Yala National Park, also known as Ruhunu National Park is dotted with Buddhist ruins of the ancient Ruhunu kingdom hidden away in the jungles. These ruins are found on almost every hill top inside this park but rarely vised due to restrictions and lack of any roadways.
After the 13the century, the the dry zone the civilization in the northeastern part of Sri Lanka collapsed and the civilization in this region too fell in line. As a result of the loss of people’s livelihoods due to the war, decease and the devastation of irrigation systems, villages migrated to other areas. Along with this, all the great buddhist monasteries too collapsed. Traces of this great civilisation was eventually swallowed by the jungles of Ruhuna.
After the 19th century, when people began to return to the region, the British colonial government reserved Yala area as a gaming reserve which became a national park after independence. The archaeological sites inside its boundaries formed an effective “archaeological blanket area” inside the park. Even though these sites were shielded and protected by the latter human activities, they have become an easy hunting grounds for treasure hunters where they could exercise their craft unhindered.
Some of the archaeological sites which are found in this area are Kudumbigala, Kiripokunahela, Bambaragasthalawa, Bowattagala, Kongala, Nelumpath Pokuna, Viharagala, Pilimagala, Divulanagoda, Dematagala, Athurumithurugala, Kanabisowunge Galge and Thalaguruhela.
Pilimagala lies inside Yala Block III, an area which is rarely visited by general public. Due to the same reason, wild animals here are not used to vehicle and human activities thus sightings of big 3 are rare in this area. Access to Block III is though the Galge Entrance lying on the Kataragama – Buttala road. Pilimagala is a rocky plateau lying in the middle of the thick jungle 10.5 km south east of Galge entrance and 8.5kms from the popular Kataragama Devale.
Although the existence of Pilimagala was known for a long time, no proper study of these ruins has been recorded. Both the old 1 inch map series published between 1897 and 1925 and the new 1:50,000 map published between 1985 and 1996 by the survey department marks Pilimagala with a ruins symbol.
n 1974, the Handbook for the Ceylon Traveller reports that Pilimagala was a popular and a fine camp site which was popular during the days when shooting was allowed but has no reference to the archaeological remains at the site. The 1 inch map which was prepared by the British over ‘100 years ago marks this site and notes “Sportsman’s Camp Site” , “Habitable Cave” and “Water in August”. indicating the caves used by the ancient monks has been used by the British hunting parities and used the waters from the Kema’s even during the dry season.
A details site study of the Pilimagala Archaeological Site had been carried out by an Japanese archaeological team headed by Takashi Okamura only in 2018.
The upper part of the rock plateau extends 250 meters east-west and 150 meters north-south. Six structures have been identified on the rock including a stupa. The rest of the structures on the flat rock shows only traces to judge the shape of the foundation and some stone rows. In addition number of Kema (natural ponds on the rockbed) can be found scattered among the ruins which might have fulfilled some of the water needs of the ancient monastery. Although this rock is called Pilimagala (Rock of Buddha Statue) no statue has been found at the site. However the name strongly suggest existence of a significantly large Buddha Statue on this rock in the ancient past which had been completely destroyed by treasure hunters. At the foot of the steep rock is the rock shelter of the monk’s residence.
Of the ruins of the top, the ruined building on the south-east is believed to be the Prathimaghara (image house) of the monastery based on the location and the scattering of foundation stones. Although the entire area is covered with thin brick fragments and weathered soil, the base is estimated to be a square platform with a side of about 12m, based on the length of the west side where the stone rows are clear. In addition, there is a quarry on the hillside on the western slope of the rock-hill that seems to have cut out building materials for temple construction. The oval shape of the wedge hole for stone splitting remaining in the bedrock or the cut stone indicates that temple construction was performed in the late Anuradhapura period.
The rock caves where the monks lived is located under the rock wall, which cuts approximately 30m almost vertically on the southwest side of the ruins of the top Stupa. It is open to the south-west, with a width of about 13 m, a depth of about 5 m, a ceiling height of about 2.5 m, and a “Kataram” (dripledge) for rainwater is provided about 3 m above the frontage. There is no trace of the outer wall that separates the frontage, but from the floor to the vestibule, stone pillars and pieces of foundation stones are scattered being half-buried in thickly deposited soil. This suggests that there were some facilities inside and outside rock shelter.
At about 2km away from Galge on the rough gravel road extending northeast to Kumbukkan River, there is a junction with the road heading south. From there, you need to follow the road that runs south into the jungle, through the grass plains and marshes at the site of the ancient reservoirs, to the point where the road branches to the south and east. Pilimagala rock hill rises to the east side in the foreground. From the road, going to the top of the hill, you can reach the ruins of structures. If go north in the forest along the foot of the rock hill, you will come to the dripledge cave. It is about 15km along the road from National Park Management Office of Galge.
List of Archaeological Sites inside Yala and Kumana National Parks
- Akasa Chethiya
- Athurumithurugala (see map below)
- Divulanagoda (Veheradivulana)
- Goyankola Mayagala
- Kanabiso Galge
- Katupila (see map below)
- Katupila Mankada (see map below)
- Lunuatugalge (Lunuatu Galge)
- Sithulpawwa Magul Maha Viharaya
- Mandagala Wewa
- Mayagala (Wadambuwa)
- Nelumpath Pokuna
- Padikema Patanangala
- Pillinnawa Stone Pillars
- Sithulpawwa Viharaya
- Uda Pothana
- 1974. Handbook for the Ceylon traveller. 1st ed. Colombo: Studio Times.
- Okamura, T., 2021. Ruins in and Around Yala National Park in Sri Lanka. 1st ed. Tokyo: NPO-SARERS – South Asian Ruins Exploration and Research Society.
Map of Pilimagala Monastic Ruins
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 Pilimagala Monastic Ruins
|Route from Colombo to Pilimagala Monastic Ruins (upto Galge Entrance)|
|Though : Southern Expressway – Kataragama – Buttala Road|
distance :275 km
Travel time : 4 hours.
Driving directions : see on google map