Dombagaskanda: Tranquil hermitage for meditation | Sunday Observer

Dombagaskanda: Tranquil hermitage for meditation

7 May, 2017

The key to Buddha’s Dhamma, or doctrine, is meditation, a practice with an ancient history. Meditation can only be carried out successfully at an appropriate place that offers the necessary seclusion as well as the surrounding area being pleasant to the eye. Dombagaskanda Aranya or hermitage, in the midst of the rainforest at the edge of the Kalu Ganga, is definitely such a place.

When I arrived there, I saw a group of Bhikkhus clad in saffron robes walking silently in single file, carrying their alms bowls, down the pathway for the midday dana under a dimly-lit forest canopy. The female devotees gathered in a corner of the Dana Salawa (alms hall), clasping their hands together in worship, while the male devotees washed the feet of the Bhikkhus and served the dana chanting Sadhu… Sadhu…Sadhu…

The Bhikkus then retired to another alms hall a little distance away and sat down to partake of the food they received. One Bhikku stayed in the Dana Salawa to confer merit on the devotees who had served alms. This is a moment in the daily routine of the Bhikkus of Dombagaskanda forest hermitage.

Leafy canopy

The hermitage of Dombagaskanda also called Bodhinagala, nestling on the banks of the Kalu Ganga near the Dombagaskanda hill in the outskirts of Ingiriya in the Kalutara district, lies beneath the leafy canopy of a wet zone rainforest reservation of some 347 hectares. The natural rainforest shields the hermitage from the hustle and bustle of the outside world, providing a serene environment for the meditating Bhikkus.

To reach the Dombagaskanda forest hermitage, one has to travel on the Panadura-Ratnapura (A-8) highway, turn left from Aduragala and travel around three km along the minor road which leads to the Kalu Ganga. Before reaching the river, the road branches off to the left and continues for another 1.1 km and comes to an area where it reaches the foot of Dombagaskanda. Although the road up the hill is motorable, it is better to get off the vehicle at this point and walk through the forest.

Reaching the foot of Dombagaskanda, you will find the natural forest reserve and a notice board beside the road cautioning visitors not to damage or disturb the fauna and flora in the protected area. It also directs you to the road leading to the hermitage.

Although it was a sunny day when I arrived at the forest reserve, I heard the sound of rain. Further up, I noticed that it was not rain, but the sound of a stream flowing across the mountain. I also had a glimpse of the Kalu Ganga which flows along the foot of the forest reserve. The silence of this serene and undisturbed forest is occasionally broken by the sound of a hornbill or monkey. Bodhinagala is one of the most sacred and serene Buddhist hermitages in the Kalutara district. A neat pathway led me on a steady climb through the forest.


Walking under a forest canopy, I first got a glimpse of the refectory and kitchen of the hermitage. A group of around 20 people were preparing the midday meal (Dana) for the meditating Bhikkhus. Some were engaged in sweeping the paths, looking for firewood, cleaning the buildings and carrying building material to the summit of the hill where a Chaitya is being constructed. This is a common sight throughout the years as these activities are carried out as Shramadana by the devotees who come to offer alms.

I walked up a pathway to the Chief Incumbent Ven. Labugama Ananda Dhamma Kithti Thera’s abode or Kuti. Since he was not there, I met his deputy Ven Miriswatte Narada Thera, a young and energetic Bhikkhu, who welcomed me in his small Kuti covered by the forest canopy.

An interesting feature about the monastery is the Gediya, the short tree trunk used as a bell. When beaten with a stick, it emanates a large sound. It’s hung on a tree and sounded around 10 am every day to call the Bhikkhus of the hermitage to the main Dana Salawa from where they go on Pindapatha (alms round).

The procedure of offering alms sees a devotee selected for each day of the year. The chief devotee together with relatives and friends offers alms to the Bhikkus on the day assigned to him or her. Some would come to the hermitage the previous evening and stay overnight at the Giman Hala to prepare the morning and midday Dana which will be offered the following day. Most devotees are from nearby areas while some are from faraway places such as Polonnaruwa, Trincomalee and Ampara.

The history of the Bodhinagala forest hermitage goes back to the early 1950s. Ven. Olaboduwe Sri Revatha Dhamma Kithti Thera, principal of the Dharmadeepa Vipassana Pirivena in Kaluwamodara in Aluthgama was the founder of the Dombagaskanda forest hermitage. He came to Ingiriya to observe Vas on the invitation of devotees in Raigam Korale.

He stayed in a makeshift hut at a cemetery close to the Ingiriya hospital with seven Bhikkus. More people thronged to Ingiriya to listen to the Dhamma Desana and meditation practices conducted by the Ven. Thera. After the Vas season was over, the Bhikkus prepared to go back, but the devotees persuaded them to stay permanently.

Ven. Olaboduwe Sri Rewatha Thera, with the help of a few villagers, visited the thick forest of Dombagaskanda and at first sight, realized it was ideal for a forest hermitage. The villagers and devotees in the Raigam Korale constructed the Kutis and other buildings in the Dombagaskanda forest and on June 4, 1955, the completed hermitage of Dombagaskanda was offered to the Sangha. Initially, 12 Bhikkus lived in the small kuti in a five acre forest. Later, it was expanded to 50 acres during the time of the late M.D.H. Jayawardena, MP for Horana. Today, this hermitage has numerous constructions including kuti, meditative pathways and medical halls, linked together and developed as a reputed forest hermitage in the country.

While around 12 Bhikkus permanently reside at the hermitage, foreign Bhikkus also come for short periods to practice meditation. They live and meditate in the small kuti in the hermitage, having left all their wealth and loved ones. To avoid disturbing the Bhikkus, visitors are allowed into the kuti area only from 12 noon to 1.00 p.m.

Vippassana Bhavana

The Bhikkus who live in this hermitage are called Vippassanadhura Bhikkus. They do not visit lay persons’ houses for Dhamma Desana (sermon) or any other religious activities outside the hermitage. The daily program of Vippassanadhura Bhikkus at the Aranya is a mainly contemplative one, in which Vippassana Bhavana insight meditation is the dominant and central theme and experience. These contemplative communities live mostly in secluded woodland hermitage complexes (Aranya), in rock shelters, caves, cob huts or cells, collectively called kuti. Each day in the hermitage is a closely structured balance of mind development, concentration and awareness exercise, vegetarian food, drink, rest and sleep, solitude, silence, study, worship and instruction. In the meditative process, specific activities of the mind and body are explored and worked within a personal, inward journey towards contact with the Universal Truths espoused by the Buddha and Buddhist virtues.

After the passing away of Ven. Olaboduwe Sri Rewatha Thera, Ven. Miriswatte Abhaya Rewatha Thera became the Viharadhipathi of the hermitage. Dombagaskanda forest hermitage is administrated by its chief monk Ven. Labugama Ananda Dhamma Kithti Thera, who continues to fulfil the vision of its founder. Under the guidance of chief monk, the Dombagaskanda Forest Hermitage Trust has undertaken the construction of the new Chaitya and the renovation of Gale Viharaya, the oldest shrine room in the hermitage to fill a long-standing need for devotees. The newly constructed Chaitya lies amid the greenery, lending serenity to the place to worship.

In administration too, the essential spirit of seclusion and solitude of hermitage life is preserved, with communal rituals limited to the barest minimum. I left the hermitage, with joy in my heart, having witnessed its serenity.

The happiness I enjoyed, spending a few minutes under the canopy of green, away from the sights and sounds of the outside world, was more than words can express.