Kiripokunahela Monastic Ruins inside the Kumana National Park

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Yala National Park, also known as Ruhunu National Park and the adjoining Kumana National Park is dotted with Buddhist ruins of the ancient Ruhunu kingdom hidden away in the jungles. These ruins are found on almost every hilltop inside this park but are rarely visited due to restrictions and the lack of any roadways.

After the 13th 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, disease 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 were eventually swallowed by the jungles of Ruhuna.

After the 19th century, when people began to return to the region, the British colonial government reserved the 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 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.

Kiripokunahela is one of the many rocky outcrops with unexplored ruins of a Buddhist Monastery in Kumana also known as Yala East.

In 1974, the Handbook for the Ceylon Traveller reports that Kiripokunahela lies 2 miles from the Okanda entrance to Kumana and a jeep track exists up to Kiripokuna, a perennial water source for the hordes of animals that are attracted to it during the dry months. Half a mile north of this water hole is an extensive flat-topped rocky hill, Kiripokunahela.

The jeep track still exists up to Kiripokuna and the rest of the path is a 1.5 km hike through the elephant-infested jungle. Kiripokuna is a canoe-shaped natural pond about 4 meters long along a rock surface.

The summit of the Kiripokunahela is flat covering about three hectare surface. On one side is a unique oval-shaped rock with a drip-ledge to stop rain water seeping in. The floor of the cave is smooth with small stone slabs. There are several lines of Brahmi inscriptions on the drip ledge. There is another small water hole in front of the cave. Although any ruins in the cave have been destroyed, there are remnants of an ancient brick wall still to be seen.

The most interesting on this cave is the ancient rock art on the cave walls. Using a clear white paint paste, a leopard facing a man standing on an elephant is painted on the rock surface. There are no indications as to who did this rock art or to which period they belonged to. This area has been home to a tribe of Veddas in the past and many legends are told of these Veddas and their extinction. There are 2 well-known legends regarding the Veddas of Lenama. The first is the existence and the extinction of “Nittaewo”, the biped humonids in jungles around Panama who were wiped out by trapping all of them in to a cave by Veddas. The second is about the Lenama Leopards, a larger-than-normal majestic leopard breed only found around the Panama area who killed and destroyed the Veddas of Lenama thus facing the same fate as the “Nittaewa“. These two legends were first documented by Hugh Nevill (1847 – 1897). The general legend as to the Lenama Leopards is that they were much bigger and bolder and did not necessarily flee at the sight of a human being.

According to the legend, the Veddas of Lenama had organised a traditional ritual for the deity Kataragama and they had killed a wild boar and used its fat to light up the event in the night. The deity Kataragama became angry at this act and sent massive leopards who attacked and killed the whole Vedda community except one family who managed to get onto a rock. The leopards attacked and killed this family too except a boy who managed to escape and fled to a nearby village. Looking at the Veddha Paintings found in the cave of Kiripokunahela some infer that this painting is linked to the legend of the Lenama Leopard and the decimation of the Lenama Veddas by these leopards.

about 200 meters east of Kiripokunahela there are a number of caves with drip ledges and a rock boulder linked to the same. There is a rock-cut flight of steps to the summit of the bolder where ruins of the stupa built using bricks and stone slabs is found.

Some of the inscriptions on the dripledged caves have been read and published.

  1. බත සොමදෙව ලෙණෙ
  2. ශමික අනුඩියව දෙවියව ලෙණෙ
  3. වශහ ලෙණෙ ශගශ
  4. ශුමනශ ලෙණෙ ශගශ
  5. ශපති දුබලතිශහ ලෙණෙ ශගශ නියතෙ
  6. පරුමක ශුමනශ ශගශ
  7. කුඩරිවනුහි වසන ජෙට චපයෙහ
    අබි කෙලිබ පදගඩ චිදවය පලසව
    සතනට පටි

Although the benefactor who built this monastic site cannot be found, based on the ruins and the other sites inside this vast jungle, it has been assumed that this belongs to the 3rd-2nd centuries BCE.

Note that the marker on the below Google map is only an approximate location of the site. Special permission is required to travel to such locations inside Yala.

List of Archaeological Sites inside Yala and Kumana National Parks


  • 1974. Handbook for the Ceylon Traveller. 1st ed. Colombo: Studio Times.
  • එල්ලාවල මේධානන්ද හිමි, 2013. රුහුණේ යටගියාව සහ සෙල්ලිපි. 1st ed. කොළඹ 10: දයාවංශ ජයකොඩි සහ සමාගම.
  • Wijesinghe, M., 2016. The place that time forgot. [online] Available at: <http:// /2016/03/13/ spe-her-01.asp> [Accessed 19 April 2021].

Also See

Map of Kiripokunahela Monastic Ruins in Kumana

Please click on the button below to load the Dynamic Google Map (ගූගල් සිතියම් පහලින්)

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

Zoom out the map to see more surrounding locations using the mouse scroll wheel or map controls.

Travel Directions to Kiripokunahela Monastic Ruins in Kumana

Entrance to Kumana is from Okanda. Although the fastest route is through the Southern Expressway, The route through Balangoda – Beragala is very scenic.

Route I from Colombo to Kumana Park Entrance at Okanda Route II from Colombo to Kumana Park Entrance at Okanda
Through : Southern Highway – Mattala – Thanamalwila – Wellawaya – Monaragala – Potuvil – Panama – Okanda
Distance :420 km
Travel time : 7.30 hours.
Driving directions : see on Google map
Through : Balangoda – Beragala – Wellawaya – Monaragala – Potuvil – Panama – Okanda
Distance :345 km
Travel time : 9.30 hours.
Driving directions : see on Google map
Route from Potuvil to Kumana Park Entrance at Okanda
Through : Potuvil – Panama – Okanda
Distance :32 km
Travel time : 1 hours.
Driving directions : see on Google map


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