Believed to be one of the sixty four temples built by King Kawanthissa, Senanigala shot to fame when his son, great King Dutugamunu, chose the rock monastery to gather his forces against King Elara, a Tamil king who usurped the throne of Anuradhapura.
Lost to the dust of time Senanigala was rediscovered nearly three decades back when settlers began to live in the newly-cleared land in Dehiaththakandiya, in the Mahaweli ‘C’ Zone. Scattered over an area of 15 acres the picturesque Raja Maha Vihara can be seen from afar atop a rocky mountain and can be reached on Mahiyangana to Dehiaththakandiya road.
Today a forty acre archaeological reserve the surrounds the temple and its vicinity to Maduruoya and Wasgamuwa wildlife reserves brings elephants to the vicinity of the temple. Identified to be one of the two ‘panchavasa’ temples remaining in the country Senanigala holds a stupa, a shrine room, a bodhigara or house around the Bodhi tree, a gathering hall and a preaching hall essential to qualify as a ‘panchavasa’ temple.
Scattered around the main temple on the rocky plateau are a compound laid with stone slabs and a ninety five feet long drip-ledged cave, which housed the meditating monks of the eras gone by. Among the broken statues are a five feet tall Buddha image and a six feet statue believed to be of King Datugemunu. Nearly 25 rock inscriptions are found scattered on site while ruins of four buildings and the stupa have become the tragic victims of reassure hunters.
A moonstone adorned only with figures of elephants, stairway stones and stone pillars of intricate beauty adores the entrance to the shrine room. The stairway stone or Korawakgal are over five feet tall and are believed to be the tallest found in the country while the shrine room has a two entrance structure unique to Senanigala.
A Nine feet deep pond atop the mountain known as the kaludiya pokuna has a cobra carved on its rocky banks, an ancient sign depicting the continuity of the water source. However a tank built near had been the main water source to the temple and still feeds the paddy fields around the temple with water.
A bodhigara or a stone housing built around the Bo tree found near the pond lay in ruins although the stone slabs laid around the Bo tree still remain intact. But the stupa had been completely vandalised by treasure hunters its body carved out and its top taken apart and thrown away.
Despite their derelict conditions times and nature had been kinder to the artefacts on the top of the mountain while nothing but broken pieces remain of the structures found at the foot. Broken entrance to the pagoda, Buddha statues and large replicas of Sripathula, the feet mark of Lord Buddha are found scattered everywhere vandalised by time, nature and men.
Nothing but a road paved with stones wide enough for two horse chariots to pass abreast still remain at the foot of the mountain as witness to the bustling army organisation that was present in and around Senanigala nearly 2100 years ago.