The Maha Viharaya temple of Anuradhapura is the first ever Buddhist monastery of Sri Lanka established by the arahant Mahendra Maha Thero in 236 BC. It is 2,247 years old by now. 'Anuradhapura Maha Viharaya' is the oldest continuing Buddhist monastery since its inception. It has been esteemed world over as the centre of the pure Theravada Buddhism.
The pure Theravada Buddhism was officially introduced to Sri Lanka by arahant Mahendra Maha Thero. He was the son of Emperor Dharmashoka of India. King Devanampiyatissa who ruled in Sri Lanka in this period has dedicated his royal park Maha Meghavana Udyanaya to arahant Mahendra Maha Thero. The Maha Viharaya temple has been built in this royal park. The ancient boundary wall built where the King marked the boundary with his royal tusker and the silver plough, can be seen even today.
The Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi brought ceremonially to Sri Lanka in 236 BC by arahant Maha Theri Sanghamitra has been planted in the Maha Viharaya premises. King Dutugemunu (161-137 BC) has built a massive mansion named 'Lova Maha Prasadaya' for the venerable bhikkhus of the Maha Viharaya. Consisting of nine floors and one thousand rooms, the 'Lova Maha Prasadaya' was one of the largest buildings of the ancient world. 1,600 stone pillars on the ground floor of this building are seen there even today. The great stupa Ruwanweli Maha Dagaba built by King Dutugemunu still shines in the Maha Viharaya. The compound of this massive stupa considered as the largest stupa of the ancient world is 10 acres. Its diameter is 370 feet while the height is 338 feet. The Ruwanweli Maha Dagaba is highly venerated as the Sthupa containing the largest amount of sacred body relics of the Lord Buddha. The ruins of the ancient buildings such as the great alms hall for the bhikkhus, the 'Janthagara' where the arahant bhikkhus bathed in warm water and the 'Ransimalakaya' where the discussions were held are still preserved at the Maha Viharaya. It is mentioned in the travelogue of the Chinese bhikkhu Fa-Hien that, 3,000 venerable bhikkhus were dwelling in the Maha Viharaya those days.
As the Anuradhapura era ended, the historical city of Anuradhapura including the Maha Viharaya was cowered with the thick jungle and went in to ruins. But, the bhikkhus of the Maha Viharaya protected the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi and the Maha Viharaya temple through centuries, facing all kinds of difficulties without proper quarters, food or robes, living among the wild beasts.
The Maha Viharaya thus protected so far with great sacrifices, is being restored to its former glory now. It is the responsibility of the Buddhists world over to preserve this great world heritage for the future by restoring the sacred historical places of worship in the Maha Viharaya while spreading the light of the pure Theravada Buddhism to the world.