The Jathika Namal Uyana is at its best in spring – when the Na trees spanning 260 acres burst into full bloom and the earth is covered with a carpet of white petals. On a full moonlit night the white, rose and mauve hues of the seven Rose quarts mountain ranges and their peaks glisten with an ethereal pearly sheen adding an aura of tranquil beauty to the already peaceful atmosphere, windblown with the soft fragrance of thousands of Na flowers. This is Namal Uyana – recorded as a meditators’ paradise and a nature-lover’s haven.
Tracing its history to the Anuradhapura era of King Devanampiyatissa (250-210 BC), a stone-inscription (Ek-tam Sel-lipiya) on one side of the mountain range boasts of this garden being the world’s most ancient “human sanctuary”. Remnants of an ancient vihare and rock enclaves within the premises stand as proof of the garden being used as a meditation centre during the periods of Kings Dappula 3rd (923-924 AD) and 4th (924-935 AD) and King Kasyapa IVth (898-914 AD).
I was in Anuradhapura recently with my daughter and her family. It has become a practice with my son-in-law to take his family on sight-seeing tours and visits to ancient places of historical interest and archaeological sites on holidays. This is because my young grandson Vijindra, an eight-year student has developed a keen and sustained interest in these subjects over the years.
We decided to visit Namal Uyana and this being my first visit there, I was eager to gain first-hand information regarding its antiquity.
Namal Uyana has many more surprises other than the world famous Rose quarts mountains – South Asia’s largest deposit and Lanka’s proud heritage. According to folklore Moghul Emperor Shah Jehan had obtained Rose quarts from these mountains to build his famous Taj Mahal in memory of his late Queen Mumtaz Mahal.
Namal Uyana hidden away in the remote Ulpathagama village in Galkiriyagama in the Anuradhapura District was `resurrected’ by Vanavasi Rahula Thera, an ascetic monk who made his abode on a make-shift wooden hut atop a giant Mora tree.
A wooden board placed beside the tree announces that this is the historical tree which gave shelter to Ven. Vanavasi Rahula Thera, amongst its branches. For 13 long years the Ven. monk spent days and nights protecting the precious pink quarts mountains from vandals, and illicit timber fellers, being convinced that this was a treasure which should be protected for posterity.
Thus on 29th March 1991, the Ven. Monk through his dedicated and selfless devotion to his mission, pioneered the protection and conservation of this valuable heritage. Ven. Rahula says that he was sent on this mission by the `Kambili deity’, highly venerated by the villagers and in whose honour a devalaya has been built inside the garden.
The Rose quarts mountain range dating back to over five hundred million years is today considered a cultural heritage site of the archaeological, religious, geographical and environmental importance. The Ven. Rahula Thera who pioneered conservation of this treasure at the risk of his own life initiated the Jathika Namal Uyana Conservation and Development Trust on August 21, 2003 to ensure its unhindered existence after his demise.
The Namal Uyana is rich in biodiversity. Among virgin tree-species identified in the garden are Ironwood, Ebony, Satin, Teak, locally known Veera and Halmilla. A large Ironwood (Na) tree with a girth of about 60 feet occupies pride of place. In addition a rich variety of medicinal herbs -some rare – are among plant species found profusely growing in the area. Around 18 species of birds and butterflies, serpents and mollusces have been identified of which some are endemic.
The long trek to the Rose-quarts mountains winds through a landscape shaded by branches of tall trees interspersed overhead. The terrain is even while at certain places rugged due to its natural composity. A board warning of ` a difficult journey ahead’ announces the arduous climb to the mountain range.
Undeterred by this sign, we ventured forward passing at intervals rippling brooks and streamlets flowing through the landscape, the waters originating from the mountain range. We noticed broken pieces of Rose-quarts rocks and stones dotting the waterway-route obviously dislocated and washed down from the mountain-sides due to heavy rain.
On our journey we came across several artifacts of archaeological importance. Among which were the remnants of the Namal Maha Seya, a moonstone, a two-storeyed bodhigara decorated with Rose-quarts, a stone stage, a seema-malakaya constructed with stone pillars, a large stone lamp with a circumference of 90 centimetres and a depth of 10 centimetres where 10 lamp wicks could be lit, stone caves, a stone promenade etc.
Among these are latest additions to the park such as a newly built Samadhi Buddha statue, a new Namal Seya and an Avasa for the use of Bhikkhus.
We undertook the rugged climb to one mountain peak where a newly built Buddha statue and an enclosure is found which provides shelter from the sun and relaxation to tired feet.
On reaching the peak our eyes rested on an endless landscape stretching far and wide below the mountain ranges and the still waters of the Ibbankatuwa Wewa. Records reveal that in the olden days there were fertile paddy lands watered by the Maha Indigolla Wewa, Dhig Aththawa Wewa, Ranawa Wewa, Ibbankatuwa Wewa and Kala Wewa. Our descent from the mountain ended up with a hot cup of refreshing Beli-Mal water provided at a make-shift wooden shelter complete with planks as seats, put up by a local village mother and her small daughter.
This little girl had in her hand a Rose-quarts piece of rock and to ascertain what her reply would be I asked her whether she could give this piece of Rose-quarts to me. She replied “Aney bae – me kaeli eliyata geniyanda thahanam” (No please, these pieces cannot be taken out of the garden”).
Namal Uyana could be developed into a tourist attraction says Ven. Rahula Thera but with emphasis on conservation and protection. The establishment of the Jathika Namal Uyana Conservation and Development Trust aims at harnessing local and foreign patroNovember 3, 2012rohibited from bringing into the garden polythene bags, plastics, sili sili bags and biscuit wrappers. Taking away broken pieces of rose-quarts rocks and stones from the location is also strictly prohibited.
A welcome sight on the trail to the mountain range were cement receptacles fixed to the ground at intervals on both sides of the path for visitors to dispose waste material.
Among development objectives are the conservation and the protection of the Namal Uyana, protection of the Rose-quarts mountain ranges, establishment of an education centre for students of schools and universities, launching of a series of programmes for scientific research, providing visitor facilities and lifelong sustenance of the founder Ven. Vanavasi Rahula Thera.
We found the entrance and ticketing booth for visitors located on the opposite side of the Namal Uyana which does not have a protected entrance thus providing easy access to ticketless visitors.
The entrance fee is a hopelessly inadequate Rs. 5/- per person and a meager Rs. 20/- as parking fee for a vehicle. We were also informed that some visitors try to gain ticketless entrance to the Uyana by flaunting their social status which situation warrants the mediation of the Ven. Rahula Thera to settle disputes. The Ven. Thera is normally at hand occupying a small Avasa by the roadside.
The day we visited the Namal Uyana we noticed increasing numbers of visitors arriving at the location. The Namal Uyana is the country’s one and only largest garden of its kind and could be termed as a veritable tourist attraction with proper infrastructure development of visitor facilities.
One last message from the Ven. Rahula Thera – “The responsibility of passing on this heritage to future generations lie in your hands”