Menikdena Archeological Reserve (මැණික්දෙන පුරාවිද්‍යා රක්ෂිතය සහ වෘක්ෂෝද්‍යානය)

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Menikdena Archeological Reserve lies on the Dambulla – Kandy road few kilometres away from Dambulla town. The reserve lies between the beautiful Menikdena tank and the Nikula or Menikdena Hill range reaching a 875m height. Menikdena archaeological reserve covers an area of 2 hectares (5 acres) and the Arboretum covers about 14 hectares (35 acres) of forest land.

The history of Menikdena Monastery dates back to the time of King Kithsiri Megha (555-573 AD) but some archaeologists believe this monastery dates back as far as the 3rd to 4th century AD. From the beginning, it served as a home to recluse arahants from this time and was known as Budugama.

Menikdena is made in the form of a pabbatha vihara architecture. Archaeologists believe that Pabbata Vihara was built by merging with a natural rock formation. These are built by arranging several rectangular building areas (courtyards) at different levels surrounded by water. In the upper courtyard itself are the four sacred buildings arranged in specific order. In the ancient architecture book ‘Manju Sri Bhashitha Vastuvidyawa” (මඤ්ජු ශ්‍රී භාෂිත වාස්තුවිද්‍යාව) written in Sanskrit, these buildings and standards are well explained. 

The basic feature of these monasteries is a large rectangular precinct or sacred quadrangle which contains the four major shrines, a stupa, a bodhighara, a patimaghara and a prasada which has been identified as the uposathaghara. VijayaramayaPankuliya AsokaramayaPacina Tissa Pabbatha ViharayaPuliyankulama Pabbata Viharaya (Pubbaramaya)Toluvila and Vessagiriya are the temples of this tradition in Anuradhapura. Kaludiya Pokuna (Dhakkinagiri Viharaya) in DambullaLahugala Magul Maha Viharaya, Menikdena, Pulukunava in the Gal Oya valley, a group of shrines at the foot of the rock at Sigiriya and Moragoda in Padaviya are the other provincial sites where Pabbata Vihara have been identified. (Bandaranayake, 1974).

Records also indicate that Menikdena was used as a military base by King Vijayabahu I (1110 – 1111 AD) during his campaign against the Cholas and that it also served the same purpose during the campaign of King Parakramabahu I against King Gajabahu II (1132 – 1153 AD). A large campsite could be seen on top of the Nikula-Bibile hill above the Etha Bandi Wewa tank. Legend has it that the name ‘Atha-Bandi’ came into usage with the Royal Elephant of King Vijayabahu I having been rested there.

Menikdena has the typical five structures found in a “Pabbatha Vihara” monastic complex. Generally, ancient temples didn’t have any planned structure. However, Pabbatha Vihara was different. They were built on a pre-planned scheme. Stupa, Bodhighara, Upostaghara and the image house were placed in a square structure and four or three sides were surrounded by bikku residential units.

The stupa and the partially destroyed brick-made Vahalkada have been conserved. Vahalkada is a new term which was not found in ancient texts. The terms “Adimukha” (ආදිමුඛ) and then “Ayaka” (ආයක) have been used at various periods and both these are generally now called Vahalkada. The Ayaka of Menikdena is believed to date from the 10th century and display large niches in their Ayakas. These have been used to place Buddha statues or statues of deities. The excavations of the eastern Ayaka produced a Buddha statue that had fallen from this niche.

The entrance to the monastery is from the Menikdena Tank side. Six wide granite steps flanked by guard stones and a blank moonstone make up the entrance. On the right before the steps is a granite pillar inscription.

On the left to the entrance is the Stupa which is built on a large high platform. The entrance is a set of granite steps with guard stones. At the top on the sides of the steps is a carved animal which is not very clear. Only the dome of the stupa remains of three of the four Ayakas has been partially restored but one has been left as it was found. Only one Buddha statue remains in a reasonably good state, probably the one discovered during the excavations status above.

Yupa gala of the stupa has been taken out and lies on the floor. Around the stupa are dilapidated stone carved with the Siri Pathula and a broken stone lamp.

Opposite the stupa is a bodhigara where the Bo tree used to stand. Beyond these two are the image house and the chapter house (Upostaghara). The massive stone pillars of the chapter house still stand majestically.

Menikdena has been declared as an Archaeological Reserve in 1957.


  1. SINHALESE MONASTIC ARCHITECTURE : The Viháras of Anurádhapura. S. D. Bandaranayake (1974)

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Map of Menikdena Archeological Reserve

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Travel Directions to Menikdena Archeological Reserve

Route from Colombo to Menikdena Archeological Reserve Route from Kurunegala – Dambulla Road to Menikdena Archeological Reserve
Through : Kelaniya – Ambepussa – Kurunegala – Galewala – Meewalapathaha Junction
Distance : 152
Travel time : 4 hours
Driving directions : see on google map
Through : Meewalapathaha Junction
Distance : 7 km
Travel time : 20 minutes
Driving directions : see on google map
Route from Dambulla to Menikdena Archeological Reserve
Through : Kandy Road
Distance : 14 km
Travel time : 20-30 minutes
Driving directions : see on google map


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