At an elevation of 3567 feet, on the summit of Ambuluvava peak that rises just four kilometres from Gampola, a sapling of the sacred Bo Tree of Anuradhapura is carefully, lovingly tended. Acting Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Peradeniya, D.S.A. Wijesundera, has ensured a green shade cloth over and around it and told me that it was already putting out new leaves. I believe it is the only sacred Bo sapling to thrive at such a height.
A fitting place indeed, for as Nandasena Mudiyanse tells us in his book, The Art and Architecture of the Gampola Period (1341-1415 AD ), the foot of this mountain holds the ruins of the Malati-mala-sailays, the dwelling place of Dharmakirtti Sthavira. Only the platform of this ancient edifice now remains in the embrace of a grove of araliya. It was here that Dharmakirtti composed the Pali poem Jananuragacarita. No ordinary monk was he. He was the thera Silavamsa. He also composed the Patami-Maha-Sataka and it was Bhuvanakabahu IV who built for him this Gampola abode. History has it that he was the brother of King Parakrama Bahu.
The Mayura Sandesaya also names Dharmakirtti as the Sangharaja of that period. The 1928 translation edited by W.F. Gunawardhana states: “The hierarch Dharmakirtti who is wise and who hoisted the flag of Dhamma as a symbol of victory over the world.
Ambuluvava … Ambuluvakanda .. a place of much history, and it is being transformed today under Agriculture and Lands Minister D.M. Jayaratne.
Motorists turning out of Gampola town cannot but notice the huge mountain. What they see is what their eyes insist is true. Down the steep face is a swathe of red-brown and leprous gray. They see the buildings almost clawed into place on the rising rim of another World’s End and are quick to accuse. ” Look at what is happening,” a man said ” the whole mountain is being ruined !” Certainly, we are quick to condemn, it was then that Wijesundra and Kandy’s most notable artist, Kalabushana Tilak Palliyaguru invited me. “Let us go to Ambuluvava. You’ll like it.”
It was Minister Jayaratne who mooted the idea of a bio-diversity complex at Ambuluvava in 1997.
The entire area surrounded by little villages is 920 acres – and the complex is all of 311 acres a vast stronghold of forest and rocky terrain, of rolling shoulders of patana and columns of pine. Minister Jayaratne placed the complex in the capable hands of Wijesundera who studied the climbing paths, the serpentine trails, the outcrops that seemed to suspend themselves, and most of all, the breathtaking vistas of green and the girdling ranges cloaked in blue mist. A thorana-like gate was needed and Tilak was the man to design with his particular and sensitive flair. “We started with the gate,” he said ” and then began the site selection for the many other units that would make up the complex.
“It was toil, sheer toil at first. For the rock and laterite had to be cut, the motorable roads begun. It is this that has given many people the impression that we are destroying the forest. The huge swathe on the rock that you see from Gampola town is no earthslip or anyting that is in the nature of an environmental disaster. It is simply the wash-down with rain of laterite that comes from the cutting of the roads.”
This was so evident as we climbed. What is more, the road has been cut through the patana. Not a tree has been destroyed.
It is all part of a heaping dish, actually….. and it is for the people. Even as we made the dizzy climb, I saw many making their way up to the conference hall and also to the summit viewing platform. On the first eminence is a beautifully designed conference hall, all of three levels and with a commanding view of the surrounding country.
Sixteen rooms make up the unit around a hall that can seat 150 and which is equipped with sound systems, multi-media and all the trappings. In fact, I learned that the first big international conference on reptiles will be held here next year and will bring in delegates from 150 countries.
As Wijesundera said, the complex will, at most times, serve as an educational centre. Tilak had prepared the designs for a cafeteria, a special circuit bungalow with its own viewing platform and the manager’s bungalow.
It’s a nerve-knotting drive to the summit and there, I met the Minister and he told me of his dream.
We stood by the sacred Bo sapling. “I’ll tell you the story of this sapling,” he said. “Last year, the government of Burma asked us for a sapling of the Bodhi tree. We carried two saplings to Burma, and the one that was planted did well.
It was decided to bring the second back. On our return, we visited Thailand too. It was then decided to plant this sapling here. So this sapling has already been to Burma and Thailand. The President herself planted it here on March 19, this year.”
In line with the Bo sapling, Tilak’s most compelling creation is now taking shape. When completed, it would be a beacon to the land – a chaitya which is unique in its fashioning.
The design is a departure from all traditional forms. We toured it – from a winding tunnel upon a 37-ft rock foundation and where subterranean resting places, sculpted in natural rock will allow visitors to relax and also emerge into the open where Sabragamuwa lies at one end and the Central Province at the other. Over this underground chambered way is a 14-ft base of five serrations and then an outward leaning funnel, 56 feet high. Upon this will rest a cupola of 40 feet, a lesser cupola of 17 feet and a 14-ft pinnacle. Together with the tunnel, the chaitya will be 163 feet tall.
The Minister hopes to have the whole complex ready in two years. As we strolled to the viewing platform, there were over 40 sightseers sitting around the rim of the mountain, breathing in the crystal air and losing themselves in the stunning landscape that seemed a sort of wrap-around beauty unparalleled. To the north-east one could even see the Katunayake airport, the Kelani river and the ocean. South of south-east sprawls the Knuckles, Hantane, Bible rock, while Sri Pada and Pidurutalagala raise proud heads.
One problem, however, will be the pollution visitors could cause. It was sad to note that even at this stage, some louts had brought in their arrack and were refreshing themselves at the viewing platform. Wijesundera said that strict controls would be necessary. It is a pity that no sooner something is done for the the benefit of all, there are some who say, “Ah! A new spot. Let’s make a mess of it!” Anyway, there will be a strict anti-littering law. Visitors will be told to take their litter back with them.