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 Post subject: Rajagala - An Ancient Monastery in the jungles of Ruhuna
 Post Posted: Sun Aug 27, 2006 3:27 am 
Rajagala - An Ancient Monastery in the jungles of Ruhuna

Rajagala, the Monarch's Rock, is a rugged, mysterious and thickly forested mountain in the sparsely populated and rarely visited part of Sri Lanka. The history of the place is unknown but monks must have inhabited it before the 1st century BCE. All over the northern summit of the mountain are extensive ruins still awaiting excavation and recovery from the thick jungle. Amongst the ruins are two most interesting antiquities. The first of these is a large and beautifully made stone bowl. Such bowls were used for offering the first fruits of the harvest to the Buddha. Further away and in very thick jungle is a huge block of stone some 16 feet long with a Buddha image carved out of it. The unique thing about this image is that it is half finished. All the lines on the statue are straight and at right angles to each other and there are no details. It seems that apprentice sculptors did the work up to this stage and then the master was supposed to round it off, fill in the finer details and do the finishing touches, only in this case for some reason he never finished the job.


Five miles north of Ampara, looming over the village of Bakiella, lies the rocky wilderness of Rajagala. Thickly forested, still and silent, Rajagala rises above the plain. Known in ancient times as the Girikumbhila vihare, it was once a great monastery patronized by the kings and princes of Ruhuna and Raja Rata. Its history goes back to the early days of Buddhism and an inscription tells us that the ashes of the Arahant Mahinda and his disciple Itthiya were enshrined in a stupa here. However, it was in Prince Saddhatissa’s time that Rajagala really began to grow. During his father’s governorship of Dighamadulla, his son Prince Lanjatissa and his family embellished Rajagala on a lavish scale. Lanjatissa continued his patronage even after he ascended the throne of Anuradhapura, transforming this remote hermitage into one of the greatest monasteries in the whole of Ruhuna. Rajagala it became, "The King’s Rock."


Elegant rock cut steps lead up the mountain. This was once a paved roadway. Normally the steps meander across the rock, here however, the stairway goes straight up the hill in a gentle curve. As you climb, the forest thickens and the silence grows. The dimensions are huge. There are buildings everywhere, occupying every level of the hill.

The centrepiece of the monastery is a large rocky plateau. It is here that all the principal buildings lie. A ceremonial roadway leads down across the rock, passing chaityas, viharas, dwellings and dining halls. Everywhere there are gaping holes where treasure hunters have dug. Strings have been stretched out across the ground and the rock has been burned in the hope of making it burst. The sculptures which we were told about are all in pieces now, while the structures are being taken apart day by day.

Above the temple proper, further up the mountain, are the caves of the original hermits. The mountainside is littered with boulders contorted into strange, fantastic shapes, out of which a whole series of dwellings have been fashioned. Unlike the caves of Mihintale, these remain almost as they were. Untouched by time, many of the walls and doorways are still in place. Some are made of brick or wattle and daub, others are adorned in stone. Inside, the walls are covered with plaster, once they would have been full of paintings. Although they were enclosed, each cave was built to catch the wind and cooled by internal draughts. One or two are still in use, the preserve of the leopard, whose home they have become.

Sinharaja Tamitta Delgoda, from the forthcoming Studio Times publication Eloquence in Stone — the lithic saga of Sri Lanka

This photo-feature is from the forthcoming exhibition With the dawn presented by Studio Times Ltd in association with Fujifilm at the Harold Peiris Gallery, Lionel Wendt Art Centre, 16th-19th September 2006, from 10am-8pm daily. Held to commemorate the publication of the book With the dawn by Nihal Fernando & Herbert Keuneman, the exhibition will feature excerpts from the book and images taken by the Studio Times team of photographers in the recent past of people, landscape, wildlife and the ancient heritage.

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