Veheradiulana:Vestiges of a sprawling hermitage | Sunday Observer

Veheradiulana:Vestiges of a sprawling hermitage

23 July, 2017
The vandalized archaeological remains at Veheradiulana
The vandalized archaeological remains at Veheradiulana

After venerating and offering pooja to the ‘Siyabalawa Devalaya’ at Kebilitta which is revered by pious devotees throughout the country as a shrine with great divine power, our next destination on the returning journey was an amazing archaeological site known as Veheradiulana. On this journey, Rathu Aiya, an experienced and vigilant tractor driver and guide of our team, joined us from Siyambalanduwa with his tractor in which we travelled throughout the entire journey. 

Around 44 kilometres from the Menik Ganga along a green trail you will stumble upon Veheradiulana, an unscalable rocky ridge above the crust of Yala’s north-east edge. But, you also can get to Veheradiulana from the Kubukkan Oya, which takes you past Kebilitta, on the verge of the virgin forest.

There is another route to Veheradiulana from Kotiyagala which is widely used by the devotees to Kebilitta shrine. We took this route travelling in a tractor, about 30 kilometres south of Kotiyagala in the drought-affected Moneragala district. Travelling along this track, we witnessed the deforestation still taking place in Kotiyagala and the massive destruction done to Mother Nature.

In 1975, the road to Kebilitta led through heavily wooded forest, infested with bears and elephants. Over the past decade, chena cultivation has tamed the land and the forest has completely disappeared. The villagers strip the ground mercilessly and without thought for the impact it has on the environment. In fact, we were driving through many kilometres of barren lands under the scorching sun as far as the eye could see. During our trek, we witnessed the indiscriminate felling of trees and setting fire to the forest in the Kotiyagala area.

Priceless artifacts

The deforestation in the Kotiyagala area which acts as a buffer zone for the Yala National Park has dire effects on wildlife. Kotiyagala is a vital part of the important jungle corridor that connects the Lahugala National Park to Yala. The jungle corridor enables various species to migrate from one National Park to another and this link is particularly important for the breeding of species. Burning the jungle for chena cultivation is another way of destroying priceless artifacts, such as, paintings and clay images of the archaeological sites in the jungle.

Back in Veheradiulana, the next morning, we were in for a discovery. The first time we went to this place, we had to park the tractors alongside the road and walk several metres to reach our destination. The place was full of ruins of different sizes in caves - rock cut steps lead up to the remains of crumbling dagobas, and one cave contained a torso of the Buddha. The flat-topped rocky hill has three small, equal–sized Chaityas ruined by age and vandalized by treasure hunters.

Habitat of Arahats

The rocky ridge is locally known as Veheradiulana, owing to the profusion of woodapple (Divul in Sinhala) in the area. More appropriately, some call it Viheragala. Scanning the vicinity from the top of the rock, we realized we were not far from the lush green ridge of Kumbuk trees giving us direction to the Kumbukkan Oya and Kebilitta shrine. We arrived at the foothill of the Veheradiulana around 12 noon. We got down from the tractor and followed Rathu Aiya to see this historical site. The area was lush green and thick with vegetation even though we experienced dry weather in the area. While climbing the rock cut flight of steps in the middle of the rock under the scorching sun, a refreshing breeze took away all the tiredness and sweat. I spent most of the time taking photographs of the important ruins on the rock boulder.

Since no archaeological survey has been carried out at the site, we could not find any historical notes about the Veheradiulana ancient site. Obviously, the site has been an ancient Buddhist hermitage with Bhikkus living in the drip-ledged caves. We were to learn, later, from Rathu Aiya, that this guess was correct and the location was the habitat of Arahats (spiritually enlightened souls) about 2,000 years back. It may belong to the Anuradhapura period like similar archaeological sites located within the Yala National Park.

The caves and ruins of the site indicated that this must have been of some importance as a hermitage in the past. A series of steps cut into the rock surface approached the top from all four sides. Rathu Aiya showed us slightly visible rock cut steps on one side with a deep slope, which were fast decaying due to the antiquity of the site. On the northern side, the most outstanding feature was a chimney-like rod-shaped rock which was tall and narrow. It dominated the jungle landscape like a bit of Gothic architecture. From this point we glimpsed the landscape of a lush green forest canopy, virtually to infinity.

Deep holes

Halfway up Veheradiulana, a natural rock pond about 60 by 40 feet, apparently used to collect rainwater flowing down from the rock, for use by the Bhikkus, is now a popular rendezvous of the denizens of the wild.

It was full of silt, and had only three feet of water. If the Department of Wildlife cleans this, it would be a good source of water for the animals during the drought whenever the river dries up. Here, we saw a fairly big wild animal resting in a marshy plot in the rock, close to the pond. On the rock surface, here and there were deep holes of a foot.

These retained the water longest, and it was interesting to note how elephants have put in large stones inside to raise the water-level to drinking position, a la the proverbial bird which put stones in a container to drink the water.

Walking around the rock summit, Rathu Aiya showed us three small size dagobas which have disappeared leaving in their place three deep holes. The bricks of the dagobas were scattered on the slope of the rock boulders.

A few yards north-west of the rock boulder, we detected a drip-ledged cave full of shrub thorny bushes, which was believed to be a shrine room housing a reclining Buddha. We saw that the entire interior of the cave was broken, dug and blasted.

There was a very deep hole beneath the rock with water, as pieces of granite taken from the hole gathered outside the cave. Here, it looked as if treasure hunters might have used earth moving machinery and even dynamite to blast the rock. They have taken whatever was left by blasting and breaking. Rathu Aiya told us that he has learnt from the villagers of Kotiyagala that a marble statue of the Buddha about six feet in height was housed in one of these caves, but now it was missing.

Creeping through thorny bushes, Rathu Aiya took us to another drip-ledged cave located at the same side.

There were remnants of age-old brick walls in the cave which indicated that this had been a shelter for meditating Bhikkus in a bygone era. It also housed a modern, small Buddha statue and also a peculiar wooden figure of an actual size human painted in yellow.

“We learnt that it was a figure of a deity made by a man in a nearby village and brought here for keeping in this cave, due to the misfortune experienced in his village by keeping this figure of the deity there.

Today, the archaeological remains of Veheradiulana, such as, three Dagobas, caves with drip-ledges, rock pillars and ruins of several other ancient buildings have been ravaged by treasure hunters and there is nothing left for conservation. Visitors to this site express concern about the ongoing wanton destruction of the Veheradiulana historic site.

Although archeological studies are yet to be carried out, it is believed that this site is undoubtedly one of the most ancient Buddhist hermitages in the country. The Veheradiulana archeological site also lies in the areas along with other reputed ancient sites such as, Wattarama in Ethimale in Kotiyagala and Thalaguruhela in Zone III of the Yala National Park which had been Buddhist hermitages having thousands of monastic Bhikkus in ancient times.

History has recorded that the area on the bank of Kumbukkan Oya had been densely populated in ancient times. However, excavations have not been carried out at this site to establish its history.