There is literary evidence in ancient texts such as the Sinhala Bodhivamsaya which records that the Bodhi-tree in Bellanwila as one of the thirty two saplings that sprang from the sacred Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi at Anuradhapura planted in the 3rd century BC. Bellanwila is also mentioned in the literary works of the 15th century, when Kotte, which is located close to Bellanwila, became the capital of the country. In the Kotte period Buddhism rose to great heights with the royal patronage of King Parakramabahu VI (1412-1467), who was the last native sovereign to unify all of Sri Lanka under one rule before the European colonial invasions. The story of the revival of Bellanwila Viharaya is closely linked with Attidiya, a village adjoining Bellanwila. This sacred place was abandoned after the Portuguese invasion of the country’s coastal areas. It was rediscovered by an adventurous monk known as Thengodagedara Hamuduruwo, who is said to be the founder of Galauda Viharaya. One day in 1850, when he was traveling by boat along the Katu-ela stream towards Pepiliyana, it is said that he heard the sound of drums from a nearby thicket.
Being inquisitive, he left the boat and walked towards the sounds. As he approached, the drum sounds faded away and he was surprised to see a Bodhi-tree. Subsequently, he came to discover that this was one of the thirty two saplings from the sacred Bodhi-tree at Anuradhapura. With the help of villagers, Thengodagedara thera cleared the land around the tree and built a modest shelter for monks. With this modest and mysterious beginning, Bellanwila began to attract the attention of Buddhist devotees in the neighborhood. Since Thengodagedara thera rediscovered Bellanwila, the temple has had a succession of chief monks such as Udugampola Sri Ratanapala thera, Udugampola Sri Dammakkhandha thera, Abhidhammika Weboda Sri Sangharatana thera, Asgiriye Devarakkhita thera and Bellanwila Sri Somaratana thera.
It is Ven. Bellanwila Sri Somaratana thera, who became the chief incumbent of the temple in 1947 must be given the credit for raising Bellanwila Rajamaha Vihara to its present status. He began the task of developing the temple and he himself designed the structural concept of the temple complex taking the image house of Polonnaruwa as the model. After the demise of Bellanwila Sri Somaratana thera, his pupil prof. Bellanwila Wimalaratne Thera has continued the development work of the temple. A recent addition to the temple is a set of murals, that adorn the inner walls of the shrine hall . These murals which were painted by artist Somabandu Vidyapathy, depict in different strokes the life of the Buddha and Buddhism. In addition to the main shrine hall there are shrines dedicated to popular deities of Sri Lanka such as Vishnu, Katharagama, Saman, Vibheeshana, Suniam, Dedimunda, Natha and Pattini Matha, housing their symbolic images. These shrines which are situated right round the Bodhi tree, also depicts the architecture of Polonnaruwa period