Bowattegala Monastery – A hermitage of the Southern Royals

DSC_0307High on the banks of Kumbukkan River hidden midst the dense jungle is an ancient monastery of third century BC. Lost to the forest and wild beast the caves, rock structure and Buddha statue lay abandoned with time scattered and unexplored.

Bowattegala, a rock strewn mountain in the midst of Kumana, had been first fashioned into a monastery in between the third and second century BC by the ten noble brothers of Kataragama, known in Sri Lankan history as the ‘Kataragama -kshathriya’.

A rare but lengthy cave inscription speaks of the genealogy of these Southern Royals, who ruled the Southern and Eastern provinces of Lanka under the regime of the main King in Anuradhapura.download

These noble princes of Southern Sri Lanka had been the participants of the festivals held in Anuradhapura in celebration of the arrival of the sacred Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi in Sri Lanka and had received one of the first eight plants to shoot from the sacred Bodhi Tree.

Although it was long believed this Bodhi shoot to have been planted in Kataragama, some archeologist speculate that the young Bodhi plant could have been planted in Bowattegala; thus the reason for a singularly lengthy stone inscription within the monastery grounds.

Meanwhile successive kings and provincial nobles too had added on to the splendors of the monastery and the cave inscriptions speak of a Minister in the name of Naka, King Mahasen and King Jetta Thissa of making various contributions throughout the history.

The caves found on the mountain are almost all drip ledged suggesting a monastery spread over the mountain. However some of the caves had been renovated at later era with the use of bricks and timber. Plastered interiors of some caves still remain in place while partially destroyed timber door frames remain at the entrance to some caves.

Some caves carry evidence of inhabitance as late as 17th century although whether the monastic life was intact at the time is yet to be discovered.

The grounds of the monastery too had consisted buildings of various forms and eras but none remain intact save for the piles of brickwork and rock pillars. Ruins of three stupas brick work and foundation lay scattered atop the rock projections of the mountain while rock ponds had been rebuilt and improvised as water resources for the monastery, by King Jetathissa as a tribute to the service rendered in spreading the Dhamma of Lord Buddha.

Despite repeated royal sponsorship and benevolence the monastery had not survived to its second millennium and had said to have provided shelter for the singular meditating and rebels, who were fighting the colonial governance since 16th century.

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