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Kantharodai Viharaya

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Kantharodai Viharaya

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It’s not as colourful as the Nagadeepa Kovil nor as strong as the Jaffna fort but there is something simply mystical that draws you towards Kantharodai, nestled within Palmyra trees. Maybe it’s the history behind the dagobas (stupa) or the items found during excavation, that pushes its origins into a mysterious portal. Discovered by Dr. Paul E. Pieris in 1916 this site holds around 60 dagobas. One of the stories behind the dagobas is that it’s an ancient burial site of around sixty senior Tamil monks. The stupas are said to be placed on flat coral stone beds and the largest is supposed to be about 20 feet in diameter . Located around 8 km from Jaffna this archeological site lies near a famous port.

Whilst some of the dagobas are structurally healthy there are some whose presence is known only by the foundation. Being the first site to be excavated by the Archaeology Department in Sri Lanka In Jaffna, there were many treasures found buried within the premises. These items are listed in the ox below. The variety of archaeological items found led many to believe that Kandarodai may have been an active transoceanic maritime trade port between Jaffna Tamils and other kingdoms from around the world.
In addition to this, the fact that there are stories of Tamil monks using the place as a religious site and the excavation of Sivaganams in the stupas, speaks of the harmony that existed between the two communities during ancient times. The remnants of a Buddhist site in a highly populated Tamil-Hindu population mirrors the understanding and relations that once was there between the Tamils and Sinhalese. A story and relationship that disintegrated during the 30 year long power hungry civil war.
As you enter the premises there is a sign that states that Lord Buddha himself visited Kandarodai before proceeding to Nagadeepa to solve the conflict between the Naga kings. Another specialty of this structures is that it’s supposed to demonstrate the integration of Buddhism with Megalithism, a hallmark of Tamil Buddhism. The only other such site is found outside Andhra Pradesh in India.

The name of Kandarodai derives from its original name Kadurugoda, according to historians. Kandarodai can be reached after traveling about 10 km beyond Manippai from Jaffna town. One can see remnants of 61 small dagabas scattered in an area of about ½ acre land of palmyrah trees. Only the foundations of some dagabas are left today. Keen observations convince visitors that those small structures are constructed with ash-coloured stone.

The constructions of theses dagabas bear different features from other Buddhist dagabas elsewhere since they do not distinctively have a square shape part named Hathares Kotuwa but ring-shaped structures known as Pesa Walalu built one above the other are seen next to the global structures.
Dr. Paul E. Pieris who first discovered these dagabas says the constructions are more than 2000 years old.
A Buddha statue, Bodhisaththa statue, a stone scripture and some coins believed to have been used in the 1st and 2nd centuries were found during archeological excavations in this area. They are at present kept at the Jaffna museum.
It is legendary that the relics of 60 Arhats who passed-away due to a famine while preaching Dhamma and practicing meditation in Jaffna peninsula are about 2000 years before deposited in those small dagabas. There is a record that a special dagaba with Lord Buddha’s relics were also in this premises.
Their bodies had been cremated and the ashes deposited in the small dagabas constructed later by a noble person lived in the area, but no name or any other information has been found in records.
Treasures found during the excavations:
  • Black and Red Kanderodai potshear with Tamil Brahmi scripts from 300 BC with Roman coins
  • Early Pandyan coins
  • Chera dynasty coins from Karur
  • Puranas. punched marked coins from 6th-5th century BC India
  • Cooper kohl sticks similarly used by the Egyptians

Kantharodai Viharaya is a place where you can spot the famous dagobas (stupas) in a town which is famous for its Hindu architecture. Located near Chunnakam and near to the Jaffna town, you can find numerous dome shaped stone structures here, varying in their size, the largest being 12ft in diameter. At some places it is mentioned that you can find almost 60 stupas at this spot!

Nestled between the Palmyra trees, this place was first discovered by Dr. Paul E. Pieris in 1916. The history of the pagodas and the items found during the excavation adds to the mysteriousness of this place. Some people claim that this site was used as ancient burial site for around 60 senior Tamil monks, hence the 60 stupas found here.
This was the first site to be excavated by the Archaeology Department of Sri Lanka, and many treasures were found buried beneath this place. It also serves as symbol of harmony between the Buddhist and the Hindu culture in Sri Lanka since the local people believe this spot was used by Tamil monks as religious site.
The Kantharodai Viharaya is one of the few places which show that Buddhism was older than almost all other religions in this area. It deserves a visit for its deep rooted history and the mysteriousness attached to this place.
It’s always pleasant to detour during a trip and stumble upon a place you had never heard of before.
Kantharodai in Jaffna (also known as Kadurugoda) is such a place and as you can see from the photos, it is surreal to go to Jaffna and come across so many dagobas in a town more famous for its Hindu architecture.
Since it’s not a place I had read about or knew about and because there was no information available there from the Department of Archaeology, this edition of Ceylon Traveller will feature information sourced from the internet.
Kantharodai (Tamil: fe;jNuhil, KadiramalaiTamil: fjpukiy or Kandurugoda – literal Sinhala translation of Kadiramalai Sinhala: කඳුරුගොඩ) a small hamlet and archaeological site of Chunnakam town is a suburb in Jaffna District, Sri Lanka. Known as Kadiramalai (from Kudiramalai) in the ancient period, the area served as a famous emporium city and capital of Tamil kingdoms in the Jaffna peninsula of North Eastern Ceylon from classical antiquity. Located near a world famous port at that time, Kantharodai was the first site the Archaeology Department in Sri Lanka excavated in the Jaffna peninsula.
Black and red ware Kantharodai potshards, Tamil Brahmi scripts from 300 BCE were excavated with Roman coins, early Pandyan coins, early Chera Dynasty coins from the emporium Karur punch-marked with images of the Hindu Goddess Lakshmi from 500 BCE. In addition, coins from 6th-5th century BCE India, and copper ‘kohl’ sticks similar to those used by the Egyptians in 2000 B.C, found in Uchhapannai, Kantharodai, indicate active transoceanic maritime trade between ancient Jaffna Tamils and other continental kingdoms in the prehistoric period. 
The parallel third century BCE discoveries of Manthai, Anaikoddai and Vallipuram detail the arrival of a megalithic culture in Jaffna long before the Buddhist-Christian era and the emergence of rudimentary settlements that continued into early historic times marked by urbanization. The chief Pittan-Korran of Kudiramalai further south, a commander-in-chief of the Chera king, administered the locality under the Chera kingdom from the 1st century BCE – 1st century CE and is described at length in the Purananuru.

A group of Dagobas situated close together at the site served as a monastery for Tamil monks and reflect the rise in popularity of Buddhism amongst Jaffna Tamils and the Tamils of the ancient Tamil country in the first few centuries of the common era before the revivalism of Hinduism amongst the population.

Recent excavations of Sivaganams in the stupas suggest Tamil Hindus also worshipped at the site. The domes were reconstructed atop the flat bases of the ruins by the Archaeology Department. The similarities between the finds of ancient Jaffna and Tamil Nadu are indicators of a continuous cultural exchange between the two regions from classical antiquity. These structures built over the burials demonstrate the integration of Buddhism with megalithism, a hallmark of Tamil Buddhism. Outside Andhra Pradesh in India, Kantharodai is perhaps the only site where such burials are seen.
In 1970, the University of Pennsylvania museum team excavated a ceramic sequence remarkably similar to that of Arikamedu, with a pre-rouletted ware period, subdivided into an earlier “Megalithic”, a later “Pre-rouletted ware phase,” followed by a “Rouletted ware period”. Tentatively assigned to the fourth century BCE, radio carbon dating later confirmed an outer date of the ceramics and Megalithic cultural commencement in Kantharodai to 1300 BCE. Further excavations have been conducted by the University of Jaffna.
The YalpanaVaipavaMalai also describes the rich port of Kadiramalai in the ancient period.
From – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kandarodai
Where is it?
Near Chunnakam, West of the main Jaffna-Kankesanturai Road.

Kantharodai ancient Buddhist site is one of the most fascinating stops for the visitors. It is located near Chunnakam, west of the main Jaffna-Kankesanturai Road. There are no Buddhist monks at the site since it is not a dwelling place for a priest. An Army camp is located near by. The site was discovered in 1916 and a series of excavations were carried out by the then Ceylon Archaeological Department in 1966. There are 60 mini dagobas in different sizes varying up to about 4 m. These dagobas are made out of coral. Buddhists visit here to see these ruins. During these excavations, many coins were unearthed by archaeologists. Kantharodai is also known as the ancient Kathurogoda Vihara mentioned in Sinhalese historical literature.
 The miniature dagobas are so closely and crowdedly built from cutting coral stones that nearly 100 have been excavated in an area of only about two acres. As the largest stupa is no more than 12 feet in diameter, it is likely the dagobas are votive in nature. Perhaps 2000 years old or more, they are a reminder of the strong Sinhalese Buddhist influence in the Jaffna area prior to the 8th Century AD. Some of the findings at this site were in the Archaeological Museum in Jaffna.
Source: Internet

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