Is Ruwanweli Seya a feast of civil engineering marvel, enshrining the relics of Lord Buddha or did it have a higher purpose? Designed by Arhants or enlightened ones themselves archaeologists and investigators inquire the greater purpose of a stupa whose construction was predicted by Buddha and was awaited by Arhants, gods and humans.
Built nearly 2500 years ago,accomplishing a prediction made by Lord Buddha himself, Ruwanweli Seya or the pagoda of golden dust, was one of the largest structures in the ancient world, standing 103 m tall with a circumference of 290 m.
Also known as the Mahathupa, Swarnamali Chaitya, Suvarnamali Mahaceti and Rathnamali Dagaba, the stupa is an engineering feast and a testimony to the engineering capabilities of the ancient Sri Lankans.
Ruwanweli Seya in Sri Lanka
Yet with the advancement of the sciences and understanding of the Mahathupa’s true structure many experts and commoners alike are questioning the true purpose of the Mahathupa. Is it only a mega structure protecting and encasing the relics of Lord Buddha or did it have a larger function still unknown to the ‘advanced’ civilisations of today.
Unlike with any other giants stupas found in the country, Mahavansa, the great chronicle of Sri Lanka, records the minute details and items involved in building the Mahathupa. Every detail from the preparation of ground initiated by King Dutugamunu to the ending of constructions by his brother King Saddatissa had been faithfully recorded and many wonder whether this record keeping was done for a purpose.
A pillar recording this future occurrence was established by King Devanampiyatissa under the guidance of ArhantMahinda on its location nearly two hundreds before the Mahathupa was built. According to the legends the site itself had been graced by four Buddhas; Kakusanda, Konagamaand Kassapa in earlier times and further by Gauthama Buddha during his third visit to Sri Lanka.
Another five hundred years later, on aVesak full moon Poya day, King Dutugamunu had the inscribed stone pillar that was erected by King DevanampiyaTissa, removed and the site levelled. The foundation was dug to a depth of seven cubits, spread with round stones, which were then crushed into smaller pieces. The stones were then stamped upon by elephants with leather shoes. Fine clay from Himalaya was spread on the stones with layers of bricks, rough plaster, quartz, a network of iron, fragrant clay, white stones, rock crystals and slabs of stones placed over it. Mercury, resin of the wood-apple, and fine clay mixed together were spread over the slabs of stones while bronze sheets of eight inches thickness were laid over the mixture. It was spread with arsenic and sesame oil mixed together and covered with silver sheets of four inches thickness.
Once the foundation is completed the arhants present had made the foundation sink into the earth making space for another foundation. According to the Mahavamsa, this process had been repeated seven times, to strengthen the Mahathupa, that it would stand the worst earthquake or natural disaster.
The relic chamber of the Mahathupa, which had never being archaeologically excavated is believed to contain a drona of relics of Lord Buddha, treasured inside a pure gold relic chambers adorned with gold, silver and gems. The walls of the relic chamber is said to be adorned with the murals depicting samsara cycle of Lord Buddha, silver and copper vases and a replica of a Bo-tree made out of silver. The relic casket is placed on a vajrasana or a seat of diamonds and is sealed inside with stone slabs by Arhants.
The Arhants then determined that ‘The relic-chamber shall not shake even by an earthquake; flowers that were offered on that day shall not wither till the end of Buddha Gotama's Dispensation; the lamps that were kindled shall not be extinguished; the clay that was mixed with perfume and sandalwood shall not dry; even a single scratch shall not appear within the relic-chamber; stains shall not appear in any of the golden goods that were offered.’. They also determined also that inimical persons should not be able to even see the relic-chamber.
When the great stupa was only partially completed its creator, King Dutugamunu, passed away leaving the responsibility of concluding the work to his brother King Saddatissa. Under his patron ship the Mahathupa was given a chathra or a parasol, which is not found today and a wall of tuskers around Mahathupa, which is found even today. According to the Mahavansa, the chathra contained a circle of diamonds, explained as a Vajrachumbaka, and a large ruby at the top.
Architect ShreenAmendra, in her book ‘Beyond the Seeing Eye; The Mahathupa of Lanka’, questions whether the purpose of the Mahathupa’s parasol was to attract lightening and to be excited into its piezo-electric properties to oscillate at its particular frequency, emitting a pulse which could be detected by heavens above.
The chathra was accompanied by an upakhila, which is placed below the chathra and is made out of copper. Use of copper in the Upakhila, which is connected to the chathra, which attracts electricity, suggests that the chathra and upkhilawere used to harvest electricity through thunder head clouds. Amendra further comments that use of high conductive metal in relic chamber and in the foundation is formula of a grand design which was meant to create an intricate circuit, with semiconductors, capacitors, emitters and groundings with the sacred relics in the centre as the source of power.