Construction of Mahathupa (Ruwan Vali Saaya)
(Mahavamsa refers to Ruwan Vali Saaya as “Mahathupa” and that name would be used here in. Mahavamsa occasionally uses the word “Sonnamali” as well. Today “Sonnamali” has been converted to Ruwan Vali Saaya).
Construction of Mahathupa started on the full moon day of the month of Vesak. King Dutugamunu
had the workers dug a 7 cubit deep excavation. (Approximately 10.5 feet). He had soldiers brought in
round stones and had them crushed with hammers. Crushed stones were placed at the bottom of the
excavation and compacted using elephants.
Elephants had their feet bound with leather to protect their feet.
Fine clay was brought in from a nearby river. This clay was known as butter clay since it was very
fine. King Dutugamunu ordered to spread butter clay on top of crushed stones.
After placement of the butter clay layer, King ordered to bring bricks. Bricks were placed on top of
the butter clay layer.
On top of bricks, mesh of iron was placed.
Mountain crystals were placed on top of iron bars.
Another layer of stones was placed on top of mountain crystals. On top of stones, 8” thick copper
plate was placed. Copper plate was sprayed Arsenic and Sesame oil.
On top of the copper plate, seven inch thick silver plate was placed.
(Author’s Note: Placement of a seven inch thick silver plate maybe is an exaggeration).
Whole city rejoiced during construction of Mahathupa. Many bhikkus from foreign countries came to
see the construction activities. Bhikkus from Rajagaha, Isipathana, Jethavana, Mahamevna and
Gositharama came to see the construction of Mahathupa.
Circular Outline Ceremony for Mahathupa:
King Dutugamunu organized the ceremony for the circular outline of Mahathupa. All the bhikkus
stood around the foundation for the great ceremony.
A post was erected at the center and a rope was attached to it. A marker was attached to the other end.
The circular outline was drawn using the marker.
King Dutugamunu Interviews Engineers:
After marking the boundary of Mahathupa, King Dutugamunu ordered top master builders of the
country to come to the palace. Five hundred master engineers came to see the King.
King asked the first engineer “How are you planning to build the Thupa?”
The first engineer replied “I will use one wagon of sand every day”.
The King was not happy with this answer and rejected him.
(Author’s note: Mahavamsa does not tell why the first engineer was rejected. The reason for the
rejection of the first engineer was given in Mahavamsa Tika. According to Mahavamsa Tika, King
Dutugamunu told the first engineer “If you use one wagon of sand every day to mix cement, the Thupa
would be a heap of sand and fall to the ground”).
The King asked the same question from the second master builder. The second builder stated that he
would use half a wagon per day. The King rejected him as well. Similarly, King rejected builders who
stated that they would use quarter wagon and one eighth of a wagon.
Seeing King’s anxiety, one experienced master builder stated that he would crush the sand and sift it
prior to use. That way he would have to use only one Ammana of sand per day.
(One Ammana is equal to 700 handfuls).
(Author’s note: It is no secret that adding more sand to a mortar would diminish its strength.
Mortar was used to bind bricks. Mahavamsa does not say what other material was used to prepare the
mortar mixture. Previously mentioned butter clay could have been used as the cementing agent).
King accepted the last master builder’s proposal.
King’s next question was regarding the appearance of the Thupa. King asked “What’s the shape and
form of the Thupa?”. The master builder took two bowls of water and poured one bowl into the other.
When he was pouring water, bubbles were formed and rose to the surface. The engineer answered that
the shape and form would be similar to the rising bubbles. King accepted the shape and form of
bubbles as a model for the Thupa.
King Dutugamunu’s Concerns:
How to Construct The Mahathupa Without Taxing People:
King ordered that no person should be forced to work without pay. He ordered to place gold coins,
garments, ornaments, food and sugar at each gate for the workers.
Unauthorized Participation of Bhikkus:
A bhikku who wanted to participate in the construction work to acquire merit for himself, brought
a brick made of clay prepared by himself and gave it to a workman. The workman placed the brick
without the knowledge of the overseer. When the overseer found out about the unauthorized brick,
a dispute occurred. The King heard of the dispute and came to the site. The King questioned the
workman who placed the unauthorized brick. The worker stated that a foreign bhikku gave the
brick to him to be placed. The King sent people to find the foreign bhikku. When King’s people
found the bhikku, the King ordered his men to give Jasmine blossoms removed from Sri Maha
Bodhi to the foreign bhikku.
(Author’s Note: This Mahavamsa story indicates strict quality control protocol at the site. It
seems, each and every brick placed in the structure was accounted for by overseers.)
Second bhikku also wanted to participate in the construction work. He found out the exact
dimensions of bricks at the structure from a relative working at the site. He prepared a brick,
similar to the bricks in the site and gave it to his relative to be placed in the Mahathupa. The
relative placed the brick in the structure. When one of the overseers found out of the unauthorized
brick, a dispute started. The King heard of the dispute and came to the site. The King asked the
workman whether he could recognize the unauthorized brick. The worker said he could not. The King sent people to find the bhikku who gave the brick. When King’s men found the bhikku, the
King ordered to give the bhikku garments.
Author’s Note: The intention of bhikkus were to participate in construction activities to gather
merit. Unfortunately, that was not appreciated by the King due to strict quality control protocol.
Apparently, the King was gifting bhikkus who placed these unauthorized bricks as if to say “I know
what you did. Here is a gift for that, but do not do it again”.
Workers Went To Heaven:
• Two female workers, who worked in the Mahathupa, went to heaven after their deaths. They
watched the construction activities from heaven and one day came down from heaven to pay
homage to Mahathupa.
(Author’s Note: This passage shows the participation of female workers at the construction site.
Unfortunately, Mahavamsa does not say the role of female workers. Its not clear whether they were
involved in construction activities or support work such as preparing and distributing food, nursing
injured workers etc.)
Sinking of Flower Stages:• When construction started on the flower stages, they started to sink. More stones were added to
bring the stages to the proper elevation. Stages sunk again. More repairs and more stones were
added. Stages kept sinking. It happened nine times. Finally King Dutugamunu inquired the
bhikkus for the reason for the sinking of flower stages. Bhikkus stated that some bhikkus with
miraculous powers are making the stages sink and they would not do that again. King was glad
and ordered the stages to be constructed for the tenth time.
Construction of The Relic Chamber:
Two Samanera’s (Novice bhikkus) were selected to bring special stones from Kuru country.
(Northern India). Samaneras brought six massive stones measuring 80 cubits in length and breadth
and eight inches thick.
These huge stones were placed in the middle of the relic chamber. A Bodhi tree made of jewels was placed at the center as well. Many jewels and pearls were placed around the Bodhi tree. Scenes from Lord Buddha’s life were painted. (Subdue of Jatilas, King Bimbisara’s visit, eight disciples, acceptance of Rajagaha etc). At four corners of the relic chamber statues of world securing gods (In Sinhalese “Loka Palaka Deviyan”) were placed. Four world securing gods are Vessavana, Dahataratta, Virulha and Virupakkha.
King Dutugamunu’s Death:
(Author’s Note: Emotional account of the death of King Dutugamunu is given in Mahavamsa). During the construction of the top portion of the Mahathupa, (“Kotha” in Sinhalese) the King fell sick. King asked Tissa to complete the remaining work at Mahathupa, since he was sick. Tissa understood that King Dutugamunu was in his last stages. Tissa knew he would not be able to complete the Thupa before the death of the King. He had tailors prepare the top portion of Mahathupa with cloths. Prince Tissa having done that, went to King Dutugamunu and said that the Mahathupa was completed.
King immediately showed his desire to see the completed Thupa. Workers carried the King to the Thupa on a specially prepared bed.
King paid homage to the Thupa at the south entrance prior to entering it. The King was placed between Mahathupa and Lohapasada. On his right side there was splendid Mahathupa and on his left side there was Lohapasada.
(Author’s note: If one goes to Ruwan Vali Saaya today it is possible to make an educated guess where King Dutugamunu was at his last moment.)
The King was surrounded by many Bhikkus. Hearing the presence of the King at Mahathupa, many lay people and monks came to the site. Bhikkus recited Buddhist chants in one voice. (“Seth pirith” in Sinhalese).
Former Warrior Theraputthabhaya Not Present:
Looking around, King saw many bhikkus, but he did not see the former warrior (now a bhikku), Thera Putthabhaya.
King said “Oh, The great warrior Thera Putthabhaya, who fought twenty eight battles with me never yielding ground is not here in my last battle with death. He is not coming to see me since he foresees my defeat.”
Messengers were sent to Thera Putthabhaya and he arrived immediately to see the King.
King looked at Thera Putthabhaya and said “Oh..Great warrior Thera Putthabhaya…In the past you helped me, fight those many wars. Today I have entered the battlefield alone. In this struggle you can not help. I can not conquer death”.
Bhikku Thera Putthabhaya stated “Oh..Great King…Death can not be conquered without conquering sin.”
Then he recited the very famous Buddhist poem:
“Anichcha Watha Sankara…………..Uppada Vaya Dammino
Uppajitva Nirujjanti…………………Tesam vupasamo sukho”
“All things decay….Having been produced from perishable bases, they dissolve and perish.”
Bhikku Thera Putthabhaya continued…”Your love for the doctrine of Lord Buddha was great in this
life. You brought glory to the doctrine of Lord Buddha. You have accumulated lot of merit in this
life. There is no reason to fear.”
When King heard these words uttered by Thera Putthabhaya, he was joyful.
“In my last battle with death, you are here to help me, as you did in the past”.
Next, Thera Putthabhaya loudly read all the meritorious deeds conducted by the King.
“Ninety nine Viharas, Mahathupa and Loha pasada (Lowa Maha Paaya) was constructed by the King.
Twenty four great Vesak festivals were held by the King”.
After listening to these words, King stated “I have been a patron of Mahasangha for twenty four years.
When I am dead, let Mahasangha burn my body”.
Then King Dutugamunu turned to his brother, Tissa and said “Complete all the remaining work of
Mahathupa. Offer flowers to it every morning and evening. Continue the ceremonies introduced by
me in honor of Lord Buddha”.
After uttering these words, the King fell into a silence.
Invitation by Gods:
At this moment, Mahasangha started chanting Gatha (Buddhist poems). Gods from heaven came in six
chariots and invited the King to heaven. At this moment, the King was listening to Gatha, chanted by
King gestured to gods in the sky with his hand….
“Wait…I am listening to Dharma of Lord Buddha”.
King’s gesture was misunderstood by the bhikkus who were chanting Gatha. They thought, the King
wanted them to stop chanting Gatha. The bhikkus stopped chanting.
The King inquired why bhikkus stopped chanting. The bhikkus said that they thought King gestured to
stop. King Dutugamunu said he gestured to the gods in chariots, not to the bhikkus. Then some
people thought that King was uttering nonsense from the fear of death. Sensing what the people were
thinking, Thera Putthabhaya asked the King to prove that there are chariots parked in the sky. King
asked to bring garlands of flowers. Workers brought garlands. Then King asked the garlands to be
thrown into the sky. When soldiers threw garlands to the sky, they got entangled in the wheels of
chariots and hung in the air. Doubts in the minds of people disappeared when they saw freely hanging
garlands in the sky.
Then King Dutugamunu glanced at Mahathupa for one last time and closed his eyes.