Tranquil Arankele

Monasteries such as Arankele are rare worldwide

Text and pix by W.A.M. Wijesinghe
Kurunegala or Hasthihaliyapura was a royal capital for over half a century in Sri Lanka.
There lies number of historic places which were venerated by generations of Buddhists, built by ancient Kings. These magnificent monuments are our proud ancient grandeur, our historical artistic and cultural identity.

Twenty –four kilometers north of Kurunegala lies a fascinating 6th century forest monastery called Arankele in a thick forest mountain. Approaching the place thorough Ibbagamuwa- Moragollagama road, I turned right from Hiripitiya junction and that road lead to Kumbukgete. On this road, I came across a signboard indicating the road to Arankele monastery. After ten minutes drive from that signboard Arankele could be reached easily. Calm and quite, Arankele was the abode to a most famed Buddhist monk Arahat Maliyadeva who, along with other monastic monks lived nearly 2,000 years ago.

The sylvan environment of this monastery is also home to archeological findings. Stretching out on many acres of a forest canopy, there are stone carved caves used for meditation, long pathways across the dense forest, alms-giving halls, bathing ponds and drip-ledged caves where hermit monks resided, display the excellent craftsmanship of yesteryears.

The 6th century cave monastery is up a forested mountain. Ancient Brahmin inscriptions found here revealed meditation halls, stone-faced double platform structures and ambulatories for the hermit monks. The platforms, aligned east-west with the entrance porch to the east would be bridged by large monolith. The smaller of the double-platform structures here was divided into nine cells, the roof being supported on columns. The rest of other ruins to be found were, such as the Bodhigara, pathways, urinal stones and a flight of steps made of polished stone slabs.

Arankele is famous for the longest meditation pathway in Sri Lanka. It is 250 feet long and was discovered during excavations by the archeological department more than 20 years ago. According to the department Arankele is a monastery in the Padanagara style for the monastic monks who completely devote themselves to meditation. The origin of the monastery belongs to the early Anuradhapura period. Remains of the ancient ruins date back to 8th or 9th centuries.
There are numerous natural caves lying on the slope of the mountain that were once used by monastic monks for shelter and meditation. Interesting features in these caves are the interior walls that are carefully plastered with lime, the stone doorways at certain entrances, and stone walls being cut in order to divert rainwater getting inside.

Walking under the green canopy of wooded trees is a balm to stressed nerves. Huge trees add to the feeling of being in the thick of the forest, while the whisper of leaves rustling in the breeze adds to the bird song. During my stay at Arankele, I experienced the salubrious and serene atmosphere which was truly breathtaking.
Today, many monastic monks take shelter at this monastery, meditating and fulfilling religious rites. Throughout the year, devout Buddhists offer alms to these monks and invoke blessings from them. The monks who meditate in the monastery are in the dense forest where lay people do not tread for fear of disturbing them, the forest surroundings affording them complete privacy for their daily routine of meditation. For meals, the monks do Pindapatha and lay men prepare alms in the building which is in the foot hill of the forest.

Arankele has been declared a protected area by the Department of Archeology with the primary objective of preserving its pristine forest and intricate workmanship of the ruins.
Dr. Senarath Paranavithana, renowned archeologist has explained that monasteries such as Arankele are rare worldwide, especially those that reflect the skilled work of ancient Buddhist civilisation.