The first rays of sunlight were streaming down through the canopy of forest trees at Kandegedara landa – Jak and Mahogany plantations. Myriads of fine light streaks and colonnades of thick beams spilled and splashed persistently through the luxuriant tree-scape.
The lime green paddy fields on either side of the road were bathed in a a golden hue. While crowns of the coconut trees that formed the borders of these fields stood highlighted in brilliance. The monotony of coconut estates were transformed with beams of light that painted their lean stems with borders of gold. It was the artist at his best.
The little towns we passed were waking up to another day. It was about 7.30am and we were driving towards Dambulla.
Our destination was the Menikdena Viharaya and Arbotarium.
We turned from the Dambulla junction to the Kandy road and again took the turn right near the Pannampitiya School. Another left turn at a thunman-handiya and another turn to the left on an unsealed road led us straight to the site. Later we found that there is a better route via Galewela.
As I got down to open the gate to the premises an enthralling song of a bird greeted me.
I looked in vain for the soloist peering into the inspiring green cathedral that surrounded us; so vitalizing fresh and still sparkling with the nights dew.
On one side of the archeological site was the Menikdena Wewa. Jinadasa the night watcher of the archeology office met us with a smile. The Menikdena archeological site slumbering at the foot of the Menikdena kanda or mountain is little known and surprisingly consists of quite a complex of ruins from very early times.
The site is well kept with trimmed paths leading to each of the 5 main buildings. Almost all the trees have been identified with little boards carrying their names.
To my inexperienced eye one tree stood out – it was a huge and the most thorny creeper that I had seen and it was most romantically named in sinhala as Yakada Vel locally referred to as Yakada maran. For the botanist and the lover of Sri Lanka trees it is an unparalleled experience The Menikdena Vihara site has been constructed on a raised platform surrounded by a thick brick wall with four entrances facing the cardinal directions.
The main gate overlooking the wewa is well laid with granite steps and guard stones and a moonstone of the early times. One guard stone in particular shows the faint outlines of a Pun-kalasa or the traditional prosperity sign of the full pot.
The ruins of a Bodigara or Bodhi Tree Shrine, Chithiya, Sabasalawa or Congregation Hall, Pilimage or Image House, and Upasothagara or Chapter House have been identified and named for the visitor.
The Chitiya at the Menikdena is built on a raised platform is quite large. There is evidence that the Chithiya once had the four flowered alters and granite Buddha images facing the four cardinal directions. Today only one such image of the Lord Buddha can be seen in serene meditation. It is truly a beautiful work of art.
The guard stones at the Chitiya entrances are plain and larger than the usual found. At one entrance can be seen the ruins of two animal figures. The Image House shows many fragmeOctober 31, 2012 Congregation Hall is a well demarcated moon stone like the others found at this site is of the utmost charm in its simplicity. A ledge of dressed stone forms the bottom of this structure.
The Chapter House is said to have had a pond in its vicinity. The remaining pillars in the Chapter House are gigantic.
Jinadasa also took us to see the overgrown and unexcavated site of a Devalaya a short distance away where the broken and ruined parts of a figure of a god lay and the stepped entrance to the building could be faintly recognizable.
It is said that there is evidence to believe that one of the Kshatriya families who accompanied the Bo-tree had settled down in this area.
The antiquity of this site as a Buddhist settlement is said to date back to the third century BC. The rulers had patronized this site during the Anuradhapura period. Menikdena has been declared as an Archaeological Reserve in 1957. The reserve covers an extent of 16.2 hectares ( 40 acres).