Mawaragala forest monastery – මාවරගල ආරන්‍යය

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Mawaragala forest monasteryIt had been my long cherished dream to visit Dambana, the ancestral vedda village, one day. I had spent years looking forward to it and finally it took months to plan the trip. Dambana was not a disappointment, but there was something different for me in the trip as well.

Long before I reached Dambana, my mind was made up on what I wanted to do there – to document the daily life of that fast-vanishing indigenous tribe of our land. However, as I drove along the A-26 Mahiyangana-Padiyatalawa Road on one sunny morning, I was suddenly struck with the idea of visiting the ancient forest monastery called Mawaragala, which lies on the slope of a rocky mountain in Dambana. There I was at Mawaragala forest monastery, 15 kilometers away from the main road, taking the turn just before the ancestral vedda village, Kotabakina.

A neatly kept pathway led me on a steady climb through the forest and rock boulder, the greenery all around providing a salubrious climate. It was a hot sunny morning, yet the ample tree shade protected me from the heat. The rocky landscape and the serene undisturbed environment seemed ideal for meditation. Those pathways were leading to kuti or monk’s adobes built in drip-ledge caves, where monks stay and mediate.

The Mawaragala monastery was on top of a rocky mountain in the the midst of a 500-acre forest. The drip-ledge caves with brahmi inscriptions had been built on the slope of that mountain. The chief monk of the monastery has taken many steps to protect the existing flora, while growing more trees in the area surrounding the monastery as well.

At the monastery, I met a young resident monk named Ven. Kewle Samithawansa. He took me to every nook and comer of the monastery while deciphering the history of the site for me. First he took me to the chief monk’s kuti. The Chief Monk of the Mawaragala forest monastery, Ven. Migahakiule Sugathawansa Thera said the monastery’s history goes back to the King Valagambahu’s reign. Also, he said that according to legend, an erudite monk called Ven. Maliyadeva and 60 Buddhist monks lived in this place during that period. Later, those rock caves had been used by veddas of Dambana for dwelling.

“Water is the burning problem for us here. Tissa Jinasena, a devotee from Colombo has donated four water tanks for the use of monks and devotees who come to give alms,” said the Chief Monk.

Mawaragala forest monastery“Today what we need is a spacious resting hall for the devotees who come from far away to give alms. I don’t even put a in the monastery to collect money from the people and don’t print any books to sell to people in order to collect money for the place. Whatever they give, I accept. Most of the people in our village are veddas. They don’t even have a proper income to make ends meet. So, we can’t expect anything from them. Most of our dayakayas (devotees) are outsiders,” he added.

All in all, there are enough kuti for at least 25 monks at the monastery. These have been built inside the drip-ledge caves in the forest reserve, away from the entrance to the monastery, where the shrine room has been located. A small building has been built for the devotees to prepare alms for the monks. It is only during restricted periods that visitors are allowed into the areas where the kuti are located. The restricted time is between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. This is to avoid disturbing the meditating monks.

During my stay at the monastery, I witnessed the midday dana (alms giving) activities. Over 20 monks were present for midday dana. At around 11 a.m, one monk rang the bell to alert the monks in distant kuti, informing them to gather near the main entrance. From there, they walked to the danasalawa (alms hall). It was a rare sight, to see them walking silently down the pathway on pindapatha, in keeping with the tradition dating back to the days of the Buddha.

They came in single file, one after the other, each carrying alms bowl. Once their feet were washed, they moved as one, and patiently let the devotees serve the alms, which they prepared in the morning, into their begging bowls. Then they retired into the alms hall located a little further in the forest and sat down to eat the food they had been offered.

The Bawanagala was the most interesting place to see in the monastery. The rock surface offered a naturally laid floor area, which was about 25 square feet. Legend has it that it was where Monk Maliyadeva and the 60 monks mediated. The holes on the rock surface, it was learnt, were indications that in the past it was covered with a roof to offer shelter to the monks from the rain and sun.

While there are mediating monks in permanent residence at the monastery, foreign Buddhist monks also visit and stay for a short period to practice mediation. In addition to mediation, the monastery has a pirivena (school for novice monks) for those who come from places like Padiyathalawa, Maha Oya and other remote areas. There are about 25 monks studying at the pirivena.

The award winning film, Suriya Arana that was filmed in a cave of this monastery, is a favorite site among the visitors who come to see this monastery. Ven. Samithawansa who was my guide at the monastery took me to the cave through a footpath to show me where the filming was done. The Mawaragala monastery was a gift of nature where silence and serenity prevail – the ideal place for mediating monks who struggle to seek emancipation, and finally attain nirvana.

The Chief Monk of the monastery said, the place is open for nature lovers – the best medicine for a stressed-out mind. Before I left the monastery, I said this to the Chief Monk – “the forest of the monastery has been protected because the people in the village love the forest.” Although they are poor, the vedda community of Dambana is instrumental in this task.

Also See

Map of Mawaragala forest monastery

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Map of Mahiyanganaya to Mawaragala forest monastery

This location is approximate. Please see directions above.

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 Mahiyanganaya to Mawaragala forest monastery

Route from Colombo to Mawaragala forest monastery

Route from Mahiyanganaya to Mawaragala forest monastery

Through : Kandy – Mahiyanganaya – Dambana
Distance : 125
Travel time : 4 hours
Driving directions : see on google map
Through : Dambana
Distance : 24 km
Travel time : 30 minutes
Driving directions : see on google map


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