Autumn on the plain nourishes the Palugaswewa, which goes through several twists and turns until it reaches Ritigala. The valley of the Ritigala Wildlife Sanctuary is home to some exquisite Anuradhapura period prehistoric stone wonders. The view is refreshing, spanning the central province before disappearing into a misty green.
After a 30-minute jeep ride through the verdant Ritigala Wildlife Sanctuary near Habarana, I turned right from the rough rocky road of Thanthirimale temple to Dhewagiri Rajamaha Viharaya and onto the winding carpeted Palugaswewa road before arriving at This rich historical site. On the outskirts of Palugaswewa, the panoramic rural settlement of Ritigala (meaning Safe Rock) is enraged within the perimeter of Ritigala National Park. In ancient Pali, the word Arittha means “safety”, while “gala” in Sinhalese means “rock”, from which the word Riti comes from. Ritigala has long lived up to its name, providing protection, sanctuary and shade for warriors and ascetics.
On the way Ritigala archeology Place
On the way, I noticed that people in the area make a living by growing rice. After crossing a narrow bridge over the canal, we stopped at the sign for the archaeological department, and stopped on the side of the winding road. There is no traffic and not much space for many cars to pass through – just a lookout pavilion from the Department of Archaeology at the entrance to the site. The guard initially refused to let us in as our jeep had reached the ancient site at 4.30pm which was also closing time. After a brief exchange with the guard in the local language by the hunting guide, we were allowed in to let him know that I was a media representative from as far away as India.
As I approached this 1st century BC Buddhist monastery in central Sri Lanka, I felt ecstatic, especially since the archaeological site is located in the ancient monastic city of Anuradhapura, which was my home in Sri Lanka. One of my favorite places. This archaeological site also has a well-known connection to the Sanjeevani Booti in the Ramayana epic. This is also the place where 500 monks once meditated at the same time. The wooded setting of this abandoned retreat has yielded a plethora of archaeological finds.
The remains of large steles and pillars are scattered on the purlieus hill, and wherever they go, they are chased by stones of different sizes and shapes.
The stone statue immediately took me back to the days when monks spent hours meditating here in order to reach Nirvana. The subconscious connection is surreal. I would say, plan your visit for a few hours. The remains of the Ritigala forest monastery complex can be divided into two main parts, with some indentations of smaller structures between the stones. The path from the ticket office past the hut owned by the archaeological department can be used to access the huge Banda Pokuna (artificial pond), which is still full of water during the rainy season.
From here, you pass through the entrance of a stone bridge, through the first of three circular intersections, and up the ceremonial stairs. The first significant ruin is a huge reception building. You can take the path on the right to Janthagara (monastery bathhouse). It contains a central sunken tub formed by a covered colonnade. There are still remnants of the millstone used to make the tub. Further up the flagstone stairs, there are two routes to the left of the central roundabout. The first route back takes you through half-submerged ruins before reaching a massive bridge and elevated library.
As you climb the main staircase, the penultimate building you encounter is Building 16, a Padhanaghara (double platform building) in a moat-like depression used for meditation, instruction and rituals. Padhanaghara is the same as Aranya or forest retreat. There are many more buildings to explore here.
The Legend of Sanjeevani Puti
Surrounded by towering woods, the Ritigala ruins are an enchanting sight! There are no visitors. It was peaceful except for a sudden gust of wind that decided it wanted to howl among the tall trees. But in previous times, it was an important spiritual center and an integral part of the historic Sanjeevani Booti legend. Now in the Anuradhapura district, the site is remote enough to be isolated but close enough to have some connections. Both are necessary for seclusion in the forest. It is speculated that Lord Hanuman, who was traveling through Ritigala, accidentally dropped a piece while transporting medicine from the Himalayas from India to Sri Lanka.
King Ravana kidnapped Sita from Parnassali, India, and he traveled by air chariot to Ashok Vatika, a lovely park in Sita Eliya, to intoxicate her on Pusparaga (Dadumonara). Hanuman traveled across South India using Ritigala Kanda as a dock after discovering where Sita was being held. King Rama’s brother, Prince Lakshmana, was mortally wounded in the battle, and the only thing that could save him was a rare herb from the Himalayas. Thus, the dryland flora of the lower slopes of Ritigala and the adjacent plains are distinguished from the herbaceous and vegetal greenery of the hilltops.
Ritigala lacks the usual hallmarks of Buddhist temples, such as Bo trees and stupas, except for a few broken granite Buddha statues in several caves. In the second century BC, the first Lanka Vihar was built at the foot of the mountain near Ritigara. A hundred years later, Aritta Vihare was built. In the 9th century, King Seine I gave this hillside monastery to ascetic monks known as Pansukulikas, who devoted themselves to great discipline in their quest for ultimate enlightenment.
According to one of the thirteen ascetic practices established in Buddhism, these Buddhist ascetics were so isolated from the normative life of rural temples that their robes were simply rags taken from the cemetery to be cleaned, washed and mended. As I climbed higher, I found more stone buildings on the top of the mountain, compared to the previous ones, but significantly larger. Arahants and solitaries frequent Ritigala as a retreat.
The monks who have lived and meditated here for thousands of years have purified the area with their chants. The quaint meditation hall, the double-layered platform building with stone surface, the walkway, etc. are all recorded in the ancient inscriptions. Smaller double-deck buildings, with roofs supported by columns, may have been divided into bhikkhus’ dwellings. Here, in the Ritigala hermitage, the Jathanagaraya pond where the bhikkhus bathed is evidenced by the stone pillars, flagstones and bricks left behind.
A frontispiece, an old toilet board and a set of broken stairs are among the remains. At Ritigala, urinals decorated with urine cups, drain holes and footrests are the only examples of figurative carving. These painted stones represent the excessive ritual and architectural extravagance of the Orthodox monastic chapters, which Pamsukuilikaa resisted. Another version is that they used the act of urinating on painted urinal stones as a means of symbolic separation.
Banda Pokuna Pond
On the east side of the mountain, at the bottom of the canyon that separates the main peak from the mountain’s north ridge, sits the remains of the 59-acre Ritigala Monastery. Near the base of the Banda Bokuna Reservoir, the offices of the local branch of the Sri Lanka Department of Archaeology mark the beginning of the monastery district. The 366-meter-long polygonal embankment that surrounds the ancient “man-made reservoir” is an engineering marvel whose construction is attributed to King Pandukabaya in 367 BC. Before entering the monastery, visitors may have taken a dip in the reservoir as part of the tradition.
It is foreseeable that additional archaeological investigations will unearth more artifacts buried at the site. Before I set off, I took one last look at the central area of the complex and discovered how beautifully religion and the natural world are intertwined. An easy way to reduce anxiety is to take a walk in the forest. Tall trees with three-inch-thick vines wrapped around their bark add to the forest-like atmosphere of leaves rustling in the wind.
The best time to visit Ritigala is in the early morning before a hot day! A new day with uplifting sounds from nature and crisp, cool air is exhilarating. Enjoy the natural environment and fresh air, but keep quiet.