Seruwila proposed as World Heritage Site

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti, The Morning Leader, August 8, 2007

Colombo, Sri Lanka -- Sri Lanka is seeking approval from the Paris based World Heritage Centre to have the Seruwila Raja Maha Viharaya declared as a World Heritage Site.

Sri Lanka has submitted a proposal to UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre that the said shrine, classified to be among the 16 holiest Buddhist shrines here, be declared as a World Heritage Site.

The UNESCO mission in Colombo has in its submission to Paris recommended that the temple situated in the village of Thoppur within the Trincomalee District be conserved for posterity through the UNECO arm.

Speaking to The Morning Leader, Secretary General, Sri Lanka National Commission for UNESCO, Prithiviraj Perera said that it would be beneficial for the country to have more sites conserved by the UNESCO arm, which will elevate the status of the site to universal heritage whilst affording it immense protection.

Seruwila site is endowed with a unique backdrop with the world’s largest natural harbour, Trincomalee and its historic Second Century BC Seru Capital and the Buddhist shrine.

The proposal further recommends the 50-acre site for inscription by the World Heritage Center with a buffer zone of 30 acres.

In a justification statement for recommending inscription, UNESCO Colombo states that Seruwila remained a highly respected Buddhist temple with the fontal bone of Lord Buddha said to be enshrined in the stupa.

Further, the proposal states that the temple dating back to Second Century BC and is full of remnants of the earliest Buddhist architectural order in Sri Lanka was built by King Kavantissa which could be considered as the cradle of Buddhism in Sri Lanka which reached its peak during the Anuradhapura Period.

The area was earlier known as Seru district, and an ancient inscription found within the site records- "The cave of Lord Gutta is dedicated to the Sangha of the four quarters."

There is also a rock inscription belonging to the period of King Kassapa IV (AD 808-914) mentioning the presence of arhanths and identifying the place as Tissa Maha Vehera.

According to Seeing Ceylon by Dr. R. L. Brohier, Seruwila region was a vast swamp where the floodwaters of the MahaWeli Ganga collected. The swamp was also home to large flocks of teal, known as seru in Sinhala, hence the name Seruwila.

An enthusiastic monk Ven. Dambagasare Sumedhalankara thero restored the Seruwila temple with the assistance of the Department of Archaeology in 1922. The conservation was completed in 1931. Some 85 acres had been declared as an Archaeological Reserve in 1962.

At present, Sri Lanka has seven sites declared as World Heritage, the last being the Golden Temple of Dambulla, declared universal heritage in 1991.