The Jetavanaramaya is a stupa located in the ruins of Jetavana in the sacred world heritage city of Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. Mahasena of Anuradhapura (273–301) initiated the construction of the stupa following the destruction of the mahavihara. His son Maghavanna I completed the construction of the stupa. A part of a sash or belt tied by the Buddha is believed to be the relic that is enshrined here.
The structure is significant in the island’s history for it represents the tensions within the Theravada and Mahayana sects of Buddhism; it is also significant in recorded history as one of the tallest structures in the ancient world; and the second tallest non-pyramidal buildings after Pharos (lighthouse) of Alexandria; the height of the stupa is 400 feet (122 m), making it the tallest stupa in the ancient world. The structure is no longer the tallest, but it is still the largest, with a base-area of 233,000 m2 (2,508,000 sq ft). Approximately 93.3 million baked bricks were used in its construction; the engineering ingenuity behind the construction of the structure is a significant development in the history of the island. The sectarian differences between the Buddhist monks also are represented by the stupa as it was built on the premises of the destroyed mahavihara, which led to a rebellion by a minister of King Mahasena.
This stupa belongs to the Sagalika sect. The compound covers approximately 5.6 hectares and is estimated to have housed 10,000 Buddhist monks. One side of the stupa is 576 ft (176 m) long, and the flights of stairs at each of the four sides of it are 28 ft (9 m) wide. The doorpost to the shrine, which is situated in the courtyard, is 27 ft (8 m) high. The stupa has a 8.5 m (28 ft) deep foundation, and sits on bedrock. Stone inscriptions in the courtyard give the names of people who donated to the building effort.
Following king Jettha Tissa’s death his brother Mahasena was consecrated as king by monk Sanghamitta, under the monk’s influence king Mahasena brought about a campaign against Orthodox Theravadins dwelling in the mahavihara. The differences between the Theravadins and Mahayanins escalated to an extent to which a penalty was established to any person providing alms to monks dwelling in the mahavihara. The Mahavamsa quotes Sanghamitta: «The dwellers in the Mahavihara do not teach the (true) vinaya, we are those who teach the (true) vinaya, O king».
The Mahavihara was eventually abandoned. The monks dwelling at the premises moved to Malaya Rata and Ruhuna, this followed by the pillaging of Mahavihara by Sanghamitta and minister Sona, all valuable were transferred to Abhayagiri vihāra. The pillaging prompted a rebellion by minister Meghavannabhaya, the minister raised an army from Malaya and set camp by the Duratissaka tank. King Mahasena marches an army to meet minister Meghavannabhaya, where negotiations ensue the night before the battle and the king apologizes for the pillaging and agrees to build a vihara at the grounds of Mahavihara, the Mahavamsa quotes the king: » will make the vihara to be dwelt in yet again; forgive me my fault». Sanghamitta was assassinated by a labourer on the instructions of a wife of the king, following his demise and the construction of parivena by Meghavannabhaya marked the return of monks to the site of Mahavihara.
Thus the construction of Jetavanaramaya began and offered to the monk Tissa, but the monk was accused of a grave offence upon investigation and proof by a minister, monk Tissa was disrobed and expelled from the order. The dakkinagiri monks were then entrusted with the premises of Jetavana Vihara.