Maligatenna: An abode of kings | Sunday Observer

Maligatenna: An abode of kings

15 January, 2023
The main drip-ledged cave shrine in the lower terrace
The main drip-ledged cave shrine in the lower terrace

The main drip-ledged cave shrine in the lower terraceThe Maligatenna Raja Maha Vihara was our destination as we ventured up the rain-swept, slippery hill that nestles the bustling Gampaha city. It is a reservoir of ancient tales and demands great physical effort. But the rewards are worth it.

Not far from Colombo and Gampaha, along the Colombo-Kandy highway, off Yakkala, into its interior, lies a magnificent cluster of rocky mountainous frontiers called Maligatenna, Varana, Koskandawela and Pilikuththuwa which were our destinations since our travels focus on less known and less trekked places in remote corners of the country.

Our first stop was at the Maligatenna Raja Maha Vihara, which is also called ‘hermitage’ according to the nameboard, which was built atop a ridge near the scenic village of Malwathuhiripitiya. This can be reached turning right from the Ambagaspitiya junction from the Yakkala-Kiridiwela road. When you enter this road, you come to a rural setting though you are in an urban area close to Gampaha. On its lofty heights is a mass of ancient rock cave shelters turned into lenviharas (rock temples) which date back to the Pre-Christian era of 1st, 2nd and 3rd centuries.

Having parked our vehicle at the car park at the foothill, we stepped onto the stone stairway that leads to the lower terrace Pahala Maluwa of the temple, mainly composed of Bhikkhus’ quarters, Budu Ge main shrineroom in a drip-ledged cave, a Bo tree enclosure and a Dagaba named Sri Devaraja Akasha Chaitya Rajaya.

We climbed a neatly cut flight of steps with handrail to view the glistening chaitya which was constructed in early 1924 by benevolent devotees whose names were etched on the chaitya. Climbing down a little further, we next made our way to the Bo-Tree shrine where a small scenic walkway lined with two massive natural rock slabs on either side. Thereafter, coming back to the Budu Ge, we explored paintings of vibrant colours depicting various stories of the Buddha. Although all of these structures and paintings are of recent origin, the drip-ledged caves are proof to its antiquity.

Highest point

Having explored the Pahala Maluwa, our next aim was to explore the Uda Maluwa, which is believed to be the highest point of the Gampaha District. Our climb in this section was somewhat arduous and took us nearly half an hour as the path was bordered by a few caves and fitted out with stone steps and rocks at certain points. At times, clutching onto rocks and pushing our way up and in between resting, we continued onwards. In the middle of the way, we came across a gap called Old Degaldoru Kurubil stone steps which is a wonderful creation of nature.

After passing this point, we greeted the panoramic vistas of nature’s wonder. While the flight of steps etched in stone led to the Uda Maluwa Dagaba, on the other side, lush greenery and rock boulders stretched as far as the eye could see. Going towards the edge of the rock, we looked over to the horizon lying below which contrasted with the greenery such as patches of paddy fields, mountains, plantations and towns which heightened the charm surrounding the temple.

At the summit, near the Dagaba, we encountered a rock pond with water lilies and an old Bo Tree shrine with an enclosure. According to historical notes, the tale around the Bo tree and terrace narrates how King Mayadunne commissioned Diyawadana Nilame Hiripitiya Rala to build a temporary palace to safeguard the sacred Tooth Relic from invaders.

Anuradhapura Kingdom

It is said that a bhikkhu who lived in the temple in the past had planted a Bo tree and used the bricks from the broken foundation of the Dalada Maligawa to build the terrace. When we visited the place, we saw pieces of broken bricks, tiles and pots strewn across areas of the summit.

It is believed that the history of the Maligatenna hermitage goes back to the time of the Anuradhapura Kingdom. This hallowed place once an abode of Arahat and meditative bhikkhus, had been a refuge for kings of ancient sri Lanka who sought sanctuary from enemies.

However, King Valagamba gets prominence according to chronicles. After enemies invaded the Kingdom of Anuradhapura, the King journeyed far and wide to different places seeking refuge. It is said that Maligatenna rocky boulder with caves was one such hideout and he had remained there under the protection of the Varana temple situated nearby.

The temple has in many legends been related to the sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha. It is said that during the Kingdom of Kotte when the country was under Portuguese influence, the country had several kingdoms and King Don Juan Dharmapala embraced Christianity, while other kings such as Mayadunne of Seethawaka plotted to conceal the sacred Tooth Relic in the Maligatenna Temple.

Makeshift stalls


As the noon sun was getting harsh and a soft breeze blew across the rocky ridge, we climbed down and bade goodbye to the magnificent rocky hermitage which was once the abode of Kings, but not before a round of refreshing cool drinks made by a vendor at the foothill of the Maligatenna Raja Maha Vihara. From the foot of the mountain, either side of the path was dotted with various makeshift stalls built by villagers to sell foods and souvenirs to the visitors to the temple on Poya Day.

The temple, which imprints fascinating history for current and future generations, is one of the sites protected by the Department of Archaeology. History apart, Maligatenna will surely interest a rock climber. You can enjoy the arduous trek to the summit drinking the beauty of nature, but don’t spoil the pristine environment. Leave only your footprints.