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Who exactly built the Watadageya is still a question to many archaeologists and historians. Majority of them believe that it was created by King Parakramabahu I, who ruled Sri Lanka in the 12th century. He is believed to have built a circular stone shrine to facilitate the Tooth Relic.
However some historical scripts also mention the name of King Nissanka Malla as the creator of this structure. But some historians and their studies state that King Nissanka Malla had only renovated an already built building and made some additions to the doorway of Watadageya. Stone inscriptions in the premises however, say that it was built under his supervision and direction by one of his generals.
Watadegayas are generally built around small stupas that are enshrined with precious relics in order to provide them protection from external damages. It has two levels that consist of a lower and an upper platform. The legends that say that Polonnaruwa Watadageya was built to protect the Tooth Relic or Arm Bowl of Lord Buddha could be true in this sense.
However, the Polonnaruwa kingdom came to an end with the invasion from South India. This left the city’s monuments unattended and abandoned. In the year of 1903 the Department of Archaeology began excavation work in the area to reveal the Watadageya as a sacred monument of the Buddhist history.