Koneswaran, Tenavaram Temples and God Upulvan

This posted started off as a reply to Siddarth’s comment and his visit to two temples in Sri Lanka.

First, three old Sinhala words out of many. Gokkana, DeviNuwara, Upulvan

Gokkana. The old Sinhala name for Trincomalee. Trincomallee is Derived from the recent name, Tri-Kona-Malaya. Malaya (=Malai in Tamil) is an old word used for hill/mountain. eg the Hill country is Malaya Desaya and first ref to that term that I know around 1BC. I suspect that word is from Pali. The common sinhalese word is Kanda for mountain. eg Kanda-Uda-Rata-Nuwara Hill-Top-Country-City. Now in English Kandy and in Sinhala Nuwara. Is Kanda Tamil or really old Sinhala? Who knows,

Dondara: Devapura and Devanagara. In Sinhalese it has been referred to as Devundara and Devinuwara, meaning City of Gods and Devundara is Southern most point in Sri Lanka
Until the late 16th century a historic temple port town complex housed merchants from around Asia. . A multi-religious site, its primary deity was the Buddhist god Upulvan and at its zenith was one of the most celebrated religious sites of the island, containing a thousand statues of the various sects of Hinduism and Buddhism.

Upulvan*  Upul=Dark Blue Van=Vanna (pali)=Varna. Sinhala: උපුල්වන් ‍දෙවියෝ, Pali: Uppalavanna; Sanskrit: Utpalvarna. Now used to mean Vishnu. First mentioned in Mahavamsa as Vijaya (500 BC) being blessed by god Upulvan (see foot note 2) on arrival in Sri Lanka. Upulvan is considered the god whom the Buddha entrusted with the guardianship of Sri Lanka and Buddhism in the country. At the end of the 15th century, god Upulvan was identified with god Vishnu of Hinduism. Thereafter images of Upulvan as Vishnu were set beside the images of Buddha

So now to the Temples Tenavaram in Dondra/Devundara and Koneswaram in Trinco/Gokkana

Koneswaram in Gokkana
Apparently King Mahasen (277-304 AD) destroyed the Hindu Temple.  According to the Mahavamsa to quote
and founded three viharas, destroying temples of the (brahmanical) gods: the Gokanna (vihara), (and another vihara) in Erakavilla, (and a third) in the village of the Brahman Kalanda;13

King Mahasen, initially a Mahayanist and later went back to Theravada. Built 16 reservoirs including Minneriya. Minneriya reservoir is now the site of the largest gathering of Elephants. Mahasen was regarded as a god or deity, and was called Minneri Deviyo (God of Minneriya).
In that same chapter “At the place of the yakkha Kalavela14 he built a thupa”, which reiterates the claim the Yakkas were real people.

The deep ocean where Portuguese are reputed to topple the Temple, there are Buddhist and Hindu ruins
Just a few years later in 1956, the famous Arthur C Clarke uncovered underwater masonry, architectural and idol images of the original temple. In his 1957 book ‘the Reefs of Taprobane’, Clarke identified at least 3 Hindu temples as having been build on or around Swami rock over the millennia. At that time, he said they were probably the most photographed underwater ruins in the world.
Arthur C Clarke description of first sights underwater.
Recent Dive clip


Tenavaram in Dondra/Devundara/DeviNuwara.
DeviNuwara is dotted with many temples, Buddhist and Hindu. Pothgul and Galge are the lesser known but ancient buildings.
Devundara is multi-religious complex, the Buddhist temple and the Upulvan devale (shrine) was started by King Dappula II in the 7th century AD.

*I suspect a lot of merging of pre Buddhist gods with Hindu Gods. Much like the dynamics in the Caribbean African Gods being merged with Catholic Saints.  See Link below for synopsis.


“The Buddhist Age”

Civilizational affinities in 700 AD

I made an offhand comment on Twitter that I thought might be worth amplifying and elaborating. You can argue that to a great extent the period between 250 AD and 750 AD can be thought of as the “Buddhist Age” in Asia. The year 750 AD is easy as a cut off point, as the battle of Talas in 751 symbolizes the recession of Tang Chinese influence in Turanian Central Asia, and the inexorable advance of the Muslim Arabs. The year 250 is more vague, but it post-dates the collapse of the Han dynasty, and starts to see the ascension of Buddhism as a Chinese religion par excellence, rather than a marginal Indian cult.

Let’s focus on the year 700. What’s going on? First, let’s acknowledge that Buddhism is in serious decline across the Indian subcontinent, though there are local pockets of strength, with a late Indian summer to come with the Pala Empire of Bengal in 750. Second, it was under threat across its East Iranian heartland. It is often forgotten that Buddhism and Zoroastrianism competed toe-to-toe as the religion of the elites across the East Iranian world, from modern-day Afghanistan to Khorasan and deep into Transoxiana. The book Buddhism and Islam on the Silk Road documents this interplay. Lost Enlightenment as well as Christopher I Beckwith’s book argues from the strong role of Turanian Buddhism in shaping Abbassid era Islam (e.g., viharas as models for madrassas and Turanian Buddhist textual culture as the seedbed for hadith).

in Japan Buddhism was taking root, while in Korea and much of China it was the dominant religion in 700 AD. Buddhism also had a thin, but detectable, impact across Southeast Asia, along with Indic culture more generally. Tibet was not as clearly associated with Buddhism in 700, but the religion had already been introduced and was making a cultural impact.

What does this have to do with “Brown Pundits”? Buddhism is the dominant vehicle of clear and obvious Indian cultural influence in the world. It is, arguably, the earliest of the great missionary religions to exist today. Though Buddhism never took root in the West, it was clearly known and a presence in the eastern Mediterranean during the Roman period in cosmopolitan ports such as Alexandria. Though Indian numerals are extremely consequential, they are a more bit-sized cultural element, which has been detached from their Indian matrix. In contrast, Buddha’s Indian origin is well known, and the influence of Buddhism is probably responsible for legends that are hard to explain such as the Indian princess who married into the Korean royal line and gave rise to a modern day Korean clan.