An Oasis of silence | Sunday Observer

An Oasis of silence

15 May, 2022
The meditative bhikkhus walk in single file for pindapatha at Dombagaskanda hermitage in Ingiriya
The meditative bhikkhus walk in single file for pindapatha at Dombagaskanda hermitage in Ingiriya

A group of bhikkhus clad in deep brown robes walked in single file, carrying their alms bowls, silently down the pathway, for the midday dana under a dimly-lit forest canopy.

The female devotees gathered at a corner of the Dana Salawa (alms hall), clasping their hands together in worship, while the male devotees washed the feet of the bhikkhus and served the Dana (alms) while chanting Sadu, Sadu.

Then the bhikkhus retired to another alms hall a little distance away and sat down to partake of the food they received.

One bhikkhu stayed in the Dana Salawa to confer merit on the devotees who had served alms.

This is a moment in the daily routine of the bhikkhus of the Dombagaskanda forest hermitage.

The hermitage of Dombagaskanda, nestling on the bank of the Kalu Ganga near Dombagaskanda Hill in the outskirt of Ingiriya in the Kalutara district, lies beneath the leafy canopy of a wet zone rain forest reservation of some 347 hectares.

The natural rain forest shields the hermitage from the hustle and bustle of the outside world, providing a serene setting for the meditating bhikkhus.

One has to travel on the Panadura-Ratnapura (A-8) highway, turn left from Aduragala and travel 1.5 km along the minor road which leads to the Kalu Ganga to reach the Dombagaskanda forest hermitage.

Before arriving at the river, the road branches off to the left and continues for another 1.1 km and comes to an area where it reaches the foot of Dombagaskanda. Although the road up to the hill is motorable, it’s better to get off one’s vehicle at this point and walk through the forest.

Forest reserve

Reaching the foot of the Dombagaskanda, you will find the natural forest reserve and a noticeboard beside the road cautioning visitors not to damage or disturb the fauna and flora in the protected area. It also directs you to the road leading to the hermitage.

Although it was a sunny day when we arrived at the forest reserve, we heard the sound of raining. Further up, we noticed that it was not rain, but the sound of a stream flowing across the mountain.

We also had a glimpse of the Kalu Ganga which flows along the foot of the forest reserve. The silence of the serene and undisturbed forest is occasionally broken by the sound of a hornbill or a monkey.

The Dombagaskanda hermitage is one of the most sacred and serene Buddhist hermitages in the Kalutara district.

A neat pathway led us on a steady climb through the forest. Walking under a forest canopy, we first got a glimpse of the refectory and kitchen of the hermitage. A group of around 20 people were preparing the midday meal (Dana) for the meditating bhikkhus.

Some were engaged in sweeping the paths, looking for firewood and cleaning the building. This is a common sight throughout the year as these activities are carried out as Shramadana by devotees who come to offer alms.

An interesting feature about the hermitage is the Gediya, the short tree trunk used as a bell.

When beaten with a stick, it emanates a large sound. It’s hung on a tree and is sounded around 10 am every day to call the bhikkhus of the hermitage to gather at the main Dana Salawa from where they go on Pindapatha.

The procedure of offering alms sees a devotee selected for each day of the year. The chief devotee together with relatives and friends offers alms to the bhikkhus on the day assigned to him. Some would come to the hermitage the previous evening and stay overnight at the Giman Hala (resting hall) to prepare the morning and midday Dana which will be offered the following day. Most devotees are from nearby places while some are from faraway places such as Polonnaruwa and Ampara.


The history of the Dombagaskanda forest hermitage goes back to the early 1950s. The Ven. Olaboduwe Sri Revatha Thera, the principal of the Dharmadeepa Vipassana Piriwana in Kaluwamodara, Aluthgama was the founder of the Dombagaskanda forest hermitage. He came to Ingiriya to observe Vas on the invitation of the devotees in the Raigam Korale.

He stayed in a makeshift hut at a cemetery close to the Ingiriya hospital with seven bhikkhus. More people thronged Ingiriya to listen to Dhammadesana and for meditation practices conducted by the Ven. Olaboduwe Thera. After the Vas season was over, the bhikkhus got ready to go back, but the devotees persuaded them to stay permanently.

Ven. Olaboduwe Sri Revatha Thera, with the help of a few villagers, visited the thick forest of Dombagaskanda and at first sight, realised it was ideal for a forest hermitage.

The villagers and devotees in the Raigam Korale have constructed the kutis and other buildings in the Dombagaskanda forest and on June 4, 1955, the completed hermitage of Dombagaskanda was offered to the Sangha. Initially, 12 bhikkhus lived in the small kuti in five acres of forest. Later, it was expanded to 50 acres during the time of the late M.D.H. Jayawardena, the then MP for Horana.

Today, this hermitage has numerous constructions including kuti, meditative pathways and medical halls, linked together and developed as a reputed forest hermitage in the country. While 12 monastic bhikkhus permanently reside at the hermitage, foreign bhikkhus also come for short periods to practise meditation. To avoid disturbing the bhikkhus, visitors are allowed into the area of the kuti only from 12 noon to 1 pm.

The hermitage day begins in darkness before daybreak, and consists of a closely organised timetable of meditation, study, instruction, worship and chanting of sacred Pirith litanies until 10 pm. Insight meditation sitting usually lasts one and a half to two hours at a time, twice a day.

Daily programs

The daily programs of the Vipassanadhura bhikkhus are a mainly contemplative one, in which Vipassana Bhavana, insight meditation, is dominant and is the central theme and experience. Insight meditation employs many techniques and subjects.

These communities live mostly in secluded woodland hermitage complexes (Aranya), in rock shelters, caves, cob huts, collectively called kuti.

Each day at the hermitage is a closely structured balance of mind development, concentration and awareness exercises, food, drink, rest and sleep, solitude, silence, study, worship and instruction. In the meditative process, specific activities of the mind and body are exposed and worked within a personal, inward journey towards contact with the universal truths and Buddhist virtue.

The austerity of this regime is also very healthy. Many beneficial side effects stem from a serene environment, cleansing the mind of tension, stress, worry, guilt, anger and evil thought, helping to balance the functioning of blood circulation, the nervous system and vital organs in the process. This is strongly borne out by the evidence that most bhikkhus who follow meditative routines live in good health to an advanced age.

We left the hermitage, with joy in our hearts, having witnessed its serenity. The happiness we enjoyed spending a few hours under the canopy of green, away from the sight and sounds of the outside world, was more than words can express.