Kudumbigala Monastery – the forgotten monastery of the East

Situated within the Northern parts of the Ruhuna National Wildlife Park and a short distance from the Eastern beach of panama,  Kudumbigala is a monastery of more than 200 cave accommodations;  a 600 acre large hermitage built on the second century BC by the first Buddhist king of Sri Lanka King Devanampiyatissa.

Initially designed to house the meditating arhants of Anuradhapura from the hustle and bustle of the urban life, Kudumbigala reached its glorious peak during the time of King Dutugamunu in the first century BC. The monastery’s landscaped garden had been adorned with ponds carved in to the rock mountain, of which only the ponds, a water fall and ruined stone stairways and pillars remain.

The caves with carved drip ledges and plastered interiors adorned with Buddhist murals tell of an era of affluence and sophistication. The Brahmin inscriptions within the largest cave known as the ‘ maha Sudarshana cave’  or the vast cave with a scenic view ‘tells the story of a general in the name of  Nandika-Mitta, who donated the cave to the  meditating maha sanga of Kudumbigala. The Genral is believed to be one of the ten great Generals of King Dutugamunu, who liberated the country from the clutches of South Indian invading King Elara. A second cave known as the ‘Giant’ cave holds an inscription identifying the donor as General Dava, identified to be a personal bodyguard of King Dutugamunu.

The one of a kind cylindrical shape stupa on the top of the mountain can be reached through steps carved on to the mountain. Many other stupas of the same unique shape but of smaller size lies in ruin within the monastery premises and are believed to enshrining the remains of the arhants, who once graced the premises.  The remaining stupa, which is similar to the ‘Sanchi’ stupa in India in structure and design is too facing the threat of erosion and soon would be lost forever.

Due to the large number of stupa built within the monastery premises, archeologists believe the Kudumbigala monastery to be the legendary ‘chethiya pabbatha’ hermitage of the Ruhuna kingdom.

However the glory days of the hermitage seemed to have reached its end by the Seventh Century AC and Kudumbigala had continued to function as a scaled down monastery and a temple limited to the few main caves until the Seventeenth Century AC, after which it was forgotten and engulfed by the jungle and its beasts.

The hermitage found on site today was later established in 1954 by a lay devotee in the name of Maithree, who cleared the jungle from some parts of the monastery premises and lived and meditated at the hermitage until his death in 1971.

Yet the greater part of the legendary ‘Chethiya Pabbatha’ still lies under the cover of the thick jungle waiting to be discovered and established to its past glory.

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