History atop a hillock | Sunday Observer

History atop a hillock

3 October, 2021
The Kiripokuna waterhole, a perennial source of water
The Kiripokuna waterhole, a perennial source of water

Kiripokunahela, another magnificent archaeological site in the Southeast, was the next port off call on the Kumana tour. Near inaccessible because of the jungle overgrowth, Kiripokunahela lies on a flat-topped rocky boulder, nearly 260 feet above the Kumana jungle. The site is located about three kilometres East of Bambaragastalawa and eight kilometres from the main park office at Okanda.

The jungle terrain and its location within the Kumana National Park make it one of the least visited archaeological sites. Not surprisingly, it is not included in any of the safari itineraries of the Park. Official rarely give permission to visit the site, since there is no motorable access way. It is too risky to walk the half kilometre in the thick jungle.

Initially, we too were denied permission. However, our persuasive ways and a written assurance that we were well aware of the risks we were talking, got us the green light, along with two armed trackers to accompany us.

Rugged path

Entry to the site is through a side path, off a well-trodden track. The path is overgrown and potholed. Adding to the sense of adventure and danger was the sight of a cluster of small tanks with their grass damaged by wild elephants.

A one hour’s bumpy ride into the thick jungle brought us to the edge of a muddy plain. This was our destination – Kiripokunahela – literally a massive boulder with cavity looming over us. There is no sign of any foot-path leading to the boulder, or over it to the archaeological site. But we were curious to find out what was at the top.

Following the two trackers, we cut through shrub bushes and stumbled up a dark, nearly four metres long canoe shaped waterhole with greenish water. This was Kiripokuna which lies just beneath Kiripokunahela. Wild animals, we were told, flock here during the drought.

A few metres walk is enough to reach from the Kiripokuna pool to the flat-topped rock boulder of Kiripokunahela. But in the pathless thick jungle, it takes more than half an hour to cover the distance.

Brahmi inscriptions

We climbed the boulder and stepped on the flat- topped surface, which is nearly one hectare in size. On one side is a unique oval shaped rock, the floor is smooth with small stone slabs. The face of the rock massif has grooves etched around it, preventing rain water from flowing into the cave. On top of the rock surface, just below the massif, are several lines of Brahmi inscriptions. In front of the rock is a small waterhole with greenish water. Beneath the rock we could see the remnants of an ancient brick walls in the caves which were once dwelling places of meditative bhikkhus.

The most striking feature of the main drip-ledged cave of Kiripokunahela is the primitive drawings, one of which in stark white depicts a leopard leaping on a man astride an elephant. The early inhabitants are believed to have used a thick white paste, probably lime to draw the figures. There were hints of another faded paintings of animals and people under the main drawing. There are no indications as to who did these drawings or to which period they belonged to, but given the fact that it is in Kiripokunahela, it gives a sense of the early inhabitants in the country.

Drip-ledged caves

As we walked around the rock surface, one of the tracker showed another massive rock boulder, which had been linked with Kiripokunahela. It lies 200 metres East of Kiripokunahela and boasts of a cluster of fascinating drip-ledged caves and a rock cut flight of steps that leads to the remains of a crumbling Dagaba.

We noticed the flight of steps start from the middle of the rock and not from the bottom, which meant, we had to hold on to the trees and literally crawl to the step, to reach the summit and get a glimpse of the Dagaba, built with bricks and stone slabs.

It is interesting that no one seems to know much about the origin of this enchanting archaeological site. But considering the rest of the archaeological finds spread across Kumana, we could only assume that this too had also been a prominent Buddhist monastic complex in the 2nd and 3rd Century BC.