Namalpokuna: Another word for serenity | Page 2 | Sunday Observer

Namalpokuna: Another word for serenity

1 April, 2018

Another day, another place, and we hear another story. As we journey along the road to Batticaloa, passing Manampitiya, we cross the bridge of the mighty Mahweli Ganga listening to tales of yore. Ending our Polonnaruwa trip, we proceed about 15 kilometres along this road and the signpost tells us to turn right to enter Dimbulagala and continuing a little distance further, is a monastery, deep in the forests surrounding Polonnaruwa. A massive rock outcrop around four kilometres long, Dimbulagala rises 1,753 feet above the plains south of Manampitiya.

We are in Dalukana, a village belonging to the Adhiwasi clan in Dimbulagala, located in the southeast of Polonnaruwa and ten kilometres south of Manampitiya where we behold the ancient site of Namalpokuna in the foothills of the Dimbulagala range that claims a proud history of the once tranquil Buddhist monastery.


MAGNIFICENT MONUMENT: Kashyapa Lena one of the drip-ledged caves at Namalpokuna 

Namalpokuna had been a Buddhist monastery since ancient times and in the medieval period, and it is believed, these caves were occupied by a community of 500 bhikkus. After Anuradhapura had fallen, Dimbulagala was a safe place, and survived longer for the Buddhist community due to its isolation and remoteness, since it was surrounded by thick jungles infested with elephants and bear.

The remains of stone structures, stupas and caves give the impression of the site being simply the ruins of a monastery. But, Namalpokuna is much more than that.

A true historical monument, the entire mountainous cliff is in fact of great archaeological value which lies in the foothills of Dimbulagala, as though a silent witness to the ancient glory. After the restoration of the Kingdom, the kings of Polonnaruwa had turned to the bhikkus of Namalpokuna for guidance. Despite the declining of morals and spiritual knowledge and ordination of bhikkus in many parts of the country due to the chaos and anarchy of the 10th and 11th centuries, the bhikkus of Namalpokuna in Dimbulagala had retained their sanctity and devotion to contemplation, study and discipline.

In his quest to restore Buddhism, King Prakramabahu had turned to the head priest of Dimbulagala, the Venerable Mahakassapa, who is credited with compiling the ‘Katikawatha’ (Code of Discipline), which the King had inscribed at the Gal Vihara. The King, it is recorded, had restored the rites of ordination and established a new code of discipline for priesthood with the support of Ven. Mahakassapa.

ONLY RUINS: All that remains of Namalpokuna, the stone ruins 

Adhiwasi Chief, Yapa had also encouraged 12 young Adhivasi boys to be ordained as Samanera Bhikkus at the monastery. When I visited Namalpokuna six years ago, Ven Millane Sri Siriyalankara Thera was the chief priest of the Namalpokuna ancient Vihara. Later, he became a chief priest of Dimbulagala monastery, who was one of the 12 boys and is also the son of the Adhivasi chief, Millana Yapa. Today, there are 1,600 Adhivasi families in the Dalukana village, mostly engaging in the agriculture sector instead of hunting. We begin our exploration from the Namalpokuna archaeological site in the foothills of the Dimbulagala mountain range. The path uphill was dotted with rocky boulders, interspersed with a tall shade-giving forest canopy. Nearly 20 minutes later, we reached the plateau of the hill where most of the Dimbulagala ruins are found. From this point we could view the spectacular outline of the ancient city of Polonnaruwa with paddy fields and the cluster of houses giving it a picturesque appearance.Modern history recorded caves of Namalpokuna in Dalukana, Dimbulagala, as being an overgrown ruin that later went to become the home of Adivasi (Veddha) Millana Yapa, the last chieftain of the clan that lived in the caves of the Dimbulagala forest. Millana Yapa later decided to gift all the caves to the Ven. Kithalagama Sri Seelalankara Nayaka Thera, who converted the caves to the present monastery, as a chief priest of Dimbulagala. The Namalpokuna ancient Vihara in Dimbulagala was founded by the late Ven. Sri Seelalankara Nayaka Thera, who took the lead to protect the lives of the poor people in the border villages during the peak of terrorism. Tragically, the Thera, popularly known as, Dimbulagala Hamuduruwo was gunned down by LTTE terrorists in the monastery, in 1995. He was the chief Sanganayaka of the Northern and Eastern Provinces and the Tamankaduwa area, at the time of his death.


Exploring the natural caves and stone ruins that have made Namalpokuna famous, we came across a huge torso of the Buddha, believed to be an image house of the monastery, a series of brick stupas, stone pillars and massive stone walls resting almost on each other, in the flat plain. A little further away from this place in a jungle, we encountered several drip-ledged caves with ancient brick walls believed to be occupied by monastic bhikkus in the monastery.

However, the history of Namalpokuna in Dimbulagala dates back to the early centuries. A fair number of inscriptions in Brahmi were discovered in several places in Dimbulagala, including Namalpokuna, giving details about the early cave residences of the monastic bhikkus of Sri Lanka. The traditions of these early bhikkus continue even today, at Dimbulagala.

After a lapse of several centuries, this historic place has been reoccupied. The modern Vihara is inspiring with spiritual devotion. It has a large number of bhikkus including small Samaneras, who reside here, practising the age old Buddhist traditions.

Namalpokuna, relatively obscure and hence un-spoilt by hordes of visitors, remains a tranquil spot- a confluence of history and religion. The restoration of the ruins of Namalpokuna have been completed sometime back and the officials and caretakers of the Department of Archaeology at Namalpokuna do their utmost to keep the ruins and the environment clean and tidy.

I lose myself in the beauty of the ruins and wonder how these monasteries were destroyed. Perhaps, they met their end with foreign invasions, that pulled down the monuments. If you are a history buff, the serenity you experience is well worth making a stop at the Namalpokuna archaeological site in the Dimbulagala mountain range.

IMPRESSIVE CRAWL: The uphill rocky path to the ruins -PICTURESQUE SIGHT: A restored stupa-MONOLITHIC MAGNIFICENCE: A torso of the Buddha