Significance of Buddhangala Forest Monastery | Sunday Observer

Significance of Buddhangala Forest Monastery

2 July, 2023
The Buddhangala main cave which is 132 feet long
The Buddhangala main cave which is 132 feet long

The Buddhangala Forest Monastery with its remarkable history and unrivalled setting is a prime destination. A large number of foreign tourists and local pilgrims visit this sacred place daily.

This monastery lies deep in the jungles about 7 kilometres off Ampara. The monastery covers 1,280 acres with five rocks where the remains of the ancient monastery are visible. The monastery belonged to the Digamadulla kingdom which was started by Prince Dighayu in the 4th century B.C.

Although the beginning of the monastery is not documented, Pura Vidya Chakrawarthi Ven. Ellawala Medhananda Thera said that the history of the monastery is as old as the Digamadulla kingdom. The original name of Buddhangala is not known. One belief is that the name is derived due to the shape of the formation of the main rock which looks like Buddha in a lying position.

Lost in the history covered by thick jungle infested with wild animals exposed to the elements for over thousands of years, the monastery was brought back to life in 1964 by Ven. Kalutara Dhammananda Thera who travelled through the thick jungle and cleared the area with the assistance of the Buddhists in the area. The hermitage came to prominence due to the relics unearthed during excavation of the original stupa.

The new stupa of the hermitage which stands on a 500- ft. tall hill top is enshrined with the relics of the Buddha and his two main disciples Arahant Sariputta and Arahant Moggallana.

South Indian invasions

The monastery which maintained continuous sages tradition until 800 A.D. was left abandoned due to the shifting of the kingdoms and South Indian invasions until it was re-discovered and re-established for meditating bhikkhus in 1964.

The Brahmin letter inscription on the rock-face explains the procedures of building the temple under the guidance of Princess Chitra, daughter of King Panduwasadewa.

On the main rocks, there are a lot of ancient ruins. Nearly 15 stone pillars can be seen there. In a report issued by the Ampara Government Agent D.Wijesinghe on February 18,1972, it has been stated that several moonstones, Bahirawa images, clay pots and two stone inscriptions have been unearthed through excavations and the casket containing the sacred relics is kept in a safe cave.

Head of the Buddhangala monastery Ven. Deegavapiye Suseema Thera has stated in a book published by him in 2008 that the new Stupa was built and uncovered by the then President William Gopallawa in 1974 The book says that as the Government paid only a little attention to preserve the site, the Thera had to take steps with the assistance of the Buddhist government servants in the area to prevent the encroachment on the monastery lands.

Another dark era

The Thera said that bhikkhus had to face another dark era when the LTTE started ethnic cleansing in the areas under their control chasing all the Sinhalese and destroying and killing any who opposed them. Lying in the middle of the jungle when terrorists roam, the bhikkhus refused to leave the site even under death threats. During these dark 30 years, the Army protected the site and its occupants.

Only after the defeat of the LTTE in 2009, the devotees could visit the site without fear.

Padales Silawa was the image worshipped by the Buddhists before the Buddha statues were created.

There is a pond on one of the rocks that never runs dry.

Ven. Medhananda Thera had conducted a research on this site in 1970 and published a book titled “Buddhangala Hermitage” giving all historical facts.

The Aranya Sadhaka Samithiya of the monastery calls upon the authorities to take action to set up an Archaeological Museum at the site and to conduct a further research on this historical sacred place.