Ancient monastery heading for revival

Among the many historical sites located in the Sabaragamuwa Province, the Kuragala Sacred Area has a special place. This sacred place which is thousands of years old displays the pride of the Sri Lankans of yore through the magnificent facades dating back to the pre-Buddha era.

Venerable Wimalakirthi Dhammarathana Thera. Pictures by Sulochana Gamage

Kuragala is a prehistoric archaeological site with ruins of an ancient Buddhist cave temple complex, dating back to the Second Century BC, in Balangoda. The temple complex is located on the Balangoda – Kalthota road approximately 25 Km away from the Balangoda town. The Kuragala Sacred Area is located at the centre of the Kuragala Rock which rises upwards from the Kaltota valley. At that time it was known as ‘Mahathittaka Wel Yaya’ (Mahathittaka Line of Paddy Fields).

The Kuragala Sacred Area is located at an elevation of 515 metres above sea level and is the first mountain to be encountered when coming from the Hambantota area. Known as the ‘Hituwangala Rock’ in the ancient times, this great rock was no doubt a vantage point for sailors to identify Serendib back then.

The Kuragala Ancient Buddhist Monastery is located in the Kuragala Grama Niladhari Division which now belongs to the Kaltota Divisional Secretariat in Balangoda, Ratnapura District of the Sabaragamuwa Province. The historical and Buddha Sasana connection of this place can be clearly understood from the inscriptions belonging to the Second Century BC. There are inscriptions in pre-Brahmin script and there is a pool of drip-lined caves dating back to the time when the great Arahats lived.

These historical facts attest to the existence of the Sangha in the forest at that time. It is not difficult to understand that it was a place where the great Arahats lived in the caves, as the inscriptions show. In ancient times this temple complex was also known as ‘Dathahasapudahalena’.

The Kuragala Sacred Area is a place of great importance in both religious and archaeological terms. The reason is that a recent excavation at this site revealed the fossilized remains of a human at a depth of about 16 feet. According to archaeological evidence, the Kuragala area had been used by humans in the prehistoric period. From the excavations, archaeologists found stone tools, fossilized bone fragments and remains of a human skeleton which is believed to be aged more than 16,000 years. Investigations further revealed that the humans who lived in Kuragala may have had close links with the coastal areas as excavators found remnants of seashells.

A devotee pays homage to the Buddha, on a visit to Kuragala. 

This sacred place with such a Buddhist Sasana history was later taken over by pagans. Then in 1971, Ven. Wataddara Gnanissara Thera started the struggle to liberate Kuragala and give it back to Buddhists. After Ven. Wataddara Gnanissara Thera, this sacred area was handed over to Ven. Deltota Dhammajothi Thera to rebuild it. Both made a positive effort and handed over this sacred place to the present Chief Incumbent of Kuragala Ancient Buddhist Monastery, Ven. Wimalakirthi Dhammaratana Wataddara Sri Gnanissarabhidhana Nayake Thera on February 4, 2021 (Independence Day).

Thereafter, the reconstruction of this Sacred Area under the theme ‘Yali Pibidena Kuragala’ (Reviving Kuragala) commenced. The restoration of the inaugural stone took place on the Full Moon Poya of March 28, 2021.

The modern development phase of this magnificent shrine dates back to the early 1970s. The present Chief Incumbent, Ven. Wimalakirthi Dhammaratana Wataddara Sri Gnanissarabhidhana Nayake Thera has taken the initiative to rebuild this monastic complex.

The Kuragala Ancient Buddhist Monastery can be introduced as the largest sacred site in Sri Lanka which is being built on an area of about 85 acres after a period of 700–800 years. The height of the Stupa to be constructed in this Sacred Area is about 130 feet and it is the largest Stupa to be constructed in the Sabaragamuwa Province. It will be visible from the sky in the Kaltota valley.

A huge Damsabha Mandapa (Sermon Hall), 200 feet long and 75 feet wide, which can accommodate 1,500–2,000 people at a time for Sil campaigns will also be constructed at this sacred place. A monastery, a Sacred Relics House and a Bodhi Pavilion will also be constructed. A huge Buddha statue will also be erected here. 

A huge staircase 500 feet high will be built. A lion statue is currently being erected to adorn the staircase. The purpose of erecting this lion statue is to pay a tribute to all those who saved the Kuragala Sacred Area from pagans from 1971 to 2021 and returned it to the Buddhist community. A reservoir called ‘Kuragala Wewa’ will also be constructed here. 

Since this area is replete with religious artifacts, all constructions are done with the approval of the Department of Archeology and it has been decided to carry out construction work on the existing rock plateau in this Kuragala area and preserve the sites where such historical evidence is presumed to have been found. Therefore, it has been decided to carry out all constructions on the flat black rock plateau in this area under the supervision of the Archaeological Department.

This Kuragala Ancient Buddhist Monastery will be constructed under three steps “from a waste land to a work site to a sacred ground.” The Sri Lanka Army has been providing full manpower for all the construction work which is expected to be completed within the next 10 months. The state Vesak festival is expected to be held at this Sacred Area next year. 

The total estimated cost of these constructions is around Rs. 500 million and the estimated cost of the constructions so far is estimated at Rs. 85 million. People could contribute to the construction of this Kuragala Ancient Buddhist Monastery either in cash, materials or labour and more information can be obtained by calling the hotline 011 7373731.

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