One of a Kind. Kudumbigala Forest Hermitage Sri Lanka

It is easy to miss the inconspicuous turn off to the Kudumbigala Archaeological Site on the main road en route to the entrance of the Kumana National Park.

However, the Kudumbigala rock can be seen from this far, standing like a sentinel overlooking the Park below.

Even from this distance, the ancient cylindrical dome can be spotted.

It is a spur-of- the- moment  decision to climb the rock on this wonderful Sunday morning, having spent the last few days at the Malima Lagoon Cabanas, run by the Navy in Panama, Arugam Bay.

The first part of the hike takes us through some lush forests and up stone steps to a temple built into a rock promontory.

A hand drawn sign points us towards a small footpath off the beaten track that will lead us to the “balum gala” – view point.

And soon, we come to a steep rock with shallow steps carved into its façade and handrails conveniently placed alongside. We climb higher and higher, stopping for breath and to soak up the amazing views over and across the tree tops.

At the very top is the unique, well-preserved cylindrical dagoba, the only one of its kind to be found in Sri Lanka today. Scholars say that this could be the only dagoba built according to the Dhamek Stupa in Sarnath in India.

Apart from some damage, the dagoba has withstood the test of time and the strong gusts of wind that almost lifted me off my feet.

The thick forest surrounding the Kudumbigala Rock is also home to a forest hermitage dating back to the era of King Devanampiyatissa (247 BC – 207 BC). It is also the first Buddhist monastery, known as a chetiya pabbatha and comprises over 200 caves, used even now as kutis, a bhikku’s lodging, which is one of their four basic requisites: robes, food, lodging and medicine.

There is a small stupa believed to have been built by King Kavantissa (205 BC-161 BC), the father of King Dutugamunu, who reigned from 161 BC to 137 BC. Stone inscriptions have been discovered in one of the caves indicating that Kudumbigala was established as a forest hermitage and gifted to arahants by Nandimitra, one of King Dutugamunu’s dasa maha yodhayas (ten giant warriors).

Back at the temple at the rock promontory, there is a parallel path that leads to the other side of the rock.

The pathways are being swept clean by introspective bhikkus performing their morning chores. There is a sense of serenity and calmness as we make our way quietly up the monastic mountain.

At the very top is another dagoba, a pond cut into the rock and vast expanses of views across the Eastern Province. The bhikkus have finished their morning meal and some continue their prayers whilst others wander around attending to their daily work. We sit under a stone overhang and take in the aura of the day. And soon, the sun is rising higher and scorching the ground below, burning our bare soles. It is time to return.

Before we climb back down, we meet with a friendly Australian bhikku, named Pasodha. Responding to our curiosity at his presence here, he reflects upon his life before he took to robes and the reasons that led him to this ascetic life of prayer and solitude. From the heartlands of Queensland Australia, Tim- the miner, left behind his friends and family and has taken refuge as Pasodha, in one of the many kutis in the heart of this forest hermitage, finding his real purpose in life. His past life, although colourful was unfulfilled with sadness and unreachable goals and now he is determined to find peace of mind. We wish him well in his search and return to Panama in search of our breakfast.

Kudumbigala trivia:

  • The Kudumbigala sanctuary comprises 4403 hectares. It was declared a sanctuary in September 1973.
  • In 1954, a Catholic from Negombo, came to this forest area after having read up on Sri Lanka’s ancient history. He was so fascinated by this place that he eventually settled down here to a life of seclusion, taking the name of Upaasaka Maithree. During his stay, he protected the monastery and was regarded as a hero by the locals until his death on September 10, 1971. When he passed away, his remains, according to his last wish, had been securely stored in a glass box and displayed inside a rock cave within the monastery complex. Sadly, in 1994, LTTE terrorists smashed the glass display and threw the skeletal remains into the jungle. Eventually some of the bones were found by a researcher.

Good to know:

  • The hike is not very difficult, if you have some stamina
  • Wear good walking shoes and carry drinking water
  • Keep silent and do not disturb meditating bhikkus
  • Offer dry rations or donations to the temple
  • Do not litter along the way


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