Vessagiriya has been closely associated with Isurumuniya and considered one of the most important monastic establishment dedicated to the use of ascetic bhikkhus in the 2nd century BC. Traditionally the term Vaishya was used to refer to the class of people in Indian society who worked in agriculture and trade. The Vaishya comprises commoners from the business and merchant caste. Vessagiriya literally means ‘The rock shelters of the commoners’. Hence, it is commonly believed that the word Vessa-giriya derives from Sanskirit Vaishya (commoner) and Giri (mountain).
Vessagiriya nestles a few hundred meters left to the Isurumuniya on the old Anuradhapura-Kurunegala Road. This temple complex is located in and around three rock boulder formations across a large area overlooking the Tissa Wewa in Anuradhapura.
Vessagiriya’s history comes from the 3rd century Brahmi inscriptions left on the rock walls by bhikkhus, patrons and their lay devotees. Ancient chronicles reveal that having ordained 500 priests into the priesthood at Isurumuniya, Arahat Mahinda who brought Buddhism to the country in 250 BC, came to Vessagiriya and ordained another 500 Vaisyas.
Apart from the drip-ledged caves, buildings constructed according to the traditions of panchavasa, ruins of a Bodhighara, and Chaitya, a chapter house as well as two cave temples depicting ancient paintings are found in Vessagiriya.
Close to a granite doorway is an inscription which reads ‘Isuru-Meni-Ro-Ipuluwan-Kasumbagiri- Vihara’. The Mahawamsa tells us that King Kasyapa gifted innumerable lands to Isurumuniya and Vessagiriya and built a hermitage, naming it after his daughters: Bo, Upulwan and himself, Kasumba.
Through a rock-hewn staircases, one can reach the larger boulders which gives panoramic views of Anuradhapura. On the top of the rocks, there are foundations of a small Chaithya (stupa) and remnants of brick wall structures.
The rocky cliffs bulging out above are intimidating and striking. For your safety, avoid venturing closer to the edge of the rocky overlooks that are not fenced. Vessagiriya is not frequently visited like other sights in Anuradhapura. But a short excursion to Vessagiriya yields a spiritual experience in ancient Buddhist asceticism for the visitors who prefers some solitude in a cave retreat. After spending an hour in the caves of Vessagiriya, one can envisage the sedentary life of hermits and bhikkhus who embraced the path to wards peace.