Pulukunava Asanaghara and the Raja Maha Viharaya at Ampara – පුළුකුණාව ආසනඝරය රජමහා විහාරය

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Pulukunawa - the largest "asana gharaya" in Sri Lanka at Pulukunawa
Pulukunawa – the largest “asana gharaya” in Sri Lanka at Pulukunawa
Photo by Dr. Ashan Geeganage

Ampara Pulukunava Asanaghara, caves and ancient ruins lies at the boundary of the Galoya scheme on the Ampara – Mahiyangana road is on a large forested hill. On the southern scrap of the hill are a large number of dripledged caves. In many of these caves are pre-Christian inscriptions. At the foot of the hillock south of this hill are the remains of a number of structures. Among these are a three dagaba vandalized  by treasure hunters, some pillared structures and a pond. Buried under the earth is the torso of a Buddhist statue. The structures at the site are girt by a prakara.

Climbing up the hill, you will come across another vandalized stupa which some believe built enshrining the remains of Arhath Pussadeva. Close to this stupa is a natural pond which supplied water to the temple complex below. Remains of numerous buildings can be seen scattered around at this level.

Climbing futher six hundred steps you will come across large number of drip ledge caves used by meditating bikkhus scattered all over the hill top. Pre christian era script on one of  the caves speaks of the donation of the cave to Arhat Pussadeva.

The most important ruin of the Pulukunava Cave Temple is the massive Asanagaraya which is considered to be the largest in Sri Lanka. The oldest

The Bodhighara, Chethiyaghara and Asanaghara are considered by scholars to be the three oldest Buddhist architectural elements in Sri Lanka. Of these, the Chethyaighara also called Vatadage and the Bodhighara are mentioned in most ancient Buddhist literature but the sources do not mention the Asanagara in detail. But there are some references to this in the ancient Attakathas and in the ancient chronicles such as the Mahavamsa and the Deepavamsa.

Archaeologically, the Asana seems to have become popular at the same time the carvings of the sacred footprint (siripathulgala) became popular as a symbol of the Buddha or shortly thereafter. Mr. Gunapala Senadheera (Buddhist Symbolism and Wish Fulfillment) states that the use of seats dates back to the 3rd century BC to the 9th century. With the advent of the creation of Buddha statues in Sri Lanka, the use of symbols to commemorate the Buddha had declined.

The Pulukunawa monastery was recorded in 1961 by the then Superintendent of Archeology, Charles Godakumbure. The Asana slab of rock is 14 feet 5 inches long and 2 feet thick. It was set on stone pillars about 2 feet high. The four corners of the seat are decorated with a strip of carved beading.

There had been a building around this Asana which is the Asanagharaya. It may have been made of wooden poles on a stone foundation. Excavations at this site have uncovered about 24 foundation base stones. Mr. Godakumbure notes that when the surrounding buildings were inspected, it was suspected that the entrance to the building was located on the east side.

In addition, a stone slab 10 feet 8 inches long and 10 feet 5 inches wide can be found at Colony No. 29 near Pulukunawa village. It is believed that there was a another Asanaghara here too according to the foundation base stones made of stone. Mr. Godakumbure states that there was a circular Asanaghara enclosing the Asana found among the Rajagala ruins near Pulukunawa.

If you are traveling from Ampara, travel along the Maha Oya road and passing Piyangala Temple, you will come across a large freshly installed name broad of Pulukunava Raja Maha Viharaya. Travel about 2 km passing the board towards Maha Oya and you will come to a small road on the left which will lead to the temple. Although considered a Raja Maha Viharaya, currently this is only a adobe to one priest who is struggling to build a temple here.

Photos courtesy of : Dr Ashan Geeganage

References

  • ඇම්. ජී. රත්නපාල, 1997. වජ්‍රාසනය. සංකෘතික පුරාණය, 2(8), pp.31-38.

Also See

Map of Ampara Pulukunava caves and ancient ruins

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The map above also shows other places of interest within a approximately 20 km radius of the current site. Click on any of the markers and the info box to take you to information of these sites

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Travel Directions to Ampara Pulukunava caves and ancient ruins

If you are traveling from Ampara, travel along the Maha Oya road and passing Piyangala Temple, you will come across a large freshly installed name broad of Pulukunava Raja Maha Viharaya. Travel about 2 km passing the board towards Maha Oya and you will come to a small road on the left which will lead to the temple.

Route from Ampara to Pulukunava Raja Maha Viharaya
Through : Ampara-Uhana-Maha Oya Highway and A27
Distance : 32 km
Travel time : 20 minutes
Driving directions : see on google map

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