu Maha Viharaya.
During the war, many civilians from adjoining villages had left the area for safety and it is only now that the temple is once again being patronized regularly and is visited by pilgrims and tourists.
The history of the temple is a bit muddled and there are different versions on how it came about to be. One is that it was built by King Dathusena who ruled the Anuradhapura kingdom from 516 AD to 526 AD. There is a stone inscription at the site that dates back to the 14th century, which proclaims thus. This is also supported by the fact that the architecture of the temple, especially the stone pillars, is very similar to the architecture of the Anuradhapura era.
Another version is that it was built by King Kavantissa in the 2nd century BC on the location where the King married Princess Vihara Maha Devi. Supporters of this claim that one of the ancient ruins found at the premises are the foundation of the “Magul maduwa” where the wedding ceremony took place. This is sometimes dismissed as folklore and it is said that the actual location where the wedding took place is the nearby Muhudu Maha Viharaya at Arugam Bay.
Regardless of its founding, it is evident as soon as you enter the Magul Maha Viharaya that it is a valuable ancient ruin with beautiful and sometimes unusual architecture. It had clearly been a thriving institution with the site currently spanning to about 10,000 acres with ruins of a palace, moonstone, monastery, stupa, ponds, etc.
The most interesting element I came across at Magul Maha Viharaya was the moonstone. At first glance it looks just the moonstones you may see at other temples but upon close inspection, it is most unusual and is supposedly the only one of its kind in Sri Lanka. What makes it stand apart is the fact that every fourth elephant in the line of elephants in the moonstone (elephants are a regular feature on moonstones) has a mahout on its back. This is a highly unusual feature but so far I have not been able to find out if there is an explanation for this.
Other ruins found at the premises include the remains of a stupa, the remains of a structure which is called the “Magul Maduwa”, ponds, etc. These are decorated with carvings such as the one shown in the photo of the face of a monkey. It is notable that most of these carvings are very basic and lack the intricacies of carvings from later eras. This again confirms that the founding of the Magul Maha Viharaya goes back to very ancient times.