Situated in southeastern Sri Lanka, close to Yala National Park, is the town of Tissamaharama. As we were driving through this town we came across an obviously old stupa that our guide knew only as “the ancient stupa”. We stopped and looked around it, although there was no one around to ask for further information.
When I returned I did a little research, and it has an interesting history. The stupa is named Yatala Vehera, and was built about 2300 years ago by then King Mahanaga, as a token thanks for the birth of his son (and it functioned as a safe retreat). It was crafted with a wall of sculpted elephants facing in all directions, as if forming an impenetrable line of guards. These elephants are thought to represent the oldest elephant carvings in the country. The stupa is surrounded by a moat, filled with lotus blossoms. Stupas usually are built to enshrine someone, although there is no record of who is entombed in this stupa.
While it’s currently weathered and worn, back in its time, the stupa would have been painted a brilliant white, and the elephant guard likely plastered and painting in a life-like fashion. Still, an impressive achievement when you consider this place was old when Jesus walked the earth.
(Click on thumbnails to enlarge and advance slide show)