Thalaguruhela Monastic Ruins inside the Yala National Park
Yala National Park, also known as Ruhunu National Park is dotted with Buddhist ruins of the ancient Ruhunu kingdom hidden away in the jungles. These ruins are found on almost every hill top inside this park but rarely vised due to restrictions and lack of any roadways.
After the 13the century, the the dry zone the civilization in the northeastern part of Sri Lanka collapsed and the civilization in this region too fell in line. As a result of the loss of people’s livelihoods due to the war, decease and the devastation of irrigation systems, villages migrated to other areas. Along with this, all the great buddhist monasteries too collapsed. Traces of this great civilisation was eventually swallowed by the jungles of Ruhuna.
After the 19th century, when people began to return to the region, the British colonial government reserved Yala area as a gaming reserve which became a national park after independence. The archaeological sites inside its boundaries formed an effective “archaeological blanket area” inside the park. Even though these sites were shielded and protected by the latter human activities, they have become an easy hunting grounds for treasure hunters where they could exercise their craft unhindered.
Some of the archaeological sites which are found in this area are Kudumbigala, Kiripokunahela, Bambaragasthalawa, Bowattagala, Kongala and Nelumpath Pokuna, Viharagala, Divulanagoda, Dematagala, Athurumithurugala, Kanabisowunge Galge and Thalaguruhela.
Thalaguruhela lies inside Yala Block III, an area which is rarely visited by general public. Due to the same reason, wild animals here are not used to vehicle and human activities thus sightings of big 3 are rare in this area. Access to Block III is though the Galge Entrance lying on the Kataragama – Buttala road. This rock peak lies 22 km from Galge Entrance, 4.75 km south of Kumbukkan Oya which forms the northern boundary of the national park and 25 km north of east cost.
“Thalaguruhela Ruins” were discovered by a British land surveying unit in British Ceylon around 1920, about 100 years ago, and was placed on the “1 inch: 1 mile” map. It was left unexplored and buried in the jungle. According to the description that is followed in the current “1 / 50,000 map”, there are stupas, rock caves, ruins of buildings, baths, etc. in various places of a small massif (elevation 815 m) about 1.5 km north-south and 1 km east-west.
In 1974, the Handbook for the Ceylon Traveller reports that Thalaguruhela is the highest peak on the range. Seventy six rock cut steps leads to the summit where ruins of a stupa and an inscription belonging to pre christian era is found. There are five caves and sixteen upright pillars near the summit. At the base of this hill, more caves are found with inscriptions. A partly damaged 18 feet reclining Buddha image is found in one cave. A series of rock pillars and a stone flower alter is found in the vicinity.
However a programme aired by the Rupavahini Corporation on the site in 2017 shows that the stupa at the summit had almost completely disappeared. Only scattered bricks indicate the presence of a stupa. The inscription lies on the rock surface close to the rock cut steps to the summit. It has been written in early Brahmi script (3rd to 1st century BC) which is weathered beyond recognition. Only 3 characters can be read, “ARIHA” (අරිහ) where no meaningful interpretation can be made. There are large square peg holes along the rock cut steps indicating existence of a handrail along the steps. Since any remains of the verticals posts are not found, it could be presumed that the posts would have been made of timber. The cave on which the reclining Buddha statue was found is an large mushroom shaped cave. A driplege has been carved along the total length. There are no inscriptions on the cave. The statue has been completely destroyed without leaving even an hint of its existence possibly by treasure hunters. However, parts of the brick platform and walls are still visible inside this cave.
A Japanese team of Archaeologists who had carried out various archaeological investigations on Buddhist ruins hidden in the jungles has carried out a more comprehensive exploration on the ruins of Thalaguruhela ruins in 2016 and 2018 and has mapped various cave complexes, ruins of 2 stupas, a pond, an image house and number of stones structures in the jungles north of the summit of Thalaguruhela. Other sides have not been explored. This team was also the first to discover and report the mystic Budupatuna Ruins inside Yala in 1985 and the gradual destruction of these statues by treasure hunters.
- 1974. Handbook for the Ceylon traveller. 1st ed. Colombo: Studio Times.
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Map of Thalaguruhela Monastic Ruins
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 Thalaguruhela Monastic Ruins
|Route from Colombo to Thalaguruhela Monastic Ruins (upto Galge Entrnace)|
|Though : Southern Expressway – Kataragama – Buttala Road|
distance :275 km
Travel time : 4 hours.
Driving directions : see on google map