Asgiri means the bear rock. The establishment of the Asgiri Viharaya dates back to 1312 A.D. when it was made the adobe of the monks who had achieved higher elevations through meditation. Six such monks were sent in great procession on the day prior to the Vesak Full Moon Poya day of 1312, made to spent the night at the Ethkanda Raja Maha Viharaya to reach the Kandy Trinity College premises in the afternoon of the
Vesak Full Moon Poya day to commence the Asgiri Raja Maha Viharaya. The founding chief incumbent of the Asgiri Viharaya, Dambadeniye Wanarathana Thero, is reported to be the 142nd leader of the the generation led by Arahath Upali, who lived during the time of the Lord Buddha.
As far as the location of the Asgiri Viharaya is concerned, the Gedige Viharaya, Vijaya Sundararamaya and the temple complex which houses the Chapter house of today can be listed in accordance of priority.
Asgiri Raja Maha Viharaya is the oldest centre of the Siyam Chapter (Nikaya) which is considered to be the oldest chapter of the Buddha Sasana for quite a long time. Asgiri Raja Maha Vihara has had two sectors known as Central temple sector and Lower temple sector. While the Indawalugoda generation of Sangha belongs to the Central temple sector Urulewatta and Pothuhera generations of Sangha belong to the Lower temple sector.
The chief incumbent of the Asgiri Maha Viharaya is the custodian of the golden key of the last casket out of a number of golden caskets which house the tooth relic of the Lord Buddha, in the temple of the tooth relic.
Asgiri Gedige Raja Maha Viharaya
The historic Gedige Raja Maha Viharaya was erected by the great king Wickramabahu the third, who reigned the Gampola Kingdom to perpetuate the memory of his mother princess Chandrawathie. The Bodhi of this temple was planted at the place of her burial. This temple is the oldest mother temple in Kandy today.
This is where the tooth relic was first placed upon being taken to Kandy. It was only later that the tooth relic was taken to the temple of the tooth. Even today, on the last day of the Kandy Perahera the casket is taken to this temple and kept there to be taken to the temple of the tooth relic on the following day in procession.
The rituals performed at the temple of the tooth relic are performed in this temple as well. The Gedige Viharaya is also known as the “Dalada Gaman Maligawa” because of the above significance.
The Upali Thera who came from Thailand to establish Thai higher ordination in 1753 had performed higher ordination in this Gedige Viharaya. The limits of the chapter house of that higher ordination is seen even today. A monument in memory of Upali Thero has been erected in this temple.