THE NAGADEEPA RAJAMAHA VIHARAYA IN NAINATIVU ISLAND, JAFFNA
According to C. S. Navaratnam (Tamils and Ceylon), The Jaffna peninsula in ancient times was composed of two separate islands. One of these was Nagadipa. It consisted of Valigamam East, Valigamam West, Valigama North, and the Jaffna town area together with the submerged lands of which the neighboring islands are the remnants. The other island was the remaining eastern portion of the peninsula, and was known as Erumai Mullaitivu from ‘Erumai Mullai’ (Prenna Serratifolia) which grew in abundance.
According to Rajavaliya there was a great inundation in the third century B. C., when many of the lands of Lanka were engulfed by the sea. A large slice of the western island might have been submerged then, leaving a portion of Nagadipa. In later times the name Nagadipa became associated with a great portion of the Northern Province.
Nagadeepa Rajamaha Viharaya is an ancient Buddhist temple which is located on the island of Nainativu. It is one of the sixteen most sacred places for Buddhists in Sri Lanka. The Rajayathana Stupa was constructed nearly 2700 years ago by two Naga Kings, Mahodara and Chulodara.
According to the Mahavamsa, Naga strong holds in the sixth century B. C. were at Nagadipa under Mahodara, a Naga king. His nephew, Chulodara was the ruler at Kannavaddhamana Mountain (Kandamadanam near Rameswaram) and his uncle, Maniakkhika was the king of Kalayani (Kelaniya). A conflict arose between Mahodara and Chulodara about a gem-set throne. There was a great war and peace was brought about by the intervention of Lord Buddha himself. According to legend the Lord Gautama Buddha touched the ground here on his second visit to the island, five year after enlightenment, to resolve a conflict between the two Naga Kings, Mahodara and Chulodara. During these events many Nagas embrace the Buddhist faith.
The daughter of the Naga King Mahodara had been given in marriage to his sister’s son Chulodara. For the dowry King Chulodara received a gem studded throne and after a sudden death of the Naga Princess. King Mahodara asked for the gem studded throne to return back from his son-in-law, King Chulodara. He refused to give back the throne and a conflict arose between them.
Lord Gautama Buddha during his visit preached to them a sermon on reconciliation and urged the two Naga kings to forget hating each other and to live in peace. The two Naga Kings Mahodara and Chulodara and their followers after hearing the sermon preached by the Lord Buddha and decided to end their enmity.
After the two Naga Kings made peace between them, the gem studded throne was offered to the Lord Gautama Buddha, as a token of their gratitude, but he retuned it back to the Naga Kings. It was later enshrined in the Rajayathana Stupa and it became a pilgrimage destination.
The above story of the Mahavamsa is corroborated by the Tamil epic, Manimekalai, composed in the second century A. C. Manipallavam is the country where the scenes and the settings are laid by the learned Tamil author. The Nagadipa of the Mahavamsa, in all probability, is the Manipallavam of Manimekalai.
According to S. Paranavitana, (The Arya Kingdom in North Ceylon), Certain legends in the Mahavamsa and in the Tamil poem Manimekalai have been interpreted as furnishing evidence for the existence of a Tamil Kingdom in the Jaffna Peninsula from very early times. It is stated in the chronicle that the Buddha, during his second visit to the Island, pacified two Naga kings of Nagadipa who were arrayed in battle over a gem-set throne. This throne was offered by the grateful Naga kings to the Buddha who left it in Nagadipa under a Rajayatana (kiripalu) tree as an object of worship. The place continued for many centuries to be venerated by the Buddhists of Ceylon as one of their holiest shrines. Subsequent references to Nagadipa in the Mahavamsa and other Pali writings, coupled with certain archaeological and epigraphical discoveries, have conclusively established that Nagadipa of the Mahavamsa is the present Jaffna Peninsula. The people of the Jaffna Peninsula today are Tamils. It is therefore assumed that this was so from earliest times, and the Naga kings of Nagadipa, whom the Buddha converted, are concluded to have been Tamils. The argument is carried further to suggest that wherever Nagas are mentioned in ancient literature, it is the Tamil people who are in question, and that personal names of which the word ‘Naga’ is an element were borne by people with Tamil affinities.
In the Tamil poem, the heroine Manimekalai is miraculously transported to a small island called Manipallavam, where there was a seat or footstool associated with the Buddha, which made devotees who worshipped it remember their past lives and a pond in which appeared on certain days a miraculous Bowl containing an inexhaustible supply of food. The seat in Manipallavam is said to have been made use of by the Buddha when He preached to and reconciled two kings of the Naga world, who were about to attack each other with their followers, and was placed in Manipallavam by Indra, the king of Gods. The similarity of the legend of the holy seat given in the Mahavamsa to that in the Manimekalai has led certain scholars to identify Manipallavam with Nagadipa and as the former refers to the two kings as having their habitat in the Nagadipa the Nakanatu (the Naga world), wherever it is mentioned has been taken as referring to the Jaffna Peninsula. Continuing this method of extracting ‘history’ out of legend, a Naga damsel who is said in the Manimekalai to have appeared in a garden near Pukar remained for sometime with a legendary Chola King Killi Valavan and disappeared after conceiving a child is taken to have been a princess from Jaffna, and her father an ancient ruler of Jaffna.
According to the Tanjore Gazetteer page 17, this Killi Valavan, who married the Ceylon Princess, came to the throne in 105 A. D., and his brother, Perunarkilli, succeeded him and reigned till 150 A. D. A king called Kokilli is also said to have married a Naga princess (perhaps of north Ceylon too) and to have had by her a son named Tondaiman Ilantirayan, to whom Tondai Mandalam country was afterwards granted by the Chola king.