Arankele forest monastery and caves lie at a distance of 117km from Colombo.
Arankele Forest Monastery, an archaeological site, is reached by Colombo- Kurunegala- Ibbagamuwa - Moragolla road.
Arankele Forest Monastery’s sylvan environment and ruins of bathing ponds gives the impression it was once a pleasure park. Arankele, on the contrary, was a 6th century cave hermitage up a forested hillside. The densely wooded terrain crowded with huge hardwood trees are interspersed by the openings and clearings created by the on-going process of clearing scattered debris to unearth the ruins and re erecting the fallen ruins.
On the slopes of Arankele hill is a cluster of natural rock caves once used by monastic monks for shelter and meditation. Though remain rough outside with the exception of the drip ledges, the interior walls are well plastered with lime
Ruins of the monastery
it was the site of an ancient forest monastery - the austere abode of a sect of recluse monks who had been attracted to this site because of its very isolation and seclusion. The building at the entrance of the Arankele site has been identified as a Jantagara or hot water bath with the dimensions of 100ft in length and 60ft in breadth. There also vestiges of grinding stones which had been used to prepare herbal medicines in the past. Amongst the other ruins that have been identified are meditating promenades, ponds and long winding pathways. Long pathways that cut across the dense forest lead to stone carved drip-ledged caves used for mediation alms-giving halls and bathing ponds that testify to the excellent craftsmanship.
Ancient stone slabs of inscriptions in Brahmi script have revealed the existence of meditation halls, stone-faced double platform structures and ambulatories for the austere Buddhist monks here. The platforms aligned in east-west axis consist with the entrance porch to the east bridged by a large monolith. The smaller of the double platform structure herein, the roof being supported on columns, has the impression of being divided into cells for the monks. The purpose of the construction of double platforms hasn’t been yet determined though some scholars are of the opinion those were used for meditation, ceremonies and teaching.
In line with the severe simplicity and austere religious practices of Arankele Forest Monastery, the building had been built with no pretentions to decorations. Furthermore stupas, shrines and status found in the ancient urban monasteries weren’t found herein either. The exception to the minimalist architecture is the existence of urinal stones decorated with carvings. The purpose of the practice of decorating urinal stones hasn’t been established.
Hot water bath and grinding stones
Arankele Forest Monastery is home to the largest hot water pond in Sri Lanka: it is around 100ft in length and 60ft in breadth. Also seen are vestiges of grinding stones that had been used to prepare Ayurvedic medicines. All these ruins now being unearthed testifies to the existence of a large Ayurvedic hospital at the monastery.
History of the monastery
Arankele Forest Monastery was the austere abode of a sect of recluse monks called Pansukulika practicing extreme austerity. The history of the cave hermitage dates back to the 6th century: Arankele Forest Monastery is believed to be where the last known Arhat monk, Maliyadeva resided along with no less than 12,000 monastic monks.
Picture gallery of Arankele Monastery