Nathagane Ancient Cave Temple Complex Ruins – නාථගනේ පුරාණ ලෙන් විහාරය නටබුන්

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the second ancient image house at the Nathagane Ancient Cave Temple Complex in Kurunegala

The second ancient image house at the Nathagane Ancient Cave Temple Complex in Kurunegala

Nathagane is an ancient village off the Wariyapola – Kurunegala road. Nathagane has been called Mundakundapola Nuwara (මුණ්ඩකොණ්ඩපොළ නුවර) in the past and has a history going back to 2nd – 3rd century BC. The village of  Nathagane is at the bottom of a 350 meter high mountain range also called by the same name. This mountain range has acted as an aramic complex, a fort, a palace complex and a temple at different times of in the past.

According to folklore, the numerous caves have been used by king Vattagamini Abaya (Walagamba) after he was defeated by South Indian Tamil invaders in 104 BC. Until he regained the kingdom in 89 BC he traveled all around the country making caves having natural defenses his temporary shelters massing an loyal army for the final assault on the South Indian invaders. After his victory in 89BC, it is said that all the caves which sheltered him around the country were converted in to cave temples.

An inscription on one of the caves have been interpreted and the text has been placed to a period between 2nd t0 3rd century BC. indicating that these caves may have been used by meditating Buddhist monks even before the time of king Walagamba.

According to folklore, Nathagane has been ruled as a sub kingdom by a powerful ruler called Irugal Bandara in the ancient past. He is said to have lived in a fortress built on this mountain range. The area in which he had built a reservoir is said to be now called Wawe Gedara.

During the Kotte kingdom,  a war lord called Edirimanna Surya had been living in this area. Kotte kingdom was going through a period of political instability with King Mayadunne (1521-1581) of Seethawaka kingdom trying to attach Kotte kingdom which ruled by his elder brother king Buwanekabahu (1521-1551).  During this period, Buwanekabahu’s daughter Samudradevi was married a warrior prince called Veediya Bandara who was the commander-in-chief of the Kingdom of Kotte. Due to a misunderstanding and a sudden anger, he had pushed her to the Diyawanna Oya and killed her. After the death of Buwanekabahu, the Portuguese had installed prince Dharmapala as a puppet king. Prince Dharmapala was the first son of Veediya Bandara born to the now dead Samudradevi.

Portuguese realized that even though the puppet king Dharmapala (1551-1597) was the king,  The people of the Kotte  kingdom was aligning with prince Veediya Bandara who held a anti Portuguese stance. Portuguese appointed Thammiththa Suriyabandara, a younger brother of Veediya Bandara as the unofficial ruler of Kotte, and imprisoned Veediya Bandara and his current wife Suriya Devi . The king and Thammiththa Suriyabandara obtained release of Suriya Devi from prison but Veediya Bandara was is not released and was held in Colombo Fort for deportation to Goa.  Suriya Devi was a daughter of king Mayadunne who was a strong woman. She undertook a massive project to cut a long tunnel from outside Portuguese for Fort  up the prison of Veediya Bandara. In an epic rescue operation just before the day of deportation, Veediye Bandara escaped to Raigama where he continued to instigate agitation against the Portuguese occupation.

The Portuguese attempted to capture Veediya Bandara with the support of prince Tikiri Bandara, son of king Mayadunne. (Tikiribandara later became the king of Seethawaka as Rajasinghe I after killing his father). After number of failed attempts stretching for 5 years, finally Veediya Bandara was forced to flee to Kandyan Kingdom and requested protection from king Karaliyedde Bandara (1551-1581).

Prince Tikkiri Bandara of Seethawaka too was a warrior who was capable of exerting pressure to king Karaliyedde Bandara of Kandy to expel Veediya Bandara. Seeing the pressure from Seethawaka, Veediya Bandara left Kandy.

During this time Mundakundapola Nuwara (Nathagane) was ruled by a war lord called Edirimanna Surya (Edirille-rala) who was against Mayadunne, king of Seethawaka. Edirimanna Surya accepted Veediya Bandara to his domain being another adversary of Mayadunne.

But with time, Veediya Bandara managed to kill Edirimanna Surya though Welayudha Arachchi and took control of the Sathkoralaya. According to ancient text “Kurunegala Vistharaya”, king Rajasinhe I (1581 – 1591?) of Seethawaka (earlier known as Prince Tikiri Bandara) had attacked the domain of Veediya Bandara forcing him to flee to Puttalam and then finally to Jaffna.

Proof of control excreted by Veediya Bandara in Nathagane is proved by a partly washed out inscription found on a rock step at the current temple where he had declared the area as a sanctuary for wild animals.

Nathagane Temple Complex on the mountain which had gone in to a neglected state had been revived during the Kadyan Era. Architectural features of one of the two cave image houses shows styles popular during the Kandyan Era. The second image house and other ruined cave buildings are of a much older date and is believed to be built during the Anuradhapura kingdom.

Today a forest monastery is run on the opposite side of the Nathagane mountains where meditating Bikkus occupy some of the caves. Opposite the mountains, the large ancient stupa is under excavations by the Central Cultural Fund.  The ruins found at the site indicate that the initial Aramic Complex had turned in to a Temple Complex at the later stage of the Anuradhapura Kingdom. The stupa which only about 10 feet is left now, has been dated to early Anuradhapura period.  A large number of stone flower alters and Siripathul stones has been discovered around the stupa during the excavations.

To reach the caves, you need to travel to the Nathagane ancient stupa restoration site. There is a archaeology department office opposite the this site. The caves can be reached through the archaeology office. Its advisable to make your intentions known to the the officers at the site before starting the climb.

Primary Sources : පෞරාණික ස්ථාන හා සමාරක – කුරුණෑගල දිස්ත්‍රික්කය – පුරාවිද්‍යා දෙපාර්තුමේන්තුව
පහන් යාය
වීදියබණ්ඩාර බලය අල්ලපු මුණ්ඩකොණ්ඩපොළ නුවර
The ancient stupa of Nathagane Viharaya under excavation and restoration.

The ancient stupa of Nathagane Viharaya under excavation and restoration.
Photo by : Kelum Wijesooriya

Also See

Travel Directions to Nathagane Ancient Cave Temple Complex Ruins

Route from Balangoda to Nathagane Ancient Cave Temple Complex Ruins

Through : Airport Highway – Divulapitiya – Giriulla – Narammala – Bamunakotuwa
Distance : 111 km
Travel time : 2.30 hours
Time to spend : 1 – 2 hours
Driving directions : see on google map

Map of Nathagane Ancient Cave Temple Complex Ruins


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