Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Trincomalee, Sri Lanka

Trincomalee, one of the finest natural deep-water harbors in the world is located 257 km north-east of Colombo, capital city of Sri Lanka. Trincomalee is home to fine beaches of Nilaveli, Uppaveli and off-shore Pigeon Island. Recently Trincomalee has become popular as a Whale Watching destination too. The Dive centers at Nilaveli, Uppaveli support the tourists to enjoy their holidays in diving, snorkeling and swimming. Trincomalee district, called Gokanna or Gokarna in the historical chronicles and inscriptions, being studded with a multitude of ruins of ancient Buddhist temples, is a major Sinhalese Buddhist cultural and archeological site of Sri Lanka. The seven hot springs at Kanniyai located just 8km from Trincomalee attract regular crowds throughout the year in view of the therapeutic properties of water therein varying in temperature from one well to the other.

Trincomalee, in history

Gokarna in Trincomalee, Mantota in Mannar and Dambakolapattuna in Jaffna, among other sea-ports of Sri Lanka, had been great ports of ancient Three Sinhala since 543 B.C. Trincomalee or Gokanna or Gokarna or Siri Gonamala as the ancient sea-port town was recorded in the historical chronicles of Sri Lanka, is the harbor where Prince Panduvasudeva, King Vijya’s nephew sailed into Sri Lanka from Sinhapura, India. “Badda Kachchayana who later became the queen of King Panduwasdeva (505-474 B.C.) with her party of royal maidens too landed in Siri Gonamala harbor. She was a sister of Prince Digha, the founder of Dighavapi.

In an essay entitled, Aryan settlements and early kings, published in the Concise History of Ceylon by Sri Lanka’s foremost historian a pre-eminent archeologist Dr. Senarath Paranavithana writing about the king who ruled Ceylon (Sri Lanka) after the first king Vijaya said, “Panduvasdeva with thirty two followers, it is said, arrived in Ceylon in the guise of mendicant monks. They landed at the mouth of the Mahakandara River at the port of Gokanna, the modern Trincomalee according to the commentator of the chronicle (Mahavamsa)”.

E. T. Kannangara, in “Jaffna and the Sinhala heritage” wrote, Trincomalee during the periods of the Sinhala kings was one of the chief trading centers in Sri Lanka. Sri Gokarna, Siri Gokanna, Sri Gonapura, Siri Gonamala, Gonagamaka Pattana, Gonagama-Patuna, and much earlier Gokannatitta were some of the names attached to this place in the chronicles. The present Sinhala name Thirikunamala is apparently a derivation from Siri Gonamala. The conversion of the name follows the pattern that Sinhala names Somapura, Kokavila, Mampe and Valigama Madakalapuva being converted into Sampur, Kokuvil, Manipay, Valikamam and Mattakalapu.

The conversion of Gokarna to ‘Tirukonamalai’ first appears in a Tamil inscription dated to 10th or 11th century A.D. Buddhist Vihara at Gokanna called Sri Gokarna Vihara built in the reign of King Mahasen (276-303 A.C.) was the earliest religious edifice in Trincomalee. Being on a rock it was also called Vehera Gala (Vihara on a rock). Gokanna Buddhist Vihare temple was expanded by King Agbo V (718-724 AD) and demolished by the Portuguese to build a fortress in the 16th century. Gokanna Vihare is one of the 74 Buddhist sites identified at Trincomalee district by the Department of Archeology of Sri Lanka. Swami Rock, the highest point in Fort Frederick is an ancient site where there had been Buddhist shrines.

Some of the other locations are as follows.

Velgam Vehera Buddhist monastery
Velgam Vehera ancient Buddhist monastery is located 16 km north-west of Trincomaleeoff the Trincomalee - Horowupothana road. An inscription on a rock halfway up the hill on the summit on which are the remains of a stupa belongs to the reign of Batiya Maharaja or King Bhatika Tissa II (circa 149 A.D.). It records the gift of revenue from certain fields to the Abagara Vihare (Abhagiri or Amaragiri Vihare) at Velgama by a General named Abaya. Dr. Paranavithana was of the view that this record proved that the name by which the shrine was known in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. It was Dr. Paranavithana’s view that the date of the original foundation of the vihare was no doubt considerably earlier than the reign of King Bhatika Tissa II.

Galmetiyawa in the Kinniya AGA’s division: below the Galmetiyawa reservoir some four miles off the 102nd mile on the Trincomalee road. A Buddha statue sculptured in marble was found here. Although the statue appeared to have been worn out by the action of flowing water it was beautifully sculptured in the Amaravati style. Around the statue were the remains of ancient buildings. Bricks and pieces of pottery were lying around.

Ancient site at Kuchchaveli: The torso of a limestone Buddha statue was found at this site. The statue is a beautiful work in the Amaravati style. Pieces of flat tiles and bricks were found in large quantities. It is possible that there was a monastic establishment of the Anuradhapura period at this site. On a boulder of rock at the foot of a hillock is a sculpture consisting of 16 dagaba presentations. The Buddha statue was transferred to the Archaeological Museum in Trincomalee.

Ancient site at Kantalai: (Tract 13 of Kantalai sugar farm) At this site two broken Buddha statues were found along with guard stones. There were also pieces of bricks and tiles. The Buddha statue depicted as seated under the nine hooded Muchalinda Naga Raajaya (about four feet in height) has been transferred to the Archaeological Museum in Trincomalee.
Ancient site Mahaweli river ford in Koddiyar Pattu: Here are the remains of a structure with 42 pillars. On one of these pillars is an inscription.

Sri Gajaba Len Vihara: On an eminence strewn with large boulders at a site on the right bank of the Morawewa colony are several drip ledged caves. In three of these there are Brahmi inscriptions.

Ancient site at Etabendiwewa: (on a by-road between 87th and 88th mile post on the Horowupotana—Trincomalee road).There are remains of a dagaba built on a square terrace which has been vandalised. On each of the four sides of the terrace is a flight of steps with plain guard stones and a moonstone. West of the dagaba are the ruins of a building.

Ancient site Pulmodai: About 1 1/2 miles away from the Ilmenite factory is an ancient site where there are a number of caves. In one cave is a Brahmi inscription. Close by is a pillared building with the torso of a Buddha statue.

Trincomalee had been home to numerous Buddhist temples and Vihara (Monasteries) since the reign of King Dutugamunu (161-137 BC). The Hero of the nation, King Dutugamunu is believed to have built many viharas and monasteries at Gokanna in the second century B.C. A map prepared in 1982 by M.H.Sirisoma, Department of Archaeology listed 276 sites of ‘archaeological interest’ in the northern and eastern provinces.

Triyaya, Weligam Vehera and Seruwila Raja Maha Vihara and Kuchchaveli are three living Buddhist heritage sites of the Trincomalee district. Modern Hindu shrine named Koneswaram Kovil was erected in the Nineteen forties.” The so called historic kovil was built only recently after dismantling the ancient Buddhist Temple at the same place. There are people who have seen the Buddhist temple in the forties,” Professor Nalin de Silva, 25th July 2003.

Trincomalee during Anurdhapura era and Polonnaruwa era

The city of Trincomalee had served as a major conduit for Sri Lanka’s seaborne trade during the Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa.

Captain Robert Knox, 1659 at Trincomalee
Captain Robert Knox Snr. accompanied by his son Robert Knox, Jnr. set sail by 'Anne' in London on January 21, 1658 on a trading expedition to East Indies under the British East India Company. After a voyage of about one year and nine months, the crew encountered stormy Weather along the Coromandel Coast and Bay of Bengal. With the mast broken and the sails torn, “Anne” landed near Kottiar Bay (estuary of Mahaweli Ganga,) on November 19, 1659. The crew of the ship was invited to ashore and was taken captive on the orders from the King Rajasinghe II of Kandy (1629-1687 A.D.) in Kandy.

Trincomalee during the colonial era

Trincomalee’s strategic location has made it flash point during the colonial era. Trincomalee’s long military began in 1617 when five Danish ships sailed into Koddiyar Bay under a commander named Ove Giedde. King Rajasinghe the second having a lively appreciation of the Port 's value, Giedde's negotiations proved fruitless; and he sailed away, leaving one wreck behind.
The Portuguese, already having sway in the coastal areas of Sri Lanka, now set themselves upon capturing Trincomaleeand in 1624 completed the construction of a fort there.

This fortlet - it had but three bastions –built by the Portuguese in 1624, was taken by the Dutch in 1639 only to be abandoned soon afterwards. In 1675, the fort was re-fortified and named Fort Frederick after Frederick the Great. It is part of those walls and gate that still stand, as the next focal point of interest in Trincomalee besides the harbor.

Trincomalee and Dutch East India Company

E. T. Kannangara, in “Jaffna and the Sinhala heritage” referring to more recent times says in the treaty between the Sinhala king and the Dutch East India Company signed in 1766 A.C. Batticaloa is mentioned as Puliyanduwa and Trincomalee as Thirikunamala in the treaty.

In 1795, a British fleet lay off Trincomalee, ostensibly come to protect the Dutch against the French, but under secret orders to capture Trincomalee at all events, for its growing strategic importance. The bedevilled Dutch, unsure where loyalty-or expediency-lay, hesitated. But Colonel James Stuart, opening a practicable breach in the walls after a four-day bombardment, clinched the matter. And Trincomalee became - England's first possession in Ceylon. By the British takeover in 1795, the city had changed hands another seven times.

Trincomalee harbor during the Second World War

The British and the Allied Powers chose it as the chief naval base for the entire South East Asia and Far East Command during World War 11, The Japanese attack at Trincomalee's harbor in 1942 wasn’t successful in spite of a suicide attack on the Trincomalee fuel tanks. Sri Lanka, then called Ceylon, did not face a real threat of an invasion by the Japanese at any point during the war.

Picture gallery of Trincomalee

Tissamaharama, Sri Lanka

Location of Tissamaharama

Tissamaharama is located 270km south of Colombo.

Reaching Tissamaharama

Tissamaharama can be reached by A2 southern main road travelling via Galle and Hambantota.

Tissmaharama Town

Though Tissamaharama is visited mainly in view of it being the gateway to Yala National Park, Tissa as it is affectionately called, in its own right, is a major cultural and nature attraction. Three ancient stupas and two ancient irrigation reservoirs make Tisssamaharama worth touring. On the northern side, the town is bounded by lovely expanse of paddy fields. In the middle of the paddy fields is Santagiri or Sandagiri dagaba, the largest stupa at Tissamaharama.

History of Tissamaharama

Tissamaharama known by the name of Mahagama in the ancient times was founded by Prince Mahanaga, brother of King Devanampiyatissa in the third century BC. The settlement rose to prominence during the reign of King Kavantissa, father of King Dutugamunu. It was during this period that Tissmaharama’s three stupas and the two ancient irrigation reservoirs were built. According to the chronicles, around 12,000 Arahats Buddhist monks had lived in Tissamaharama and its surroundings during the era of King Kavantissa.

During the era in which the monasteries flourished in the ancient Rajarata of north central plains, many a similar monasteries and dagaba were built in Magama, the capital of the southern region of Sri Lanka.

Tissa weva Reserervoir in Tissamaharama

Just a kilometer north of the Tissmaharama town spreads the vast ancient irrigation reservoir called Tissa wewa. The shore of the lake nearest to the town of Tissamaharama is regularly crowded with the villagers and the tourists. The massive embankment that bounds the southern shore of the reservoir is line by trees. To the east of the far end of Tissa weva reservoir is another man-made irrigation reservoir called Debera Weva. Both reservoirs are havens for bird life.

Santagiri or Sandagiri dagaba in Tissamaharama

Sandagiri stupa was built by the regional ruler Prince Mahanaga in the third century B.C. Sandagiri stupa is 55m in height and 165m in circumference. According to the chronicles, around 12,000 Arahats have lived in the Tissa area during the life and times of King Kavantissa who, deposited the forehead relic of the Buddha in Sandagiri stupa.

Historical chronicles narrates that some of the various relics and gifts sent by Emperor Asoka to King Devanmpiyatissa (250-210 BC) of Sri Lanka were enshrined in the Sandagiri Stupa of Ruhuna. However, the first provincial ruler to have begun the construction of sacred places of Buddhist worship in Ruhuna was Mahanaga. Historical chronicles narrate that Buddha, in his third visit to Sri Lanka arrived at Tissamaharama and hence the ancient settlement is considered sixteen sacred locations of the island.

Yatala dagoba in Tissamaharama

A short stroll along the road from the southwest corner of Tissa weva is Yatala dagoba and further down about half a kilometer is Menik dagoba. The small cluster of pillars located in the midway are the ruins of an ancient monastery called Galkanunmandiya. Yatala Dagoba that has been identified as Mani Chethiya and Yattalaya in various historical documents was built by Prince Mahanaga in the 3rd century BC.

Picture gallery of Tissamaharama

Tantirimale monastery, Sri Lanka.

Tantirimale is located 36 km northeast of the city of Anuradhapura in the north central dry plains of Sri Lanka.

Reaching Tantirimale

Tantirimale monastery can be reached by Anuradhapura-Mahavillachchiya road: 27 km along road is Sri Wimalagnana road to the right. Tantirimale is located another 18km onwards the turn. The motorable road from Anuradhapura has made Tantirimale a popular place of pilgrimage among the Sinhalese Buddhists of Sri Lanka.

Tantirimale ancient monastery

The Tantirimale monastery is a vast panoramic site having sprawling extensive boulders spreading over 250 acres in the midst of thick forest covers. The climb and the walk around the caves and restored ruins is a pleasant experience. Walking to the right and reaching the top of the rock, we reach the Bodhi tree, one of the first eight offshoots of the original Bo-sapling brought to Sri Lanka during the time of King Devanampiyatissa in the third Century BC.

The Dagoba

It is not known of an existence of a dagoba at the monastery during the ancient time. The small modern dagoba on the summit of the largest and highest rock at Tantirimale was built in the year 1976. Walking to the left of the dagoba one reaches the newly-built Image house. An evening stroll round the Tantirimale complex is a pleasant and satisfying experience.

Tantirimale monastery ruins

The reclining Buddha statue carved on the northern slope of the rock is 45 feet in length while the sedentary Buddha statue carved into the rock face is 8 feet in height. Stone pillars in front of the sedentary statue indicate that once a roof had sheltered the statue. Scattered around the site are pillars and stones, some carved and others rough seem to lie where those were queried. The flight of stairs, the unfinished images of deities on the rock surface has made the archeologists believe the monastery had been abandoned by the residents and the craftsmen in haste.

Bathing pond

Behind the image is a dragon arch and descending from there at a fair distance is a pond, according to the villagers, that never run dry. Close to the bathing pond is a cluster of caves of which one had been made use as a library. Inscriptions in Brahmi script are found at the caves. A stone structure therein appears to be that of a building that once had been used for rituals.

Pre-historic drawings of two caves near the Tantirimale monastery

The caves at Tantirimale had been inhabited prior to the recorded history of Sri Lanka. In two of the rock caves are Paleolithic cave paintings discovered by John Still in 1910. The discovery was published in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (C.B.), vol. xxii-vol. xxix.

The first cave is 6.50 meters wide and extends up to 3.75 meters high while the second cave is 3.60 meters in width and 3.70 meters in height. Some of the primitive drawings therein were done by Aborigines of Sri Lanka called Veddah while the rest had been drawn by the Megalithic man during the pre-historic period.

History of Tantirimale

Tantirimale , a main junction on the road from Mantota (Mannar, the former harbour to the north of the Island) to Anuradhapura, , during the period of King Devanampiyatissa, was one of the first colonies of the Aryan Sinhalese who arrived from East India in 543 BC. The historical chronicles of Sri Lanka records that when the Bo-sapling was brought from India to Sri Lanka by Buddhist nun Theri Sanghamitta, "the village of the Brahman Tivakka" was one of the places where the foreign delegation and the local royal group rested on their way to Anuradhapura. As a token of appreciation of the hospitality of the Brahmin, an offshoot of the Bo-sapling was presented to him.

Since then Tantirimale had been a Buddhist monastery for centuries. The golden era of Tantirimale was during the 7th to 8th centuries. Then the monastery was destroyed by the marauding Dravidian invader Kalinga Maga from Southern India on his way from Mantota towards Anuradhapura. Judging from the unfinished works of stone carvings at Tantirimale, it can be concluded that all the peasants and craftsmen had fled the village and the monastery at the invasion by the marauder.

Rediscovery of Tantirimale

In the year of 1960, a 23-year-old Buddhist monk from the neighboring Ulukkulama Village by the name of Kudakongaskada Vimalagnana thero took upon himself to have the villagers from the surrounding areas settled at Tantirimale with a view to protect and develop the sanctified pilgrimage site. When Tantirimale was re-discovered by Ven. Kudakongaskada Vimalagnana Thera, the reclining statue and the Samadhi statue were severely damaged by the treasure hunters who had burrowed and mined into the ruins in search of treasures. Although the Samadhi statue is now restored, the attempts to restore the reclining statue since 1974 by the Department of Archeology of Sri Lanka haven’t been satisfactory.The Bo tree exists to date at the monastery is the most sanctified object of veneration at Tantirimale .

Picture gallery of Tantrimale Monastery

Sri Maha Bodhi Tree in Anuradhapura

It is hard to believe - but there is no shadow of doubt at all - that this small tree with limbs so slender that they must be supported on iron crutches, is the oldest historically authenticated tree in the world (2,250 years).

It has never since been without its hereditary attendants and the care, to the very end, of the country's kings. As lately as the reign of King Keerti Sri Rajasingha, a wall was built around the tree. In 1966 it was enclosed in a golden railing.

The great ancient Sinhalese Buddhist monuments of Anurdhapura are clustered around this Peepal tree (ficus religiosa) called Sri Maha Bodhi, a sapling of the Peepal Tree at Buddha Gaya, Northern India in whose shelter Gautama Buddha attained supreme enlightenment.
The sapling was brought to Sri Lanka by Buddhist nun Sanghamitta, the daughter of King Asoka of India in the 3rd Century B.C. To the north of the well protected and well adorned tree are three great monasteries: the Mahavihara, the Abhayagiri and the Jetavana.

Picture gallery of Sri Maha Bodhi Tree


Ruwanweliseya in Anuradhapura

The construction of Ruwanweliseya was prophesied by the great Buddhist missionary Maha Thera Arhath Mahinda, who brought Buddhism to Sri Lanka from India during the reign of King Devanampiya Tissa (250-210 BC).
Having heard of the prophesy of Maha Thera Mahinda to the effect that a great Stupa would be built by a great king at a certain location at Anurdhapura, King Devanampiya Tissa had an inscription pillar planted at the said location narrating the prophesy.
A little more than a century later, the inscription pillar was destined to be found by a fitting hero: King Dutugamunu (101-77 B.C.), who rescued the Sinhalese Buddhist nation from the Dravidian invader. “The Hero of the Nation” wasted no time and commenced the construction of Ruwanweliseya also named Maha Stupa or Ratnapali Stupa or Swarnamali stupa.

Following the declaration of the king that no work at the great stupa should go unrewarded, a streak of luck dawned on the pious king: a rich vein of Silver was discovered at a village subsequently renamed Ridigama meaning Village of Silver in Sinhala. The construction of stupa cost the king 6.4 million coins in wages alone.

At a circumference of 370 feet and a height of 180 feet, Ruwanweliseya, the third largest stupa of Sri Lanka, is the focal point of the Maha Vihara, the first monastery of Sri Lanka. It is believed a considerable amount of relics of Buddha is enshrined in this glorious stupa, built in replicating the shape of a bubble of water. At the eastern entrance to the stupa is a statue of King Dutugamaunu. According to the records made by Fa Hsien, the Chinese Buddhist monk, who toured Sri Lanka in the 5th century CE, Maha Vihara monastery housed no less than 3000 Buddhist monks.

Since the death of King Dutugamunu, “The Hero of the Nation”, the great stupa had been renovated by a succession of Sinhalese king till King Nissanka Malla (1187-1196 AC). By the 19th century, Anurdahapura, once the greatest monastic city of the world, also named Anurogrammon, by the Greek cartographer Claudius Ptolemy (90-168 AD) was deserted; Ruwanweliseya was in ruins.
In the year 1893, a patriotic and pious Buddhist monk called Naranvita Sumanasara Thera supported by a community of humble villagers in the region, took upon the Herculean task of reconstructing the great stupa. The community resulted in forming a society called Ratnamali Chaityawardhana Society.

Picture gallery of Riwanweliseya

Ritigala Mountain, Sri Lanka

Ritigala is located 188 km north-east of Colombo, at Ganewalpola, near Kekirawa/Maradankadawala of north-central plains of Sri Lanka.

Reaching Ritigala Sri Lanka

Ritigala can be reached from the turn-off from Habarana- Anuradhapura Road at a distance of 12km from Habarana. Another 5 km along a graveled yet motorable road leads to the foot of the mountain.

Ritigala Mountain at a height of 766 m above the sea-level is the highest mountain in the north-central dry plains of Sri Lanka. The mountain mass about three miles long and about two miles wide at its widest point is covered with dense jungle inhabited by wild Elephants, leopards and bears. It is the watershed of the Malwatu Oya which feeds the Nachaduwa tank and Kalueba Ela which feeds Huruluwewa. The Ritigala Mountain has been declared a Strict Natural Reserve in order to maintain its pristine environment. Ritigala mountain’s cloud cover and mist that cloth it most of the year round has resulted in a flora much more commonly found at the central hills of wet zone than those in the dry plains: the upper part of the mountain is well known for its flora, some of which are rare; it has also a range of wild orchids.

History of the Ritigala Mountain Sri Lanka

Ritigala is home to 70 rock caves that were believed to had been inhabited since the first century BC. Mahavamsa, the great historical chronicle of Sri Lanka narrates that Ritigala was known by the name of "arittha-pabbata" during the reign of Pandukabhaya (377-307 BC), the third king of Sri Lanka. Since then Ritigala had been, at intervals, a sanctuary for the kings at war against the Dravidian invaders to the island till the 7th century: King Dutugemunu (161-137 BC) and King Jetthatissa in the seventh century.

From the early days of Buddhism, monks had been living in natural caves or rock shelters. Rock inscriptions discovered at Ritigala indicate that gradually, the sanctuary became a monastic retreat for hermit (Pamsukulika) monks. An inscription found at the site records that the Ritigala monastery was founded by King Lanji Tissa (119 - 109 BC) who also dedicated a reservoir to the monastery The monastery complex built with the tradition of Padhanaghara Parivena was endowed by King Sena the first (846-866 AD) for the benefit of Pansukulika monks who practiced extreme austerity. By the 10th-12th century AD however Ritigala seems to have been abandoned by the hermit monks, taken over by the jungle and forgotten by the populace.

It is the ruins of this monastery that King Sena I (846-866 AD) built for the Pansakulika monks that the modern pilgrims see today. The Archaeological Department has sensitively restored many of the ruins.

Rediscovery of Ritigala Sri Lanka

At the end of the tenth century, Ritigala came under the barrage of south Indian invasions. By the 10th-12th century AD Ritigala seems to had been abandoned by the hermit monks and soon it retreated into the jungles and rediscovered in the late 19th century by James Mantell, a government surveyor. A couple of decades later, the first archeological commissioner in Ceylon H.C. P. Bell visited Ritigala and published a report on his archeological investigations.

Ruins of Buddhist Monastery

Entering the site of ruins of the monastery, the visitors come to a huge man-made reservoir with a circumference of 1,200 feet constructed by means of a bund across a valley down which two streams flow from the mountain. The inside is lined with stones meant to protect it and also to serve as steps for bathers. The top of the bund is also paved with large stones. The path to the ruins runs along the southern bank of the reservoir, crosses a bridge, passes a circus and then leads to the first buildings.

A short climb off the foot of the mountain takes the visitors to the ruins at Ritigala that are scattered over an area of about 120 acres. Turning right the visitors come a large rectangular building with a sunken and paved courtyard in its center with pillars around it: the refectory with grindstones and a stone trough. Just near the refectory is a large area enclosed by a wall which like most of the structures at Ritigala is made of huge finely cut and dressed slabs of stone. Within this area are two pairs of double platforms with stones fitted together hard and fast.

On the northern end of the enclosure wall is a path that leads down to a ravine then to a river where there is a stone bridge and a bathing enclosure. Returning to near the north-west corner of the enclosed area, the visitor finds a path leading westward through very thick forest. This paved path runs for about 1000 feet and has several flights of stairs interspersed by two roundabouts. The first of these roundabouts, roughly halfway along the path, is the largest, while the second smaller one is towards the end of the path. A little before the first roundabout a path leads off to the left to an impressive stone bridge, several double platforms and caves.

The double platforms are made out of huge slabs of beautifully cut stone and always occur in pairs, joined by a bridge. They are usually built on natural rock foundations and are always aligned in the same direction. Near the platforms are found urinal stones some of which are elaborate carved. In fact, the urinal stone is the only feature in Pansakulika monasteries with any decorations on them at all.

Architecture of the monastery

Ritigala monastery where Pansakulikas monks dwelled has no stupas, no image houses or temples. The long meditational pathway which branches out to the buildings while climbing up the mountain brings about tranquility in the jungle setting. The architecture herein is in line with all other forest monasteries of Pansakulikas: certain mysterious features unique in Sri Lankan monastic architecture; long paved paths often with roundabouts in them; large stone-lined and stepped reservoirs; and unique double platforms.

Picture gallery of Ritigala Mountain

Ratnapura, Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka

Ratnapura meaning City Gems in Sinhalese, the main source of precious and semiprecious stones (including rubies, sapphires, and cat’s-eyes) mined in the valleys by River Kalu Ganga that flows through the district, is located 103 m from Colombo in the Sabaragamuwa district of wet Zone of Sri Lanka.

Reaching Ratnapura

Ratnapura can be reached by A4 Highway which connects capital Colombo to Kalmunai in the Eastern Province. The A8 Highway connects the town with Panadura in the western coast of Sri Lanka.

Ratnapura’s Climate, terrain and vegetation

The high rainfall (4,000 to 5,000 mm annually) at Ratnapura district in a valley (21m above sea-level) by the River Kalu Ganga Ratnapura has resulted in rich vegetation, an environment of greenery interspersed with streams and waterfalls. Ratnapura affords grand views of the surrounding countryside, in particular the famous and revered mountain, Adam’s Peak (Sri Pada). The most visited waterfalls at Ratnapura are Bopath Ella Falls at the village of Kuruvita and Katugas Ella Falls at the village of Mahawelawatta and Kirindi Ella Falls.

Ratnapurais one of the most beautifully situated towns in Ceylon, except for its climate, which is aptly compared to a Turkish bath. Still it is this hot moist temperature which makes all leaf and blossom more luxuriant in Ratnapura than anywhere else.

Gem Mining at Ratnapura

Mining of gems in Sri Lanka, also known by the name of Ratna Deepa (Sinhala: The Island of Gems) in the ancient times, is woven in to the history of Sri Lanka, goes back at least to 2000 years. The Mahavansa, the ancient chronicle of Sri Lanka too mentioned about gems and jewelry on several occasions. A sizeable community at Ratnapura is engaged in the Gem Trade. Mechanized gem mining being banned in Sri Lanka, unearthing gemstones at Ratnapura is an unsophisticated and small-scale affair done in traditional methods.

Besides the villages surrounding Ratnapura and Pelmadulla towns, other areas that had become famous for their gem mines include the villages surrounding the towns of Kuruvita, Opanayake, Rakwana, Kahawatte and Eheliyagoda, all in Ratnapura district. One of the villages in Pelmadulla where gem mining is highly concentrated is of Ganegama.

Ratnapura district has produced an incredible variety of gemstones, many of them outstanding in comparison with stones from other regions. Sapphire occurs in all hues of blue, as well as yellow, violet, green, pink, and the remarkable pinkish-orange “padparadsha.” Other gemstones include topaz in bright yellow with a reddish tinge; brownish yellow to cinnamon-colored grossular; orange-yellow spessartine; blood-red pyrope; red to brownish red almandine; the world’s finest zircon in a broad spectrum including brown, yellow, orange, green, and colorless (known locally as ‘Matara diamond’—a misnomer); green, yellow, and brown tourmaline; yellow, green, and brown chrysoberyl; yellow chrysoberyl cat’s-eye; the unique white translucent variety of microcline with a blue sheen known as moonstone; and great quantities of spinel in brown, green, blue, purple, violet, yellow, pink, and red. Unusual and rare stones from the same area include sillimanite, andalusite, scapolite, enstatite, kornerupine and diopside.

Ratnapura is the source of some of the priceless gemstones in the world: Blue Giant of Orient (466 cts), Logan Blue Sapphire (42 3cts), Blue Belle of Asia (400 cts), Rossar Reeves Star Ruby (138.7 cts), Star of Lanka (393 cts) and the Ray of Treasure (105 cts Cat’s Eye). The Star of Lanka and Ray of Treasure are the proud possessions of the National Gem & Jewellery Authority of Sri Lanka.

Trading precious gems in the street.

Saviya Mawata at the heart of the town of Ratnapura, 150 m east of the clock tower is the location the local traders haggle over uncut precious and semi precious gems. The street is lined with the shops of small dealrs. Located at the clock tower and main street are traditional jewelry shops.

Ratnapura Agriculture

Ratnapura is a village set in agriculture. Many delicious fruits like mango and papaya and vegetables are grown as market products. The town's agricultural industry is also well developed: large plantations of tea and rubber surround the town.

Ratnapura’s tourism industry

Ratnapura being a nature attraction that serves trekking opportunities caters to a well-established tourism industry. Ratnapura is a convenient transit base to explore the popular attractions of Sinharaja rain forest, Uda Walawe National Park, Kitulgala, and Sri Pada.

Ratnapura National Museum

Ratnapura National Museum is set up at the renovated building called “Ehelepola Walauva” once belonged to a minister Ehelepola of the last king of Sri Lanka. The beautiful building on Ratnapura - Colombo road was opened for the public as a museum in 1988. Among the exhibits are prehistoric archaeological inventions, geological, anthropological, zoological artifacts and models related to the Sabaragamuva Province. Portrayal of the folk life of the region including various forms of dress, ornamentation, weaponry, musical instruments is an important aspect of the museum.

The weaponry on display: Sinhala swords of late medieval era including a rare sword said to have belonged to Ehelepola; a fine collection of old guns including a Vicker machine gun used during the first world war.

The cookery of the region: tripod pan with three moulds for preparing those delectable cakes known as kiri roti made of rice flour, grated coconut and coconut milk and often consumed with treacle.
Traditional Kandyan jewelry: necklaces, bangles, anklets and earings.

Ratnapura Gemological Museum

The gemological Museum at Ratnapura houses an array of fabulous samples of precious and semi-precious gems: rubies; sapphires; amethyst. Among the other exhibits are the images, artefacts and tools that elaborate the history and the processes of the industry. The museum features a souvenir shop and a restaurant.

Ratnapura Maha Saman Devale

Maha Saman Devale is a shrine dedicated to God Saman-the tutelary deity of Adam's Peak constructed on the site of the Portuguese church and fort after the area was recaptured by the Kandyan kingdom from the Portuguese.

"The Maha Saman Devale, Ratnapura is very impressive—the grandest in size and setting of all the devales I have seen. Approached up long stone steps flanked by dug out boats on either side (ready for the annual goods) one senses at once that one is entering a place of myths and legends and offine style and historic Importance. Here a king at war must have been a king indeed and the palatial walauwas in the province seem a right and proper architectural support to the central place Of worship of its people. The devale compound is bound by a low, tiled and windowed, wall within which its space is ordered and emphasized by pavilion roofs, culminating in a three tiered tower at one point, with two other deeply eaved shrine roofs for balance on the vast flat quadrangle. The impression is of triangular weight airborne on carved pillars on a flat sandy expanse, glimpsed through ever changing frames as one walks through the cloisters."—Barbara Sansoni

Picture gallery of Ratnapura


Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka's splendid medieval capital was established as the first city of the land in the 11th Century, A.D. It replaced Anuradhapura, plundered made desolate, and laid hopelessly bare to the invading armies from South India. Three Kings dominate the annals of the city and the period.

The city reached a dazzling but pitifully brief zenith in the 12th century and though ravaged by invasion in the centuries following, much evidence remains of the old grandeur and glory.

The ruins of the ancient city stand on the east shore of a large artificial lake, the Topa Wewa Lake, or Parakrama Samudra (the Sea of Parakrama), created by King Parakramabahu I (1153-86), whose reign was Polonnaruwa's golden age. Within a rectangle of city walls stand palace buildings and clusters of dozens of dagobas, temples and various other religious buildings.

A scattering of other historic buildings can be found to the north of the main complex, outside the city walls and close to the main road to Habarana and Dambulla.

To see many of the relics excavated from the site such as the stone lion which once guarded the palace of King Nissanka Malla, or the fine Hindu bronzes unearthed from the ruins of the Siva Devale Temple - you may have to visit the National Museum in Colombo, where they are kept. However, with the opening of the new Polonnaruwa Visitor Information Centre and its museum in 1998/9 some of the key exhibits were scheduled to return to the place where they were discovered.

Picture gallery of Polonnaruwa

Nagadipa (Nagadeepa), Sri Lanka


Nagadeepa (Nagadipa) or Nainativu is one of the islands of the cluster of islands in the Palk Bay off the Jaffna peninsula.

Reaching Nagadeepa (Nagadipa)

The access to Nagadeepa is from the village of Kurikattuwan (Kurikadduwan) of the island of Punkudutivu: by a 20 minute boat ride over the Palk Bay. The island of Punkudutivu is connected by a causeway over the Palk Bay to Kayts, the largest island of the cluster. Kayts is in turn reached by a longer causeway, again over the Palk Bay from the city Jaffna. The total distance (land+ sea) from Jaffna to Nagadeepa 30 km.

Jaffna city located 404km north of Colombo in the northernmost Peninsula of Sri Lanka is reached by A3 main road that link to A9 main northern motor road.

Landing at the island of Nagadeepa (Nagadipa)

The sandy island of Nagadeepa, sheltered by Coconut palm groves as well as Palmyrah palm trees, features two main jetties set apart by a distance of no more than 300 meters: one of the jetties brings into the immediate vicinity, the Hindu Kovil at the beach while the other leads straight to the Nagadeepa Vihara, also in close proximity of the beach. The boats reaching the island opt for one or other jetty depending on the passengers brought in from Jaffna: should there be more Hindus, it will be moored at the jetty close to the Hindu Kovil; should there be more Buddhist passengers, the boat would be moored at the jetty closer to the Buddhist temple.

The stretch of beach between the Buddhist Temple and Hindu Kovil

On the motorable coastal road running past the Hindu Kovil and Buddhist Temple is a string of stalls that has formed a mini bazzar stretching for about hundred meters between the two shrines. While the population of the island is approximately 2,500 Sri Lankan Tamils and about 250 Muslims, the islands sees thousands of Sinhalese Buddhists on pilgrimage to the Buddhist temple, which is considered as one of the 16 holiest Buddhist Sites of Sri Lanka by virtue of being a location Buddha had visited in the 6th century B.C.

History of Nagadeepa (Nagadipa)

Nagadipa or Naka-diva is first mentioned in the Pali chronicles of Ceylon in connection with the story of the Buddha's second visit to Sri Lanka in the 6th century B.C. According to the Mahavamsa (ch.1.vv 44-70) the Buddha during this visit pacified two Naga kings of Nagadipa who were arrayed in battle over a gem-set throne. In the ancient chronicles the pre-historic Naga tribes are represented as non-human beings enriched with an advanced civilization.

Buddhist Temple Nagadeepa (Nagadipa)

The ancient temple encompassing the image houses and the stupa in which the gem-set throne was enshrined had been destroyed. Buddhist temple therein is a modern one. Unlike thousands of other stupas in the country, the modern Nagadeepa stupa is painted in silver in an attempt to protect its limestone structure from the relentless sea-wind.

There are two shrine rooms at the premises: behind the stupa is the main shrine room; the smaller shrine room features a bronze Buddha statue

Picture gallery of Nagadipa (Nagadeepa)


Mihintale is located 221 km from Colombo in the Cultural Triangle of the north-central province of Sri Lanka.

Mihintale Mountain

Mihintale Mountain, with the arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, began to serve as a residential area for the venerable monks headed by Arahath Mahinda Mahathera. But soon, with the royal patronage, the sanctuary housed a multitude of with monastic buildings-stupas, uposathgharas, bodhigharas- to serve the monks. Sixty eight cave dwellings provided the monks shade and shelter. Mihintale, the sanctuary for many thousands of laymen as well as holy men, had all the facilities and amenities for basic living.

Vedahala - the Hospital at the foot of the mountain at Mihintale

With the growth of the community of monks and the pious laymen, there arose the inevitable need of a hospital. The first hospital at Mihintale was founded by King Sena the second (853-887 AC) at Mihintale. The identification was based on a tenth century inscription found at the site.

Today, the ruins of a hospital with its layout restored can be seen at the entrance to the site of Mihintale. At the entrance to the hospital is the outer courtyard that consists of four rooms: consulting room; room for preparation and storage of medicine; room for hot water baths. At the end of the outer courtyard, to the north is the main building: the quadrangular courtyard having a small shrine in the center. The rooms are arranged on a two high platforms on all four sides of the Central Courtyard. The rooms face the shrine which is in the Courtyard. The area of each room is about 100 square feet. The rooms open onto an inner Verandha making all cells accessible.

Archeological excavations have unearthed clay wares and blue colored jars. These jars are another evidence of the cultural and trade connections with Iran and Sri Lanka at such an ancient time.

Arama: the residence of the monks at the foot of the mountain at Mihintale

Between the ancient hospital and the great stairway to the mountain of Mihintale are ruins of ancient monastic buildings girt by a boundary wall. The entrance to the monastery is decorated with steps, Guard-Stones, makara (dragon) balustrades and naga (cobra) figures. This building is similar to arama buildings found in Anuradhapura. Ruins of quadrangle’s two story buildings, each built on 12 or 16 stone columns called Prasada that houses several rooms are found here.

The great stairway at Mihintale

The great stairway that leads up the Mihintale Mountain consists of no less than 1840 rock cut steps. While some of the neat steps are carved into the natural rock, the rest are paved with cut granite. Exceedingly wide for a pedestrian climb, the impressive staircase of unique distinction, well sheltered and shaded with frangipani flower trees and ever-green wood makes a very pleasant climb. The blossoms of Araliya (frangipani) make the staircase fragrant while the intrusive hoards of monkeys hover around and hang in the branches of the trees to grab snacks off the visitors.

When one proceeds along the ancient stairway-about half the distance, the path branches off to the right into a still steeper climb. The pathway, which consists of about 80 steps, leads you to the site of the Kantaka Cetiya. The branch pathway is 10 feet wide and about half the size of the stone steps laid on the main path. Mahasaya, Atvehera and Rajagirilena Kanda are approached through similar pathways.

Refectory, the Alms Hall at Mihintale

To the left of the first level of Mihintale is the main refectory. Two stone cut troughs used for serving rice are lined up along the walls to the north and east. The larger of the trough with a length of 23 feet is an indication of the large number of monks. Interior of these troughs were believed to be lined with a layer of metal. Refectory also consists of overhead water pipes and elaborates drainage system. A rock cut inscription reveals the members at the refectory: 12 cooks, warden and firewood suppliers.

Dage, the Relic House, the Main Shrine at Mihintale

Mihintale’s main shrine is located at an elevated level adjoining the refectory. A flight of stairs leads to the main shrine. Two large slabs of stone contain inscriptions in length on both sides of the entrance to the shrine. The beautiful inscription on polished slabs of granite made by King Mahinda the fourth (956-972 A.D.), one of the longest ancient inscriptions of Sri Lanka shed a great deal of information on the monastery.

Kantaka Chetiya at Mihintale

Kantaka Chetiya in its ruined state, is of a height of 40 feet and a circumference of 425 feet. On the four sides of the stupa are found four projecting front pieces called Vahalkadas. Two of the four Vahalkadas are preserved in good condition. The Vahalkadas are profusely ornamented with sculptures: frieze of ganas (dwarfs) and frieze of hamsa (geese). The caves located near to the stupa are the earliest dwellings of the resident monks at Mihintale.

The sixty eight caves at Mihintale

The sixty eight caves, the earliest dwellings of the monks at Mihintale are located around the Kantaka Cetiya. The Mahavamsa, the great historical chronicle of Sri Lanka narrates on the donation of caves to the monks by King Devanampiya Tissa. Furthermore the inscriptions engraved above the drip ledges of these caves too elaborate of the offering.

Sinha Pokuna (Lion pond) at Mihintale

To the south of the Assembly Hall in the middle terrace at a lower level is the Lion pond amidst the ruins of a monastic building. The pond built into a natural rock has water channeled from Naga Pokuna at a higher elevation. The water is discharged through the open mouth of the life size-lion carved onto a rock wall. Right round the pond are sculptures depicting dancers, Elephants, musicians and dwarfs.

Ambasthala Chetiya at Mihintale

The first monument that comes into view when entering the upper terrace is Ambastala dagoba built by King Mahadatika Mahanaga (09-21 AC). It is a small stupa surrounded by stone pillars forming a circle. The pillars are the unmistakable evidence that Ambastala dagoba was a circular relic house with a roof of wooden construction over the stupa supported on those pillars.

The site of Ambasthala Dagaba is believed to be the precise location at Mihintale where Mahathera Mahinda met King Devanampiya Tissa and the great sage delivered his first sermon on the mount, Cula Hatthipadopama Sutta.

Sila Chetiya at Mihintale

Sila Cetiya at the upper terrace is believed to have been built on a spot Buddha had seated on his third visit to Sri Lanka. It is a stupa built in the medieval era of Sri Lanka.

Mihindu Seya at Mihintale

Mihindu Seya was built by King Uttiya (210-200 BC) to enshrine a portion of the bodily relics of Mahinda Mahathera.

Aradhana Gala (The Rock of Invitation) at Mihintale

On the eastern side of the Ambasthala Cetiya is the rock called Aradhana Gala. It is believed to be the location where the novice monk Sumana invited the gods and deities to the first sermon of Mahinda Mahathera in Lanka.

Mihindu Guhawa, the cave of Mahinda at Mihintale

About three hundred yards downhill from the Upper terrace, on the eastern side a stone slab sheltered by another rock called Mihindu Guhawa Cave. It is believed to be the location where Mahinda mahathera mediated. The rectangular area is believed to be the bed of Mahathera Mahinda.

Mahaseya, the great stupa

Returning from Mihindu Guhawa Cave to the maluwa (plateau), the Mahasaya can be seen on the summit of the mountain to the south. 110 steps cut into the rock leads to the Mahasaya the great stupa. The largest stupa on the summit of the mountain, Mahasaya stupa is the monument all would invariably witness from far distant while arriving at Mihintale. Mahathupa is 45 feet in height 136 feet in diameter. The location of monument must have made the construction entailing as much expense and effort as one of the large monuments at the capital.

Naga Pokuna, the Cobra Pond at Mihintale

Just below the Mahasaya and Mihindu Saya at the foot of a steep hillock is the Naga Pokuna (Cobra Pond) built into a natural rock basin. Originally, a rainwater filled pool, following the establishment of the monastery, springs were tapped to maintain the storage of water. Naga Pokuna was central to the supply of water to the monastery: Lion Pond and Alms Hall too were supplied with water from Naga Pokuna. The name of Naga Pokuna is derived from the five hooded cobra cut in low relief on the rock surface.

Atvehera, The Inner Temple at Mihinatale

A long flight of some six hundred steps from Naga Pokuna leads to Atvehera stupa at Atvehera Kanda hill. Though the stupa at the summit of the hill is smaller than Mahasaya, the view from the location is panaromic.

Indikatuseya at Mihintale

Descending from Atvehera, at the ruins of the ancient hospital at the foot of the mountain, the main road Mihintale-Galkulama leads to an ancient vihara Indikatusaya to the right hand side. Well protected by a stone wall are ruins of two stupas. Indukatusaya, the larger of the two stupas, is built on an elevated platform paved with stone slabs. The platform is about 5 feet above the ground level and each side is about 40 feet. The stupa has basal terraces that differ in form and style from those of other stupas. The stairways are flanked by balustrades and a plain moonstone.

Rajagirilena Kanda, the Royal Rock Cave Hill at Mihintale

About half a kilometer from Indikatusaya along the gravel road and on the turning to the left is located Rajagirilena Kanda. On the low hill with a height of about of 100 feet, among the boulders at the summit are caves once occupied by the monks. Fairly roomy cells were formed by brick and clay walls that divide the interior sheltered by an overhanging rock roof. Rajagirilena Kanda with its airy caverns in a pleasant setting is believed to be first dwellings of the Buddhist monks at Mihintale.

Kaludiya Pokuna, the Black Water Pool at Mihintale

A short path of about fifty meters through the boulders at Rajagirilena Kanda leads to Kaludiya Pokuna, the central attraction of the hill named Porodini in the Mihintale Tablets of King Mahinda the 4th. Kaludiya Pokuna, the largest pool at Mihintale measures 200 feet in length and 70 feet in width. Around the pool are the ruins of meditation halls, bathing houses and walled caves. The name Black Water Pool was a result of the dark shadows left upon the waters by the rock boulders and shady trees surrounding the pool.

Picture gallery of Mihintale