Up in the northeastern corner of Sri Lanka lies an amazing place named Trincomalee but often referred to as heaven. The beaches are pristine, the scenery is like something out of a movie, the temples are breathtaking, the food is delicious and the people are friendly. And it is the home of Girihadu Seya
This is the place which impressed me most.
The oldest Buddhist temple in all of Sri Lanka — and one of the oldest in the world — is Girihadu Seya, which translates as “the stupa on top of the rocks.” This stupa was built 2,500 years ago, back in the 5th century BC when Lord Buddha was still alive, and the story behind it is a fascinating one.
After Lord Buddha achieved enlightenment he spent seven weeks just meditating, nothing else, not even eating. On the eighth week two merchants — brothers Thapassu and Balluka — were passing by when their 500 carts got stuck in the mud. While they stopped to fix this situation they noticed Lord Buddha.
Seeing that Buddha needed to eat they offered him some rice and honey. With no possessions and nothing to give them as a show of thanks, Lord Buddha gave them a lock of his hair.
The brothers took that hair to Sri Lanka where they eventually ended up in Trincomalee. However when they tried to depart the hair had become too heavy to move. They were told that the hair would remain there for 5,000 years and as such decided to build a stupa over it, to protect and enshrine this valuable artifact.
As time went on the site became a holy site and five kings who reigned over the region all added to the stupa, making it more and more grand. But during the 11th century Raja Raja Chola I invaded Sri Lanka and the temple was eventually lost.
It was not until 1929 that Girihadu Seya was re-discovered.
After being cleared of the 900 years of overgrowth that had hidden the temple, the first monk arrived in 1950 and built a new house of worship there. However in 1985 the Tamil Tigers captured the region and destroyed the monk’s house.
As the story goes, the Tamil Tigers also tried to destroy the temple but were unable to because it was still being protected by Lord Buddha.
Now that the war is finally over a new monk has returned to once again preside over the house of worship. My friend Marysia and I had the honor of providing him with his food on the day we visited. (It happened in a rush and all I could manage was a couple quick phone photos, sorry.)
After preparing a portion of the food for Lord Buddha we went with the monk into the house of worship for morning prayers and daily offering.
After morning prayers we left the monk to eat his daily meal in peace while we ascended several hundred stairs up to Girihadu Seya. Along the way we passed a couple of caves hidden among the trees of the hillside.
So if you should find yourself in Trincomalee then do not to miss out on Girihadu Seya. It is best to arrive no later than 11am or noon and I highly recommend bringing a complete meal to provide food for the monk and make an offering to Lord Buddha.