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Coordinates: 8°21′06″N 80°24′13″E / 8.35167°N 80.40361°E / 8.35167; 80.40361

Jetavanaramaya Stupa profile.jpg
Former namesDenanaka and Denavehera
General information
Architectural styleSinhalese architecture
LocationAnuradhapura, North Central Province, Sri Lanka
HeightOriginal height: 122 m (400 ft), Current height: 71 m (233 ft)
Other dimensions233,000 m2 (2,508,000 sq ft)
Technical details
Floor area5.6 hectares
Design and construction
Architect(s)Parakramabahu I (during renovation)

The Jetavanarama stupa or Jetavanaramaya (Sinhala: ජේතවනාරාමය, romanized: jētavanārāmaya) is a stupa, or Buddhist reliquary monument, located in the ruins of Jetavana monastery in the UNESCO world heritage city of Anuradhapura,[2] Sri Lanka. At 122 metres (400 ft), it was the world's tallest stupa,[3] and the third tallest structure in the world[4] when it was built by King Mahasena of Anuradhapura (273–301). He initiated the construction of the stupa[5]: 49  following the destruction of the Mahaviharaya of Anuradhapura. His son Maghavanna I completed the construction of the stupa, and it was renovated by Parakramabahu I of Polonnaruwa.[6] A part of a sash or belt tied by the Buddha is believed to be the relic that is enshrined here.

The structure is significant in the island's history as it represents the tensions within the Theravada and Mahayana sects of Buddhism; it is also significant in recorded history as one of the tallest structures in the ancient world;[7] and the tallest non-pyramidal building; the height of the stupa was 122 metres (400 ft),[8] making it the tallest stupa in the ancient world. With the destruction and abandonment of Anuradhapura kingdom in the 11th century, the stupa with others was covered by jungle. King Parakramabahu in 12th century tried to renovate this stupa and it was rebuilt to the current height, a reduction from the original height. Today it stands at 71 metres (233 ft).[4][9]

The compound covers approximately 5.6 hectares and is estimated to have housed 10,000 Buddhist monks. One side of the stupa is 176 m (576 ft) long, and the flights of stairs at each of the four sides of it are 9 m (28 ft) wide. The doorpost to the shrine, which is situated in the courtyard, is 8 m (27 ft) high. The stupa has a 8.5 m (28 ft) deep foundation, and sits on bedrock.

The structure is no longer the tallest, but it is still the largest, with a base-area of 233,000 m2 (2,508,000 sq ft).[10] Approximately 93.3 million baked bricks were used in its construction; the engineering ingenuity behind the construction of the structure is a significant development in the history of the island.

Conception and History[edit]

Following king Jettha Tissa's death his brother Mahasena was consecrated as king by Mahayana monk Sanghamitta; under the monk's influence king Mahasena brought about a campaign against Theravadins[11]: 163  dwelling in the Mahavihara. The differences between the Theravadins and Mahayanins escalated to an extent to which a penalty was established to any person providing alms to monks dwelling in the mahavihara. The Mahavamsa quotes Sanghamitta: "The dwellers in the Mahavihara do not teach the (true) vinaya, we are those who teach the (true) vinaya, O king".[12]

The Mahavihara was eventually abandoned. The monks dwelling at the premises moved to Malaya country and the Principality of Ruhuna, this was followed by the pillaging of Mahavihara by Sanghamitta and minister Sona, all valuable were transferred to Abhayagiri vihāra.

The pillaging led to a rebellion by minister Meghavannabhaya, he raised an army from Malaya, and set camp by the Duratissaka tank. King Mahasena marched an army to meet minister Meghavannabhaya, where negotiations were reached night before the battle, and the king apologized for the pillaging and agreed to build a vihara at the grounds of Mahavihara, the Mahavamsa quotes the king: " will make the vihara to be dwelt in yet again; forgive me my fault". Sanghamitta was assassinated by a laborer on the instructions of a wife of the king,[13]: 109–110  Sangamitta's demise and the construction of parivena by minister Meghavannabhaya marked the return of monks to the site of Mahavihara.

Thus the construction of Jetavanaramaya began and was offered to the monk Tissa, but later the monk was accused of a grave offense upon investigation and proof by a minister, monk Tissa was eventually disrobed and expelled from the order. The Dakkhinagiri monks were then entrusted with the premises of Jetavana.[6]

Late history[edit]

Carvings at Jetavanaramya

The Jetavanaramaya was under the monks of the Sagalika sect. The Sagalica sect was closely linked with the Abhyagiri viharaya. Towards the end of the Anuradhapura period, Jetavana monastery had developed into one of the three fraternities in the island along with Mahavihara and Abhyagiriya. The fraternities were united during the reign of King Parakramabahu I, who carried out pro-orthodox reforms against unorthodox or limited Theravadins.

Name and location[edit]

The importance of the Jetavanaramaya's location is that, Mahinda, who brought Buddhism to Sri Lanka, took up residence here to preach Dharma. Thus the forest was named Joitavana and was later called Jetavana.[8]

Design and construction[edit]

Carving of a seven-headed Nāga at the Jetavanaramaya

As the largest ancient stupa constructed[14] and one of the tallest ancient structures in the world, the structural ingenuity and engineering skills employed for the construction are significant. The foundations of the structure were 8.5m deep and the size of the structure required bricks which could withstand loads of up to 166 kg. The solid foundation lay on bed-rock and the dome was constructed of full and half bricks and earth fill, the unique shape of a perfect ellipsoid allowed for stress and thus allowed the construction of the large structure.[15] The Mahavamsa describes the foundation laying, where fissures were filled with stones and stamped down by elephants whose feet were protected with leather bindings. The bricks used for the construction were a significant development of ancient Sri Lankan engineering, the bricks used for Jetavanaramaya had a composition of 60 percent fine sand and 35 percent clay, the bricks could withstand 44 kg/cm2 (281 kg/in2).[15][16]

Finely crushed dolomite, limestone, sieved sand and clay provided the bonding material for the bricks. The clay employed was pliable and thus accommodates movement within the structure. One of the sides of the brick was roughened to trap the bonding slurry thus limiting lateral movement.[15] The stupa was then covered with lime plaster; the plaster used contained seashells, sugar syrup, egg whites, coconut water, glues, oils, plant resin, sand, clay and pebbles. The plaster also provided waterproofing for the structure. The Mahavamsa also mentions the use of copper sheets over the foundation and arsenic dissolved in sesame oil to prevent insect and plant intrusions inside the stupa.[15] It is estimated that Jetavanaramaya took 15 years to complete and would have required a skillful workforce of hundreds, including brickyard workers and bricklayers, and stonemasons.[15]


Carvings at Jetavanaramya

Until 1909, the colossal structure was covered with shrub jungle. Monk Kumbuke Dhammarama of Sailabimbaramaya temple of Gammanpita received approval to clear the stupa. The approval was however, canceled as the monk decided to settle down. Polonnaruwe Sobita sought and received permission to continue clearing the premises but approval was once again canceled when the monk initiated the collection of contributions. However, the monk refused to leave.

Conservation in the late 1990s was funded by the income from ticket sales, mainly to foreign tourists to the three cultural triangle sites of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Sigiriya. Bricks were burned using the same kind of mixture that was used by the builders of the original dagoba. There have however been a decline of the city due to the significant war that existed in the late 1990s, on the other hand, shortages of bricks led to slowering of the conservation of the dagoba.[17]


Carvings and details at the Jetavanaramaya

Excavations have revealed artifacts indicating that Sri Lanka was the primary entrepot for trade activity connecting the Indian rim countries as well as the Mediterranean and the Far East, and artistic influences that point to a shared culture in South Asia.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Great Cities of the Ancient World. p. 338. ISBN 0385091877.
  2. ^ Ancient Buddhist Mural Painting of India and Sri Lanka. 2002. p. 204.
  3. ^ "Tallest stupa". Guinness World Records. Retrieved 2018-01-08.
  4. ^ a b "Jethawanaramaya of Anuradhapura Kingdom". Retrieved 2018-09-10.
  5. ^ Sinhalese Monastic Architecture. ISBN 9004039929.
  6. ^ a b "Jetavanaramaya". Archived from the original on 2008-01-26.
  7. ^ Silva, R. 1990, "Bricks – A unit of construction in ancient Sri Lanka", ICTAD Journal, 2 (1): pp. 21–42
  8. ^ a b c "Jetavana, back to the people". Sunday Times. 7 June 2009. Retrieved 2014-11-05.
  9. ^ Maha Bodhi Tree in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka: The Oldest Historical Tree in the World. p. 10. ISBN 0706970632.
  10. ^ Ranaweera, Munidasa P (December 2004). "Ancient Stupas in Sri Lanka – Largest Brick Structures in the World". CHS Newsletter. Construction History Society (70).
  11. ^ Prebish, C. Buddhism: A Modern Perspective.
  12. ^ Jayasuriya, E. A Guide to The Cultural Triangle in Sri Lanka. p. 6
  13. ^ Glimpses of Art, Architecture, and Buddhist Literature in Ancient India. ISBN 8170172268.
  14. ^ Rambukwalle, p. 48.
  15. ^ a b c d e "Engineering skills in ancient and medieval Sri Lanka". LankaLibrary Forum. 2008-12-24. Retrieved 2012-08-17.
  16. ^ Ranaweera, M.P. "Some structural analyses related to the conservation of Jetavana Stupa". Proceedings of Engineering Jubilee Congress, University of Peradeniya.
  17. ^ Chandani Kirinde & Sunil Jayathilake (27 May 2001). "Renovation of archaeological sites: Is it a question of preserving or perishing?". Sunday Times.

Further reading[edit]

  • Ratnayake, Hema (1993) Jetavana. In The Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka. Paris: Unesco Publishing/CCF.
  • Schroeder, Ulrich von. (1990). Buddhist Sculptures of Sri Lanka. (752 p.; 1620 illustrations). Hong Kong: Visual Dharma Publications, Ltd. ISBN 962-7049-05-0

External links[edit]